Link Found Between Sugar and
Heart Disease

Most people understand that eating too much sugar will make you fat, a condition known to raise your risk of a heart attack. But it’s not obesity alone that increases the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. It now appears that simply eating too much sugar (even if you are not overweight) can cause heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.

The American Heart Association has released a statement [1] advising doctors to encourage patients to keep sugar intake to a minimum. It seems the medical establishment is finally coming around to admitting that their belief that the primary culprit in the risk of heart attack being saturated fat is wrong. Saturated fat is not deadly—sugar is. People who get 25% or more of their daily calories from the sweet stuff have double the risk of death from heart disease than those with a daily intake of 7%. And this was after having taken into account variables such as general health, age, weight, exercise and diet. Most Americans get about 15% of their daily calories from sugar, with about 10% getting 25% or more.

The statement points out that added sugar had not been an issue until the advent of modern food processing methods—it is added to nearly all processed foods, even those you may not consider “sweet.” Sugar added at the table (such as syrup, jam, and from the sugar bowl) and soft drinks now account for 2 of the 4 sources of carbohydrates for American adults [2]. Another recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that only 7 servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per week was enough to raise the risk of death from heart disease [3]. Those with the highest sugar intake had a 400% greater risk of death than those with the lowest.

And it’s not only added sugars that are the problem, it’s the increased intake of what are referred to as “simple carbohydrates.” This includes foods such as white flour (bread), honey, milk, fruit juice and jams. These type of carbohydrates have little nutritional value and turn quickly to sugar in the bloodstream, causing the pancreas to flood your body with insulin. Insulin instructs the body to store those sugars as fat rather than use them for energy. A diet high in sugar raises triglyceride levels and lowers heart-protective HDL cholesterol, both of which increase your risk of heart attack.  

A recent Nurses’ Health Study report found that those whose diet was rated as having a high glycemic load were more than twice as likely to suffer from coronary heart disease [4]. White rice or a baked potato, for example, can significantly raise your blood sugar, as opposed to low glycemic load foods like whole fruit and vegetables that have a low carbohydrate content and so do not cause blood sugar to spike. 

If you buy “fat-free” foods at the supermarket thinking that it’s better for your health, be aware that most of these items are chock-full of sugar. When you remove the fat from food it becomes essentially inedible. And one study showed that the more sugary foods children ate, the less likely they were to get adequate vitamins and minerals, as the calories from sugar displaced the calories from nutritious foods [5].

There is nothing wrong with eating sugar in small amounts. Just remember not to get too many of your daily calories from it. Ready-made desserts, soft drinks, fruit drinks and candy have the highest calories from sugar. For all those who gave up their morning eggs for cereal and juice with the intention of eating healthy, you might consider going back to them. Although it may be hard to believe, a cheese omelette is far healthier! Also keep in mind that the sugar in fresh fruit and vegetables is the good kind, so by eating more of these you can be sure to keep your heart healthy.

[1] Circulation.2002; 106: 523-527

[2] Subar AF, Krebs-Smith SM, Cook A, et al. Dietary sources of nutrients among US adults, 1989 to 1991. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998; 98: 537–547.

[3] JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 03, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563

[4] Liu S, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, et al. A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71: 1455–1461. Abstract/FREE Full Text

[5] Farris RP, Nicklas TA, Myers L, et al. Nutrient intake and food group consumption of 10-year-olds by sugar intake level: the Bogalusa Heart Study. J Am Coll Nutr. 1998; 17: 579–585. Abstract/FREE Full Text

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