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Invisible Danger

Many times when we eat foods, we rarely think about what we actually get in some of our favorites. All we know and understand is that ice cream, pies, burgers and other foods please our pallet. Enough said, yes? Well, not exactly. Inside some of our favorite foods are three ingredients that we love but when we get too much, they work against our health. What are these ingredients?

Salt: contains the essential nutrient, sodium and this mineral is necessary for us to live. It helps balance fluids in the body, and helps with muscle and nerve function. Our problem is we love how it enhances the flavor of our favorite foods and we pour it on our foods generously. Salt is an excellent preservative and it is often found in all sorts of packaged foods. It is also added to fast foods, medicines and as ingredients in breads. The average person consumes 4,000 to 5,000 mg a day. These high amounts can play a role in high blood pressure and heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy people should get no more than 1,500 mg.

Sugar: Believe it or not, our brain’s fuel source is sugar. However, when we eat too much sugar, it can give our brains too much fuel, contribute to weight gain and disease processes such as diabetes. But these sweet crystals keep popping up in some of our favorite foods. Ketchup, peanut butter, and mayonnaise are just a few. Just spend a little time reading labels and discover a whole host of foods with sugar. Granted, some of these foods contain small amounts but it begins to add up and make up a good percentage of our calorie intake. How much should we get? The AHA recommends no more than 6 teaspoons or 20 grams of sugar for women and 10 teaspoons or 40 grams for men.

Fat: Has the ability to bump up the flavor of some of our favorite foods. Imagine popcorn without butter; toast without butter; or mashed potatoes without gravy. These foods would drop off our favorite food list. The funny thing about fat is that it contains more than two-and-a-half times the calories than proteins or carbohydrates. What does this mean? One teaspoon of sugar equals 16 calories; one teaspoon of protein equals 16 calories but one teaspoon of fat equals 45 calories. This means that small amounts of fat deliver a large amount of calories. Most processed or fried foods that contain more than 30 percent of its calories from fat are not the healthiest choice.

To reduce these three food ingredients in our diet, try eating a diet loaded with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Go fat free, salt free and sugar free for some of your favorite foods. Discover the many spices and herbs that can season foods without these three ingredients. Read labels and reduce salt, fat, and sugar laden foods. Our good health depends on this.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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