Is sugar bad for your heart?

Published on Fri Jan 29 14:57:00 UTC 2010
Brierley Wright

Let’s face it: Americans eat too much sugar. Me included! When I think about it, I have a decent-sized list of foods that I deliberately add sugar to: my 2 cups of coffee, the maple syrup I add to my morning oatmeal, that piece of chocolate I nibbled on after lunch today and, oh yeah, the sugar-laden piece of cheesecake I had for dessert last night. Then there are the foods where I unconsciously consume sugar...

Needless to say, it’s no surprise that a recent study says that Americans consume 355 calories—or 22 teaspoons—of added sugars a day. (Added sugars are those added to food by consumers or manufacturers.) (Find 3 easy ways to break your sugar habit here.)

OK, so we eat a lot of sugar. What’s so bad about that? There are consequences for your heart health.

Reducing added sugars will reduce cardiovascular disease risk, says Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., an EatingWell advisor and chair of the American Heart Association’s writing group for the organization’s statement on sugars and cardiovascular disease. High consumption of added sugars is linked with increased risks for high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, risk factors for heart disease.

Recently the AHA recommended limiting added sugars, advising that women eat no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, or about 6 teaspoons, and men should stick to less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons. For reference: A 12-ounce can of cola has about 8 teaspoons. (Cut back on your sugar intake and still enjoy dessert with these 7 delicious no-sugar-added desserts.)

These recommendations apply only to added sugars, which supply calories but no nutritional value, and not to sugars that occur naturally in healthful foods (fructose in fruits, lactose in dairy).

It’s fairly easy to keep track of sugars you add yourself. Added sugars in processed foods are more difficult to track. “Sugars” on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars. Check the ingredient list for sugar and all its aliases: corn syrup, honey, molasses, etc. (Find a more complete list here.) In general, the closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains.

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