I've often wondered why some people always have to add salt to their food or why others crave sweet desserts often. Sugar and salt seem to be our our main nemesis when it comes to healthy eating. These two food enhancers are also considered to be very addictive. Interestingly, both have high market value and have even helped developed a number of economies. In the modern day diet they are the main culprits for many who suffer from chronic diseases. For this reason, they are considered by many holistic practitioners to be toxic to the body: both can damage the body's main organs and cause a lot of health complications.
In our traditional Trini Cooking, we tend to not measure the amount of sugar and salt in our recipes as we usually relied on taste and or by simple averaging of the ingredients borne from experience. For this simple reason, it has lead many to cook with too much salt or too much sugar. Over time, many of us have grown used to the compelling taste of sugar and salt in our cuisine. I believe many of us cook with too much salt and sugar as more and more people end up with some form of chronic disease due to their eating habits when it comes to these two ingredients. We need to think a bit more about what these two additives mean for our food and our health.
First, let's consider sugar. We all know that it was the expansion of sugar plantations in the West Indies and America that helped developed some European economies. By the 1400's, refined sugar was the main crop of the colonies and soon the cause of obesity worldwide. Since the domestication of sugarcane and sugar beets, 10,000 years ago in New Guinea, we have seen the increasing production of sugar to this day. World production of sugar in 2011 was 168 million tons. It is now estimated that global production will be 181 million tons by year end (2014-2015). The increasing surplus of sugar is meant to cater for the increasing demand of sugar. And as demand increases, production increases and the price of sugar continues to fall. Sugar is cheap and easily available. It is the "new spice" of our times in our modern day cooking - and without any surprise, it is very addictive.
The average person consumes more and more sugar each year. In the 1800's, the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar a year; by 1990, 100 pounds a year. Today, many studies show that many illnesses can be traced to sugar. During the 1600's, since the first sugar boom, we have seen an increase in diabetes and heart diseases. It continues even as we decrease our consumption of saturated fat in our diet. This confirms the fact that the continual increase in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes was more due to the increasing consumption of sugar. It is increasingly obvious that sugar in the diet is not so beneficial.
Sugar, A Literally Addictive Drug
Sugar is the name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates. It composes of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are two types, simple sugar called monosaccharides and longer chain sugar called oligosaccharides (generally not classified as sugar, but are artificial sweeteners that are lower-calorie substitutes for sugar). Sugar has no added nutrition in the human diet, but it is highly soluble in the body and takes little time to digest. They provide only calories.
In the early years of sugar, A.D. 500, sugar was processed and used to treat headaches, stomach flutters and impotence. It was even used in religious ceremonies. Today, researchers have revealed the impact of refined sugar on human health (including high-fructose corn syrup or HFCS which is a mixture of fructose and glucose). They have discovered the toxicity of refined sugar. Despite being a mood changer, it saps us of our energy to exercise. Over consumption of sugar can cause sugar craving and thus be quite an addictive substance because our pleasure centers of the brain respond to sugar in much the same way as it responds to heroin and cocaine. In the diet, most of the sugar we get comes from commercial drinks (sodas, sweet drinks, fruit juices, and energy drinks), ice-cream, cakes, sweets, etc.. contain high amounts of sugar, and are therefore addictive as well.
Another, undesirable side effect of sugar is the way it is broken down in the liver and its conversion into fats called triglycerides. Some of these fats stay in the liver or is pushed out into the blood. Over time blood pressure goes up, and tissues become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas respond by producing more insulin causing a metabolic change and excess secretion of insulin which can become the onset of type 2 diabetes and heighten the incident of heart attack (source). Studies also show that refined sugar alters the PH levels of the body and makes it more acidic. Sugar also can cause a list of ailments: it can damage tooth enamel, tooth decay, osteoarthritis, damage to the digestive tract and other body organs.
