Your Questions Answered

I thought salt was salt, but have just bought a recipe book that tells me to use kosher salt and I now notice my supermarket has shelves groaning with packets of different types and colours of salt. Is there any difference? Are some better than others? How much is OK?
You are right. Salt is salt. It is a compound called sodium chloride of which about 40% is sodium. We turned to Canadian food consultant, Norene Gilletz, who is a certified Culinary Professional with the IACP, a leading authority on kosher cooking and author of Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (reviewed last month in GI News), for some tips on the types of salt you find on your supermarket shelves.

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Whether you opt for table salt, iodised salt, sea salt or kosher salt, there’s little difference in the sodium content by weight. The key difference is taste and texture, and iodine content. Many chefs and gourmet cooks prefer to use the coarser kosher and sea salts. If you opt for a ¼ teaspoon of a coarse grained salt like sea salt or kosher salt, you’ll find that less will fit on a spoon so you’ll get less sodium. But that’s about it when it comes to benefits.

As for how much is enough? ‘We don’t need much at all,’ says Foodwatch nutritionist, Catherine Saxelby. ‘The body needs less than 200 mg of sodium a day, but the average Western diet supplies from 2300–4600 mg of sodium a day (which is equivalent to 6–12 grams of salt or around 1–2 teaspoons salt). The problem with too much sodium is that it attracts and retains fluid inside the body. The evidence is compelling that cutting back on salt will make a big difference to blood pressure in most cases, and for any condition where fluid retention is a feature.’

Most experts these days recommend between 1500 and 2300 mg sodium a day for healthy adults. So, how do you cut back your salt intake?

‘The big problem is not so much the salt shaker, says Catherine. ‘It’s those everyday foods even if they don’t taste salty – cheese, deli meats, butter and margarine, fast foods, sauces and spreads. In fact around 75 per cent of our salt intake comes from processed foods, which is why buying salt reduced and no added salt foods will have the biggest impact on your intake.’

Download Catherine’s tips on cutting back on sodium HERE.

I’ve heard that coffee is good for diabetes. Is that true?
The jury is still out on this one. Occasional coffee drinking may actually decrease insulin sensitivity, but drinking coffee or other high caffeine foods or beverages on a regular basis does not appear to have any detrimental effects on people with diabetes in the long run. Coffee (regular and decaffeinated) contains lots of antioxidants and magnesium which may improve insulin sensitivity. Our take-home message as ever is moderation. Here are the findings of a couple of studies.

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A small study reported in February 2008 Diabetes Care however suggests that daily consumption of caffeine in coffee, tea or soft drinks can increase blood glucose levels for people with type 2 diabetes. Dr James Lane of Duke University tracked 10 people with established type 2 diabetes who drank at least two cups of coffee every day and were trying to manage their diabetes through diet, exercise and oral medications, but not extra insulin. Each had a tiny glucose monitor embedded under their abdominal skin that continuously monitored their glucose levels over a 72-hour period. The participants took capsules containing caffeine equal to about four cups of coffee on one day and then identical capsules that contained a placebo on another day. Everyone had the same nutrition drink for breakfast, but were free to eat whatever they liked for lunch and dinner. The researchers found that when the participants consumed caffeine, their average daily sugar levels went up 8%. Caffeine also exaggerated the rise in glucose after meals: increasing by 9% after breakfast, 15% after lunch and 26% after dinner. Cathy Moulton, care advisor at Diabetes UK, said: ‘Although this is interesting research, the study only examines a sample of 10 people taking pure caffeine capsules (not real coffee) for a 72-hour period, which proves very little. More research is needed before we ask people with diabetes to stop drinking coffee. The best way to control glucose levels is through healthy eating and exercise.’

A study of the dietary habits of more than 125,000 people in the US over 20 years (Annals of Internal Medicine January 2004) found that men who drank more than six cups of caffeinated coffee a day reduced their chances of getting type 2 diabetes by more than 50% compared with men in the study who didn’t drink coffee. Among the women, those who drank six or more cups a day reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly 30%. These effects could not be accounted for by lifestyle factors such as smoking, exercise or obesity. Decaffeinated coffee was also beneficial, but it had less effect than regular coffee. The researchers noted that caffeine, the best-known ingredient in regular coffee, is known to raise blood sugar and increase energy expenditure in the short term, but its long-term effects are not well understood. Coffee (both regular and decaffeinated) has lots of antioxidants like chlorogenic acid (one of the compounds responsible for the coffee flavor) and magnesium. These ingredients can actually improve sensitivity to insulin and may contribute to lowering risk of type 2 diabetes.