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  • Writer's pictureDr. Teresa Rispoli

Conflicting News on Sugar, Salt, Fat, Gluten and GMO’s

Let me help you separate food fact from fiction and give you simple strategies to make healthy choices that still let you love every bite of what you eat.

Recently I learned of food fraud perpetrated on the American public. A report published in JAMA Internal medicine suggested that in the 1960’s, scientific research-secretly bankrolled by the sugar industry-was released that downplayed  the health effects of a sugar-laden diet and instead called out “saturated fat” as the real dietary demon responsible for heart disease. Unfortunately, the food manufactures, ordinary citizens and media outlets ate it up. The only bad fat is trans-fats, and over cooked fats.  We now refer to the good fats as omega 3 fatty acids, flax seed oil, hemp oil, coconut oil (a monosaturate) and in natural foods such as nuts, salmon, avocados and the like.

That bit of nutritional subterfuge may have been at least partly responsible for 50 years of misleading public health advice. And the resulting flood of packaged foods that were low in fat but high in sugar and refined grains may have contributed to the current epidemic of obesity and its related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, in the U.S.

Sadly the typical American diet today is still packed with huge amounts of added refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and fructose (not ones naturally found in fruits.)

One thing there’s little doubt about now: added sugars are bad for you. They are associated with an increased risk of obesity and conditions that are directly linked to type 2 diabetes. Further, an overdose of fructose goes straight to the liver, leading to fatty liver disease.

A 2014 analysis of 40 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher sugar intake also corresponded to higher levels of total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides no matter how much the person weighed. Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugars had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who got 8 percent or less.

So here’s the Skinny on Sugar – How to Reduce Sugar Intake

– Swap sugar sweetened sodas, bottled ice teas, and sports drinks for seltzer with a splash of no-sugar added juice; reduce portion sizes of deserts and other sweets.

– Learn all of the sugar synonyms on ingredient labels such as Agave syrup, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, coconut sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, and almost anything that ends in “-ose” such as fructose.

– Scan labels for hidden sugars in bread, granola, pasta sauce, frozen dinners, and salad dressing. About three-quarters of packaged foods on shelves contain added sugars, not to mention artificial ingredients. It is best to stay away from packaged foods and instead eat whole foods that have natural sugar and fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds. The sugar in fruit for instance takes time for your body to break down so they won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar. However, fruit juice is just as bad as processed sugar. And diet beverages are the top source of artificial sweeteners in consumer’s diets. Research has proven that the actually contribute to obesity!

How Food Packaging Claims Can Fool You

Beware of packaging claims like: No artificial colors, good source of fiber, contains sea salt, a good source of calcium, made naturally, made with real vegetables, simple wholesome ingredients. Put simply you have to see whether the manufactures’ definition of the terms match yours. For instance most people wouldn’t consider inulin (a type of added fiber, sucralose (an artificial sweetener) and carrageenan (a thickener) simple wholesome ingredients. Also be wary when the label says “no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes” but may contain 720 mg of sodium.

Speaking of Salt or Sodium There’s plenty of evidence that too much sodium is bad for your heart, and yet American’s are consuming about 3,500 mg of sodium per day,  That’s about 50 percent more than the maximum of 2,300 mg per day of the recommended guidelines.

Consuming too much salt can overwhelm the kidneys’ ability to process and excrete. The excess then gets stored in the blood, which increases water retention and blood volume.  This forces your heart to work harder to pump blood, increasing the pressure on your arteries and causing them to stiffen.

Research shows the following a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet-a plan lower in sodium, saturated and trans fats, sugars and processed foods-that limits sodium to 2,300 mg a day can lower systolic blood pressure by about 7 points and diastolic by about 3.5 points.

How To Cut Back On Salt

– Cut back slowly. If you gradually reduce salt your taste buds adjust. Once you use less salt you won’t miss it.

Don’t blame the salt shaker. A 2017 study published in the journal circulation found that only 11 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from salt we add to our food ourselves, but about 71 percent comes from packaged and restaurant food. You have to reduce the restaurant dishes and commercially processed and packaged foods. Instead eat whole foods you prepare at home.  The alternative is to choose low or no-sodium versions of the ones you buy often-to really make a dent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 categories of food (bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts, and cured meats, soups, burritos and tacos, savory snacks, chicken, cheese, eggs and omelets) account for 44 percent of our overall sodium intake.

