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“Plan Your Plate” Series

Part 2: Limiting sugars and salt and choosing healthy fats

Limit added sugars

Added sugar is the extra sugar added to foods and drinks during preparation. Corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and honey are examples of sweeteners added to foods and drinks, especially regular sodas.

Feb 2019 Plan Your Plate Series 2 photoThe Healthy Living program at LifePath is offering several workshops during the 2019 winter season, including a free "Healthy Eating for Successful Living" workshop for people who want to learn more about nutrition and healthy heart and bone strategies. The workshop series covers MyPlate dietary guidelines, water and exercise, label reading, grocery shopping, getting the support of a nutritionist or registered dietician, behavior change techniques, and self-assessment techniques. The next six-week Healthy Eating workshop series starts on February 19 at the Gill Montague Senior Center. To learn more about this and other workshops, contact Andi Waisman, Healthy Living Program Manager. Photo by rawpixel on“The sugars present normally in milk and fruit are not considered added sugar,” explains Dr. Kimber Stanhope, a nutrition researcher at the University of California, Davis.

Stanhope’s research focuses on the effects of added sugar on the development of disease. Her studies have shown that consuming too much high-fructose corn syrup may increase the risk of weight gain and heart disease.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest a daily limit on added sugar of no more than 10% of calories. That’s about the amount in 16 ounces of regular soda (190 calories). You can find information about added sugars on most Nutrition Facts labels now.

“Anybody can improve their diet by substituting fruits and vegetables for sugar as their snacks, as part of their dessert, and as part of their meals,” says Stanhope. “There are no advantages of consuming added sugar.”

Consider your fats

Fat is high in calories and can increase your chances of developing obesity, heart disease, and other health problems. But there are different kinds of fats.

Fats that are liquid at room temperature, or oils, are considered to be healthier than those that are solid. Solid fats are found in high amounts in beef, chicken, pork, cheese, butter, and whole milk. Solid fats have more saturated fats than liquid oils. Liquid oils—such as canola, corn, olive, or peanut oil—have mostly unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

The dietary guidelines encourage consuming liquid oils rather than solid fats. Dr. Holly Nicastro, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) nutrition research expert, advises that you examine the fat content on the Nutrition Facts label. The label shows how much saturated fat a product contains. Experts suggest that you aim for getting less than 10% of your calories from saturated fats.

“For the average person, that’s going to be less than 20 grams of saturated fat per day,” Nicastro says.

For example, a small cheeseburger may have 5 grams of saturated fat, a typical cheeseburger may have 13, and a double cheeseburger with bacon may have 24!

Check labels for salt

The Nutrition Facts label also shows salt, or sodium. Experts advise you to limit salt, which tends to be very high in processed foods.

If you eat salty, highly processed food, you can quickly go over the daily limit of one teaspoon of salt (2,300 milligrams of sodium). Two hot dogs might have 900 milligrams of sodium. A can of ravioli might have 1400 milligrams. Other examples of salty, highly processed foods are bacon, frozen pizzas, and salad dressings.

Along with a lot of added salt, processed foods might have preservatives, sweeteners, and other substances added during preparation.

“Stuff that comes in a box or a bag that has a whole lot of different ingredients—many of which you can’t read and understand or pronounce—those things are highly processed and generally bad for your health,” explains Dr. David C. Goff, Jr., a public health expert at NIH.

Learn more about making a meal plan and talking with a nutritionist next week.

Article adapted from the NIH December 2018 News in Health, available online at