Sugar and Salt: Reading Labels – The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


Sure, too much sugar can rot your teeth and grow your waistline. But is it “the most dangerous drug” of our time? Yes, at least according to a Dutch public health official.

Paul van der Velpen, the head of Amsterdam’s health service, says sugar is an addictive drug that should be “tightly regulated.”

“Just like alcohol and tobacco, sugar is actually a drug,” he wrote in a column on the agency’s website. “The use of sugar should be discouraged. And users should be made aware of the dangers.”

Whether it’s crystals in your coffee or powder on your pastry, sugar adds calories with no nutritional value. The average American man consumes 335 calories in added sugars, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – that’s 13 percent of his recommended daily calories. And women aren’t much better; getting an average 11 percent of their recommended daily calories from sugars added to processed foods and sweet treats like sodas, chocolates and ice creams.

So do you think you (and I) have an addiction to sugar? I don’t know that I would say I am truly addicted to sugar but I know that I have been craving it recently. I also know that my hormones play a part in how much (or how little) I crave sugar. Who knows? Maybe it is an addiction, but I know that addictions can be broken! I’m ready to break my addictions to sugar (and salt)!

We have been eating more and more sugar over the past 200 years, which has led to rising obesity numbers. Back in 1822 the average person ate only 6.3 pounds of sugar per year, compared to 130 pounds of sugar in 2012. That’s more than 20 times as much sugar in our modern diet! No wonder we are bigger than ever…

Now that we have this information in front of us there are a few things to consider in our quest for a healthier lifestyle. The first and most important thing to do is READ THE LABELS!!

For example this is the label from a jar of  Jif’s Natural Peanut Butter found in my pantry.

As you can clearly see this “natural” peanut butter has 3g of sugar per 2 tbsp of peanut butter. Last I knew peanuts had no sugar, so where does the sugar come from in this natural peanut butter? I just consumed AT LEAST 2 tbsp. of  peanut butter with an apple. So if you add this peanut butter plus my organic gala apple I have consumed at least 19 grams of sugar. If this were all the sugar I consumed today I would have been fine BUT it wasn’t all for the day. In fact, I consumed more than 4 times the sugar that My Fitness Pal called for on this particular day.

So this brings us to the next question. How much sugar should you have per day? Well, that seems to be a moving target depending on what source we look at but according to the American Heart Association,  the (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.

  • Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons).
  • Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).

BUT….not sugar is created equal!! You see, if you have 5 pieces of fruit in one day you would be consuming FAR more than the 25 grams of sugar in one day but it would be in a form that is considered good for us. But, if you consume a box of Whoppers and a 12 ounce can of coke you will be consuming FAR more sugar grams than the 25 grams and it is ADDED sugar that is not natural. It’s important to look at what kind of sugar you are consuming! Not all sugar is created equal!!

As a general guide, the greater the discrepancy between “total carbohydrates” and “sugar,” on the label, the more nutritious carbohydrates the food contains. This means that the package contains more of the food’s natural sugars than added sugars. The closer the number of grams of “sugar” is to the “total carbohydrates” in each serving, the closer the food gets to the junk quality. The “total carbs” minus the “sugar” value is particularly helpful in comparing the nutritional value of cereals. For example, a serving of regular All-Bran contains 24 grams of total carbohydrates and 6 grams of sugars, resulting in 18 grams of potentially healthy carbohydrates. A serving of Fruit Loops, on the other hand, contains 28 grams of total carbohydrates, 15 grams of which are sugars – over 50 percent of the total carbohydrates in Fruit Loops are added sweeteners, versus 25 percent in All-Bran.

Bringing us back to READING THE LABELS!! READ THE LABELS!! It will be the difference in losing weight or gaining weight!

Another area that most of us have problems with is our SALT intake or sodium on the nutrition label. If you look back at my peanut butter label you can see that  in this one serving of peanut butter (of which I consumed more than 1 of) there is 140mg of sodium. How does this compare to the recommendations for sodium?

