By Dr. Mike Roussell
February 11, 2014
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Q: Is it worse to consume too much salt or too much sugar?

A: In excess, both are very bad for your heart and health. However, consuming too much sugar is worse because it can make the negative effects of sodium even more harmful. [Tweet this fact!]

Halt the Salt

The main concern about excess sodium is that elevated blood pressure (hypertension) is known as the "silent killer" and is responsible for more than 350,000 deaths a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans' intake of sodium comes from four main sources: 75 percent is in pre-packaged, processed, and restaurant food; 12 percent occurs naturally in food; 6 percent is added at the table; and 5 percent is added during home cooking.

Although the place most people looking to restrict salt typically start is home cooking, that's not going to make much of an impact since it's such a small percentage of our daily sodium. Plus my experience with clients has shown that monitoring the intakes of individual foods (i.e. "calorie counting" for sodium) is usually not an effective strategy.

The best way to reduce salt is to limit your intake of high-sodium processed and pre-packaged foods, which is also an effective strategy to lose or maintain weight and eat a diet healthier overall.

Beat the Sweets

While sodium intake has a direct consequence on your blood pressure, sugar's detrimental effects on the body are not as singularly focused. We often hear about the short-term (weight gain) and long-term (diabetes) consequences of too much sugar, but there are many negative effects between these two extremes.

Aside from being a major source of calories that in excess can lead to fat gain, too much sugar can cause accelerated cellular aging and excessive inflammation, both of which can increase your risk for multiple chronic diseases. It can also decrease neuronal growth factors such as BDNF, a compound produced in your brain that is responsible for enhancing learning memory, higher-level thinking, and even long-term memory. [Tweet this!]

But excess sugar can negatively impact blood pressure when it interacts with your body to influence sodium levels. When you eat sugar (or any carbohydrates) in excess, your body releases more of the hormone insulin, which removes sugar from your blood stream. Another lesser-known function of insulin: It causes your kidneys to retain sodium. So if you consume a diet high in sugar, the increased level of insulin will repeatedly coax your kidneys to hold onto sodium, while you're simultaneously pumping more and more sodium in your body via your diet. The result? A sure way to cause pathological imbalances in sodium levels and elevated blood pressure.

Although both sugar and sodium in excess have negative effects on your body, you don't need to eradicate either from your diet completely. To control excess sodium, eat a "clean" diet devoid of high-sodium pre-packaged and processed foods. Controlling excess sugar is more of a challenge due to our innate drive for sugary indulgences, but there are ways to cut your sugar consumption.