The Gift Of A Healthy Heart

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and a new study says we should be paying as much attention to our sweet tooth as we do to our sweetheart.

South Carolina Heart Health

A new study, the biggest one so far, warns that eating too much sugar can greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes heart attacks, strokes and artery disease. In the past, we were encouraged to limit our sugar intake so that we wouldn’t become obese, or so that our teeth wouldn’t rot. Now the research shows, as Dr. Laura A. Schmidt states in a February 3, 2014, article for JAMA Internal Medicine, “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from more than 31,000 people, gathered from 1988 to 2010. They found that people who consumed more than the recommended amount of calories from added sugar were more likely to die of heart disease. (Added sugars are those incorporated into food during processing and preparation, as opposed to sugars naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables.)

Different organizations make different recommendations about the amount of added sugars a person should consume: The Institute of Medicine recommends added sugars make up less than 25 percent of a person’s daily calories; the World Health Organization suggests 10 percent; and the American Heart Association says women should limit daily consumption to 5 percent and men to 7.5 percent.

This is a situation where a little means a lot. The risk of CVD doesn’t just go up as a person’s level of added sugar consumption rises – it goes up exponentially. The study shows that the risk of dying from heart disease increases when added sugar intake is more than 15% of calories consumed daily; but if you consume 33% or more, the risk is four times as great.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills more than 600,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. With February being American Heart Month, this latest announcement about the dangers of added sugar is especially timely. The most common sources of added sugar are sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and candy.

Here are some products from your grocery shelves that are surprisingly high in added sugar:

  • Baked beans
  • Dried, sweetened cranberries
  • Ketchup
  • Powdered cream substitutes
  • BBQ sauce
  • Reduced calorie salad dressing
  • Powdered lemonade mix
  • Granola bars
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Sports drinks
  • Chocolate milk
  • Jelly and jam.

And about that other sweet event this month . . . Sorry, dear, you won’t be getting a heart-shaped box of chocolates. How about some string cheese?