(4 minute read)
One of our core values at Luvo is that convenience shouldn’t have to cost you your health. In contrast, a stroll through your typical grocery aisle reveals an abundance of packaged foods that rely heavily on sugar and salt to boost flavor— sometimes where you’d least expect it. To understand why it’s worth controlling your sodium and sugar (and what we’re doing to help) read on!
The situation with sodium:
A significant part of the concern over sodium and its related health risks is that it’s simply so easy to over-consume if you’re not watching your intake. Right now, nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium. In fact, if you’re like the average person who eats 3,400mg of sodium a day (or more), you’re getting upwards of double the recommended daily limit.
Okay, where is all this sodium coming from?
According to the Center for Disease Control, when excess sodium enters our daily diets, restaurants and packaged foods are the most likely culprits. On average, a mere 10% of overall sodium intake comes from home-cooked meals. This means that making “put away the salt shaker” your mantra simply doesn’t cut it. What will is a combination of label-reading, being more selective about which convenience foods you eat and cooking more at home.
Getting heart smart.
From the National Academy of Medicine to the American Heart Association, experts are in agreement that less sodium equals less risk of high blood pressure (aka hypertension) and cardiovascular disease. Monique Tello, MD, MPH from the Harvard Health blog suggests that the best preventative medicine is eating “more fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and limit foods high in sodium and unhealthy fats” coupled with being “as physically active as possible.”
Did you know?
A teaspoon of coarse sea salt or kosher salt may have less sodium than table salt. The catch is that’s by volume—fewer salt crystals can fit on the spoon!
Prevent or manage diabetes.
Excessive sodium may increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you are already diabetic, this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out all sodium, but being mindful about salt intake is wise since diabetics are more at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
When too much sodium is in your diet, the body typically responds by flushing it out in the urine. The downside is that potassium goes along with it. These two micronutrients have a vital and complex relationship. If you didn’t already know, every muscle contraction in your body (including your heart muscle) requires potassium—an excellent reminder of why we call it an essential nutrient.
What we’re doing to control sodium.
As makers of convenient frozen meals, we think it’s essential to use salt responsibly. After all, we’re no 1950s-style TV-dinner. That’s why we’ve made it mandatory that our meals contain less than 500mg of sodium. We also make a point of using vegetables with potassium, such as broccoli, butternut squash, kale, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes. Finally, we use herbs and spices to amp up the flavor, rather than being liberal with the salt shaker. Our Thai-Style Green Curry Chicken has a modest 290 mg sodium, which goes to show low in sodium doesn’t have to mean low in flavor.
The situation with sugar:
It might seem like passing up cookies, or the occasional piece of cake is enough to curb sugar intake, but sugar’s role in our modern-day lives is a little more complicated than that. The good news is, we’re not advocating a dessert-less life. Rather, it’s important to take a broader look at your eating patterns. For example, if you’re like the average American, you may be eating processed foods as much as 60% of the time. Coupled with that fact, added sugar is found in 74% of packaged foods.
Much like sodium, it’s easy to overdo sugar because it’s not just in your favorite sweets and candies. From canned soups to bread, yogurt cups, salad dressing, and tomato sauce added sugar is present in plenty of everyday items that you wouldn’t necessarily suspect. This is all part of how the average person in the U.S. ends up eating a whopping 42.5 teaspoons of sugar a day when the recommended limit is 13.3 teaspoons. With those facts in mind, it’s not hard to see how we end up with a national obesity epidemic. Similarly, type 2 diabetes was once uncommon in children, but rates have been on the rise in recent years. Dr. Fran Cogen, director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program attributes this to “an explosion of processed, high-sugar and fast food options.”
Your brain on sugar.
The fascinating thing about sugar is our brains are stimulated by it before it even gets anywhere near our mouths. Simply viewing a sweet treat excites the reward center of the brain. Once you finally eat that doughnut, cupcake, or ice cream cone, your tastebuds trigger the brain to release a flood of dopamine, which is very pleasurable. It may surprise you to know that all this activity happens in the exact same region of the brain that responds to cocaine and heroin. Similarly, the more sugar you ingest, the more your body becomes desensitized to it—so you’ll need more in order to get that same sugar rush, and the more you consume, the more you’ll crave.
Natural vs. added sugar.
Some forms of sugar are more problematic than others. When talking about nutrition, we distinguish sugars as either naturally occurring or added sugar. You probably consume the most naturally occurring sugar from eating fruit, or perhaps milk. These foods aren’t just naturally sweet tasting, they give you the value of other nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Added sugar, on the other hand, is any form of sugar or sweetener that’s been added to food when it’s made, i.e. it’s not normally present in that food. Common natural sugars include white sugar, maple syrup, and honey. Then there are artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup or aspartame. These offer no nutritional value at all, hence we commonly call these “empty calories.”
What we’re doing to control sugar.
To encourage balance, and less dependence on sugar, we’ve set out to align ourselves with the values of the renowned Mediterranean diet. This means relying on premium ingredients, including herbs and spices to flavor our meals, not excess sugar or sodium. The maximum amount of added sugar you’ll ever find in our meals is 4 grams (oftentimes less). We’re also shifting to natural sugars, like honey, maple syrup, and organic coconut sugar.
We’d love to hear how you’re getting creative about controlling sodium and sugar in your diet. Share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments below!
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This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.