Healthy Heart & Sweet Tooth: Can They Be Friends?

Most humans are born with a natural sweet tooth, craving sugar at the most unusual times. It usually occurs when you are done eating a nutritious meal that was full of fruits, vegetables and proteins. Your body starts to crave sugar, and you just can’t help yourself. Sugar is a carbohydrate that is made from the separation of the sugar itself from a sugar beet or cane, which results in 99.95 percent pure sucrose, or sugar.

Sugar’s Effect on Cardiovascular Disease Development
Many people tend to overlook sugar as a detriment to cardiovascular health, although it is a very important contributor. Sugar causes an inflammatory response, which in turn damages the lining of your arteries. Low-density lipoprotein builds up within the damaged lining and causes Atherosclerosis, which is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke, and most likely will lead to a heart attack.

In a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that participants who consumed greater than or equal to 10 percent but less than 25 percent of calories from added sugar had a 30 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. Further, those who consumed more the 25 percent of calories from added sugar had a tripled risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

Recommended Sugar Intake
Without knowing, you are more than likely consuming more sugar than recommended. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons, or 100 calories, a day of sugar and that men consume no more than nine teaspoons, or 150 calories, a day of sugar.

In comparison, a can of Pepsi, which is 12 fluid ounces, contains 150 total calories and 41 grams from sugar alone. Cutting out such beverages would decrease your sugar intake immensely, and allow for your sugar intake to come from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables. A heart-healthy diet would include limiting sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars and alcohol.

What Foods Do Sugars Come From?
Some of the most popular foods and beverages that added sugars come from include:

  • Soda, sports & energy drinks
  • Candy bars
  • Desserts, such as cake, cookies and ice cream
  • Sweetened yogurt

Some foods that have naturally occurring sugars. Examples include:

  • Citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges and limes
  • Blueberries and blackberries
  • Tomatoes and avocados
  • Celery and cucumber
  • Squash and carrots
  • Bell peppers and onions
  • Asparagus and broccoli 

Recommendations to Reduce Sugar
Some ways to reduce added sugars from your diet include:

  • Reduce the amount of sugary drinks; replace them with low-calorie or sugar-free options.
  • Have fruit for dessert instead of a piece of cake or cookie.
  • Read food labels and pay attention to the amount of sugar in the items you are purchasing.
  • Before going to a restaurant, look up their menu online and see if the nutrition facts are available.
  • Be aware of the amount of condiments and sauces you are using, which can typically be high in sugar. 

In order to avoid serious health complications, especially cardiovascular disease, reducing sugar is the way to go. To learn more about heart healthy habits, visit altru.org/heart

Allie Harvey is a senior attending the University of North Dakota. Her major is Community Nutrition, and she is spending her semester working with Jennifer Haugen, a dietitian at Altru. Allie is from Lakeville, Minnesota, and is one of four children. In her spare time, Allie loves to play sports such as hockey and soccer, listen to music, and hang out with her sorority sisters. Allie has always had a passion for nutrition and is growing more and more each day through her work with Jennifer.

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