Sugar. Saturated Fat. Salt. It’s no surprise that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, released just a few weeks ago, target the three things that we hear the most about in relation to the rising rates of obesity and chronic disease. According to research, in general only 25% of the American population is eating enough fruits and vegetables, and 70% or more of us eat more than our bodies can handle of added sugar, salt and saturated fat. Many questions are arising about these nutrients, so read on to get some of the answers to your more common questions.
Sugar. How much is too much? The new Guidelines have established that added sugars should equal no more than 10% of total calorie intake. With the average American consuming about 2000 calories per day, this would allow for about 50 grams of added sugars or about one 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola (40 grams). If you eat less calories than 2000 per day, keep in mind that your amount of added sugar would be lower. Another point to consider is the amount of hidden sugars present in your normal diet. Surprising places to find hidden sugars are in yogurts, canned soups, canned tomato products, cereals, beverages, and condiments such as BBQ sauce, for example. These hidden sugars are still added sugars, and need to be included in that 50 grams.
What is the difference between natural and added sugars? Natural sugars are those sugars naturally present in fruit and milk products, and they are what give those foods their sweet taste. Because natural sugars tend to be in foods also high in fiber or protein, they are absorbed more slowly into the blood stream since the fiber and protein interfere with their uptake. Therefore, blood sugar levels stay more controlled and energy levels more consistent. Natural sugars have a healthy place in our diet, but they do still need to be balanced in just like anything else.
Concentrated, or added, sugars are typically found in foods where the competing nutrients are taken out, or there is enough of a nutrient imbalance that there is not sufficient competition to slow absorption. Instead, these added sugars flood into the blood stream resulting in high blood sugar levels and up and down energy cycles. To elaborate even more, sugar is damaging to our body tissues, therefore maintaining higher blood sugar levels over time causes bodily harm and can potentially lead to the development of diabetes.
Saturated fat. Why is it bad for us? Research has proven repeatedly that saturated fats raise our cholesterol levels more so than actual dietary cholesterol. Diets high in saturated fat typically result in greater risks of cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol, high LDL (the bad cholesterol), and low HDL (the good cholesterol). Saturated fats are fairly easy to identify because they tend to be solid at room temperature. Butter, white fat marbled through meats, cheese, and whole milk are major sources. Mixed dishes that contain both meat and cheese tend to contain high amounts of saturated fat such as cheeseburgers, pizza, tacos, sandwiches, and meat, cheese and pasta based casseroles.
How much saturated fat can I have and still maintain good health? The 2015 Dietary Guidelines suggest about 10% of total calories. A 2000 calorie diet would equal about 22 grams of saturated fat per day. For those with a family history of heart disease, about 15 grams is recommended to prevent development of CVD risk. Keep in mind that one fast food combo meal may contain anywhere from 30-50 grams of saturated fat alone which contains more than double the recommended daily amount.
How do we limit our saturated fat intake? Making a few easy switches can make a big difference.
- In place of butter, use a light margarine or olive oil.
- Drink skim or 1% milk, and buy low-fat dairy products.
- Limit red meat to a 3-4 ounce portion twice a week. Choose chicken, fish, lean pork, or turkey instead.
- Portion your servings of cheese to about one ounce a day, or to a slice no larger than 3 dice put together.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Choose lean meats, steamed vegetables, and whole grains when eating out.
- Aim for more healthy fats found in avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and seafood like salmon or shrimp.
Salt. What does sodium do? Sodium, or salt, helps the body maintain fluid balance. The body needs to maintain at least 500 mgs of salt for proper electrolyte balance, and if you exercise on a regular basis or work outside in the heat and humidity, your salt needs are higher than those who do not. However, the general recommendation is 2300 mgs or no more than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. If you consistently consume more than this, you may retain more fluid to maintain sodium levels in your body at a safe level. Maintaining more fluid can lead to feeling bloated and heavy, and can ultimately increase blood pressure.
How do I know how much salt I am eating? The best way to start monitoring how much salt you eat is to simply look at food labels. Start paying attention to how much salt is in all the different foods you eat, and you will start to realize very quickly which foods are high in sodium and which foods are lower. As you start to recognize the difference, then start switching out your normal products to lower sodium versions, stop salting your food, and make your own seasoning mixes out of different herbs and spices.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines are science-based recommendations to keep the American population on the healthy track. The guidelines actually suggest “shifting” our meal patterns towards better choices, which is a great way to think about it. Instead of making significant changes that can be hard to maintain, we need to shift our food choices gradually towards healthier options. Making these shifts will lead us on our way to better overall health individually, and hopefully, as a nation. To read more about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, simply go to www.health.gov, or e-mail Niki at Nikik@infinitesportsworld.com to learn more about what “shifts” you can make.