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How much sugar is too much for your heart

How much sugar is too much for your heart

Each year, the average American eats about 60 pounds of sugar—well beyond the American Heart Association’s recommendation of nine teaspoons a day for men or six teaspoons a day for women and children. But sugar is an ingrained part of the American diet, and we often struggle to cut back on the sweet breakfast cereals, sodas, baked goods and candies that are part of our daily routine.

Research has shown that sugar is doing so much more than damaging our waistlines and causing cavities in our teeth; it’s also indirectly causing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a name for several different conditions that affect the heart. Together, heart disease conditions, including heart attacks, kill almost 700,000 people in the U.S.

The link between sugar and heart disease

Though studies indicate that people who eat a high-sugar diet have a greater risk of dying from heart disease, it’s difficult to pinpoint one exact cause. Instead, heart disease from sugar intake is believed to be caused by several indirect factors.

  • Inflammation. Though inflammation is a natural part of your body’s immune system response to illness or injuries, chronic or long-term inflammation may lead to problems with your heart. Research indicates that dietary sugars can cause low-grade chronic inflammation, which stresses the blood vessels and heart and increases the risk for heart disease.
  • Increased blood pressure. When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. In a study of women ages 65 to 80, researchers learned that added sugar can increase both systolic blood pressure (the pressure of the heart while beating) diastolic blood pressure (the pressure of the heart while at rest).
  • Excessive weight. Eating too much sugar can lead to being overweight or having obesity, and that weight puts a lot of stress on your body and your heart. Obesity has a direct impact on your cholesterol levels—specifically on higher levels of the LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). If you have excess weight, you’re also more likely to have atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by plaque in the arteries. Plaque can slow or stop the flow of oxygen-rich blood to other parts of the body, which can lead to heart attack, stroke or other heart-disease conditions.
  • Diabetes. While eating sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, it does cause you to gain weight, which does cause diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that diabetes can lead to blood vessel and nerve damage that can cause heart disease. Diabetes may also cause other conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Eat a heart healthy diet

Instead of consuming empty calories from sugar, focus on a nutrient-dense, heart healthy diet. A heart healthy diet involves eating a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. You can follow these additional dietary tips for better heart health:

  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sports drinks and fruit juice
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Eat lean protein sources, such as poultry and fish
  • Eat other healthy plant-based sources of protein, such as legumes and nuts
  • Increase your water intake
  • Limit or avoid alcohol and tobacco
  • Reduce your intake of calories from added sugar
  • Reduce your sodium intake

In addition to eating healthy, do your heart a favor by moving more and sitting less throughout the day. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, or a combination of the two. Aerobic activity is anything that increases your heart rate, such as walking, cycling or swimming. You can gain even more benefits from 300 minutes per week, but if you’re just starting out, start slow and build up.

Try to also fit in two days of strength training, such as lifting weights or body weight calisthenics, and get enough sleep. That means at least seven hours per night for the average adult.

If you have more questions about how to live a heart healthy lifestyle, request an appointment with a primary care provider near you.