On your plate- fat, salt and sugar

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If this were 1990, people would laugh in your face if you suggested adding avocado to toast.  Fat was the enemy and low-fat and fat-free products took over the grocery including cookies, crackers, cheese, salad dressings and more. Thankfully, science has progressed and we know now that some fats are better than others. In addition, we also recognize that too much of a good thing (sweets, soda, salty convenience food), is not. This is the last part of our series on the My Plate Simple Campaign where I’ll discuss the “extras” on your plate. 1

As mentioned above, the types of fats we consume on a regular basis, matter. Saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature, should be limited to 5-6% or less of total calories according to the American Heart Association. These fats typically come from animal products such as beef, bacon, butter, full fat cheese and other full fat dairy products, poultry skin and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. Trans-fat, AKA hydrogenated fat, is created when hydrogen is added to a liquid fat (typically vegetable oil) and made into a solid fat. Trans-fat should make up even less of our calorie intake. Experts advise no more than 2% of calories come from trans-fat. Diets high in saturated and trans fat have been linked with heart disease and stroke. 2

Better fat choices result in better health. Avocado has become popular because of its neutral taste, creamy texture and health benefits. High in monounsaturated fat, antioxidants and potassium, avocado can be incorporated into salads, Mexican dishes or as cliché as it sounds, as avocado toast. One study found that adding sliced avocado to a burger reduced markers of inflammation in participants’ blood compared to controls consuming a burger without avocado.3 Other fats with health benefits include polyunsaturated fats like corn and soybean oil and monounsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, peanut and canola oil.

It’s your birthday? Eat cake! But not every day is your birthday. To date, there are no research studies to support a diet high in refined sugar. Sugar, while often combined with fat, butter, flour and eggs in dessert provides additional calories without any nutrients. Excess consumption of sugar may lead to obesity, dental carries and heart disease. Clearly, less is best. 4 The US Dietary Guidelines suggest no more than 10% of calories coming from sugar. 5

Looking back, we may not have realized that when companies reformulated foods to reduce fat, salt and sugar content increased. For example, fat free cookies or salad dressing are higher in sugar than their regular counterparts. As fat-free foods became more popular, people didn’t pay attention to serving sizes or calorie consumption, and consequently, gained weight. Excess sugar in our diet not only causes weight gain, but contributes to the development of heart disease.4

In addition to limiting sugar, saturated fat and trans-fat, consumers are wise to limit sodium in their diet. Research has established a link between diets high in sodium with hypertension, AKA “the silent killer”. While we need some sodium in our diets to maintain normal fluid balance in our cells and maintain normal nerve and muscle function, most of us consume too much. The US Dietary Guidelines suggest no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. Sodium is present primarily in processed foods and adds up throughout the day from breakfast meat, canned foods, frozen meals, salty snacks and fast food. 5

How can we teach our clients to be moderate about the “extras” on their plates? Here’s a few tips:

  • Use unprocessed fresh or frozen poultry and fish over red meat and pork. These are lower in fat and sodium.
  • Include meatless meals using tofu, lentils and legumes to reduce fat intake.
  • Choose seasonal fruit for dessert such as berries, pears and citrus fruit.
  • Encourage unsalted or lightly salted snacks like mixed nuts or seeds in place of chips and pretzels.
  • Enjoy decaffeinated coffee or tea after a meal instead of a rich dessert.
  • Use fresh or dried herbs, garlic or onions to flavor foods instead of bacon, ham and table salt.


  1. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/start-simple-myplate
  2. heart.org
  3. Li Z1Wong AHenning SMZhang YJones AZerlin AThames GBowerman STseng CHHeber D. Hass avocado modulates postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger meal in healthy volunteers. Food Funct.2013 Feb 26;4(3):384-9.
  4. Norman J. Temple Fat, Sugar, Whole Grains and Heart Disease: 50 Years of Confusion. Nutrients. 2018 Jan; 10(1): 39.
  5. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/

Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD.

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