People trying to avoid cholesterol-rich foods often replace them with carbohydrates like potatoes and pasta, or with foods that contain extra sugar. That excess sugar can be just as harmful to cardiovascular health.
Sugar that is not needed immediately for energy increases levels of glucose in your blood. Your body responds by releasing more insulin and storing the excess sugar as triglycerides, another type of unhealthy fat. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers from Emory University found that excessive consumption of sugar tripled the risk of heart disease. Overconsumption of sugar is linked to diabetes, obesity, and low levels of LDL cholesterol ("good cholesterol").
Sugars occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. The problem is the refined sugars that are added to many processed foods, including baked goods, canned goods, cereals, snacks, juices, and candy. The average American adult eats 21 teaspoons of added sugar every day, about 3 times the recommended amount.
These added sugars are often hidden in foods that are marketed as "healthy." It is up to you to protect yourself and your family by making wise food choices.
- Read and compare food labels. One cereal or granola bar might look like another but contain twice as much sugar.
- Check the ingredient list. Labels do not distinguish between natural and added sugars, so you must look at the ingredients. Words ending in "ose", like fructose, indicate added sugars. So do the words "syrup" and "evaporated cane juice".
- Know your beverages. Soft drinks, fruit juice drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks are major sources of added sugar. Stick to water, or unsweetened teas.
- Buy fresh. Choose fresh rather than canned, dried or processed fruits and vegetables. Make your own sauces and salad dressings.
- Add your own sugar. Instead of buying sweet fruit-flavored yogurt, which has about 6 teaspoons of added sugar, buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit. Make your own smoothies and fruit drinks. If they are not sweet enough, add a banana or a little maple syrup or raw sugar. At least you will be aware of how much sugar you are consuming.
- Resist temptation. It is easy to reach for a cookie when you feel hungry. Keep healthy snacks on hand.
- Wean yourself (and your family) off sugar. Excess sugar is an acquired taste. Try to cut back on sugar in your tea or coffee. Do not keep candy or doughnuts in the house. Replace sweet desserts with fruit salads. Save treats like ice cream and cake for special occasions. Gradually you will find that many sweet foods lose their appeal.
Eating natural, healthy foods is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, managing stress and staying active all contribute to good heart health.
For more information:
High-Sugar Diet Linked to Cholesterol, WebMD (www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20100420/high-sugar-diet-linked-lower-good-cholesterol)
How Much Sugar Do Your Kids Eat? SuperHealthyKids.com (www.superhealthykids.com/how-much-sugar-do-your-kids-eat)
Sweet Tooth Gone Bad: Why 22 Teaspoons Of Sugar Per Day Is Risky, by Alison Aubrey, NPR (www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/02/03/271130613/sweet-tooth-gone-bad-why-22-teaspoons-of-sugar-per-day-is-deadly)