A plant-based diet will certainly lessen the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, some cancers, obesity, and diabetes. If you do decide to eat a plant-based diet, make sure to take a vitamin B12 supplement as this vitamin can only be found in animal foods. Calcium from green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, and nuts is important. Omega-3 fats from flax, hemp, walnuts, and canola is recommended. Vitamin D must be acquired from sunlight (vitamin D3) as well as in supplemental form (vitamin D2). Iodine is also a consideration and can be found in green leafy vegetables as well as iodized salt.
Humans love sugar and salt and may consume foods containing these substances to the point when narcotic (read: drug-like) effects occur within the body. Yes, sugar and salt may behave like addictive drugs within the body. Blood levels of these substances may develop to a certain point of adaptation when the body needs more and more in order to feel comfortable. Classic food addictions are sodas, ice cream and chips. It's no wonder these substances are ubiquitous in our foods today. We love foods which are sweet and salty because of the taste (pleasurable) as well as the cost (cheap). The problem is that eating foods high in sugar can cause insulin resistance which may develop into chronic diseases (e.g., Type-2 diabetes and obesity). Sugar in excessive amounts in one's diet can become toxic to the body and cause metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease. A diet high in salt may cause water retention which may develop over time into health problems (e.g., hypertension, heart failure and stroke).
The majority of sugar and salt consumed in this country comes from processed and fast foods. Adding sugar and salt to foods is standard practice for food manufacturers because they're inexpensive, mask bad flavors, and act as a preservative (in the case of salt).
How can you limit your consumption of sugar and salt? The key is reading and understanding food labels. Learn to decipher sugar by its many names (i.e., corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, and molasses). Learn to decipher salt by its many names (i.e., baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate, sodium benzoate, sodium saccharin, and sodium nitrate).
Here are some tips to reduce your sugar intake:
- Drink water instead of sodas and sports drinks
- Drink 100 percent fruit juice instead of fruit juice concentrates
- Avoid frosted (code for sugary) cereals
- Limit the use of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves
- Avoid baked goods (e.g., cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, etc.)
- Eat canned fruit packed in water or juice instead of syrup
- Eat fresh instead of canned vegetables
- Eat fresh poultry, fish and lean meats instead of canned or processed meats
- Add herbs or spices to foods instead of salt
- Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without adding salt
- Limit frozen dinners, pizzas, canned soups/broths, and salad dressings
- Choose low-sodium canned foods (e.g., tuna, soups, etc.)
BOTTOM LINE: Obesity, heart disease and type-2 diabetes need not be an inevitability in the United States and can be eradicated by lessening saturated fat and refined sugar intake while increasing fiber (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and unsaturated fat intake.
Brian Danley, CFT
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."