The importance of cutting down on salt and sugar intake is universally acknowledged wisdom, but putting it into practice can be harder than it seems.
It's not enough to just avoid adding extra salt and sugar, since sugar and salt can hide in foods we'd never expect. We also need to review the basic sugar and salt nutrition guidelines, learn how to read labels and do some old-fashioned detective work.
Salt and sugar: basic facts
- Salt vs. sodium – what's the difference?
- Salt = sodium chloride
- Salt is the stuff we sprinkle on our food
- Sodium is the chemical compound of salt
- Salt = sodium x 2.5
- Recommended daily salt intake for adults:
- 1500-2300 mg of sodium per day OR
- 3.75-5.75 g of salt per day OR
- 3/4 to a full teaspoon of salt per day
- According to Health Canada, Canadians consume far too much salt. At an average of 3400 mg of sodium each day, that's more than double our basic intake need.
- Too much sodium can increase heart health risks
- Natural vs. added sugar:
- Naturally occurring sugar is found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). There are currently no limits in place for naturally occurring sugar, so the focus is on added sugar
- The many names of sugar:
- Sugar: cane, raw, beet
- High fructose corn syrup
- Most words ending in "-ose": maltose, dextrose, sucrose, etc.
- Honey, maple syrup and agave syrup
- Recommended daily limit of added sugar for adults:
- No more than half of your daily discretionary calories
- Women: 100 calories or 6 teaspoons or 30 grams per day
- Men: 150 calories or 9 teaspoons or 40 grams per day
- At an average of 63 grams per day, Canadians consume more than twice the recommended daily limit.
- Health risks of too much sugar include:
- Weight gain
- Heart problems
- Poor nutrition
- Dental issues
How to cut down
Beware of foods high in salt and sugar:
- High salt
- Prepared meats
- Salty fish
- Prepackaged meals
- Snacks: pickles, olives, nuts, chips
- Soups, pizza, sandwiches
- Yeast extract, stock cubes, pasta sauce
- Bread products
- Cheese and gravy
- High sugar
- Soft drinks and juice
- Baked goods
- Sweetened milk products
- Salad dressings and condiments
- Sweetened breads and cereals
Learn to read nutrition labels
The information is all there on the back of most packaged foods. All we need to do is learn how to read it. Canada’s Food Guide has interactive tools and fact sheets that can help with this, but the basics boil down to looking at the amounts of food and reading the Daily Value percentages (% DV).
- Amounts: compare the amount of food in the nutrition fact table to how much of it you plan to eat.
- % DV: This is where the label shows how much the food item contains of your recommended daily value of a specific nutrient (e.g., sodium or sugar).
- When in doubt: 5% DV or less is a little and 15% DV or more is a lot.
Looking for recipes? Check out our recipes for delicious and nutritious meals and snacks.