A study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine and reviewed in the Harvard Health Publications indicates that sugar intake directly correlates with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This study was done over a 15-year period and revealed that participants who consumed more than 25% of their daily calories in added sugar were twice more likely to die from heart disease than those who only consumed 10% or less of their calories in sugar. Shockingly, these results were consistent regardless of age, sex, BMI, and even physical activity level.
Another surprising and significant point revealed by the study is that it didn’t matter how healthy the individuals’ diets were. No matter what their scores were on the Health Eating Index, as long as ¼ or more of their daily calories were added sugar, they experienced an increase in the risk of developing heart disease.
What is Added Sugar?
Added sugar refers to anything that does not naturally contain sugar. Sugar must be added to obtain a sweeter taste. Fruits, milk, and even some vegetable naturally contain sugar. Sodas, candy, cookies and the like do not. Even some products that we wouldn’t suspect to have added sugar do. Many fat-free products contain added sugar such as salad dressings and other pre-made packaged foods. Sugar is also added to foods that really don’t need it such as peanut butter, ketchup, bread, and even lunch meat. Most Americans get their added sugar from beverages like sodas or energy drinks, but a good chunk of it also comes from processed foods.
Sugar Affects Your Cholesterol
Sugar has a direct impact on your HDL or “good” cholesterol level. HDL cholesterol helps to control LDL cholesterol, the bad stuff. For every 5% increase in added sugar to your diet, good cholesterol levels fall by 3%. Diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates also raise triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels are associated with atherosclerosis or a hardening of the arteries which is a symptom of heart disease. High triglyceride levels also increase your total cholesterol levels.
Sugar Raises Blood Pressure
Several studies have indicated that the consumption of sugar or fructose directly correlates with an elevation in blood pressure. The causes of this are still not completely understood. Some speculate that because fructose increases uric acid levels and high uric acid is associated with hypertension, this may be one of the causes. We can also know that sugar leads to weight gain and obesity which indirectly leads to hypertension.
How Sugar Contributes to Heart Disease
High bad cholesterol levels, low HDL levels, and high blood pressure are all major contributors to heart disease. But it turns out that sugar has another negative effect on the body that can lead to heart disease, among other illnesses: inflammation. Chronic inflammation is directly tied to several chronic diseases including heart disease, dementia, arthritis and several others. Although inflammation has a variety of causes, significant evidence supports that sugar is definitely one of them.
What can I do to avoid sugar and decrease my risk of heart disease?
The American Heart Association now recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for women and 9 for men. This is approximately 24 grams and 36 grams of sugar respectively. If you drink one regular soft drink, you’re already over this level.
A great way to begin limiting your sugar intake is to always check product labels when you go grocery shopping or pick up a prepared snack. Sugar has taken many forms over the years to help companies save money or to tout a sugar product that’s “better for you”. Check for sugar, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, and dextrose. Also check for other types of syrups or nectars. If in doubt, check the sugar content. If the product has several grams of sugar and doesn’t contain any fruit, be wary.
Also remember that simple carbohydrates, like white flour and white bread, and alcohol convert to sugar in your body. Limit your consumption of these.
Getting Passed the Sugar Withdrawal
Eating artificial sugars can be better calorie-wise, but this can also encourage and sustain bad eating habits. It’s better just to break the craving and get over your sweet tooth. If you are a soda addict, try buying plain sparkling water and mixing it with pure fruit juice. Cut down on the amount of juice you add little by little. Try pure stevia in your coffee or tea. Eat fruit with yogurt for dessert. When you eliminate sugar and replace those calories with other foods, you’ll feel fuller longer. It may sound impossible at first, but it’s really not bad at all once you get past your withdrawals. Sugar is nothing but empty calories. It does not fill you up. Eating well becomes a habit, and your cravings will cease. You will soon have more energy, think more clearly, and have a healthier body.