Is Your Sweet Tooth Harming Your Heart?
April 2014

Is Your Sweet Tooth Harming Your Heart?

You can't sugarcoat this fact: Americans are eating too much sugar. We eat about 18 teaspoons of the sweetener every day. Although it tastes good, sugar isn't very nutritious. What's more, your sweet tooth may be bad for your heart.

A sugar surplus

In a recent study, researchers linked the amount of sugar eaten to a risk for death from heart disease. They looked at 3 national health surveys spanning more than 20 years. From the surveys, they were able to estimate how much sugar more than 31,000 people ate. They then cross-referenced those results with a database that tracked who died and their cause of death.

For 7 out of 10 adults, more than 10% of their daily calories came from sugar. These people had a 30% greater risk of dying from heart disease. That chance tripled for those who ate the most sugar, which was more than 25% of daily calories. The main dietary culprit: sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.

How might too much sugar bring about heart problems? Past studies have connected a sugar surplus to diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. These conditions are leading causes of heart disease.

Sugar sources

Sugar can be found naturally in fruit and milk. In these foods, it fuels the body. But most of the sugar you eat is added. It's the white crystals you stir into your coffee. Or the sweet stuff put in foods like brownies and soda when they are made.

These so-called added sugars give you lots of calories. But they don't deliver any nutrition. The main sources of sugar in the American diet are soda, candy, baked goods, fruit drinks, and dairy desserts like ice cream.

Health experts don't agree on an upper sugar limit. The national dietary guidelines recommend cutting added sugars and fats to no more than 5% to 15% of your diet. The American Heart Association is more precise. It says: No more than 100 calories—or 6 teaspoons—a day for women and 150 calories—or 9 teaspoons—for men.

 

Cutting Back on Added Sugars

You’ll protect more than your heart if you cut down on added sugars. You’ll prevent tooth decay and weight gain. Below are some tips that may help:

  • Put away all types of the sweet stuff. Don’t leave tempting sugar or honey out on your counter.

  • Stunt your sweet tooth. Gradually lower the amount of sweeteners you add to your coffee, tea, and other foods.

  • Change up your recipes. Swap out sugar for other spices or ingredients. Try using cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, or unsweetened applesauce. When baking, cut the amount of recommended sugar by up to half.

  • Choose sugar-free foods and beverages. Or look for products with a sugar substitute, such as aspartame.

  • Check the food label. Limit foods that list added sugars at the top of the ingredient list.  Take note, though: The sweetener has many names, including cane juice, molasses, and high fructose corn syrup. Many words that end in “ose”—such as dextrose and sucrose—are also sugars.

For more ways to identify added sugars in your favorite foods, visit the American Heart Association's website

 

Online resources

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Heart Association

 
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