In the United States Cardiovascular Disease remains the leading cause of death; responsible for 1 in 4 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control. When it comes to heart health, many people are aware of the link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. For decades, dietitians and other medical professionals have cautioned the public against consuming large amounts of red meat, full fat dairy products, and other saturated fat-laden foods. But did you know that excessive amounts of added sugars can be just as damaging to heart health?
Sugars are found naturally in a variety of foods including dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. When we consume these sugars, they come packaged with heart protective nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Added sugars, those that are added to foods during processing, cooking, or at the table, have become extremely widespread throughout the food supply with the average American consuming around 22 teaspoons, or 88 grams of added sugars every day! Sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet-accounting for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Baked goods, ice-creams, cold cereals, fruit juices, and jarred sauces are other major sources of the sweet stuff! Dietitians use the term “empty calories” or “energy dense” when describing sugar-meaning that these foods that are made up of added sugar deliver calories but not much else that our bodies need such as fiber, vitamins, heart healthy fats such as Omega 3 or monounsaturated fats, and minerals. When we over consume added sugars, it fills us up and decreases the amount of nutritious, hearth healthy foods we can eat.
How sugar actually affects heart health is not completely understood, but it appears to have several indirect connections. For instance, high amounts of sugar overload the liver and the carbohydrates from sugar are converted to fat. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease. Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which can lead to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugar-sweetened beverages, also contributes to weight gain because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods making it easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages.
Label reading is very helpful when trying to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet; added sugar goes by many names including:
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrates
- high-fructose corn syrup
- evaporated cane juice
- invert sugar
- malt sugar
Federal guidelines offer specific limits for the amount of salt and fat we eat. But there’s no similar upper limit for added sugar. According to the American Heart Association’s recommendation, women should consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) and men should consume less than 150 per day (about 9 teaspoons).
During American Heart Month (and all year round) continue to enjoy the sweetness of life, but consider the sources of sugar you are consuming and try to opt for naturally sweetened foods.