We naturally seek out sweet and salty tastes. Many industrial foods are pumped full of salt and sugar to make them more enjoyable, but these two ingredients are among the biggest culprits in the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Some foods are naturally sweet. Fruit, for example, is high in sugar, but it also contains other important things like vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Every day we eat many other sugars that are considered “added” because they are used as an ingredient in sweets or other industrial foods, or just stirred into our cup of coffee.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, adults and children should reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. What are these free sugars? Not the sugars found in fresh, whole fruit and vegetables, nor those naturally present in milk, because there is no evidence that they cause adverse effects. Free sugars are the monosaccharides (such as glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

Source: World Health Organization. Sugars intake for adult and children – Guideline, 2015.

It’s very easy to exceed the recommended 25 grams of sugar a day at breakfast alone.

 

50 g jam-filled pastry: around 7.7 g
200 ml packaged fruit juice: 29 g
Coffee with a packet of sugar: 5 g

Artificial sweeteners are not a good alternative. Even though they have fewer calories, their consumption should always be limited.

 

If it’s true that we are what we eat, then many of us are corn.

Wherever you live, you’re probably eating corn several times a day. If you live in the USA, then you’re most likely eating almost nothing but corn. We’re not talking about corn on the cob, sweetcorn kernels in a salad, popcorn, or polenta, but corn that has been highly processed and transformed into an invisible and ubiquitous ingredient.

Corn is fed to cattle, chicken, pigs, turkeys, lambs, and even salmon. Livestock used to live in pastures and eat mostly grass, but now most farmed animals are crammed into huge sheds and eat a mash based on corn and soy.

This means that eggs and most milk, cheese, and yogurt are also made from corn.

Corn is found in the majority of packaged industrial foods: cookies, snack cakes, puddings, ice creams, spreads, peanut butter, fries, ketchup, hot dogs, ready meals, candies, nutrition bars, chewing gum, mayonnaise, jam, sauces, cake mixes, cereal flakes, muesli, fruit in syrup, flavored yogurt, margarine, baby food… Corn is used to thicken, bind, sweeten, and leaven, to improve the acidity of sauces, and to make bread more golden in color. Supermarkets sell corn even outside the food aisles, in tubes of toothpaste, ecological diapers, and much, much more.

If you wash your meal down with a soft drink, you are probably drinking a good amount of liquid corn. Most sodas are sweetened with fructose syrup made from corn (known as HFCS, high-fructose corn syrup). Corn is almost always one of the ingredients in industrial beers, ready-made iced teas, energy drinks, and fruit juices.

But you’ll rarely find the words “corn” or “maize” on the list of ingredients. This is because corn derivatives tend to go by unconnected names: glucose, glucose syrup, ascorbic acid, citric acid, malt, maltodextrin, dextrin, crystalline fructose, modified starch, sorbitol, lecithin, baking powder, dextrose, lysine, lactic acid, maltose, sucrose, caramel, xantham gum, invert sugar, monoglycerides, monosodium glutamate. Sometimes it is easier to track down because it can be found in the ingredients as corn, cornmeal, corn oil, or corn starch.

In the United States, annual per capita consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has risen from 23 kilos in 1983 to 43 kilos in 2013. The low cost of this syrup has made it possible to lower the prices of products containing it and increase the amount used. The flood of cheap corn has been turned into cheap calories, and this excess of cheap calories has turned into an obesity epidemic.

Sodium is also found naturally in foods but is often added as table salt (NaCl) during cooking and while preparing dishes. Consumption of salt should be reduced as much as possible and should not exceed 5 grams a day (less than a teaspoon). Some foods should therefore be consumed in moderation: a quick snack or a sandwich with ham can easily contain this amount.

50 g ham: 3.4 g
100 g bread: 1.6 g

 

Reducing the quantity of salt and sugar is easy if we follow a few tips:

  • Avoid prepared foods with added salt and sugar and choose foods that are naturally sweet.
  • Sweeteners are not a good alternative; whether they have calories or not, their consumption should always be limited.
  • Avoid as much as possible products made with corn additives and derivatives.
  • Try to reduce added salt by seasoning your dishes with herbs and spices instead.