If there’s a good versus evil in the nutrition world, it’s salt versus sugar. The two white crystals look similar on the outside but are totally different on the inside—and behave totally different once they’re inside your body.
What does this mean to you? If you are experiencing symptoms such as tooth decay, ‘major’ sugar cravings, digestive issues, muscle spasms/cramping, or dizziness during exercise, you may not be getting enough sodium and too much sugar!
Salt is composed of two essential minerals, making it an essential micronutrient, whereas sugar is a non-essential macronutrient. And while sugar and salt make up two of the five human tastes (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami), they function in the body in radically different ways.
Think of a pinball machine, or if that’s too old school, a video game – when you hit ‘Start’ there’s a surge in volume and a flash of lights. Your brain reacts very similarly when you consume refined sugar. This is because of the intense release of dopamine. Unfortunately, unlike Netflix’s latest feature there’s no automatic stop for these receptors in your brain, no pop-up menu that asks “Do you still need this”? Instead, our sweet taste receptors don’t signal us to stop eating when you’ve had too much sugar. On top of that, the more sugar you consume, the more you crave it. Creating a vicious cycle of sugar dependence.
Salt does not behave the same way in our bodies. Instead, our salt taste receptors provide us with an aversion signal when our bodies do not need anymore. In other words, if you consume too much salt in a meal, your body has a built-in safety mechanism causing you to crave less salt later in the day. Your body is extremely smart when it comes to regulating the intake of essential minerals, especially one as important as salt.
But, how much salt should you be eating in a day? Evidence suggests that most people should eat around 1½ to 2 teaspoons of salt per day. More salt may be needed if you are an avid exerciser and lose salt in sweat or out the urine via coffee intake.
As for sugar, it’s best to consume no more than 20 grams (about 5 teaspoonfuls) of added sugars per day for the average adult to avoid negative health consequences.
Over the last few hundred years, the average intake of salt has declined rather dramatically. Due to the introduction of refrigerators, we no longer preserve all of our food in salt. (Meat, vegetables etc) When the population was largely consuming whole real foods, with lots of salt and very little sugar; the obesity, diabetes, or hypertension crisis didn’t exist that does today.
As our intake of salt has decreased with lack of food preserves and health recommendations, our intake of sugar has skyrocketed. This number has jumped from just a few pounds of sugar per year to up to 152 pounds of sugar consumed per person – per year!
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