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Thinking About Going “Saltless” or “Sugarless”? Things You Should Consider

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Craving for salt and sugar

If, like me, you’re either diabetic, overweight, or both, I’ll bet your doctor has told you on more than one occasion, “Reduce salt and stop using sugar.” While it’s easy to add avoiding adding sugar or sprinkling salt on our food, there are just too many places for salt and sugar to hide. Processed meats, cheeses, instant soups, Chinese takeaways, non-diet sodas, and even the simple, restaurant-made green leaf salads are prime suspects.

Salt, is a mystery spice. Salt, chemically known as sodium chloride, is one of those minerals that are both beneficial and toxic to life. Also known by its chemical nickname NaCl, salt in its various forms is actively sought after by living instincts. Everyone remembers laying out salt licks for migratory animals, especially during the winter months.

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But there’s a dark side: Too much salt leads to fluid retention and, in some cases, death.

Salt has been valued since ancient times, either as a food additive or as a preservative. Meat was regularly salted for long ocean or caravan voyages between ancient peoples.

Our word for “money,” salary, derives from a Roman custom of paying their troops in salt rather than hard currency.

For most of us in these modern times, the foods we eat have been processed to contain salt. Accordingly, we tend to overindulge our bodies with salt. While it’s true that we need about 2.5 grams, or about 2500 mg, of salt daily for life, our modern foods usually give us more than we would without adding more salt.

Did you know that even salads served in restaurants are loaded with salt?

What do we use instead of salt?

We could switch to some form of salt substitute. There are a number of readily available salt substitutes on the market and almost all are based on some form of potassium chloride (KCl).

For most people, KCl means it stimulates our taste buds in a similar way to NaCl salt. The downside is that for a significant number of us, KCl leaves a bitter, metallic aftertaste.

Commercial formulations include “NoSalt”, pure KCl, NuSalt and mixtures of NaCl and KCl, “SoSalt”, a mixture of KCl and lysine. All of this is designed to stimulate our taste buds into believing we are tasting “salt”.

But there are alternatives. If you go online you will find a multitude of articles describing alternatives to sodium chloride (NaCl), specifically herbs, citrus fruits and spices that also trick the body into believing it is encountering NaCl.

While this article doesn’t purport to be the be-all and end-all of salt substitutes, it does acknowledge that we get a lot of salt “naturally” through our processed foods.

Another disadvantage of using potassium chloride-based salt substitutes is that the body retains both NaCl and KCl. In the case of potassium, we can easily overdose on potassium and actually “poison” ourselves with too much potassium.

An overdose of potassium is called hyperkalemia.” Symptoms of hyperkalemia include muscle weakness, fatigue, tingling, or nausea, among others. Severe overdoses can lead to a slow heartbeat, weak pulse and severe drop in blood pressure. Other reported symptoms include stomach pain, general nausea, and diarrhea. Other symptoms include: tiredness or weakness, numbness or tingling, nausea or vomiting, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, or heart failure.

But how can we eliminate adding salt to our diet without also adding potassium? One of the most effective ways is to use a salt substitute, which is potassium-free but still stimulates our salivary glands just like salt.

Salt Substitute:

We’ve already mentioned the more popular commercial salt substitutes: NoSalt, SoSalt, and the like. All of these types of products are different forms of potassium chloride.

As we’ve also discovered, most people don’t notice the difference in taste, a sour, metallic aftertaste.

Coupled with the possibility of getting too much potassium in your diet, these potassium-based salt substitutes aren’t as healthy for you.

Fortunately, there are other salt substitutes on the market. These work by stimulating receptors in the mouth that make us feel like we’ve ingested salt. The most effective contain some form of citrus or citric acid.

I tried six store-bought products, Bragg™ Sprinkle Herb and Spice Seasoning, Mrs. Dash™ Salt Free Seasonings, Lawry’s™ Salt Free 17 Seasoning, Benson’s™ – Table Tasty Salt Substitute, Kirkland Organic No-Salt Seasoning, and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends Magic Salt Free Seasoning.

All are acceptable alternatives to potassium-based salt substitutes.

However, you can find others. There are even recipes online to make your own sodium-free salt substitute.

When I call out “salt substitute” in this article, feel free to use whatever brand or version you like best.

Sugar Substitute:

There are a number of sugar substitutes on the market. Some contain natural ingredients, others just artificial ingredients.

I’ve tried most of them and try to stay away from artificial sweeteners that contain aspartame and similar man-made ingredients.

Processed natural sweeteners made from naturally occurring plant extracts like Swerve™, Stevia™, monk fruit, and sugar alcohols (like erythritol or xylitol) tend to taste sweeter than sugar (Stevia™ is 200 times sweeter than sugar). However, most have disadvantages as well.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni)

The stevia plant gets its sugary sweetness from a number of compounds, most notably steviosides and rebaudiosides, which are estimated to be 150-400 times sweeter than ordinary sugar. Because of its ease of processing, the commercial product called Stevia™ is commonly made from Rebaudioside-A, or simply “Reb-A”. However, Reb-A leaves a bitter, unpleasant liquorice aftertaste.

Other rebaudiosides, notably Reb-D and Reb-M, are more “sugar-like” and have no aftertaste. Reb-D is the most widely used and sugar substitutes containing Reb-D are now appearing on the market. Their containers are clearly marked “Reb-D”. One such product is Stevia Naturals™, which has a taste very close to that of “real” sugar.

erythritol

Erythritol in granular form dissolves slowly in liquids, but the powdered “confectionery” form is preferred: it dissolves much faster.

Erythritol is generally not a 1:1 substitute for sugar. Is the ratio more like 1:1? and requires a third more erythritol than its sugar counterpart. However, the aftertaste of pure erythritol is not as satisfying as that of sugar.

monk fruit extract

Combinations of monk fruit extract and erythritol actually taste very much like sugar and are an affordable and acceptable sugar alternative, especially in baking. I have used this commercial combo to make very good pancakes and waffles.

xylitol

Xylitol is one of the compounds categorized as sugar alcohols. Chemically, sugar alcohols have a molecular composition that replicates and combines the properties of both sugar and alcohol, hence the name. Naturally occurring compounds, sugar alcohols, are found in many fruits and vegetables. Humans also produce small amounts of xylitol through normal metabolism.

However, xylitol is not calorie-free.

Sugar contains an average of 4 calories per gram.

Xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram.

Xylitol has 40% fewer carbs than sugar, but it still has carbs. Due to its low glycemic index, xylitol is a very good sugar alternative for weight control and for diabetics and pre-diabetics.

Sugar alcohols tend to have a low glycemic index — the measure of how the compound raises blood sugar. Xylitol has a glycemic index of 7 while sugar has a glycemic index of 60-70.

Sugar alcohols, while technically a carbohydrate, don’t tend to raise blood sugar levels while giving the impression that you’re consuming sugar. Sugar alcohols are popular sweeteners for soft drinks and low-carb products.

They use xylitol as a direct 1:1 substitute for sugar.

Thanks to Norm Huffnagle

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