When we make the switch to healthier food choices, it can take some getting used to. One of the most effective ways is to make gradual changes to your diet. You can start by cutting down and replacing salty and sugary foods little by little, or find some alternatives that you can try.
When you eat too many salty foods, excess fluid starts to build up in your bloodstream. Your kidneys can’t filter all the fluid out, so the fluid stays in your blood vessels, straining their walls. An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions.
So, if you’re looking for ways to decrease the amount of sodium and sugar in your diet, here are some healthy salt alternatives and sugar substitutes to make the transition tastier!
The latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that healthy adults and kids ages 14 and up limit their sodium to 2,300 milligrams. That’s about 1 teaspoon per day.
Healthy sodium recommendations for kids range from 1,500 mg per day for children 1–3 years old and 1,900 mg per day for kids ages 4–8.
But according to the American Heart Association, most children dramatically exceed these sodium recommendations, with average intakes as high as 3,100 mg for young children and 3,500 mg for teens.
One way to add flavor to your foods without adding salt is to cook with garlic, onions and chilies. There are added health benefits too!
Both garlic and onions are natural antibiotics and may lower blood lipids and blood pressure. Onions are a rich source of flavonoids, substances known to provide protection against cardiovascular disease. Onions are also natural anti-clotting agents since they possess substances with fibrinolytic activity and can suppress platelet-clumping. The capsaicin in chilies stimulates blood flow through the membranes.
You can also try spicing your foods with pepper and oregano. Black pepper has antibiotic and antioxidant properties, plus it aids in digestion and stimulates the breakdown of fat cells.
Fresh oregano is a great antibacterial agent. It has phytonutrients (thymol and carvacrol), which fight infections such as staph. It's loaded with antioxidants that help prevent cell damage, and it's an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, manganese, iron, vitamin E, tryptophan and calcium.
The American Heart Association suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.
The most recent set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10% of your calories each day from added sugars starting at age 2.
The best thing you can do when it comes to controlling the amount of sugar in your diet is to follow the recommended guidelines. You can do it by minimizing or avoiding products with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or corn syrup near the top of the ingredient list.
Use sugar that is less refined and processed like brown sugar, molasses, or muscovado sugar. Honey is natural and sweeter than sugar, so you’re likely to use less. Natural sugars are considered to be less harmful than regular sugar and even have health benefits, like additional minerals and nutrients. Yet, they should still be used sparingly.
Erythritol-based sweeteners are natural and healthier than chemically-created sugar substitutes. They’re also calorie-free and are better for diabetics. Your body does not have the enzymes to break down the majority of erythritol, so most of it is absorbed directly into your bloodstream and excreted in your urine. Therefore, it does not seem to have the harmful effects that regular sugar does.
Stevia is another alternative that is natural, has no calories or carbs, and is good for diabetics. It even comes in a variety of flavors! Stevia is probably the healthiest option, followed by xylitol, erythritol, and yacon syrup.
Although they have been marketed as healthy alternatives, many studies have found no links between sugar substitutes and long-term improvements in regards to your calorie intake or risk of diabetes or obesity.
The best move you can make before you start making changes to your diet is to talk to your doctor first. Your doctor will not only be able to provide some nutrition counseling, but he or she will be able to connect you to a registered dietitian, if it turns out that you need one. If not, they will be able to line you up with a healthy meal plan that is specialized for you.
In this video, Dr. Matthew Stevens talks about the elements of a healthy diet.
To keep track of the recommended daily allowances of sodium and sugar in a healthy diet, download our “Guide To The Dietary Guidelines.” Inside you will find all of the pertinent information you need to develop a healthy diet pattern.