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Salt, Sugar, Carbs: How Much Should You Consume in A Day?


written by Skye Sherman - Oct 9, 2023

Salt, Sugar, Carbs: How Much Should You Consume in A Day?

Salt, sugar, and carbs… for some people, they’re the best part about eating. Unfortunately, they play too big of a role in the diet of most Americans. In fact, there’s a special term for the Standard American Diet, and it’s called SAD.

According to the University of Alabama, “the average American diet consists of excess sodium, saturated fat, refined grains, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. Furthermore, the guidelines state that Americans eat less vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and oils than recommended.”

As a result, “Almost 35% of adults in the U.S. are obese, and it is estimated that this statistic will increase to almost 50% within 15 years.” This is SAD news indeed! This is in the realm of a national health crisis and should be addressed by every individual before life expectancy is forever impacted.

While salt, sugar, and carbs all have a place in a balanced diet, they seem to be taking up a bit too much room in the standard diet of most Americans. As you may or may not know, your diet plays a big part of how well you age and your overall level of health.

Overly processed, highly caloric foods with little nutritional value are the biggest culprits, because most of the packaged foods that Americans rely on as dietary staples are overloaded with salt, sugar, or carbs to make them taste better or encourage you to buy more. A good rule of thumb is the more processed a food is, the worse its impact on your health.

But how much should you consume in a day, exactly? In this article, we’ll take a look at the right amounts of salt, sugar, and carbs to include in your diet that will keep your health in check.

Get the facts: latest statistics and guidelines on salt, sugar, and carbs

According to the World Health Organization, here are the guidelines to a healthy diet when it comes to sugar and salt:

● “Limiting intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake is part of a healthy diet. A further reduction to less than 5% of total energy intake is suggested for additional health benefits.

● Keeping salt intake to less than 5 g per day (equivalent to sodium intake of less than 2 g per day) helps to prevent hypertension, and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke in the adult population.”

New guidelines on sugar and sodium intake from The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) were also recently published. The key recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines suggest:

● Limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day for ages 2 and older and to avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers; …

● Limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day (or even less if younger than 14);

The World Health Organization also recently released updated guidelines on carbohydrates. The new guidelines recommend:

● “The new guidance on carbohydrate intake highlights the importance of carbohydrate quality for good health.

● WHO provides a new recommendation that carbohydrate intake for everyone 2 years of age and older should come primarily from whole grains, vegetables, fruits and pulses.

● WHO recommends that adults consume at least 400 grams of vegetables and fruits and 25 grams of naturally occurring dietary fibre per day.”

As you can see, salt and sugar intake should not surpass a certain number of grams per day or take up more than its proper ratio of the diet, while the important thing to focus on when eating carbohydrates is the quality of those carbs. Carbs also should be balanced by fiber intake.

What happens if you eat too much salt, sugar, or carbs?

Overeating salt, sugar, and carbs leads to a variety of health issues. However, there is a right amount to eat of each; the negative impacts arrive when you eat too much or too little.

Samaritan Health Services states,

● “Many studies have shown that cultures with low sodium diets also have low blood pressure, and reducing excess sodium intake is tied to lower blood pressure

● Added sugar may be more strongly and directly associated with high blood pressure and overall cardiovascular risk. …

Added sugars have a negative effect on cholesterol, may be linked to inflammation and oxidative stress markers, and may increase the risk for being overweight or obese.

● All of these conditions decrease heart health and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. …

● Those who got more than 17 percent of their daily calories from added sugar had a significantly higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.”

Carbs, too, will impact your cardiovascular health when consumed in excess. The Heart Research Institute (HRI) states, “Excess carbohydrate intake places a large metabolic load on the body. When the body constantly has high levels of blood sugars (the end point of food sugar and starch) to deal with over time, this leads to weight gain, poor metabolic health and an increased risk of heart disease.”

Wondering how to balance your carb intake? The HRI recommends the following as a good place to start:

● “Fill ¼ of your dinner plate with carbohydrate-rich foods like brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, rolled oats, whole meal pasta, grainy bread, lentils, chick peas or corn on the cob.

● Fill the rest of your plate with vegetables and protein-rich foods.

● Then tweak it up or down depending on your energy levels, appetite and goals.”

As you can see, eating too much (or not enough) salt, sugar, or carbs can have a negative impact on your heart, liver, and various other body systems, but the most profound impact is on your heart health, especially your blood pressure, which can end up requiring prescription blood pressure medication. Excess salt, sugar, and carb intake can also be a fast track to diabetes and other illnesses, diseases, and undesirable health conditions.

Recommendations and tips for balanced consumption of salt, sugar, and carbs

Wondering how to balance your consumption of salt, sugar, and carbs? Here are a few tips from Samaritan Health Services:

● “To reduce your intake of sugar, replace regular soda with carbonated or tap water and flavor it with fresh fruit or herbs.

● Replace processed snacks with whole foods like nuts and fruit.

● Limit dessert to one meal a day. If you drink a sweetened beverage like soda, consider that your dessert for the day.

● Read labels and compare ingredients on the packaged foods you buy like bread or spaghetti sauce to make sure there aren’t added sugars.

● Added sugars should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. Look at the nutrition label. Total sugars for the day should add up to no more than 25 to 38 grams.

● When you can, buy ‘unsalted’ or ‘low sodium’ versions of pantry staples and add salt while cooking if needed.

● Reduce or eliminate boxed foods like seasoned rice and frozen meals like pizza or ready-dinners.

● Limit the amount you eat out at restaurants.

● If the sodium content in the right column of the nutrition label is more than 20% DV, the food is considered high in sodium. Low sodium is 5% DV or less. Total daily sodium should add up to no more than 2,300 mg.”

In addition, you should make sure the sugar you eat is from natural sources, which is healthier, not added or refined sugars, which do not have the same impact on your body.

Sources of natural sugars:

● Fruit

● Vegetables

● Dairy

Natural sugars are superior to added sugars because they are accompanied by important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In other words, they have some nutritional value.

Sources of added sugars:

● White sugar

● Brown sugar

● Corn syrup

● Honey

● Glucose

● Fructose

● Dextrose

● Lactose

● Malt syrup

● Maltose

● Brown rice syrup

● Molasses

Added sweeteners aren’t only found in sugary foods like sodas and desserts; in fact, you can find them even in processed savory foods like bread, soup, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, condiments, and even crackers.

In the same way, sources of excess sodium can be found where you least expect them, including in seemingly healthy pantry items such as:

● Canned beans

● Soup and broth

● Canned vegetables

The best thing you can do is to consume primarily whole, unprocessed foods and pay attention to food labels when buying packaged foods. This will enable you to avoid foods that are heavy in excess sugar and salt.

A better option is to cook from scratch, then add small amounts of sugar and salt to flavor to your liking. This way, you’re only getting as much sugar and salt as you add yourself, and you can limit the amount in order to avoid excess doses.

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