Everyday Wellness: Spring into health by cutting back on the Big Three

April 21, 2011

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Do you feel like you've overloaded your body with rich food during the cold-weather months? Want to give yourself a fresh start for spring? You don't need a radical detox diet, but cutting back on the Big Three -- salt, caffeine and sugar -- could be just what you need to spring into health.

Salt
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. It's recommended you eat less than 2 teaspoons of salt a day, but with so much salt hidden in many foods it can be hard to know exactly how much you're taking in. One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium.

Cutting down on salt:

* Stop adding it to your cooking and your plate. Try using herbs, spices, garlic, chili or pepper to flavor your food. Your taste buds will soon adjust.
* Cut down on hidden salt. Much of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods (crackers, breakfast cereals, soups, sauces and ready-made meals) and fast foods. Try making your lunch and evening meals rather than eating out -- it will help your finances as well as your health.
* Read food labels and choose brands with lower salt content (remember, it can sometimes be listed as sodium). For example, choose a reduced-salt soup rather than the standard version.
* Cut back on salty foods such as bacon, potato chips, pretzels and salted nuts.

Caffeine
The caffeine in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate makes us feel more alert. This means some caffeine can be helpful in certain situations; however, too much can have a negative effect on your body and the quality of your sleep.

Cutting down on caffeine:

* Caffeine is an addictive substance, so if you cut it out completely you may experience headaches. If you usually drink a lot of caffeine, try to cut it out gradually by swapping one caffeinated drink at a time with a noncaffeinated drink, such as herbal tea or fruit juice.

Sugar
Too much sugar can lead to weight gain and obesity because your body converts sugar that's not needed into fat for storage. Weight gain can increase your risk of developing diabetes.

Cutting down on sugar:

* Limit your intake of sweets, and go for healthier alternatives such as whole-grain baked goods and fruit, which release their sugar more slowly into your bloodstream.
* If you have sugar in your tea or coffee, try to reduce the amount you use bit by bit, or go for herbal teas instead.
* Many breakfast cereals are full of sugar; read the labels and go for a low-sugar whole-grain cereal.
* Be aware that "low fat" can often mean "high sugar," so read the labels carefully. Sugar is often hidden in savory foods such as pizza and ready-made meals.

Source: CIGNA VitaMin

Resources:
* Mayo Clinic - Sodium, How to tame your salt habit: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284
* Mayo Clinic - Caffeine: How much is too much?: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/NU00600
* Mayo Clinic - Added sugar: Don't get sabotaged by sweeteners: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/added-sugar/MY00845


How Purdue can help

* Weight Watchers vouchers through WorkLife Programs
Weight Watchers promotes a healthy, balanced diet. The Weight Watchers Voucher Plan through WorkLife Programs allows you to attend community meetings when and where it suits you. If your body mass index (BMI) is over 25, WorkLife Programs will pay for half of the $119 fee if you attend nine of 10 meetings. Call Linda Monahan at 49-41904 or email worklife@purdue.edu.

* Additional WorkLife Programs offerings
WorkLife Programs offers a variety of nutrition-related help, including free consultations with registered dietitians and numerous classes. More about the consultations is available at www.purdue.edu/hr/WorkLife/counseling.html. To see what's available and to register, use your career account and password to log in at the WorkLife Programs home page at www.purdue.edu/workllife, or call49-45461.

* Purdue Farmers Market
The Purdue Farmers Market will be open every Thursday from May 5 through Oct. 27 at the corner of Sheetz and Woods streets. The number of growers and amount of produce on a given day depends on the natural progression of the growing season. For up-to-date information, visit the Purdue Farmers Market website at www.purdue.edu/physicalfacilities/farmersmarket.htm.

* Choose Well, Live Well Personal Health Team
Live Well Advocates on Purdue's Choose Well, Live Well Personal Health Team are available to provide nutritional information and counseling at no charge to you. Live Well Advocates can also discuss related benefits available through your Purdue medical plan. Contact the health team at 800-767-7141.