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Salt vs. Sugar: Which Has a Greater Impact on Diabetes and Heart Health?

January 11, 2024

Two piles of salt, side by side.

Are you more salty or sweet? The debate continues over which compound poses a greater threat to health – salt or sugar. Although both are essential in our bodies for optimal health, balancing them in your diet is key. Because, when consumed in excess, both salt and sugar accelerate aging, cause inflammation, and trigger health complications related to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Elkin Nunez, MD, associate medical director of endocrinology and diabetes at Atlantic Health System, weighs in on these granular compounds, and which is the bigger culprit. He explains that if you’re trying to clean up your diet, it’s best to start by cutting sugars.

The Health Impact of Too Much Salt

Consuming excess salt (sodium) makes you crave more food, which leads to weight gain and major health issues such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart attack and stroke.

“The recommended amount of sodium is 2,300mg a day, which is about a tablespoon, but most people consume far more than that,” says Dr. Nunez. “People with high blood pressure, particularly those who have diabetes, will likely see a reduction in their blood pressure if they lower the sodium in their diet.”

Salt is naturally in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. But it’s the frozen dinners, canned soups, pizzas in a box, and processed meats that contain excessive amounts. When you read food labels, any product that contains more than 20% of the recommended daily value contains too much salt. And remember, salt is often called sodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG) on food labels.

The Insidious Nature of Excess Sugar

Just like salt, an overconsumption of sugar can lead to weight gain, visceral fat, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It can also put you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

“We all know that cakes, soda, and ice cream are loaded with sugars. But many yogurts, cereal bars, pasta sauces and salad dressings are packed with sugar, too,” says Dr. Nunez. “Even foods claiming ‘no sugars added’ doesn’t mean they’re free of carbohydrates.”

Sugar is sneaky, and it can be hard to uncover all the sugars in your diet. Simple carbohydrates are sugars that spike blood glucose levels in the bloodstream. Although the daily recommended amount of sugar is no more than 10 teaspoons, many Americans are consuming three times this amount.

Again, turn to the food label for answers. Stay away from sugary drinks and packaged foods with more than a 20% daily sugar value. These products are full of simple carbohydrates. And remember that sugar masquerades as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, lactose, and even fruit concentrate on a food label’s ingredient list.

Cutting Sugar From Your Diet Is the Place to Start

“We typically start people on a nutrition plan that removes excess sugar from their diet,” says Dr. Nunez. “But instead of singling out salt or sugar, it’s important to consider the quality of your overall diet. A balanced diet full of foods that come from the earth rather than from a package will help you keep both your sugar and salt intake in check.”

Be Proactive About Your Health

To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.

  • Healthy Living
  • Nutrition