Have you ever heard of the white dusts that kill you? We are not talking about some dangerous or illegal drugs, far from it. But they do have the same effect: they make us fill so good, keeping us coming back for more and finding tricky ways to conquer us. We are talking about salt and sugar, the two ingredients that can be a ticking bomb for our health.

Your body does need some sodium--to maintain the right balance of fluids, transmit nerve impulses, and contract and relax your muscles--but only about 500 mg per day. When you eat far more than that, your brain chemistry is altered.

Research shows that consuming salt triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the brain's pleasure center, making salty foods as addictive as nicotine and alcohol. Therefore, as with any addiction, eating salty foods makes you crave more. Since so many of them--like French fries and fast-food sandwiches--are also high in fat and calories, indulging on salt packs on the pounds. Sugar on the other hand follows suit. If you get hooked on sweets, the way to safe health remains a very long one.

Many of the health problems in Albania today are linked to poor eating habits as too many people eat added fat, added salt and added sugars. Pouring on the salt and sugar is just inviting heart disease and other health problems. Both are abundant in many of the packaged foods we buy, whether it’s salty chips or sugary cookies. And the problems start when those foods replace too many of the healthy ones we should be eating, like whole grains and vegetables. Reducing these by small amounts can make us healthier. It can help us manage our weight better and reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and chronic kidney disease.

Spoonful’s of sugar

Sugar (as glucose) is a vital energy source for the body. Natural sugars are found in a number of sources, such as milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose), but again the problem doesn’t come from drinking milk and eating an apple, but from the addition of refined sugars and corn syrup, among other sweeteners, to processed foods. Sugar is found in foods like fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits and too much sugar can make you prone to becoming overweight, as sugary foods tend to be relatively high in calories, particularly if they are fatty as well. Having frequent sugary snacks and drinks can lead to tooth decay.

How much is too much and how much is ok?

A product with a high amount of sugar has more than 15g sugars per 100g

A product with a low amount of sugar has 5g sugars or less per 100g

Some of the sugars on the label could represent sugars in fruit or milk, so a food containing milk or fruit will be a healthier choice than one with same amount of sugars, but no milk or fruit ingredients.

How to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets?

Use honey or a sugar substitute in hot drinks

Cut down on sugary snacks and have a piece of fruit instead

Choose reduced sugar products

Choose tinned fruit in natural juice instead of syrup

Pass up the salt

Salt is a necessary mineral, but not in the amounts many of us consume on a regular basis. The recommended maximum amount is 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 mg a day for people more at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including people in their middle years and older, and people who already have high blood pressure.

Relatively high levels of salt can be found in:

salted nuts and snacks

savoury biscuits

cheese

processed meats like bacon, ham and salami

canned soups

ready/pre-cooked meals, sauces, and stock cubes.

Bread and breakfast cereals do not taste salty, but can make a significant contribution to our salt intake because many of us eat a lot of them on a regular basis. Too much salt is linked to high blood pressure - people with high blood pressure are 3 times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure. Although salt is essential in our diet, it’s only needed in small amounts. Adults should aim for no more than 6g salt each day, but you may be surprised to know that around 75% of the salt we eat is found in the foods we buy, or ‘processed’ foods, with the remaining 25% added during cooking or at the table.

How much salt is too much and how much is ok?

A high salt food has more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)

A low salt food has 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

How to reduce the amount of salt in our diets

Don’t snack on salty food (for example, salted crisps or peanuts)

Read and compare food labels at the supermarket

Don’t add salt while cooking or to food

Look out for low salt options so your health can benefit. /AgroWeb.org