Cook at Home. The grilled chicken parmigiana at Olive Garden has 2,000 mg of sodium, and an Egg Mc Muffin at McDonald’s has 750 mg. A home cooked meal allows you to control the salt shaker and to use whole foods-whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes-and stay below 2,300 mg threshold.

Say So Long to Sodium

The blends below can really kick up the flavor of your food-minus to sodium. Suggestions are for 1 pound of each food.

PASTA 2 teaspoons lemon zest 1/3 cup basil, mint, chives, or parsley, or a combination.

PORK 1 teaspoon fennel seed 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary or sage, or a combination.

POTATOES 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary ¼ cup fresh parsley or chives, or a combination POULTRY AND FISH 1 teaspoon lemon zest 2 tablespoons fresh oregano or thyme, or a combination, or paprika

STEAK Make a dry rub of ¼ teaspoon each black pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, and oregano

CHICKEN Make a dry rub of ¼ teaspoon each black pepper, cayenne, rosemary, garlic powder(not salt)

GREEN VEGETABLES 1 teaspoon lemon zest 1 tablespoon fresh parsley or thyme, or a combination Smart Sodium Swaps

Packaged foods may be a big source of unwanted sodium, because the amount varies widely among brands even in the same product category. You can slash a lot of sodium from your diet simply by comparing sodium amounts on a few similar products side by side on the store shelf.

Here are some examples: 1. Larabar Blueberry Muffin 1.6 oz. has 5 mg sodium compared to Cliff Bar Blueberry 2.4 oz. which has 180 mg sodium. 2. Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle 1 cup has 180 mg sodium compared to Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Noodle 1 cup has 790 mg sodium. 3. Ghiradelli Premium Double Chocolate Coco Mix 7 oz. has 90 mg sodium compared to Land O’ Lakes Classics Chocolate Supreme Cocoa 7 oz. has 270 mg sodium. 4. Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sause ½ cup has 310 mg sodium compared to Bertolli Organic Tomato & Basil Sauce ½ cup has 530 mg sodium.

It just goes to show checking labels is something you want to make a habit of, so bring your reader glassed as labels are often so small a person with good eyes has difficulty.

To Avoid Gluten or Not

Research has proven that gluten may cause gut inflammation, autoimmune and joint pain especially in people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but not everyone is sensitive to gluten. It is best to test. The most accurate test is by Cyrex Labs the Array 3 IgG, IgA Wheat/Gluten Proteome Reactivity and Autoimmune Test.  Standard tests usually miss sensitivities to gluten.

Be careful with gluten-free foods they are loaded with potato starch, can be gummy and manufactures often add sodium, sugar, and fat to overcome the unpalatable flavors, which also adds calories.  The second downside is it may increase your intake of arsenic and other heavy metals. A recent study published in the journal of Epidemiology showed that people who were on a gluten-free diet had up to twice the amount of arsenic and 70 percent more mercury in their system than people who were not. That’s because gluten-free cereals, crackers, and pastas are often made with rice flour. Consumer Reports’ food-safety experts have found that rice and rice based products can have worrying amounts of arsenic.

If You Are Going to Eat Grains Be Sure They Are Whole Grains.

The bran and germ are where most of the healthy stuff, like antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber, magnesium and other nutrients are found.  Here is a list of healthy whole grains: Amaranth, Freekeh, Millet, Quinoa, Teff.

The Bottom Line

If you want to get healthy, slim and be full of vitality it is best to eat whole foods not packaged processed foods. When shopping in a grocery store, shop around the perimeter and avoid the center because that is where all the packaged, processed foods are. The whole foods are usually around the outer edge of the store. Read the labels; check the sugar and sodium content. Be sure products have no trans-fats and are GMO-free always!

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 Functional  Medicine & Functional Nutrition Alternative Healing (818)-707-3126

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Dr. Teresa Rispoli,
PhD., ND, LAc.

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