Getting A Handle On Sodium, Sugar and Fats Can Be Easy. There’s An App For That!

Sodium, Fat and Sugar.  How Much Is Too Much?

Now that we know what exercise regimes some of our favorite celebrities are doing, you just have to figure that besides the yoga, Pilates and Budokon, what they’re eating  is playing a huge role in their overall health and wellness plan.

It’s a new year and many people have resolved to eat better than they did last.  But what exactly does eat better mean?  More fruits and veggies, whole grains instead of refined flours, less sugar, salt and fat?

Setting a goal to add more fruits and vegetables to the diet and replace white bread with whole-wheat is probably easier than reducing fat, sugar and salt intake.  But cutting back on the three diet wreckers can be easier than you think!

First, let’s look at the guidelines for the three nutritional ‘evils’ in our diet so we have a place to start.

Sodium – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the guidelines for recommended amounts of sodium.  The USDA has set the maximum amount at 2,300 milligrams a day and 1,500 mg/day for people that have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  The at-risk group would include people middle aged and older, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure.  It is worth noting that the American Heart Association says the amount should be set at less than 1,500 for everyone.

It’s easy to spot some high-sodium offenders like pretzels, salted peanuts and canned soups but some seemingly healthy foods are deceiving.  Lean Cuisine’s Baha Style Chicken has 690 mg of sodium, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran has 350 mg, and a Lender’s Whole Grain Plain Bagel has 490 mg.  So selecting foods that appear to be low-fat, high fiber, and otherwise good for us may still have too much salt.

Sugar – The average American consumes more than 20 teaspoons of sugar per day.  Although there is not an official recommendation by the USDA, the agency suggests a  maximum of 40 grams or about 10 teaspoons per day.  The guideline is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

Just to give you an idea of how hard it might be to stay within that guideline, there are 59 grams, or about 14.5 teaspoons, of sugar in McDonalds sweet tea.  Yoplait yogurt has 27 grams and a bottle of Vitamin Water has 33.

Fat – The USDA recommends that Americans consume less than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fatty acids, less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fats to an absolute minimum. Here’s a breakdown of fat consumption recommendations:

  • Total fat intake should make up between 20 – 35 percent of our daily calories. Most fats should be the polyunsaturated and monounsatured kind that are found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
  • Saturated fats should make up 10% or less of  our daily caloric intake.  Saturated fats are found in meat, cheese, ice cream, butter, full-fat milk and yogurt.
  • Trans fats are the big no-no. There is a zero tolerance for trans fats because they can lead to high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease.  Trans fats are found in foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils including many baked goods, crackers, chips, margarine and fast food product. These fats are fairly easy to recognize because they become solid at room temperate.  Some oils, however, are considered ‘solids’ because they contain trans fats:  coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil.

So now that we’re armed with information and are aware of the USDA guidelines it should be easy to figure out how much sodium, sugar and fat we’re ingesting everyday and cut back on them.

Traffic Light Shopping Card Shows Us The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly

There’s An App For That!
All of the above may seem like a bunch of gobbely gook to someone that’s not familiar with USDA guidelines, doesn’t have a degree in nutrition, and can’t spend valuable time tracking everything they eat. There’s a tool that simplifies the process and alerts us to foods that are too high in sodium, sugar, fat and saturates a glance.

The Traffic Light Food Shopping Card, a well-known visual tool, uses the colors red, yellow and green to designate high, medium and low levels of sodium, sugar and fat.  The good news is that it is now a Smartphone and iPhone app.

Download the Traffic Light Food Tracker app, use it to check out some of the labels on the foods that you have in your pantry, and take it to the store to see what you’re getting before you buy.  Enter the data from the label and the app tells you if you’re in the good, the bad or the ugly zone.  It can help you quickly deicide whether or not the food in question should be on the shopping list or in the kitchen.

Here’s Another Quick and Easy Nutrition De-Coder

Fooducate is another place to get feedback about nutrition. You can enter a food name, or scan a bar code and Fooducate gives the product a grade of ‘A’ through ‘F’.  It also alerts you to high sugar, sodium and fat content, food additives, and even refined flours. Fooducate has a web-site as well as a phone app.

I ran a few of my favorite snacks through the web site and was disappointed to the learn that the Fiber One Chewy Bars that I like so much gets a grade of D+ because of food additives, sugar and processed flour.  For anyone starting the No Fast Food For 10 Days Challenge, this would be an incredibly helpful app to have.

Do you have a favorite nutrition app that takes the guesswork out of the daily guidelines or helps you track your calories without pulling your hair out?  Drop a comment in the reply box and share.



  1. Great article, I had to share this on my facebook page.