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Heart Health and the Dangers of Added Sugars


Questions often arise about how much sugar should be in a person’s diet. Sugar which occurs naturally in carbohydrate-rich foods is usually considered healthy, in combination with natural fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals. However, added sugars have been shown to have a negative impact on heart health.

Visiting a heart specialist or searching for a “cardiologist near me" can help set a baseline for the key indicators of cardiovascular health and establish your individual risk factors for experiencing a heart related event.. Knowing more about your heart can help determine the amount of added sugars appropriate for your diet. This article will provide a solid understanding of how added sugar increases risk factors for fatal heart disease and how much sugar is too much in your daily diet.

How Do Added Sugars Impact Heart Health?

The connection between high sugar intake and cardiovascular disease has been established since 1970, in studies that showed a relationship to coronary heart disease.1 More recently, cardiovascular specialists have determined that people who consume 17-21% of their calories from added sugars have a 38% higher risk of developing fatal heart disease.2

Researchers are still determining how added sugars interact with body functions to cause these effects, but high sugar consumption is known to cause:2

  • Fatty liver disease through overloading the liver’s sugar metabolism function
  • Diabetes and high blood pressure, which are risk factors for heart disease
  • Obesity, inflammation, and high cholesterol levels, which are also contributing risks for cardiovascular disease

Added Sugars Raise Cholesterol Levels

Blood cholesterol, or lipoproteins, are linked to sugar intake, especially HDL cholesterol levels. When 20% of calories are consumed as sugar, this elevates plasma triglyceride concentrations through increased liver production.1

High cholesterol can potentially cause vascular constriction and blockages that eventually  necessitate heart bypass surgery. Simply put, excess sugar raises cholesterol levels overall and reduces the “good” cholesterol, which helps protect against heart attacks.

Dietary Sugar May Cause or Worsen Diabetes

Researchers have struggled to prove a connection between eating sugar and developing diabetes; however, recent studies have shown a correlation between eating foods with a high glycemic load (typically high in added sugar) and the development of Type 2 diabetes in both men and women.1 While the connection is still being studied, diabetes is a proven risk factor for heart disease.

Cooking sugars together with proteins can produce AGEs or advanced glycation end-products. These are normally excreted in a rapid manner but, when they build up in the body, they react with tissues to reduce elasticity and normal cellular functions. Those patients with diabetes have a reduced ability to excrete AGEs through their urine,1 so they may be more likely to experience tissue damage from combining sugar with protein in cooked meals.

What Types Of Sugars Are Bad for Your Heart?

All the names for various types of sugars can be confusing and it can be hard to know which have an impact on heart health. Advice from a heart specialist can help you determine what dietary guidelines you should follow. Sugars are sometimes called simple carbohydrates, and they come in many forms.

Various kinds of sugar and their possible effects include:

  • Fructose (or fruit sugar) has been shown to have no adverse effects on heart health.
  • Dextrose is a natural sugar found in whole fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and has no known negative effects.
  • Sucrose, which is found in sugar cane, sugar beets, honey, and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is the most commonly added sugar and the most likely culprit in causing the documented negative effects on heart health.

Young female eating sweet cake at home on sofa with tv remote

How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

If your diet contains mostly sugars from fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, you should have no increased risk for heart disease or the need for cardiac surgery in the years to come. Most problems associated with high sugar diets are caused by highly refined sugars. About 75% of packaged, prepared foods contain added sugars, usually sucrose or HFCS, which have the greatest negative impact.3

On average, Americans consume more than half a pound of added sugars each day, or 150 pounds of added sugar each year.2 Sugary drinks, syrups, jams, and added table sugar account for almost half of this total. Added sugar hides in things like soups, bread, ketchup, and lunch meats.

In contrast, the recommended dietary allowance for added sugar is about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar per day. This is the amount in a single 12-ounce can of soda, so it is easy to consume too much added sugar unless you take steps to eliminate the obvious and hidden sources from your diet.

How Can You Reduce Added Sugars from Your Diet?

In order to take control of the high levels of sugar in your diet, there are several strategies that can help. Being aware of the grams of sugar in the products you buy is a good first step. However, many people eat sweets because they trigger comfort hormones, and they are often used to manage stress, boost energy, or celebrate special events.

Eliminating all sweets from your diet may leave you feeling deprived and even lead to cravings or binge eating. One of the best ways to start is by eliminating added sugars in places where you don’t want or need them. Some examples of foods that can be prepared or purchased with no added sugar include:

  • Apples or other fruit. Containing only fructose and with plenty of natural fiber, fresh apples or other fruits eaten whole are a delicious sweet treat or addition to a recipe.
  • Plain Greek yogurt. When reading labels on yogurt, remember that unsweetened yogurt has naturally occurring lactose, or milk sugars, which account for its sugar content. Watch out for flavored yogurts, which often contain high amounts of added sugars.
  • Natural nut or peanut butter. Using these as a spread for toast or whole-grain crackers provides a protein boost and satisfying replacement for sugary jams, and many nuts are beneficial for heart health.
  • Salads and vegetables. Fill your salads and sides with carrots, beets, and avocados to add flavor and natural sweetness with only natural sugars and complex carbohydrates. Once your palate is cleared of highly sweetened foods, the subtle and exotic flavors of vegetables can become a delicacy.
  • Fresh salad dressings. Making your own salad dressing allows you to control the sugar content or eliminate it entirely. By using olive oil, specialty or balsamic vinegar, hot mustard, or lemon juice, you can create taste sensations that liven up salads or marinate fresh vegetables. Check labels on pre-made salad dressings carefully, as they are often very high in added sugars.
  • Air-popped popcorn. Popcorn which is air-popped is a low-calorie and low-sugar snack that provides a serving of whole grains. When a snack attack hits, having popcorn ready to pop will add a healthy bonus to your daily routine.
  • Sparkling water. Switching from soda to sparkling water or water flavored with lemon or fruit juice offers a refreshing way to hydrate that goes beyond boring flat water. As a replacement for energy drinks or soda, lemon water or sparkling juice spritzers are delicious alternatives.

Young attractive woman really wants to eat delicious cake

Check The Ingredients

As you look for ways to reduce added sugars, it can be helpful to recognize how sugar can appear on a food ingredient label. All of these are some type of added sugar:

  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Malt sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Words ending in “-ose,” such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, or sucrose
  • Total sugars, including added sugar, usually listed in grams per serving

Are Added Sugars Putting You at Risk for Heart Disease?

While most of us can benefit greatly from reducing added sugars in our diet, there are many other factors that influence your risk of developing heart disease which go beyond what you eat. To truly understand your individual risk factors or to seek the advice of cardiovascular specialists, contact us at Crystal Run Healthcare in New York.

Our team strives to provide the highest quality of healthcare to our local communities and to offer access to the latest and most advanced treatment options available for our patients. Your experience at Crystal Run will demonstrate our mission to empower and promote the best health for our patients and our community. Call now to schedule a consultation or find out more about screenings and treatments to improve your heart health.