Julie Corliss

Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease

A sugar-laden diet may raise your risk of dying of heart disease even if you aren’t overweight. So says a major study published online this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Added sugars make up at least 10% of the calories the average American eats in a day. But about one in 10 people get a whopping one-quarter or more of their calories from added sugar.

Over the course of the 15-year study, participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar. Overall, the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in the diet—and that was true regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index (a measure of weight).

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Other important sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar treats; fruit drinks; ice cream, frozen yogurt and the like; candy; and ready-to-eat cereals.

Nutritionists frown on added sugar for two reasons. One is its well-known links to weight gain and cavities. The other is that sugar delivers “empty calories” — calories unaccompanied by fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Too much added sugar can crowd healthier foods from a person’s diet.

Could it be possible that sugar isn’t the true bad guy boosting heart disease risk, but that it’s the lack of heart-healthy foods like fruits and veggies? Apparently not. In this study, the researchers measured the participants’ Healthy Eating Index. This shows how well their diets match up to federal dietary guidelines. “Regardless of their Healthy Eating Index scores, people who ate more sugar still had higher cardiovascular mortality,” says Dr. Teresa Fung, adjunct professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Exactly how excess sugar might harm the heart isn’t clear. Earlier research has shown that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can raise blood pressure. A high-sugar diet may also stimulate the liver to dump more harmful fats into the bloodstream. Both factors are known to boost heart disease risk.

Federal guidelines offer specific limits for the amount of salt and fat we eat. But there’s no similar upper limit for added sugar. The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugars make up less than 25% of total calories. But that advice dates back to 2002, before the data about sugar’s potentially dangerous health effects were available, says Dr. Fung. She supports the American Heart Association’s recommendation that women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) and men consume less than 150 per day (about 9 teaspoons).

To put that in perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, so quaffing even one a day would put all women and most men over the daily limit.

“If you’re going to have something sweet, have a fruit-based dessert,” says Dr. Fung. “That way, at least you’re getting something good out of it.” Of course, plain fruit with no added sugar is ideal. If you’re trying to curb a soda habit, Dr. Fung suggests mixing a little fruit juice with seltzer water as a replacement.

Related Information: Reducing Sugar and Salt

Comments:

  1. Jasselle Yoone

    Thanks for sharing this useful eating healthy information. I recommend zucchini spirals with fresh vegetable sauce for recipe reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s healthy and good for our body. To make zucchini pasta: Use the envy spiral slicer to produce the long strands spiralize zucchini noodles. You can use 1 medium raw zucchini per person. If shredded, you can put the zucchini on a plate and put the sauce on top. The heat from the sauce warms and softens the zucchini slightly and makes a good substitute for people limiting their consumption of refined flours. Hope this would help. :)

  2. dan

    it’d be intresting to know how many people were in this study, what other foods they consumed (yes, i know on the “health index” they were comparable, but each day what’s healthy changes), how old the ppl were when they got heart disease, and what happened to the ones who got heavier (or a higher bmi) as the study continued, which one would assume would happen if one were getting older and consuming a large quantity of sugar. if dumping fat into the liver is the culprit, how many of these people had fatty liver disease, and of the ones who didn’t, who “over-consumed” what was their incidence of heart disease..and the ones without high blood pressure and high tryglicerides..lot of variables and unanswered question…..

  3. johannes

    Having more ideas about sugar if its real dangoures
    Item for beverage.

    I drink coffee every day with 1 teas
    I drink tea with 3 teas
    What are the danger in this situation
    Best Regards,
    Johannes

  4. Raymond

    A few months ago, I decided to go for a special diet related to sugar. I mean, I was integrated sugar on almost every meal :(. One day, my doctor explains me that I could be exposed to heart potential risks. I decided to change my food habits and it completely changes my life. Thanks for this great article!

  5. Sugar= Poison

  6. Couldn’t agree with you more! I think of white sugar the same way I think of cocaine!! Poison! Thanks for the informative post!

  7. Eric Steinbicker, DDS

    Came across your blog while reading recent studies on tooth decay and sugar (I am a general dentist). Very interesting research on high sugar and heart disease. Obviously we have major issues especially with youth having access to much more sugar than in other generations, especially with fast food restaurants. It seems now that it’s cheaper to eat at a fast food restaurant than cook at home, which I’m sure gives children (and adults) more access to sugar. I raise bees, I wonder if sugar found in honey would also cause the same results in increased heart disease?

    Great blog!
    Eric Steinbicker, DDS

  8. EARRINGS4DIVAS

    My mom had a heart attack in her 40′s,so I am very concerned. It is such a scary thought to walk around wondering what you would do if you had a heart attack. I am taking steps to eat healthier. This article is very informative.

  9. Ron

    Why is sugar uniquely bad for our heart and our health?

    Very simple: half of it is fructose.

    Fructose boost liver fat, produces sLDL, oxidizes lipoproteins, damages arterial walls, induces hypertension, blocks insulin and thus chronically raises blood sugar. That’s the all-inclusive package to get atherosclerosis and a heart attack.

    HFCS is equally bad: about 55% of it is fructose.

    Recommended reading: The Fructose Disease – how a single molecule has caused every lifestyle disease.

    • Vincent

      Everything you just said about fructose is blown out of proportion and wrong. By what physiological mechanism could fructose block insulin secretion? You realize humans evolved eating fruits; which have fructose? Table sugar has nearly the same percentage of fructose as HFCS and honey actually has more fructose (than table sugar).

      Bottom line, some sugar won’t kill you and whether it’s HFCS, fruit, honey, or regular sugar; it’s all processed relatively the same way.

      • Mike

        You are correct, except you missed out on one important little detail. True, humans did evolve to eat fruits, but if you want to trace back the time even further before the agricultural revolution, humans only ate fruit once a year. It’s called harvest time in autumn when fruits are ripe enough to eat. Additionally, fruits contain high fiber which has been shown to slow the absorption of fructose from intestine to blood. When you eat processed sugar (white sugar), it is stripped from any fiber, thus in taking 9 tablespoons of sugar in 1 sitting will overload the liver’s ability to process all that fructose, overloading the TCA cycle inside the cell’s mitochondria and thus converting citrate to VLDLs. So in conclusion, you are underestimating the dangers processed sugar can bring in this day and age.

  10. George Ade

    I quite agreed with you that too much of sugar can lead to heart disease. Not only sugar, but smoking obesity, fatty foods and using hard drugs like cocaine can also lead to heart problem.