Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which is Worse, Fat, Sodium or Sugar?

While attending a lecture at a Black church in Poughkeepsie New York, given by a renowned medical doctor from Stanford University, a participant raised his hand and asked “Which is worse, fat, sugar or sodium”? The Doctor quickly answered “sodium”. This was a surprise to everyone as this lecture was about diabetes and its prevention. This perked everyone’s interest and sparked debate. Sodium, not sugar?

Fat, sugar and sodium are all bad for you in excess or if the wrong or poor type is ingested. Transfat and saturated fat are bad for you. Refined sugar in any form is also bad for the body. But when you’re talking about diabetes, it seems that we all tend to dismiss just how much excess sodium in the diet can exacerbate or even cause diabetes.

Sodium is a necessary mineral. If you don’t get enough, your heart can stop beating. Too much and you become bloated and steal water from your cells. Your heart then has to pump harder because that sodium is traveling through your circulatory system. But how does this contribute to diabetes?

When teaching the Mona Roberts Fitness and Wellness exercise camps, I always start my lecture on sodium by saying “The saltier the food the hungrier it makes you”. Salty food stimulates the appetite. Pacific Islanders love finadene, a sauce made with soy sauce vinegar or lemon, onions and boonie peppers. Some Chamorros (natives of Guam) even add more salt to finadene. My mother taught me to do that. Finadene is put on everything, from eggs, rice, any meat, chicken pork and more. No household on Guam is without its staple, soy sauce. Chinese add oyster sauce to their dishes. Filipinos add Patis, a fish sauce to their dishes. These sauces make most Asian dishes high in sodium. Fast food too is extremely high in sodium. Mexican dishes, and Italian dishes are salty as well. You may not notice the saltiness when dining out because you’ve become accustomed to the taste.

The ingestion of high sodium food on a daily basis causes what I call SPF (sodium poofy face), the roundness of the face and neck resulting from a daily diet extremely high in sodium and low in water. Thirst is nature’s way of signaling the need to drink water to flush the excess sodium out of your system. However, whenever someone is out at a bar or restaurant and gets thirsty during a high sodium meal, most everyone orders a mixed drink, soda or juice. Rarely does anyone order water. Your thirst will never be satisfied by anything but plain water because only water can remove the excess sodium from the circulatory system. This is a cycle that causes one to drink more calorie laden drinks, and to eat more. Thus, the individual gains more water weight AND weight from the excess fat, carbohydrates and protein they’ve ingested.

So the relation between diabetes and high sodium is now easy to understand. A diet high in salt results in excess weight gain. The excess fat gain spews hormones in the abdomen that wreck havoc on the system. Every time you eat any kind of sugar good or bad your body has to release insulin to take the sugar to the cells to be used for energy. If the person is inactive then the food is stored as fat. The more fat you wear, the more stress you put on your heart and pancreas.

The best advice I can give everyone is to cut down on sodium. Read labels on packaged and canned goods. Numbers higher that 450 mg. per serving is high sodium. Stay away from fast food and chain restaurants. If you do choose to eat at a chain restaurant, ask for sauces on the side. Tell the waiter to ask the chef not to over salt or over season. Order water with your meal to help you stay hydrated.

Avoid pickles as they’re extremely high in sodium. Drink mainly water throughout the day. And go for daily walks. The sweat helps get rid of excess sodium through your pores. But remember to take bottled water and hydrate before, during and after exercise. When you’re thirsty, it’s too late. You should never be thirsty. You should never ever be thirsty. Once you’re thirsty, it’s too late… you are dehydrated. So drink up! Water that is.

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