Looking for foods with no salt, sugar or carbs? Perhaps you also want to cut down on fat? It's no secret that eating too much sugar, fats and salt may lead to weight gain. However, you can still enjoy them in small amounts without having to worry about your waistline — it all comes down to how much you eat and what your overall diet looks like.
Even the healthiest foods contain natural sugars, sodium and fat in varying amounts. Some are naturally high in sodium, while others boast heart-healthy fats. Fruits, for example, are low in sodium and fat but pack a lot of sugar. Moderation is the key.
Why Quit Sugar?
A strict no-salt, no-sugar diet makes perfect sense when you're trying to slim down. Sugar is often the culprit behind weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. This sneaky ingredient affects not just your waistline, but your health, too. Yet, the average American consumes nearly 57 pounds of added sugar per year, as reported by the University of California San Francisco.
According to a research paper published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases in March-April 2016, sugar may pose greater health risks than saturated fat. As the scientists point out, a diet high in saturated fats can raise total cholesterol levels. However, it's the "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, that has the greatest impact on cardiovascular health. Additionally, many foods rich in saturated fat have a negligible effect on heart function and might even be beneficial.
Problems arise when saturated fats are replaced with refined carbs, especially sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar. According to the paper in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, this popular food ingredient has been linked to higher triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, hormonal imbalances and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, among other conditions. Furthermore, high-sugar diets may triple the risk of dying from heart disease.
Another review, which was published in the journal Nutrients in October 2016, indicates a strong association between high sugar intakes and diabetes, cancer, cognitive decline, elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular events. Sugar doesn't directly cause weight gain, but it may contribute to obesity when consumed as part of a high-calorie diet.
Beware that sugar comes in many forms, from high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar and coconut sugar, to dextrose, sucrose, molasses and fruit juice concentrate. In fact, this ingredient is listed under more than 60 different names on food labels. Approximately 74 percent of packaged foods contain sugar in one form or another.
What About Salt?
Unlike added sugar, salt and dietary fats are not really that bad. Salt contains sodium, a mineral that helps maintain normal fluid balance in the body. It also regulates your electrolyte levels and helps transport vital nutrients through plasma membranes. The problem is that most people consume salt in excess, which may lead to high blood pressure and fluid retention.
The maximum daily recommended sodium intake is 2,300 milligrams. According to the American Heart Association, an ideal limit would be no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. AHA points out that processed foods are the primary sources of salt in the American diet.
A single bowl of smoked bacon macaroni and cheese, for example, boasts 1,040 milligrams of sodium — that's nearly half of the maximum daily recommended intake. One serving of potato chips (0.98 ounces) contains 148 milligrams of sodium, but most people eat more than one serving at once.
Beware that sugary foods may contain sodium, too. A large chocolate-coated donut, for instance, provides around 218 milligrams of sodium and 17 grams of sugar.
The Skinny on Fat
Except for trans fatty acids, dietary fat isn't necessarily harmful. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in tuna, salmon, avocado and olive oil, help improve blood lipids and protect against heart disease. Saturated fats, on the other hand, may increase cholesterol levels and affect cardiovascular health when consumed in excess.
Read more: 18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good for You
Not all saturated fats are equal, though. A recent study published in the International Journal of Cardiology in March 2019 has found that longer-chain saturated fats, such as those in meat and processed foods, may contribute to myocardial infarction.
Shorter-chain saturated fats (SCFAs), by contrast, may protect against this condition, improve your gut bacteria and enhance nutrient absorption, when consumed in moderation. These fatty acids are produced when beneficial gut microbes ferment inulin, pectin, resistant starch and other types of fiber in the colon. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other high-fiber foods may increase the formation of SCFAs, leading to better overall health.
No-Salt, No-Sugar Diet
Based on the above findings, it's clear that dietary fat isn't the villain. Trans fatty acids are harmful indeed, but unsaturated fats have protective effects on the heart. Additionally, certain types of saturated fat may improve your health. As far as sodium is concerned, too much of it can be harmful.
