by Peter Kates

Food cravings are rarely for kale or cauliflower. More likely, they’re for something sweet, or salty. Here is what you need to know about these two substances.

Sugar is a carbohydrate that gives you energy. The healthiest form is in fruits, vegetables, grains, milk and yogurt. These foods also provide vitamins, minerals and more. Sugar from sweetened beverages, desserts and some condiments contribute calories without much, if any, nutrition.

“A little sweetness goes a long way,” says Patricia Salzer, a registered dietitian and workplace wellness consultant at Univera Healthcare. “A dash of sugar in marinara sauce can reduce its acidity or a drizzle of honey on roasted vegetables or salmon perks them up. Even a small square of dark chocolate can be part of a healthy diet!”

General guidelines for added sugar are no more than 100 calories a day (about six teaspoons) for women, and 150 calories a day (about nine teaspoons) a day for men.

“For reference, a 12-ounce soda contains on average 10 teaspoons of sugar,” cautions Salzer.

To reduce added sugar consumption, Salzer recommends the following:
– Replace sweetened beverages with water, seltzer or water infused with fruit or herbs.
– Reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe when baking and enjoy a smaller portion.
– Enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit alone, add to plain yogurt or as a pancake or oatmeal topping. Replace the jam or jelly in a PB&J with fruit and make it a PB&B (banana).

Salt is made of sodium and chloride. The human body requires a small amount to properly function, but too much sodium can increase blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current guidelines recommend adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (approximately one teaspoon) a day.

“Taste your food before you salt it,” advises Salzer. “Even if you avoid the salt shaker, you could be consuming a lot of sodium in processed foods, including soup, pickles, bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, potato chips and condiments.”

Ideas to reduce salt intake include the following:

– Read food labels and compare products for sodium content while grocery shopping.
– Don’t add salt to the water to cook rice, pasta and hot cereal.
– Drain and rinse canned chick peas, black beans, kidney beans, etc.
– Use fresh or dried herbs to flavor your food since low salt doesn’t mean no flavor.
– Cook more often at home instead of eating out because restaurants rely heavily on salt to enhance flavor.

About the Author: Peter Kates is the Regional Vice President of Communications at Univera Healthcare.