Not So Sweet: The Truth About Sugar and Heart Disease

For years, the news on heart disease was all about saturated fat. Now, thanks in part to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the focus has shifted off fat and onto another culprit: sugar.

(As a side note, a recent report published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed a systematic coverup of studies that indicated sugar’s role in heart disease—a cover up that affected food policy and understanding even until today.)

According to the 2014 study, higher intake of all kinds of added sugars is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, when taking into account such variables as education level, smoking status, alcohol consumption, antihypertensive medication use, physical activity, and family history of CVD.

Exactly how excess sugar might harm the heart isn’t clear. According to Harvard Medical School, earlier research indicating that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can raise blood pressure may be in play here. Also, a high-sugar diet may also stimulate the liver to dump more harmful fats into the bloodstream. Both are factors known to contribute to risk of heart disease. Added sugars also contribute no nutrients but many added calories that can lead to extra pounds or even obesity, another contributor to heart disease.

How Much Sugar is Okay?
Today, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than HALF of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular types such as high-fructose corn syrup.

Sneaky, Sneaky Sugar
Even when you’re being diligent, it can be difficult to avoid added sugars, especially in processed foods. In fact, there is added sugar in 74% of packaged foods (including seemingly healthy foods like salad dressing and pasta sauce.) Sugar can be called by over 50 other names, any of which will impact the body in ways similar to conventional table sugar. (Another drawback… you can safely assume that most sugar in the U.S. is genetically modified, unless it specifically says it is made from cane sugar OR it is in a product labeled non-GMO.) Here is a list of the many, many names for sugar you might run across in foods you eat every day.

RECIPE: Heart Friendly Juice 
With all this talk about sugar, you might think it’s all doom and gloom. You ought to know us better than that! With just a tiny bit of planning, you can fill your life with completely delicious foods that have zero added sugar. We’ll start you off with this recipe for an amazing heart-healthy juice which we’ll be sampling at the store on Valentine’s Day! And don’t miss our story on Valentine’s Day desserts with zero refined sugar.

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