Salt, Sugar, Carbs or Fat – What’s Really Adding to Your Waistline?

Healthy Living

August 16, 2017

At one time or another, most people worry over losing weight and getting in shape. But with so many diets to choose from and conflicting nutritional advice available, it’s tough to know how to proceed. Should you cut carbs and skip dessert? What’s really making you gain and keep those extra pounds? If you’re looking for the facts on fat, carbs, sugar and salt, then here’s what you need to know.


Americans have grown wary of anything with high fat content. But not all fat is created equal. A significant portion of our bodies is made up of fat, which is used to build cell walls, regulate blood sugar and protect our organs, making fat an essential component of the human diet. One of the most common reasons for fat’s bad reputation is that people often replace the fat in their diets with sugar, which can lead to weight gain due to spikes in blood sugar.

Fats can be generalized into two categories: healthy and not-so-healthy. Healthy (unsaturated) fats that can improve cholesterol and reduce inflammation. These are found in fish and plant-based foods, such as nuts, avocados and vegetable oils. There are also unhealthy (saturated) fats, which come from foods like cheese, palm oil, dairy and red meat. Saturated fats shouldn’t be avoided altogether, but keeping the percentage low — 5 to 6 percent of your daily intake according to The American Heart Association — can keep your cholesterol in check.

Worse than saturated fat, trans fats are made by heating vegetable oils in a process known as hydrogenation to make them into a solid form. Trans fats are commonly used in fried foods since they taste good and are easy to preserve. This type of fat is especially bad for cholesterol because it causes inflammation related to strokes and diabetes and contributes to insulin resistance in the body. Just 2 calories from trans fat each day increases your risk of coronary heart disease by 23 percent.

For this reason, many states and countries have restricted the amount of trans fats that are allowed to be used in processed foods. In 2015, the FDA banned artificial trans fat from the food supply in the U.S. Food manufacturers have until 2018 to eliminate partially hydrogenated oil from food, which is where most artificial trans fat comes from.


Carbs are another target for diet makeovers. Lately, diets high in carbohydrates but low in fat have been proposed as a way to manage weight. While eating refined carbs instead of saturated fat does lower bad cholesterol, it also lowers good cholesterol, effectively providing no real health benefits. Carbs tend to be associated with weight gain, but they’re actually vital because they’re your body’s main energy source. The Mayo Clinic recommends a healthy adult consume 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates every day.

How you choose to consume those carbs matters. Good carbs include high-fiber fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils. Skip refined sugars, white versions of rice, pasta and bread, and anything with a lot of added or artificial sugars.


Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, most easily identified as sucrose, or table sugar. If you’re looking for the bottom line of losing weight, it’s this: Cut out added sugars. When you eat sugar, your body produces insulin to lower your increased blood sugar levels. Eating large amounts of sugar over an extended period of time can throw off your metabolism and cause extra insulin production, causing your body to store sugar as fat. Like carbohydrates, sugar is an inevitable part of any diet that occurs naturally in fruits and many other healthy foods, and is important for energy storage.

However, your body is not used to dealing with an overload of unnatural sugars (like high fructose corn syrup), which are frequently added to packaged foods to improve taste. The American Heart Association recommends that an average person consumes no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons of added sugar each day.


Salt is also an essential part of your diet. It helps balance your internal fluids and control muscle function. But many healthy eaters avoid salt because they fear that it causes heart disease and increases your risk of a stroke. While a diet too high in sodium makes the kidneys work harder and causes excess water retention, which is bad for your blood stream and makes you bloat, an article published by the National Institute of Health recommends a sodium intake between 3 and 6 grams per day to actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

As with any nutrient, moderation is key. You need salt to function, but you also need to keep the intake balanced. For instance, sodium elevates your blood pressure while potassium relaxes your blood vessels. To keep your body running smoothly, consume the recommended total for sodium along with the recommended intake for potassium. And before you start a diet that you’re unsure about, check with your doctor. Dietary restrictions, including limits on sugar, salt, fat and carbs, are as unique as you are.