Sugar & Salt

Chances are, you are eating too much salt and sugar. Americans tend to eat much more than is recommended. Just how much more may shock you. NBC Learn, in partnership with Centene Corporation, looks at how much salt and sugar you can eat safely, and what happens to your body when you eat too much of it.

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MORGAN RADFORD reporting: Hey there guys, I'm Morgan Radford and it's time to get healthy!

Did you know the average American eats or drinks three-and-a-half thousand pounds of sugar in their lifetime? That's enough sugar to fill an entire industrial-sized dumpster!
You can probably guess that's way too much.

OK, so let's talk about salt.

Dr. GLORIA WILDER: Salt is something called sodium chloride, right. And salt is in the body, it's a natural part of the body and it's actually required for all your cells to work in the body. But too much salt is a bad thing.

RADFORD: And guess what? People eat too much of that too. The average American eats or drinks more than 212 pounds of sodium every year. That's the same as 14 bowling balls.

OK, so what's so wrong with salt and sugar? I mean they taste good, right?

WILDER: If you consume too much salt, you do put yourself at risk of things like high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension, heart disease, and you also increase your risk of diabetes and other diseases because salt and sugar kind of go hand-in-hand.

RADFORD: Overloading your body with salt and sugar can also cause obesity, tooth decay, it can make you tired and hungry all the time. And guys, having those health problems means you won't be able to do a lot of the things that you love. And don't get me wrong, eating small amounts of salt is just fine. In fact, all the cells in your body need that sodium to function. And small amounts of sugar, that can actually be good for you, too. Fruit has natural sugar in it, and fruit is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It's only when you eat too much that it becomes an issue.

I want to show you why so many Americans have health problems that could have been caused by too much sugar or too much salt. Take a look at this. This is two-and-a-half teaspoons of salt. Doctors say this is how much you can safely eat within a week. But also, look at this. This is five teaspoons. That's what the average American eats in a week and that’s twice the recommended amount. But this, this here is a cup of sugar. Doctors say this is how much you can safely eat within a week. And that includes all of your food and all of your drinks. But look at this. This is what the average American consumes within a week. This is about three pounds, all in just one week. So, how do you not become someone who eats this amount? It's all about making good choices and you're not too young to start.

WILDER: When I grew up I had to eat from the school as my main meals every day because we just didn't have a lot of food in our house. The school system tries really hard to make sure they're serving healthy meals, but a lot of it is about what you're choosing. Make sure that you balance out your tray each and every time.

RADFORD: A general rule is to make sure your tray has different colors on it. If you're picking food that's all one color, you're probably not making the healthiest choices. So, here are some tips to help you live a healthier life without so much sugar and salt. Desserts, candy and drinks with sugar in them should be a rare treat, not a daily habit.

WILDER: Let's stay away from the sodas, right. Sodas are just not a kid food. Kids should be drinking water or milk or milk and water and then every once and a while a natural fruit juice.

RADFORD: Don't add salt to your food. Chances are there's already some salt in it. And try to avoid too many processed foods. Those are foods you can take out of the freezer and put in the microwave. Those can be loaded with salt. Whenever possible, fresh is best. Also, cut down on salt and sugar because it’s one way you can stay healthy you're whole entire life. You won't be sorry that you did.

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