Sugar Is Bad For Your Waistline and For Your Heart

Sugar doesn’t just make you fat, it also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.  And, according to Quanhe Yang, a senior scientist with the Center for Disease Control, a recent study shows that the more sugar you eat the more your risk of death from cardiovascular disease increases.

Sugar

Flickr photo by Umberto Salvagnin

Yang was the lead scientist on the largest study to date that shows a link between sugar consumption and cardiovascular disease.  For the study, Yang and his colleagues reviewed data from more than 31,000 people that participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The goal of the survey was to look at trends in added-sugar intake and evaluate dietary habits based on personal interviews. According to the study, most adults (71%) consume 10% or more of their daily calories from added sugar.  Nearly 10% of adults consume 25% or more of their daily calories from sugar.  In a typical 1,600 calorie-a-day diet that amounts to 160 and 400 calories of sugar, respectively.

The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) and men no more than 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) of added sugar.

More Sugar Means More Health Risks

At the conclusion of Yang’s study, the following findings were published in the online JAMA Internal Medicine article:

  • People who consume more than 21% of their calories from added sugar are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease than people that consume less than 10% of calories from added sugar.
  • People who consume between 17% and 21% of their daily calories from added sugar have a 38% higher risk of death from heart disease than people who consume less than 10% of calories from added sugar.

The study also showed that even if you eat a healthy diet, and keep you weight under control, the extra sugar still takes a toll on your health.

“I could be eating a 2,000-calorie diet, not overeating, not overweight. But if I just drink a can of soda a day, I increase my risk of dying from [heart] disease by one-third,” said Laura Schmidt, a professor of health policy at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who wrote an accompanying journal commentary. “I think people would assume one can of soda a day would not have that kind of impact over the course of their lives.”

But it does.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

You might not be washing down a Krispy Kreme with a McDonald’s sweet tea but that doesn’t mean you’re not consuming more sugar that you should.  Many foods and beverages are marketed and labeled as ‘healthy’ but aren’t.

An innocent looking 16 ounce bottle of Minute Maid orange juice has 48 grams (10 teaspoons) of sugar. One cup of Kellogg’s Smart Start Strong Heart cereal has 14 grams (3 teaspoons) and a 5.3 ounce container of Chobani blackberry Greek yogurt has 15 grams (3 teaspoons).

Sugar can add up very quickly so it’s good to get in the habit of reading food labels and tracking sugar consumption. The three items in the paragraph above could easily be consumed in one day which would supply a total of 16 teaspoons of sugar.  Then, eat  a couple of foods with minimal amounts of sugar and you’re way over the top and into the unhealthy range.

Need Help?

Some experts believe that sugar is as addictive as cocaine so kicking the habit is easier said than done.

Margaret Wertheim, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist and author of the book Breaking The Sugar Habit has 10 tips to help you break up with sugar. Giving up soda is the first step but beyond that there are many things you can do to limit sugar in your diet.

Below are some tips Margaret shared with me to get you started:

1. Never eat sweets on an empty stomach. This is a recipe for a “carb coma”: high blood sugar with an energy rush followed by an energy crash that leads to subsequent sugar cravings. The earlier in the day you start eating sweets, the more likely it is that you’ll continue to eat sweets throughout the day.

2. Always eat desserts from a plate instead of  the container. Eating out of the container is a surefire way to overeat desserts. Use small bowl and plates for small servings of desserts. If you use a large plate or bowl, your portion is likely to be too large.

3. Brush your teeth after eating. Sometimes the sweetness of the toothpaste is enough, and the act of brushing your teeth means that mealtime is over, helping you move on to other activities. Also, ice cream or a cookie just doesn’t seem quite as appealing when you have a minty taste in your mouth.

4. Get enough sleep. It’s more difficult to make good decisions when you’re sleep deprived, and inadequate sleep is associated with decreases in levels of the hormone leptin, leading to decreased satiety and increases in ghrelin, which in turn increases appetite.

Keeping your sugar intake within the recommended guidelines is the key to maintaing a healthy weight and heart so taking the steps to get the sugar out of your life will be worth it in the end.

Breaking The Sugar Habit is available for $3.99 at Amazon.com.

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