The Dietary Trifecta – Sugar, Salt & Fat: How To Eat Them Responsibly

by drpaul

Sugar is good. Sugar is bad.

Salt is good. Salt is bad.

Fat is good. Fat is bad.

All true statements, in a way.

Our bodies need all three, but probably not as much as you might be eating … or in the form you’re eating … OR more importantly, the source they’re coming from, etc.

Boy, are we confused in today’s culture. Studies now show that people are so confused about what’s good to eat and what’s bad to eat, they’re simply giving up. This isn’t a case of a little is good and too much is bad. The truth is that sugar, salt and fat are all good under certain conditions or when they meet certain criteria; and not simply because a little sugar (or salt or fat) is good and a lot is bad. It turns out the quality and type of sugar, salt and fat are the critical issues.

Good Sugar
There are sugars found naturally in foods such as bananas, dates, and honey. They are part of the natural food supply within our environment and can be considered good or healthy sugars. Because these “natural” sugars, when found within whole foods, are bound to fiber and combined with enzymes, vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals, co-factors and other natural nutrients that allow or cause the body to digest and metabolize them through healthy pathways and timelines, they are considered healthy sugars.

However, what’s not natural or healthy is an unlimited supply or overindulgence, even of natural or “healthy” sugars. Over the past five hundred generations as human biological requirements were being formed, abundance wasn’t a concern; famine was. Therefore, our bodies are designed to withstand famine but not indulgence or overconsumption of any foods, including healthy sugars found in natural foods. Early man did not have an unlimited supply of bananas, honey or strawberries (nor did those fruits resemble some of the hybrid fruits grown today to accentuate their sweetness). It should also be mentioned that because fruit juice comes from a natural source does not mean that it qualifies as a good or healthy sugar – it’s no longer bound to the fiber and other nutrients that are the hallmarks of a healthy food – it has become a refined sugar product with the same negative health effects as refined sugars.

Bad Sugar
A general statement can be made that any sweetener added to food is almost always going to be a refined, processed concentrated sugar of some sort; the exceptions being raw honey, dates (not date sugar) molasses, xylitol, and Stevia. It’s been only recently (in the last 3-4 generations), that man has devised ways to create highly concentrated “unnatural” sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose and the myriad of sugar derivatives. Similar to the risk of overabundance, during the eons of time when the current human genetic code was stamped into its present form, humans never experienced these unnatural, man-made, concentrated sugars. They are very toxic and deleterious to our health. These manufactured, super-sweet sugars cause the body to react in unhealthy ways resulting in damaged organs, tissues and cells in the form of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.

Good Sugars:

  • Whole fruit
  • Raw honey
  • Whole dates
  • Blackstrap molasses

**Even natural good sugars should be consumed in moderation, even fresh fruit.

Bad Sugars:

  • Sucrose – table sugar (including dextrose, fructose)
  • Corn syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Extracted, filtered, pasteurized fruit juices
  • Fruit juice concentrates

When we eat any foods that cause an abnormal spike in our glucose levels, which in turn causes abnormally high insulin levels, we put our bodies on a path to destruction. The foods that cause these abnormal conditions to occur are unnatural, concentrated sweeteners, such as those listed directly above. Eating unnatural concentrated sugars causes:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • High insulin levels
  • High triglycerides
  • Hypertension
  • Weight gain

NOTE: Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) or sucralose (Splenda) are an entirely different topic with their own story to tell, none of it good.

NOTE 2: Grains act like sugar when we eat them – meaning they too cause high insulin levels.

Worth Your Salt?
In ancient Rome, soldiers were paid part of their wages in salt (the modern word salary is derived from the Latin word “salarium” – salt money); that’s where the term, “He’s not worth his salt” came from.

Salt is an essential substance used by nearly all living creatures, including humans, and is vital for survival. Salt, in solution with water, provides many regulatory metabolic functions within our bodies. Proper health is in part determined by the delicate balance of mineral salts and water that exist inside and outside our cells.

Salt as a food additive or seasoning has been around for nearly 6,000 years and has always been valued as a spice or condiment.  In its natural form (i.e. unrefined sea salt), it provides necessary minerals and trace elements and can therefore be considered healthy – but with major qualifiers: (a) unprocessed; and (b) not over consumed.  Unfortunately, table salt used commonly today is not natural and does not contain the valuable nutrients common to natural unprocessed sea salts.

Salt Found in Foods Naturally – GOOD
Salt, also known as soduim, does contain natural minerals including magnesium, calcium, sulfur, silicon, potassium, bromide, borate, and strontium and trace elements. What most people don’t realize it that all of the salt that you need is already found in many natural foods like fruits and vegetables. There is no need to add additional salt to foods.  In fact, too much salt can be deadly. You can easily get enough salt through eating a whole foods based diet.

