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Sugar, Salt and Trans and Saturated Fats

image of a strawberry.

Salt, sugar and fats have long gotten bad raps. It is true that adverse effects can occur if they are consumed in large amounts, but the keyword is “large.” When taken in the right amounts, our bodies can reap several benefits.

The Low-Down on Salt

Salt can do more than flavor your foods, it’s essential to our wellbeing. Not only does it play a role in muscle contraction and water retention, it has nutrients that are vital to digestion.

  • Muscle Contraction. As you will read below, salt is an electrolyte our body needs to carry out the nerve impulses that control many bodily functions, including muscle contraction. This mineral can also keep the muscles from cramping.
  • Water Retention. You hear “water retention” and probably think of swelling and weight gain. However, the volume of water our bodies retain aids in kidney function and affects our blood pressure. Salt is an electrolyte our body needs to perform the electrical impulses that regulate certain functions. This means that in order for our body to function properly, we need an appropriate amount of electrolytes. Because electrolytes activate our thirst mechanism, we tend to consume more water as a result. This water, in turn, allows our kidneys to maintain electrolytes in our bloodstream. Additionally, water helps our bodies stabilize blood pressure.
  • Digestive Health. Salt triggers salivary amylase, an enzyme in the mouth that aids in digestive processes. Specifically, it helps salt carry out its part in digestion by assisting with the breakdown of food. Salt also generates a digestive secretion called hydrochloric acid, and it coats the walls of the stomach. This secretion aids in the breakdown of food too.
  • Additional Benefits. Other than the key benefits discussed above, salt can: help the body retain calcium and other minerals in the bloodstream, fuel the adrenal glands, prevent sunstroke and overheating.

The Scoop on Sugar

Get the white table sugar in your cabinet out of your head for a moment, because the sugar we are talking about is naturally occurring and can be found in fruits. The sugar your body gets from fruit helps the enzyme sucrose — found in your small intestine — assists in breaking sucrose down into fructose and glucose. The body then absorbs them and hauls them to the liver, where they are processed and distributed throughout the body. Insulin, a hormone, then accelerates the uptake of glucose into the cells, allowing it to be converted into energy and immediately used by the body.

Glucose that is not used is stored as glycogen, a compound. Through glycogenesis, the liver generates glycogen chains connected via chemical bonds. The body then breaks down glycogen into single glucose units so that they can be used when primary sources of energy are not accessible — while sleeping, between meals and during exercise, for example. This prevents drops in blood sugar.

The Facts on Fats

There are two types of trans fats: artificial trans fats and naturally-occurring trans fats. Those that are naturally-occurring are manufactured in the gut of some animals, as well as in the foods crafted from these animals (e.g., meat and milk products). Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, are developed industrially in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil in order to make them denser.

Artificial trans fats are bad for our health, but those that are naturally occurring can have health benefits. A study conducted by the University of Alberta found that a diet containing natural animal fat found in dairy and some beef products (known as vaccenic acid) may reduce an individual’s risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. The theory is that vaccenic acid is capable of minimizing the production of chylomicrons (particles of cholesterol and fat that develop in the small intestine after a meal).

Saturated fats also have their place in our diet. They may play a role in:

  • Cardiovascular health. It reduces lipoprotein levels to reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Immunity. Saturated fats found in coconut oil may help the body’s white blood cells function properly by more efficiently seeking out and destroying bacteria and viruses.
  • Liver health. Saturated fat provides a coating that helps guards the liver from the effects of medication and alcohol.
  • Hormones. Saturated fats may increase testosterone levels. This hormone helps sustain muscle, repair tissue and boost sexual function.

Before incorporating salt, sugar and fats into your diet as a means of achieving the above health benefits, talk to your nutritionist or dietitian first to determine what your intake should be, and then speak with your chiropractor about how nutrition can aid in your chiropractic treatment.

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