Did you make a resolution to eat better in the new year, but are coming up short on what to change? If that resonates with you, let me suggest you focus on one of what we will call “The Big 3” — Fat, Sugar, and Sodium. These are the culprits in many health woes and by making some strides in reducing intake of them can lead to some pretty good health benefits.
What’s the big fat deal?
The truth is we need some fat in our diet, but we would prefer it to be the unsaturated kind. Unfortunately, many people consume far too much saturated fat in their diet. Saturated fats are a type of fat that are not healthy for your blood vessels. They are mostly found in animal products especially fattier cuts of meats, higher-fat dairy products, some tropical oils and some snack foods, cakes or cookies.
Trans fats are like saturated fats in that they can increase risk of heart disease. Trans fats are used commercially in packaged foods like snacks, desserts, frozen pizzas, baked goods, and margarine.
By swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats, your LDL or “bad” cholesterol can be lowered. It may also decrease your risk of heart disease. Foods higher in unsaturated fats include nuts and seed, seafood like salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel, olive, canola, peanut oil as well as avocados.
Other easy ways to decrease your intake of saturated fats include increasing your veggies or beans in a dish and reducing your meat portion, choosing grilled over fried, and choosing fruit over ice cream for dessert.
Raised on sweet tea and sunshine
The real culprit when we talk about sugar is what we call added sugars. Added sugars are not naturally found in foods — they are added. For instance, if I bought 100% orange juice, while I would expect to find sugar in it because it is after all fruit and fruit has sugar, I should not find any added sugars. On the other hand, if I bought a juice drink like Sunny D or a breakfast beverage like Bright & Early, I would find added sugars because they are not 100% juice.
These added sugars not only lead to excess calorie intakes which can mean unwanted weight gain, but they also can lead to increased inflammation within your blood vessels. This sets you up for potential problems with heart disease.
The average American takes in about 270 calories of added sugar every day. That is about 17 teaspoons of sugar! If you had a glass of unsweetened tea, would you add that much sugar?
Consider making some simple swaps to reduce your intake of added sugars. Fruit is a great alternative to cookies or cake. Ditch the sugar-sweetened breakfast cereal for an unsweetened variety and add fruit to it for sweetness. Rethink your drink — choose more water or milk in place of soda.
Make sure you look at the food label. The new food label has added sugars listed and will help you see at a quick glance how much is there.
Sodium and salt: What’s the difference?
These words are often used interchangeably, but sodium is a mineral and salt is made up of both sodium and chloride. Just like fat, our bodies do need some sodium each day. For some people, eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure which can raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. For people with congestive heart failure, too much sodium can lead to too much fluid retention causing a whole laundry list of problems.
If you are a fan of the saltshaker keep in mind that anytime you add salt to your food, you are adding sodium. However, most of the sodium in our diet comes from the foods that we are eating. Sodium is a great preservative, adds flavor, cures meats, keeps food moist and can thicken sauces. For this reason, manufacturers use it a lot in the processed and prepared foods that we purchase.
It’s important to remember, that even if a food doesn’t taste salty it could be a source of sodium. Breads and cheeses tend to be high as are many instant products like grits and oatmeal.
Trying to lower your sodium? Cook more at home — this puts you in control of the ingredients. Use herbs and spices in place of salt or packaged sauces and mixes. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables — they are naturally lower in sodium. For snack foods, choose the unsalted varieties and for meats opt for more fresh meats and less processed meats.
I’m often asked about the different types of salt — Kosher, Sea, Himalayan, etc. If you are trying to cut down on your sodium intake you must cut down on all types of salt, not just the standard table salt.
Finally, let me add that while it is a good idea to cut down on your intake of “The Big 3,” I am not saying that you can’t ever indulge in some of your favorites. The goal is to decrease how much and how often you choose foods high in fat, sugar and sodium. Making some simple swaps will allow you to still enjoy smaller amounts of some of your favorite foods. Until next time … Live Healthy!