So, the health dangers of sugar is obvious today. It is also a challenge to avoid added sugar in many of the commercial products we buy. However, they can be recognized on the product label as white sugar, corn syrup, molasses, dextrose, sucrose, turbinado, amazake, high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, processed fructose, maple syrup, carob powder. Even artificial sweeteners encourage our dependence on sugar and have some undesirable effects, even though they claim to be healthier alternatives. Healthier alternatives to sugar are natural sugars that one can get from fresh fruits, raw honey, raw cane sugar, and organic agave which can help improve digestion (Rogers, 2005, p16 ).
Salt (also called table salt) is an inorganic compound (mineral) generally used to flavor food. Scientifically, referred to as sodium chloride (NaCl), it is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride (source). The addition of salt in the human diet began about 5,000 years ago. It is indigestible and the body either eliminates it or stores it in water soluble form. Salt cannot be made in the body, it must be consumed through our food. Many foods, such as milk, beets and celery, contain salt naturally. Once in the body, it helps regulate the normal PH or acid-base level in our body, it also helps transmit nerve signals in the body and aid in muscular contraction. Chloride influence fluid movement and PH levels in the body as well. it is important in digestion.
Salt therefore is a necessary mineral in the human diet, however in small amounts to help regulate the amount of fluid in the body. Unwanted salt is filtered through the kidney. "The kidney uses osmosis to draw the extra water out of the blood" (source). It's a delicate process that can really put a strain on the kidney. If it builds up too much, your kidney could be damaged, arteries become clogged, and the heart and brain could be affected. Today the consumption of salt is 10 to 20 times greater, and are common in processed food. Over-consumption of salt has shown an increased incident of stroke and heart attack. Salt also paralyses the taste buds in our mouth. For this reason many people addicted to salt do not like vegetables. Thus, health dangers of too much salt in the diet can also lead to a number of complication from muscle cramps, dizziness, or electrolyte disturbance to neurological problems and death.
Salt indirectly causes hypertension, a condition that can lead to other medical problems such as heart attack, stroke or kidney damage, and even diabetes. Salt is also bad for the bones as it causes an increase amount of calcium to be leached into the urine. If you drink insufficient amounts of water with salt consumption, you can increase these risks and also the risk of stomach cancer. A high salt intake can also cause hypernatremia, a condition when a person becomes dehydrated and the kidney cannot cope with the excess salt in the bloodstream. There are other signs that tell you that you have too much salt in your system. They include irritability, muscle cramps, confusion, depression, vomiting, excessive thirst, and bloating.
Kicking the Sugar and Salt Craving
If you want to correct the imbalance caused by sugar and salt, you will have to change your diet and cleanse yourself of these toxins in order to reduce the acidic environment in the bowel. You will have to reduce your exposure to these substances. You will have to eliminate soft drinks from your diet, avoid energy drinks and fruit flavored drinks, and drink lots of water. You will have to eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables and include a lot of fiber rich foods in your diet. Above all, you will have to consume less salt and sugar as much as possible or don't consume it at all. You will have to avoid monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, and sodium saccharin. It is recommended that the regular intake of sodium for an adult is 2300 mg of sodium per day (and 1500 mg per day for an adult with high blood pressure or less for people suffering from heart and kidney diseases). You will have to read the labels on food packages. If you like, you can even make your own fruit juces and water drinks.
It is all about making changes in your eating habits. It will take time for your body to recuperate and kick the sugar and salt addiction. At first the food would taste bland, but you will soon come to enjoy the natural flavor and taste of the food you eat. Generally, it takes up to 3 months to wake up your taste buds (Rogers, 2005, p. 16). During the detox you may experience nervous tension, insomnia and migraines which are all part of the healing crises that occur when the body is healing itself. However, you will ensure a healthy life, possibly live longer, and avoid many health problems such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and circulatory problems. You can get more helpful advice on cooking with sugar and salt on this website. We also have a lot of recipes for you to enjoy that do not include these two ingredients. So, continue eating healthy.
Pictures: courtesy www.photobucket.com
References for further reading:
Rogers, A. (2005). No more diets (a guide to healthy eating.
Zronik, J.P. (2004). Salt. Crabtree Publishing Company. New York.
Campbell, T. C; Campbell, T. M. 2006. The china study: The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss, and long-term health. BenBella Books, Inc.