Study Links Added Sugars to Increased Risk of Heart Disease

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), average consumption of added sugars in the U.S. (1999-2006) was 21.4 teaspoons per day.  Researchers found that higher levels of sugar consumption were associated with lower levels of HDL-C (the “good” cholesterol) and higher levels of triglycerides.  Both are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Until very recently, research had not consistently linked added sugar to any type of health problem except tooth decay.  We were told about sugar’s “empty calories”, a good reason to avoid too much, yet no major disease could be directly linked to sugar intake.

This study gives us a good reason to take a closer look at the added sugar in our food.  Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta looked at data from 6,113 adults who were part of the NHANES 1999-2006.  They grouped participants into 5 categories according to sugar intake as a percentage of total calorie intake:  1) less than 5 percent, 2) 5 to less than 10 percent, 3) 10 percent to less than 17.5 percent, 4) 17.5 to less than 25 percent, and 5) 25 percent or more.

Researchers then looked at average HDL-C levels, LDL-C  levels (low-density lipoproteins, the “bad” cholesterol), and triglyceride levels.  They found that HDL-C was lowest for the group with the highest added sugar intake, and highest for the group with the lowest added sugar intake.  There was an inverse relationship for the other 3 participant groupings as well.  Higher sugar intakes were also linked  to higher triglyceride levels.

Added sugars are any sugars that are added to our foods.  They do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk and fruit.  They do, however, include sweeteners that one might add to food (honey, molasses, agave syrup, etc.).  It is difficult to cut all sugars out of our diet, but we can choose a small goal (smaller dessert portions?  less sugar in our coffee or tea?) and move in the direction of improvement.  It is an old, well-worn message, but it is still true:  “Moderation is the best policy.”

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