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Are you following sea salt and sugar-free diets?

Sugar and salt not only broadly define our tastes but also have a deep impact on our health. Source: iStockphoto

Experts say that replacing iodised salt and sugar with alternatives is not helpful, unless advised by a doctor.

Food fads keep getting replaced with food fads. Nothing seems to change with them despite things changing constantly.

SBS Punjabi often dwells upon health and diet-related topics, and we like to deconstruct food fads so that you can decide better whether you want to follow a fashion in food or not. While following a trend isn’t debatable in any way, but the unreasonable towing of a line without expert advice, especially in matters of health often has results that are more harmful and good. Two recent food fads that are gaining traction are centred around the two basic tastes that govern our taste buds: sweet and salty. Most of the foods we consume fall into one of these categories. So it becomes imperative to consume only those ingredients that lend a healthy sweetness or saltiness to our lives.

Of late, sea salt-flavoured and sugar-free foods are getting more visibility not only in shops, but also our kitchens and fridges, from where they make their way into our bodies. A bit over a decade back, iodised salt was perhaps the only way we added some savouriness to our food. And sugar, for sweetness. But now, the fad of replacing this cheap and easily available iodised salt with fashionable and pricey alternatives like sea salt, rock salt, pink salt, Himalayan salt, veggie salt etc has become a talking point in health circles. Ditto with alternative sweeteners like aspartame or Stevia, which have fashionably replaced sugar.

We spoke in detail with Sydney-based dietitian Simran Grover about these two very important tastes and ingredients in our daily meals, and tried to understand whether replacing them just because there are replacements available and in fashion, has any health benefits or not. Cautioning people to first seek their doctor’s advice before making any changes to their food, Ms Grover details that iodised salt was introduced and later made mandatory by the World Health Organisation decades back for good reason. “Some parts of the world, India, for instance, had high numbers of patients suffering from iodine deficiency, which caused diseases like goitre. Fortifying salt with iodine was made mandatory in the 1950s there. Similarly, the WHO made it mandatory for many other places where patients of iodine-deficiency were high in number. In Australia, it was made mandatory in 2003 or 2004 and later on, it became mandatory for Australia’s bakeries to add iodised salt to bread,” she says, while adding that the misconception about sea salt being rich in minerals is the prime reason why people are taking to sea salt, as is their boredom with the cheap iodised salt. 

An assortment of salts that are in vogue these days.

In this discussion, SBS Punjabi also learnt whether sugar-free foods are actually free of sugar or not. Ms Grover says that until and unless anyone suffers from diabetes, staying away from sugar-free foods is the safest thing to do. “While Stevia, being a plant-based sweetener, gives the impression of being a natural, thus safe alternative to sugar whereas aspartame, being a chemical-based sweetener appears to be rather unsafe, the truth is that we don’t have enough research and evidence to validate the merits of both. So, as I always say, exercise moderation but consume the real thing unless advised against it by your doctor,” cautions Ms Grover. She goes on to explain further that the marketers of sugarfree foods employ reverse psychology whereby they make you believe that consuming a sugarfree product gives you the margin to gorge on more quantities of food and drink that you would normally consume. 

Flavouring water with fruits and herbs is a healthier alternative to consuming sugarfree drinks.

In conclusion, salt and sugar, both are the key tastes of not just our food, but also of life. So don’t let anyone but a doctor play around with them.

Listen to this discussion in Punjabi by clicking on the player at the top of this page.  

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