Sugar. There is no denying that sweet treats like cakes and chocolate are delicious. You don’t need me to tell you that consuming too much sugar on a regular basis is not healthy. However, it might surprise you to know that even people who are not overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing heart disease due to excess sugar consumption.
Don’t have a sweet tooth? Sugar isn’t just found in sweet treats. Processed foods and simple carbs like white bread and pizza are converted into glucose by your body very quickly and have the same effect on the body. Pre-made sauces, ready meals and alcohol are all hidden sources of sugar.
What about fruit? Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrate based and contain naturally occurring sugars but they also contain other nutrients and antioxidants which means when you eat the whole fruit or vegetable these sugars are released more slowly and their nutrient benefits outweigh their risk.
So what is the deal with honey then? Local and raw honey contain natural antibacterial and probiotic that are good for your digestion and health. Honey is a sugar and so should not be over consumed either.
I should just have sweeteners then, right? There are many different types of sweeteners. Studies have found that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine can harm your gut health, disrupting your good bacteria and causing digestive problems that also impact your heart and dental health.
Cutting back on your sugar intake is the best way to ensure heart health.
Here are 9 reasons why cutting back on sugar improves your heart health:
1. Sugar lowers your HDL cholesterol. HDL is considered the ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps keep a cholesterol balance in the body and having a level below 1 mmol/l has been found to be a risk factor for heart attacks.
4. It spikes your blood sugar and raises insulin which, independent of weight, causes inflammation and increases your risk of heart disease. This risk is particularly high in women who are menopausal or post menopause.
5. Consuming sugar increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
6. It increases your risk of developing fatty liver disease. This build up of fats in your liver makes it difficult for your liver to filter your blood, process medications and remove toxins. This in turn causes cholesterol to form plaques and increase the risk of high blood pressure.
8. It strains the heart. Studies have shown that having too much sugar and associated weight gain increases the production of an enzyme that injures heart muscles.
9. Excess sugar leads to tooth decay and dental plaques. There is a strong association between this and arterial plaque. Cardiologists say that it is essential that anyone with atherosclerosis or other CVD takes good care of their teeth!
Conclusion: Reducing your sugar improves heart health
Cutting back on sugar is essential to your heart health, replacing them with artificial sugars is not the answer either. Sugar is not just in sweet things, many savoury foods such as jars of sauces and ready meals contain hidden sugars. The body also converts alcohol and simple carbs such as pizzas and white bread into sugar.
You can still experience the negative effects of sugar on your heart even if you are not overweight and exercise regularly.
Sweet treats should be an occasional addition to a balanced diet that contains a wide variety of fruit and vegetables (not as juices or smoothies), good quality protein such as oil fish and slow release carbs reduces your risk of heart disease.
Tips to limiting sugar, include:
- Read all food labels. Sugar can be hidden on labels. Sugar may be named brown rice syrup, barley malt, beet sugar, agave, and sucrose.
- Avoid processed foods. By cooking with whole foods and creating your own sauces, you can naturally decrease sugar and increase the amount of vegetables and fruits you eat.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Replace fizzy drinks with sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon, berries or splash of fruit juice.
- Limit low fat dairy. Low fat dairy and low fat products in general tend to have higher levels of sugar. It's bet to choose full fat options in smaller amounts or try a non-dairy alternative.
Sugar is addictive, the more you eat the more crave. After a while of reducing sugar, you will stop craving it and start noticing the natural sweetness of fruit and vegetables.