Countless research studies have shown us that too much sugar in our diet may increase our risk of heart disease as a complication of diabetes or obesity. However, a new study recently published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine has concluded that the link between sugar and death by heart disease is more direct.
It’s simple: the more added sugar in your diet, the greater your risk of dying from heart disease. You don’t need to be overweight or diabetic to be at risk; just consume moderate to high amounts of added sugar.
What’s considered “moderate to high amounts?” Well, for instance, one 12-ounce can of soda per day, which contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, increases your overall risk heart-related death by 33%. That one can of soda is considered “moderate” intake of added sugar. And chances are, that daily can of soda is not your only daily source of added sugar. Other obvious sources are sweetened fruit drinks, candy, ice cream, cookies, pies, cakes, and other desserts. But sugar also hides in less likely places like some salad dressings, peanut butter, breads, crackers, marinara sauce, even “health” foods like fruit-flavored yogurts, granola bars, and flavored oatmeal.
If you eat or drink higher amounts of added sugar per day, like a doughnut at breakfast, a soda with lunch, and a bowl of ice cream after dinner, your risk of dying from heart issues increases too.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100-150 calories per day (100 for women, 150 for men.) That’s about 25-38g, or about 6-9 teaspoons per day.
It is important to distinguish that it is added sugar that increases your risk of death by heart disease. Natural sugars that occur in fruits, veggies, and grains are balanced by the fiber, water, and other nutrients in that food. Those are healthy carbohydrates and do not count as added sugar.
How to avoid added sugars?
- Limit processed foods in your diet. If Mother Nature made it, any sugar she put in there is natural, not “added.” If it didn’t grow that way, and comes in a package or wrapper, it’s likely processed. In which case…
- Read the label. “No sugar added,” is a good start. Look at the ingredients, and watch for sugar, fructose, sucrose, glucose, anything else that ends in “-ose,” as well as added syrup. Even natural-sounding sweeteners like cane sugar or agave syrup count as added sugar.
- Check the nutrient facts before you order at your favorite fast food restaurant – even for the “healthy” menu items. You might be unpleasantly surprised how much sugar has been added to your morning yogurt parfait or even your Royale with Cheese!
- Don’t forget about your liquid sugar intake. As we talked about above, just one can of soda will max out your recommended daily added sugar allowance, and increase your risk of dying of heart disease. Add to that a vanilla latte in the afternoon, and a margarita at happy hour, and you’re likely looking at around 30 teaspoons of sugar in from just beverages alone.
Sugary sweetness is a taste we naturally crave, but your body’s definition of sweetness is relative. If your taste buds are used to daily overload of sugary sweet foods and drinks, that’s what your body will crave. If you’re ready to try cutting down on the added sugar in your diet, know that it only takes your taste buds about 2 weeks to “reset” themselves to crave less sweetness. The upside is not only that you’ll be able to better appreciate the sweetness of natural foods like fruits, grains, and veggies, but you’ll be taking care of your heart in the process.
- Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders W, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563.