Switching to a diet with no salt, sugar and fats is unrealistic. Most foods contain these nutrients in varying amounts. Fresh fruits, for example, are low in sodium and fat but high in fructose, a natural sugar. Vegetables are lower in sugar but contain slightly more fat and sodium. Lean meat contains little fat, but it's naturally higher in sodium than fruits and veggies.
However, it's one thing to eat foods that are naturally high in sodium and another thing to add salt to your meals. A no-salt, no-sugar diet may include fish and seafood, lean meat, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, low-sodium vegetable juice, avocado and unrefined vegetable oils. Here are a few examples:
- Cooked tuna: 110 calories, 24.7 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat and 46 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Raw shrimp: 72 calories, 17 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat and 101 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Cooked chicken breast (bone and skin removed): 142 calories, 26.6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat and 64 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Cooked lean ground beef: 192 calories, 19.9 grams of protein, 11.8 grams of fat and 55 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Cooked spinach: 41 calories, 5.3 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat, 6.7 grams of carbs, 0.7 grams of sugars and 126 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Cucumbers: 8 calories, 0.3 grams of protein, 0.06 grams of fat, 1.8 grams of carbs, 0.8 grams of sugars and 1 milligram of sodium per serving
- Raw cabbage: 18 calories, 0.9 grams of protein, 0.07 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, 2.2 grams of sugars and 13 milligrams of sodium per serving (one cup, shredded)
- Iceberg lettuce: 12 calories, 0.8 grams of protein, 0.1 grams of fat, 2.6 grams of carbs, 1.7 grams of sugars and 9 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Avocado: 80 calories, 1 gram of protein, 7.3 grams of fat, 4.2 grams of carbs, 0.3 grams of sugars and 4 milligrams of sodium per serving
As you see, even the healthiest foods contain traces of sodium, sugar and fat. Seafood, fish and meat, for example, contain no carbs and sugars but are quite high in sodium. Avocado contains fewer than 4 milligrams of sodium per serving, but it's higher in fat than any other fruit. Therefore, it's unrealistic to make a diet plan consisting of foods with no salt, sugar or carbs — and no fat.
If you're trying to cut back on sodium, refrain from adding salt to your meals and snacks. To reduce your sugar intake, choose whole and minimally processed foods. Vegetables, lean meat, fish, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil are all an excellent choice for low-carb dieters. If you're concerned about your fat intake, stick to fresh fruits, veggies, legumes and white fish, such as cod and haddock.
- University of California San Francisco: "How Much Is Too Much?"
- NCBI: "The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease"
- MDPI: "Relationship Between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Obesity, Sugar and Heart Health"
- University of California San Francisco: "Hidden in Plain Sight"
- NCBI: "Sodium"
- Heart.org: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat per Day?"
- USDA: "Smoked Bacon Mac & Cheese"
- USDA: "Potato Chips"
- USDA: "Doughnuts, Cake-Type, Plain, Chocolate-Coated or Frosted"
- Heart.org: "The Facts on Fats Infographic"
- International Journal of Cardiology: "Consumption of Individual Saturated Fatty Acids and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in a UK and a Danish Cohort"
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "Gut Microbiota, Short-Chain Fatty Acids, and Herbal Medicines"
- USDA: "Fish, Tuna, Yellowfin, Fresh, Cooked, Dry Heat"
- USDA: "Raw Shrimps"
- USDA: "Cooked Chicken Breast"
- USDA: "Beef, Ground, 85% Lean Meat / 15% Fat, Patty, Cooked, Broiled"
- USDA: "Cooked Spinach"
- USDA: "Raw Cucumbers"
- USDA: "Raw Cabbage"
- USDA: "Iceberg Lettuce"
- USDA: "Avocado"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Fish, Tilapia, Cooked, Dry Heat
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Egg, White, Raw, Fresh
- Good Nutrition Ideas: Wise Choices Food Pyramid -- Educational Materials