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Q: What makes sodium unhealthy?
A: Salt (sodium chloride), like everything else, should be consumed in moderation. Sodium itself isn't necessarily bad for you; in fact, our bodies need sodium to function properly! Sodium participates in fluid balance, muscle contraction and other vital functions; however in high amounts, greater than the recommended 2300 mg/d (1 teaspoon), sodium can contribute to development of high blood pressure in sensitive individuals. This is called hypertension and it can happen when excess salt in the blood draws fluid into blood vessels, which increases the volume of blood. High blood pressure and increased blood volume make the heart work harder, putting a person more at risk for heart disease. The bright side is that most people don't have any problem meeting their sodium requirements, as many foods contain sodium. The bigger problem is getting too much, especially since processed and packaged foods like frozen meals, pizza, and various snacks are fairly high in sodium. Thus it's important to read the nutrition label to get an idea of how much sodium that you're consuming. A good number to aim for is 1500mg - 2300mg of sodium a day, especially if you have hypertension. You can also work on increasing the potassium in your diet by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. This can help balance out any excessive sodium you may consume. These numbers will vary based on your activity level and heart health.
Q: How many calories do I need to maintain my weight after weight loss?
A: Every person requires a baseline of calories they need to eat in a day in order to maintain their weight. When you are initially trying to lose weight, you want to be eating a caloric deficit, meaning less claories a day than your body requires. There are many websites you can use (cronometer.com) to calculate your caloric needs based on your height, weight, and physical activity level. For example, to lose 1 pound a week, you would want to decrease your caloric intake by 500 calories a day. Once your ideal weight is achieved, you wan to re-calculate your daily caloric needs based on your NEW body weight and physical activity level. As long as you stay within this range, and don't eat above or below it too often, you will have no problem maintaining your new weight!
Q: How much sugar should I eat in a day?
A: There are two types of sugar, naturally occuring ones or added sugars. Naturally occuring sugars are those that you typically find in fruits and milk, while added sugars are those added to foods during processing and preparation like in juice or cakes. Sugars are not necessarily harmful, but added sugars are a good example of empty calories as they don't contain any nutritional value or nutrient content. In addition, they could possibly contribute to poor health outcomes like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Thus it is recommended by the USDA in the Dietary Guidelines to reduce added sugar consumption to less than 10% of calories per day. Some strategies to meet these guidelines could be to reduce the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages and replace it with fruit flavored water. Another method could be to have whole fruit instead of fruit juice.