The government recommends limiting daily sodium intake to one 2,300 milligrams (one teaspoon).  However, nearly 70 percent of US adults are at risk of developing health problems associated with salt consumption, and the American Heart Association recommends that the following at-risk individuals should limit their daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams (2/3 of a teaspoon):

  • People over age 50
  • People who have high or slightly elevated blood pressure
  • People who have diabetes
  • African Americans

Given that the majority of US adults are at risk of developing health problems related to salt consumption, nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, the American Heart Association, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have called for the U.S. government to lower the upper limit of daily recommended sodium intake from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams per day (2/3 teaspoon of salt).

So for this one serving, I did ok but if I look at my sodium for the day you can see that I went WAY over what I should have.

As you can see I ate very poorly on Wednesday, going way over sugar and sodium. And then I turn around and ask why didn’t I lose weight this week?

Bottom line is salt does not cause your body to gain or lose fat. In fact, salt has no calories. High consumption of salt only results in temporary weight gain as it causes your body to retain water. The opposite is true as well – low consumption of salt can result in temporary weight loss as it causes your body to expel water. But, having too much sodium causes our blood pressure to elevate and puts us at risk for heart disease and diabetes, so you can see the wisdom of keeping your sodium levels down.

Our bodies rely on electrolytes, most significantly sodium and potassium, to carry the electrical impulses that control our bodily functions. In order for our bodies to function properly, it is important that the concentration of electrolytes in our bodies remain constant.

A high concentration of electrolytes in our blood triggers our thirst mechanism, causing us to consume adequate amounts of water to return to the proper concentration of electrolytes. This is one of the reasons bars provide free salty snacks like pretzels and peanuts. The salt causes us to become thirsty and purchase more drinks.

When we consume an adequate amount of water, our kidneys are able to keep the concentration of electrolytes in our blood constant by increasing or decreasing the amount of water we retain. The result of our retaining more or less water in our bloodstream can also affect our blood pressure.

The water moves beyond our bloodstream, too. Through the process of osmosis, water flows from a lower salinity environment to a higher one in an attempt to balance the levels of salinity. After we consume large amounts of salt, it is the water moving from our bloodstream into our skin that gives us that “puffy” look and makes it hard to get our rings off. Then, when we consume lesser amounts of salt, the same process works in reverse to remove the excess water from our bodies.

So the big question in my mind (and yours if your macronutrients look anything like mine) is how can we change?

Here are seven huge steps we can take to change and help ensure that we do meet our weight loss and healthy living goals.

 1) Eat more protein, 2) Avoid artificial sweeteners, 3) Steer clear of saboteurs, like candy and chips and salsa 4) Try dark chocolate, 5) Eat more fruit, 6) Change your palate, 7) Workout like you mean it!

Something we should keep in mind when we are tracking our calories every day is that we need to have a “balanced diet” of proteins, carbs, and fats. But what is that balance? I’m glad you asked! I took a few minutes and looked it up for you (and me) and I’m even giving you the formula to figure it out! Remember these are averages to help us get more balanced, not an exact science or a “rule”.

  • daily calories x percent protein / 4 calories per gram = grams protein
  • daily calories x percent fat / 9 calories per gram = grams fat
  • daily calories x percent carbs / 4 calories per gram = grams carbs

For example, if your daily calorie needs are 2000 calories and you choose proportions of 30% protein, 20% fat and 50% carbohydrates:

  • 2000 x .30 / 4 = 150 grams protein
  • 2000 x .20 / 9 = 44 grams fat
  • 2000 x .50 / 4 = 250 grams carbs

So I’m going to calculate mine for you based on the calories that I have set up in My Fitness Pal to demonstrate how many grams of protein, fat and carbs I should have every day (based on the averages listed above).

1420 x .30/4 = 105 grams protein

1420 x .20/9 = 20 grams fat

1420 x .50/4 = 177 grams carbs

Personally, I think I should reduce my carb grams and increase by protein grams a bit from this scale, as that seems to make a difference in my effective weight loss according to this Spring’s tracking information from My Fitness Pal, but based on what I saw today (and the past week) I need to make some serious adjustments to even get to this point! Now that I have this information placed in front of me (and you) I (we) have no excuses for excessive sugar and salt consumption!

What are you doing right? What changes do you need to make? How are you going to follow through with these changes? We are here for you! We want to help you in your journey!! Leave us a comment so we can make the changes together!!


(Image credit: Getty Images)