Sugar: It ain’t too sweet to your heart

For many years, we’ve cast salt and sodium as our heart’s biggest enemies. After all, too much sodium can lead to an increase in blood pressure. However, sodium may not be as big of a concern when it comes to your heart health as another grainy substance: Sugar.

More and more evidence is mounting that sugar may be more detrimental to your blood pressure than sodium.

“Too much sugar, particularly added sugars, in your diet could not only contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but it can also significantly increase your risk of dying from heart disease,” said Tena Miller, PA-C, Geisinger Jersey Shore Medical Associates.

According to a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine, people who consumed 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who consumed only 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.

“Aside from its implications on your heart, added sugar is generally not good for your overall health. It has long been linked to weight gain and cavities and it provides you with empty calories. This means that added sugars supply you with calories that don’t contain any fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs,” Tena explained.

Not sure what exactly added sugars are? They are the sugars and syrups added to food and beverages when they’re processed and prepared. It may not be obvious that some foods and drinks contain added sugars, but you can find out by taking a look at your packaged food’s nutrition label and list of ingredients.

“Sugar goes by many different names. Look for ingredients that end in “ose,” like sucrose, as well as high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrate. That’s all added sugar in your food,” Tena said.

It’s important to note there is a distinction between sugars in your diet – they can be naturally occurring or added.

“Naturally-occurring sugars can be found in foods like fruit, which contains fructose, and milk, containing lactose,” Tena stated.

When you’re looking at the nutrition facts panel, the line for sugars contains both the natural and added varieties of sugar as total grams of sugar. While you’re investigating that label, you can calculate just how many calories are in each gram of sugar – there are four calories in each gram. So if the product has 15 grams of sugar per serving, that equates to 60 calories just from sugar.

If you’re not interested in doing the added sugar hunt on the label but want to limit your intake of added sugars, know that these foods are notoriously high in the white stuff:

r Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks

r Grain-based desserts

r Fruit drinks

r Dairy desserts

r Candy

r Ready-to-eat cereals

r Yeast breads

While it might be tough to completely avoid added sugars, you can limit how much you consume.

“The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons or 100 calories of sugar a day. And men should limit consumption to no more than nine teaspoons or 150 calories of sugar per day,” Tena advised.

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Tena Miller, PA-C, is a physician assistant at Geisinger Jersey Shore Medical Associates located on Kerr Avenue in Jersey Shore PA. To schedule an appointment, please call 570-398-1991.

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