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Home / World Health Day; salt, sugar and saturated fat

World Health Day; salt, sugar and saturated fat

Nutritional information on all UK foods has become more transparent in the last few years as our interest in becoming healthier grows. Most will display a traffic light system indicating the levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat in the item allowing you to make informed decisions easily. Whilst these are positive strides into healthier living, it is not difficult to lapse through misinformation and old habits.

In contrast to popular belief, good food doesn't equal boring food. One scenario is the party buffet spread with its abundance of sausage rolls and sugary cakes. Did you know that these could be replaced with healthy delicious options?

For World Health Day 2018, we have the usual party food assemble. Simply click each food to reveal the nutritional values of each, and then make the tables turn in your favour with a healthier tasty alternative:

Food comparison table

A balance of nutrients in the body keeps you functioning throughout the day. This is largely based on the calories you are consuming then burning, from basic day-to-day activities to exercise with the purpose of losing said calories.

By keeping an eye on your calories, this crosses over into maintaining a healthy weight to reduce the chances of experiencing health risks associated with obesity, diabetes, heart conditions and type 2 diabetes. However, you also need to consider a balanced diet of the five main food groups.

The Food Groups

The saying goes "everything in moderation". By having a varied and healthy diet, you will find yourself hitting the positive food groups without thinking. The five main food groups are as follows:

  • Carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, rice and pasta)
  • Protein (beans, fish, eggs and meat)
  • Diary (milk, yoghurt and cheeses)
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Fats and sugars

Of course, fats and sugars are easy to consume for most of us, and the odd sweet thing is not a crime. However, you will find many items you use contains high levels, including butter, cooking oils, dressings, soft drinks, and biscuits. Fruit smoothies are one to be careful of; they usually contain a large amount of sugar, and one smoothie will always count as only one of your 5-a-day regardless of how many fruits you add. It is always recommended to eat the fruit as it comes, rather than blending it.

What should I be eating?

In terms of salt, we should be consuming 6g per day, which is less than a teaspoon. As well as savoury foods containing too much salt, certain sugar treats also have hidden amounts of salt. In terms of covering the food groups, here is what you should be consuming:

  • Carbohydrates should be a third of your overall diet. Carbs are essential for energy, fibre and nutrients. Wholegrains are the preferred source of carb.
  • Protein should be no more than 70g of red/processed meat, 2 fish portions per week (1 portion if the fish is oily). Proteins are a source of vitamins and minerals (zinc and iron) to help the body grow and repair.
  • A variety of dairy foods are advised but try to pick low-fat and unsweetened options. One portion of dairy equates to 200ml glass of milk, 25g of cheese (size of a matchbox or 125ml pot of yoghurt.
  • Guidelines states that we should be eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. This includes a decent handful of vegetables or fruit, or one item a similar size to an apple or banana.
  • The fats and sugars food group is simply not recommended and is otherwise known as "discretionary foods". This includes chocolates, sweets, cakes, biscuits, pastries, sugary drinks and savoury snacks such as crisps.

*Oils and spreads - The average man should be consuming no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and the average women, no more than 20g. Always look for alternative options and foods with unsaturated fat.

In terms of drinking, the current guidelines state that we should be drinking 6-8 glasses of fluid per day to keep hydrated. This also includes low-fat milk, caffeinated drinks, cordials, smoothies, juices and sugar-free soft drinks.

Whilst current guidelines include a list of "fluids", water is the optimum drink for keeping healthy and hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can also aid in weight loss.

High salt

Change4Life states that three-quarters of the salt we are consuming is already hidden within our food. This makes it vital to read nutritional information before buying to lower salt intake.

Foods that contain plenty of salt include crisps and other snacks, processed meats and meats such as bacon, sausage and ham, pizzas, certain cheeses, and sauces (ketchup, brown sauce, soy sauce, etc). Processed meals and takeaways are also a massive issue.

You can reduce salt intake by…

  • Taking salt off the dinner table
  • Swapping snacks for healthier alternatives
  • Buying low salt versions
  • Looking out for the traffic light system
  • Reducing the amount of sauce you use in cooking
  • Making your own versions of canned soups
  • Researching alternatives to sandwiches
  • Download an app to easily monitor salt intake

What does it cause?

Too much salt can cause high blood pressure and heart disease over time. These conditions can be difficult to manage depending on the severity of your diagnosis. It also causes weight gain and therefore obesity, certain cancers, and kidney problems.

High sugar

Similar to salt, we could be consuming up to threes times more sugar without fully realising, and this is having a detrimental impact on our health. The biggest culprits range from the obvious (cakes, sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks) to foods such as breakfast cereals and yoghurts that you would assume were sensible.

You can reduce your sugar intake by…

  • Converting to other sugar alternatives (juices/smoothies, or sweetener for hot drinks)
  • Cutting out fizzy drinks and juices
  • Skip the biscuits aisle in the supermarket
  • Buying low sugar versions
  • Looking out for the traffic light system
  • Researching a range of tasty alternatives to keep your sweet tooth happy
  • Download an app to easily monitor sugar intake

What does it cause?

A sugar build-up reaches a number of vital organs as well as your blood flow. It converts to fat within the body, which most commonly leads to weight gain, and then obesity. Other serious conditions include heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. There is also the issue of frequent dentist visits for fillings to combat tooth decay.

Saturated fat

Not all fats are deemed bad for you, however, the saturated fats are classed as the worse type. Many sat fats are hidden within foods, so taking into account the traffic light system in the supermarket can help significantly reduce this saturated fat intake.

Some of the worst culprits include chocolate, biscuits, pizza, sausages, butter, pastries, and sauces.

You can reduce your saturated fat intake by…

  • Eating good fats such as unsalted nuts, oily fish, seeds and avocado
  • Convert to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
  • Buying low-fat products
  • Reducing the amount of butter and swapping for low-fat spread
  • Grilling and baking reduces oil and butter use
  • Snacking on healthy alternatives like fruit and rice cakes
  • Download an app to easily monitor sugar intake
  • Eat lean meats over bacon, pizza and sausages

What does it cause?

Like sugar, saturated fat leads to a fat build-up within the body that can cause, weight gain leading to obesity, heart conditions, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Heart conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and restricted blood supply, clogged arteries and, ultimately, heart attacks.

How to decipher nutritional information

UK supermarkets list the nutritional information of their products on the package in a simple traffic light system. This includes calories, salt, sugar and saturated fat levels. The greener, the better.

For branded foods, these might be hidden to disguise the many sins within. Whilst most brands list the calories, this might be per cube of chocolate, for example, rather than the whole item to make their product seem better than it is. They may also be in the same colour scheme as the packaging so the information doesn't stand out.

Brands also tend to miss out the salt, sugar and saturated fat levels of their foods. As we've seen in at our party table, the calorie count might be fairly reasonable but the level of salt or sugar could be enormous.

What is the UK doing about it?

There have been positive movements when it comes to healthy eating and raising awareness of these harmful foods. As well as colour-coding the nutritional information on the front of packaging, the UK is the top country in Europe when it comes to eating the most fruit and vegetables. However, despite these positive steps, we are still the top country in Europe when it comes to overweight and obesity levels.

In terms of governing bodies that raise awareness and encourage these certain rules to be put in place, the Food Standards Agency, NHS, Cancer Research and British Heart Foundation are all vocal. The NHS has a separate campaign named Change4Life that focuses on promoting 5-a-day and offers plenty of information regarding responsible snacking. This scheme has also created free apps to monitor your intake of sugar, salt and saturated fat.