Processed Table Salt – BAD
Most American’s grow up with Morton’s Iodized Salt – salt that typically contains 98% sodium chloride and 2% chemical additives and has been processed using high heat (1200°F), chemicals, and finally iodine added to it. This industrial processing changes the chemical structure and strips away valuable nutrients that are naturally occurring and health promoting. The end product is simply sodium chloride with added fillers (sugar and aluminum silicate , anti-caking agents) to stabilize the added iodine and to make the salt flow better.

The USDA says that people 19 and over should have no more than 2400mg of salt per day.  Based on what we know about the USDA, use this number as and extreme upper limit for salt intake. The problem is that most Americans are eating many times this amount per day, mostly from processed foods. Up to 75% of the extra salt that Americans are eating is from processed foods, with 20% coming from table salt. Only 5% of salt is coming from natural, healthy sources.  For instance, one McDonald’s Angus Bacon and Cheeseburger contains 2070mg of salt.  That is 85% of the absolute maxium amount of salt you can consume each day. The lesson here is to stick to fruits, veggies and healthy meats.  And kick the Morton’s to the curb.  For the foodies out there, if the thought of tossing your table salt makes your culinary ego cringe, do not fear.  Much like salt, a squeeze of fresh lemon can bring out the natural flavors in food, not to mention, the vitamin C will help you kick your squelch your salt cravings.

The Skinny on Fat
If there’s one thing health science has learned over the past 25 years, it’s that sufficient intake of quality fats is essential for health; this even includes saturated animal fat, long considered a taboo amongst so-called health experts. But don’t let the simplicity of that statement mislead you – it’s not an endorsement to eat any animal fat, deep fried foods, milk shakes, chips made with oils and the like; far from it – the quality AND source of fat is critically important.

First, the concept that eating fat will make a person become overweight is not an accurate statement. In fact, the current obesity epidemic began when Americans adopted the low-fat, non-fat, dietary regimen in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that still persists today. Unfortunately, this “myth” of ‘avoiding fat because it will make you fat’ extends to the present, and as a culture, we’re paying dearly for it. What’s at the center of the obesity epidemic is not the need to avoid fat, it’s the consumption of grains, sugars, and processed vegetable oils which elevate insulin, the “fat storage hormone” that’s making our culture obese (in combination with sedentary lifestyles and chronic stress, which also cause abnormal insulin and fat metabolism).

As it turns out, our bodies utilize fat for nearly every metabolic process including brain function, immune system, and hormone production and regulation, to name just a few. These important bodily systems require a consistent supply of good fuel throughout each day in the form of fat (along with quality protein, and abundant complex carbohydrates in the form of vegetables). There are a special group of fats called essential fatty acids (EFA) which like the name states, are essential – our bodies can’t manufacture them, they must be consumed. The most important fat our bodies need in good supply (and are almost always lacking) is omega-3 essential fatty acids, commonly found in wild (not farmed) fish, grass- or pasture-fed animals, walnuts, avocados, and other raw nuts and seeds. The other principle essential fat is omega-6 fats which are found primarily in processed vegetable oils and grains, which unfortunately predominates the Standard American diet. Here’s the rub: for optimal health, we should eat a balanced 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 EFA; however, today, scientists have calculated that most people are eating a diet giving them a ratio of 1:20 or even 1:50 in favor of omega-6 because the average American eats a diet dominated by grains (breads, pasta), cereals, chips, fried foods, baked goods, etc. that contain or are made with omega-6 vegetable oils and worse – hydrogenated vegetable oils which are very harmful to the body, causing heart disease and cancer.

Good Fats:

  • Extra virgin olive oi
  • Walnuts
  • Avocado
  • Wild caught fish
  • Pasture-fed, grass-fed meats
  • Fish oil supplements

Bad Fats:

  • Deep fried foods
  • Processed vegetable oils (found in nearly all packaged foods such as chips, snack foods, breads)
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Grain-fed meats
  • Cured meats (deli or “lunch meats”)
  • Processed dairy (pasteurized, homogenized milk, ice cream, cheese)

Mastering these three critical food groups is similar to learning how to successfully merge onto an interstate highway – if done correctly, your journey to health will be smooth and uneventful; done poorly, it can be fatal.

Related Resources:

New England Journal of Medicine Study on the Effects of Salt Intake on Cardiovascular Disease

MSNBC: American’s Consume Too Much Salt

How To Manage A Salt Addiction

Why Salt Addiction is Hard to Kick

25 Suprisingly Salty Processed Foods

CDC: Few Americans Meet Salt Guidelines

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  1. Pingback: The Paleo Rag | The Dietary Trifecta – Sugar, Salt & Fat: How To Eat Them Responsibly

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