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Too much sugar is bad for the heart

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 21, 2023 5:00 am

Foreign friends have been asking me why most Filipino food are sweet? Local bread is sweet. Most snacks are sweet. Even some viands are sweet. The local favorite spaghetti blend is also sweet.

According to statistics from January to September 2022, 77,000 people died from ischemic heart diseases. A little over half (43,000 people) died of cerebrovascular diseases and another 42,000 died of cancer. Completing the top five causes are diabetes mellitus and hypertensive disease. 

“Excess sugar’s impact on obesity and diabetes is well documented, but one area that may surprise many men is how their love for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health,” said Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a recent Harvard Medical School publication.

“Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat.”

Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and the risk of dying from heart disease. In the 15-year study, they observed that people who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who limit their added sugar to eight percent of their total calorie intake.

The study said that high amounts of sugar overload the liver.

“Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat,” Dr. Hu explained. After some time, the accumulation of fat may turn into fatty liver disease which can lead to diabetes and will raise your risk for heart disease.

The doctors also warned that too much added sugar can elevate blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation. Excess consumption of sugar also contributes to weight gain, especially when taken as sugary drinks. Your body doesn’t get as much satisfaction from liquid compared to solid foods. And so, there is a tendency to consume more drinks.

A high-sugar diet can lead to diabetes and obesity. But recent studies reveal that other illnesses like heart ailments, some cancers, hypertension, chronic inflammation and fatty liver can also be traced to an overly sweet tooth.

“The effects of added sugar intake—higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease—are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” warned Dr. Hu.

Sugar is naturally part of foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Including whole foods that contain natural sugar in your daily diet is perfectly okay. Plant-based foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants.

The body digests these types of food slowly. Hence, the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to the cells. High consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

"Sugar is not a necessary nutrient so there is no actual prescribed required daily intake."

What makes nutrition in the modern life complicated is the addition of sugar in a lot of commercially prepared food products to enhance flavor and extend shelf life. The most common sugar enhanced products are sodas, fruit drinks, cookies, cakes, flavored yogurts, cereals, candy and most processed food. Sugar is also hidden in items that may not appear sweetened such as bread, soup, cured meats and ketchup. 

The most common sugar enhanced products are sodas, fruit drinks, cookies, cakes, flavored yogurts, cereals, candy and most processed food.

So even if you take your coffee black and do not add a teaspoon of sugar to it you may still be consuming a lot of sugar.

In the United States, the National Cancer Institute reported that men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day which is equal to 384 calories. On the average, a man needs 2,500 calories. So he should only take in 200 calories of sugar, which is equivalent to 12 teaspoons. Women normally take 1,800 calories, which means a ceiling of nine teaspoons.

Sugar is not a necessary nutrient so there is no actual prescribed required daily intake. However, the American Heart Association recommend that women consume no more than 100 calories (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams) and men no more than 150 calories (about nine teaspoons or 36 grams) of added sugar per day. 

Studies show that the best way to prevent diseases is to keep your sugar consumption low.

It’s easy to control the actual sugar you put in your food or drinks. What’s tricky is the sugar you do not know is added in your food. Hence, reading food labels is a great way to monitor your intake of added sugar. 

Labels that contain sugar has the following in their labels: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” like dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose.

It is interesting to note that according to a 2017 study of the US Public Health, 2/3 of coffee drinkers and 1/3 of tea drinkers put sugar or sugary flavoring in their drinks. They further reported that a whopping 60 percent of the total beverage calories came from the added sugar.

In the 1960s, many doctors believed that a diet consisting of less fat could help people who were in poor health. This made a lot of manufacturers produce low-fat and even no-fat food products. However, to compensate they often contained more sugar.

In the early 2000s, opinion shifted in the direction of low-carb and low-sugar diets. A low-sugar diet can help you lose weight, help you manage and/or prevent diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, reduce inflammation, improve your mood and the health of your skin. 

What should your meals be made of? Leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and lean proteins with herbs and spices.

Leafy greens are packed with vitamins and nutrients and seem to have a very small impact on blood sugar levels. Spinach, kale, cabbage, collard greens, bok Choy and broccoli are highly recommended. 

Citrus fruits and berries are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants while staying low on sugar. Whole grains have higher fiber and nutrient content than white grains. In the same way, sweet potatoes are a better substitute for white potato since the former has a lower glycemic index. Beans and legumes add fiber and protein to a healthy diet while still curbing carbohydrate intake. 

Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that help promote heart and brain health. Fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna, anchovies, halibut, and trout are highly recommended. Chicken is your best lean protein option. Use cumin, turmeric and cinnamon to spice and add flavor to your food.