When it comes to preventing heart disease, many people think of cutting back on fatty or salty foods, but experts are finding that added sugar may be an even bigger — and sneakier — culprit. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who consumed 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent greater risk of death from heart disease for many reasons.
Added sugar may be more detrimental than excess sodium when it comes to your blood pressure. The more sugar you consume, the higher your insulin level rises, which causes the sympathetic nervous system to increase blood pressure. According to the International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure, every sweetened drink you consume raises your systolic blood pressure an average of 1.6 millimeters of mercury and your diastolic pressure by 0.8 millimeters of mercury, regardless of body size or weight.
Too much sugar can also drastically affect your blood lipid levels. Researchers at Emory University analyzed the blood of over 6,000 adults and found that those who ate the most added sugar were three times more likely to have lower levels of good HDL cholesterol than those who kept sugar intake to a minimum. Added sugar was associated with elevated triglyceride levels as well.
Consuming too many extra calories from added sugar leads to obesity, which directly damages the heart muscle. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that obese adults have higher levels of an enzyme that indicates an injury to the heart. The damage can happen to even those who are mildly overweight, as the risk increases as BMI increases.
It may seem simple to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, but many seemingly unlikely products on shelves contain excess sugar. To clean up your intake, read labels on everything you buy, and look for terms like sucrose, fructose, corn syrup and cane juice – all terms for sugar. Whenever possible, buy plain, unflavored versions of your favorite products, such as yogurt and oatmeal, and add flavor yourself with fresh fruit or nuts. Use condiments, such as ketchup and barbecue sauce, sparingly, or eliminate them altogether. Eliminating sweetened beverages, including soda, sweet tea and fruit juice, can be a huge help, as almost half of Americans' added sugar intake comes from drinks.
On average, Americans consume approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar each day. Added sugar has become such a health threat that in 2014, the advisory panel for the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended the government create strong guidelines against it, advising Americans to limit sugar to no greater than 10 percent of their daily calorie intake.
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