Added Sugars Amount to More Heart Risks

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April 8, 2014


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Getting too much “added sugar” in your diet can jeopardize your health. It can even increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

That’s the key finding in a new study published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine .

The study found that those who absorbed 17 percent to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.

The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.

Added sugars are defined as sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when those items are  processed or prepared. These include common ready-to-eat cereals, candy, cookies, sodas and a range of other food products that are packaged or canned. Added sugar also includes those sugar packets you open to sweeten your coffee or tea.

“We are starting to see more and more of a trend in studies that find sugar is bad for you, and its properties help escalate weight and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., medical director of clinical cardiology at Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “It’s not just about how many calories you take in, but how different people handle different kinds of calories. For example, some can metabolize sugar better than others.”

Added Sugar and Cravings
Moreover, sugar can intensify cravings for more sweetened foods, contributing to the obesity epidemic, Dr. Fialkow said. The neurological chemicals stirred up by sugar are similar to those triggered by some illegal and addictive recreational drugs, he said.

“We are slowly shifting away from the myth that so-called low-fat diets are good,” Dr. Fialkow said. “Over the last 30 years or so, we’ve been conditioned to stick to a low-fat diet, without considering the implications of sugar that comes with the tendency to include high-carb foods in these diets.”

Over the last two decades, studies have emerged debunking previously held concepts that high-carb, low-fat diets contribute to fewer heart attacks and strokes. A more complicated picture has emerged of how fats and carbohydrates (compounds in foods that include sugars, starch, and cellulose) contribute to heart disease.

There’s now evidence that saturated fat can raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and lower trigylcerides in the blood, which are both countering effects to heart disease. For example, eggs, nuts/seeds, plant oils, fish and some dairy products contain saturated fats that can contribute to your good health.

Added Sugar Recommendations
Carbohydrates provide your body with the glucose it needs to function properly. There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber are called good carbohydrates.  Simple carbohydrates include foods with added sugars and are called bad carbohydrates.

Added sugar is fast becoming the bigger evil in diets that escalate heart disease.

According to the JAMA study, most U.S. adults consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which is far more than recommended by the medical community.

The American Heart Association recommends:

  • No more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day of sugar for women.
  • No more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for men.

A can of regular soda contains about 35 grams of added sugar, equivalent to 8.75 teaspoons or 140 calories. Reducing or cutting out soda, some fruits, sports and energy drinks, sweetened teas and sugary coffee drinks can help reduce overall intake of added sugar.

“These recommendations are a good place to start, but they are general guidelines meant for a doctor to begin a conversation with his patient,” said Dr. Fialkow. “The good news is that we’re starting to recognize that sugar should be limited. That’s because it contributes to ill health, such as promoting inflammation, creating hunger cravings and influencing sedentary lifestyles.”


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