It's been estimated that the average person consumes roughly 130 pounds of added sugar annually. Aside from promoting obesity, excessive sugar consumption has also been found to contribute to energy imbalances, diabetes and mood disorders. However, that's only the tip of the iceberg.
The average person also consumes around 3,400mg, or 1.5 teaspoons, of salt each day. This is well beyond the 1,000mg, around half a teaspoon, required by the human body each day. This excessive salt consumption has been linked to hypertension and an elevated risk of heart disease, heart attack, erectile dysfunction, kidney problems and stroke. Some research indicates that too much sodium may also exacerbate bipolar disorder and epilepsy symptoms.
While both sugar and sodium are natural and are indeed necessary in small amounts for basic health, eating them in excess is not. For this reason, it's important to take steps to reduce your intake of added salt and sugar.
When reducing your intake, it's important to do it gradually. Your taste buds are adapted to a particular level of salty and sweet, so they will require an adjustment period. With time, you'll find that you can thoroughly enjoy foods containing far less of these health offenders.
The bulk of the average person's sodium and sugar intake comes primarily from processed, pre-packaged foods. These include things like fast food, frozen meals, boxed dinners, canned soups and snack items. Fat-free and low-fat processed foods are even worse. To make up for the lack of texture and flavor in these foods, manufacturers load them with even more salt and sugar. Ideally, you should be preparing your own meals from scratch using fresh ingredients.
Foods served at restaurants are usually no better than processed, pre-packaged foods. It's virtually guaranteed that most of the items on the menu will be loaded with sodium and sugar. This is especially true of dressings, gravies and sauces, which you can request to have served on the side. Common sense goes a long way when dining out. If a dish sounds like it would be sweet or savory, it likely has more salt and sugar than you should be eating.
When preparing a meal, try using a variety of herbs and spices instead of dousing your food in salt. Things like ginger, fresh or powdered garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme, rosemary and chili powder do more than just add flavor. They also come with many of their own health benefits. To add sweetness to foods and drinks, try using stevia, a natural non-sugar sweetener.
You can do yourself a favor simply by cutting out those snacks that are loaded with added sugar and sodium and replacing them with healthier options. Some ideas include unsalted nuts and seeds, natural peanut butter, baby carrots, fresh fruit and plain, unsweetened yogurt.
Sugared beverages rot teeth and lead to other health problems, but they're more fun to drink than plain water. An easy way to get past this is to add some kick to your water. Many people find that a twist of citrus, splash of fruit juice or a few drops of vanilla make for a refreshing, tasty and healthy alternative.
While processed foods aren't ideal, it's sometimes hard to avoid them completely. When shopping for products like sauces, seasoning blends or cereals, your best bet is to familiarize yourself with those big words on the ingredients list. Sodium is difficult to disguise, but sugar goes by many names. These include corn syrup, fructose, evaporated cane juice, cane crystals, agave nectar, sucrose, glucose, brown rice syrup, molasses, turbinado and sucanat. All of these point to added sugars, so it's best to avoid them.