Sugar: Not So Sweet for Your Heart
If you need another reason to lay off the sugar, here it is: research has shown that a diet high in added sugar can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 38 percent.
The brain is hardwired to crave sweets, but you can have too much of a good thing. We already know that excess sugar intake is linked to an increase in obesity and diabetes. What’s more, sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of ischemic strokes in women.
Add heart disease to the list and it is clear: it’s time to kick the sugar habit.
Added Sugar versus Natural Sugar
Not all sugar is created equally. Fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring sugars. These are healthy foods with a sweet taste— and no one is going to tell you to ban them from your diet. Of course, ultrasweet fruits are best eaten in moderation, but they are still far superior to a candy bar.
Added sugar, on the other hand, refers to the refined sugar added to a variety of foods. Most processed foods are loaded with sugar because it serves as a preservative and a flavor enhancer. If you are eating a diet that is high in shelf-stable, processed foods, it is likely that you are consuming a lot of added sugar.
Most of us are unwittingly eating added sugar—because it is in everything from yogurt and salad dressing to soup and spaghetti sauce and, of course, soda.
Sugar and Your Heart
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention tracked heart disease deaths and dietary habits among more than 11,000 adults. They found that adults who consumed a high proportion (about 17 to 21 percent) of their total calories from added sugar were 38 percent more likely to die from heart disease.
Before you brush off the research because you think you don’t eat too much added sugar, consider this: The researchers found that between 2005 and 2010, 71.4 percent of adults consumed 10 percent or more of their calories from added sugar. Approximately 10 percent of adults took it to the extreme, consuming 25 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.
The bottom line: Americans are eating a lot of sugar, and it is not good for our hearts or our waistlines.
Researchers are not sure what lies behind the link between sugar consumption and heart disease, but they speculate that it could have something to do with increased blood pressure.
Tame Your Sweet Tooth
It is easy to underestimate the amount of added sugar you are consuming—but it is a dangerous pitfall in terms of your health. To avoid consuming too much added sugar, be sure to read labels and select foods with low amounts of sugar. Better yet, simply opt for a diet comprising whole foods and skip the packaged foods altogether.
Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014;174(4):516-24. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563.