The Dangerous Effects Of Salt & Sugar

A glass salt shaker with an s on the top

( — If you’re diabetic or hypertensive, the holiday feasts can wreak havoc with your blood sugar and your blood pressure.

But do you really know how much is too much?

How Much Sodium?

The average individual without hypertension should consume no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day. For those with hypertension, doctors will often recommend less than 1,500 milligrams for many patients, and even less for those with more serious disease.

While raw turkey is relatively low in sodium, many commercially processed turkeys are injected with salt water to make them appear more plump, and the preparation of turkey in the kitchen can add a great deal more sodium as well.

And when it comes to other holiday treats like mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, stuffing, gravies and casseroles, the sodium content of a holiday dinner can skyrocket. According to some websites, even a slice of pumpkin pie can contain up to 300 or more milligrams of sodium.

How Much Sugar?

Turning our attention to sugar, most Americans are urged to have carbohydrates make up no more than 40 to 60% of their daily intake of calories. For many diabetics, this number should be considerably lower, depending on the severity of disease and doctors’ individualized recommendations. And some diabetics need to limit their overall calorie intake to no more than 1,500 per day.

At holiday meals, many foods are often laden with sugar and with carbohydrates. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apple pie, pumpkin pie, breads, desserts and alcoholic drinks all add to the carbohydrate load of the holiday meal.

Softening the Blow

Sitting at a holiday meal and feeling like you can’t eat anything is not a good feeling.  However, if you have moderate or severe disease in terms of diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, the stakes are relatively high. While overindulging for one meal is not necessarily a life-threatening occurrence (but can be very problematic, for instance, in someone with severe diabetes), most Americans tend to overindulge for the entire holiday season, not necessarily for just one meal.

If you or your family are preparing your own holiday feasts, it can be relatively simple to decrease the amount of salt or sugar added to various recipes. For example, sugar-free pies and desserts can be made or purchased (sweetened with Xylitol, Stevia, aspartame, or other alternative sweeteners), and cranberry sauce without sugar can also be used.

In terms of sodium, less salt can be used in the preparation of foods, and other guests not worried about their sodium intake can simply add salt at the table. Other spices and salt substitutes can also be utilized to decrease the salt content of foods. Additionally, bear in mind that processed foods like pre-packaged stuffing, canned vegetables and other ready-made foods are generally much higher in salt (and sugar) than many homemade foods, so make it from scratch if you can.

If you are dining at the home of friends, a community meal or a restaurant, this can get trickier, and moderation is the best way to go.

If All Else Fails, Try Moderation

When faced with weeks of reveling and enjoying the holidays, you don’t want to feel like an ascetic who lives in a cave while the people around you seem to be living in a holiday paradise. If you have no other choice and cannot exercise control over how your food is prepared or where it is purchased, you can exert control in terms of how much you eat, and which foods you choose to avoid.

For moderation to succeed, you need to exercise self-control and restraint to minimize the damage, avoiding the foods that you know are the highest in the substances you need to avoid (like sugar or salt). And if you just have to have that piece of pie or cookie or ice cream, make the serving small—as small as possible—and enjoy it without going back for seconds.

When it comes to starches, instead of having the stuffing, the bread, the sweet potatoes and the mashed potatoes, choose one or two of those offerings and have a small amount of each rather than indulging in all four.

Other strategies involve leaning more towards vegetables, lean proteins and other foods more friendly to your dietary restrictions, and avoiding sugar-laden drinks like juice, cider, soda, and alcohol.

You Can Still Have Fun

No matter your restrictions, remember that you can still have fun. While food may be central to many American holidays, bear in mind that people and relationships are what truly make the holidays great, and focusing on the people you love—rather than the food you can’t have—will help you to be happier and healthier this holiday season.