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Added Sugar and How Your Sugar Intake is Sabotaging Your Heart

Woman eating a pastry

Have a sweet tooth? You’re not alone. Who doesn’t love the taste of sweet ice cream or smoothie on a hot summer day or the comforting gooey caramel apple pie in the autumn? Sugar—while in moderation is a necessary compound for the human body—is one of the most over-consumed and over-added ingredients in Western diets. All this added sugar poses more of a threat than just the risk of putting on a few extra pounds. A diet high in sugar could be harming your heart. Continue reading for facts about sugar, how high sugar intake affects your heart health, and how to decode the added sugar in your food.

  1. Facts About Sugar: Natural and Refined Sugars
  2. Facts About High Sugar Intake and Heart Disease
  3. Facts About Sugar Labels
  4. Top Three Sugary Offenders
  5. Final Thoughts on Sugar Facts

Facts About Sugar: Natural and Refined Sugars

Sugar is in nearly everything you eat. This is especially true in the United States, where sugar is commonly added to all foods, from bread to breakfast cereal. It is virtually impossible—and ill-advised—to try and eradicate all sugar from a healthy human diet. But it is important to recognize the facts about sugar and the difference between naturally occurring sugars and sugars artificially added to food to make the healthiest choice.

Natural Sugar

Natural sugar is naturally occurring in food such as fruit and dairy. The human body needs natural sugars to create glucose and sustain a healthy level of sugars in the bloodstream and brain. Natural sugars are believed to be healthier than artificially added sugars because they are digested more slowly by the body, preventing blood sugar spikes and drops and sustaining an even energy level for longer. Consuming whole fruit, dairy, or grain containing natural sugars also contributes to this slowly rising blood sugar and digestion. These whole foods promote the feeling of fullness and contain fiber and protein that aids digestion and even sugar absorption.

Different types and forms of sugar
Natural sugar is naturally occurring in food such as fruit and dairy. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Refined Sugar

Refined sugar—also known as added sugar—is sugars that are added to processed food. Refined sugars may have started as natural sugars from natural ingredients such as beets, sugar cane, and corn but have been processed and refined to the point where only a sugar concentrate remains. Because these sugars have been processed (and potentially even bleached or dyed), they have been stripped of their natural partners—such as fiber and protein—that would normally slow absorption and promote fullness. These refined sugars are absorbed quickly in the bloodstream—causing blood sugar spikes and crashes—and are far easier to over-consume overall.

Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is sugars that are added to processed food. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

While it is true that not all sugars are created equal, no matter what type of sugar you are consuming, it should all be eaten in moderation. The recommended amount of refined sugar is no more than 25 grams per day for women and 37 grams per day for men.

Facts About High Sugar Intake and Heart Disease

Recent research has shown that not only does a high sugar intake diet increase one’s risk of weight gain and diabetes, but it can also affect heart health in many ways. Some of these heart risks include:

  • Inflammation
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglycerides
  • LDL cholesterol

A 15-year study on added sugar and heart disease has shown poor outcomes for people with a high-sugar diet (25% or more of their daily diet in sugar). They were twice as likely to die of heart disease than those whose added sugar intake was less than 10% of their diet. It also showed that the risk of dying from heart disease rose in equal relationship to a person’s sugar intake level regardless of age, sex, BMI, and daily activity level.

What sugar is really doing to your body – Practical Wisdom – Interesting Ideas

But with this new information about the dangerous risks of a high-sugar intake diet, what can be done about it? The American diet and food industry is notorious for high levels of added sugar. One must be extra diligent in reading food labels and understanding the most commonly sugary and commonly consumed foods on the market to avoid these potentially deadly sugar levels.

Facts About Sugar Labels

Sugar comes in many different forms and nearly as many names. It can be easy to miss or misunderstand how sugar is represented on food labels. Learning how to decode ingredient labels is essential in reducing added sugar intake. Here are some common ways you will see sugar listed on food labels:

  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Molasses
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn sweetener
  • Molecules of sugar with “ose” suffix: fructose, dextrose, glucose, maltose, sucrose, lactose, etc

Top Three Sugary Offenders

Want to know a few interesting facts about sugar in the American diet? Here are the top three sugar offenders to be wary of when choosing how to modify your diet to reduce your sugar intake. Luckily, even if you can’t live without one of these treats, there are plenty of sugar-free alternatives or natural sweetener substitutes. You can swap one of these to satisfy your sweet-tooth without sacrificing the foods you love.

1. Sugary drinks: sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc. 

In the average American diet, refined sugar drinks such as soda, sports, and energy drinks are the leading source of added sugars consumed—and it’s not even close. These sugary drinks dominate the number one spot on the top offender list, as they stand for more than 33% of the added sugar people of the United States consume as a nation.

Soft drinks with ice being poured
Refined sugar drinks are the leading source of consumed added sugars. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

2. Sweet snacks and desserts

Number two on the sugary offender list is sweet snacks and desserts, accounting for 19% of sugar intake. This includes cookies, brownies, ice cream, cakes, pies, etc.

3. Teas and coffee

Clocking in at 11% of sugar consumption, coffee, and teas do a lot of heavy lifting in the sugar department.

coffee and tea in the cup
Coffee and teas do a lot of heavy lifting in the sugar department. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Final Thoughts on Sugar Facts

Sugar is everywhere. It is impossible—and dangerous—to cut sugar completely from your diet, but reducing sugar intake and replacing high-sugar foods and drinks with whole food can be life-saving. A high-intake sugar diet increases the risk of heart disease and heart-related death. So, while having that full-sugar soda or extra cake at a birthday party may not seem like a big decision, these small choices may have big consequences if not consumed in moderation. Next time you are faced with a choice at the cafe or grocery store, don’t forget these facts about sugar. Check the label for the facts about natural and added sugar and make the decision to reach for the natural and low-sugar options as much as you can. Your heart will thank you.