The Not So Sweet Truth About Sugar

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

 July 21, 2014

  • Are you living a sweet life?
  • This is your heart on sugar
  • Here’s how to satisfy your sweet tooth

“Who can pass up birthday cake and ice cream?”

That’s what MJ asked on his most recent visit to my office. It seems his family has a flurry of birthdays in June and July. And he was worried that he had overdone it on these sugary treats.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a little birthday cake and ice cream every now and then, as long as you control portion size.

I find the bigger problem comes from all the sugars hidden in the foods on your grocer’s shelves. And I’m not talking about the obvious sources like sodas, pastries, candies and cookies. You’ll also find plenty of sugars in healthy-sounding foods like yogurt, vitamin water, canned fruits, sports drinks and dried fruit.

This is something I see happen all too often. My patients are trying to eat healthy, but get hoodwinked into making unhealthy choices.

Here’s the real deal…

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“Added” sugar is the amount above and beyond what you would naturally find in the food supply. But you aren’t always the one adding it. Mostly, it’s the food manufacturers. They want your food to taste yummy and appeal to your sweet tooth.

This has led to some stunning numbers when it comes to sugar consumption.

The average American consumes between 41 and 50 pounds of “added” processed sugar each year. That’s above and beyond what you intentionally add to your food. Then, when you tack on the amount of high-fructose corn syrup we eat, it takes the amount of “added” sugar per year up to over 100 pounds per person.

Now, until about the 18th century, sugar wasn’t widely available. Back then, it was considered a luxury, and few people had access to it. They were lucky just to get a few ounces of it here and there.

But in our modern world, sugar is just about everywhere. Here’s what all that extra sugar is doing to your heart…

It turns out that somewhere around one in 10 people get a whopping one-quarter or more of their daily calories from added sugar. And it’s causing some serious damage.

You already know sugary foods can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and inflammation. These are some serious concerns in their own right. But, I’ll bet you didn’t know added sugars contribute to cardiovascular problems, too.

If you get a lot of these hidden sugars in your diet, it could actually double your risk of dying from heart disease. And it doesn’t make any difference if you’re health-conscious in other areas. Even if you exercise, maintain a healthy weight and eat well otherwise, it still doubles your chances.

There are several factors at play here. And inflammation may be one of the most important.

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You see, inflammation is a driving force when it comes to hardening of the arteries. And this is bad news for your heart health.

When your arteries lose their flexibility, the lining of your arterial walls can be damaged. Once this happens and endothelial dysfunction takes place, it makes it easier for plaque to accumulate. And this, of course, increases your risk of heart attack and sudden death.

Sugars also raise your blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL. This is all bad news when it comes to living a long and healthy life without experiencing heart problems.

What can you do to take evasive action?

It’s obvious sweeteners are being overused in our food supply. But knowing what to do about it isn’t always clear-cut.

The first thing you can do is read labels. I can’t say it often enough. Check out the sugar content – even if the food sounds healthy. It’s listed in grams right on the nutrition label. Then, check the ingredient list. Key words to look for include sugar, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, fructose and syrup.

Now, what can you eat instead to satisfy your craving for something sweet?

For starters, buy yourself a nice fruit salad and toss it in the fridge. Next time you crave a cookie, candy or soda, pull out the fruit – and eat it.

It may not give you quite the sugar high you were looking for, but it will definitely help quench the craving. Better yet, it won’t give you a sugar crash the way regular sweets do.

Crave those carbonated beverages? Try mixing carbonated water with a splash of your favorite fruit juice. Just make sure the juice doesn’t have any added sugars. Or you can add a little flavor with orange or lemon slices, a few raspberries, sliced cucumber or some fresh mint.

If you like adding sugar to your coffee or tea, replace it with stevia. Stevia is a safe and natural calorie-free sweetener that doesn’t carry any of the risks you find with refined sugar or artificial sweeteners.

One aside here: My friend’s office was going to put a hold on Friday morning’s bagel, nova salmon, cream cheese, onions and tomato sandwiches with a side of fruit, opting for a more “healthy” breakfast. The healthy breakfast was a serving of gluten-free waffles with syrup (high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and sugar with coloring), yogurt and granola… which equaled 50 teaspoons of sugar. The bagel only had 6.

So, read the labels… learn what you’re eating.

And, when you really feel the need to “cheat,” try a little bit of dark chocolate. It has some pretty hefty heart benefits, so you can enjoy a little indulgence without guilt. Just don’t overdo it. Save it as a special treat, and limit consumption to between 1.5 and 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate a week.

Yang Q, et al. “Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults.” JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):516-24.

Paoletti R, et al. “Metabolic Syndrome, Inflammation and Atherosclerosis.” Vasc Health Risk Manag. Jun 2006; 2(2): 145–152.

Brown IJ, et al. “Sugar-sweetened beverage, sugar intake of individuals, and their blood pressure: international study of macro/micronutrients and blood pressure.” Hypertension. 2011 Apr;57(4):695-701.

Fried SK, Rao SP. “Sugars, hypertriglyceridemia, and cardiovascular disease.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Oct;78(4):873S-880S