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The Sweet Side of a Healthy Heart

posted Feb 12, 2016, 7:00 AM by

Valentine’s Day is this weekend, so what better time to discuss how sugar can affect our heart health? You may be thinking, ‘Sugar affects heart health? I thought it was only fat and sodium'. Fat and sodium are definitely more widely researched and discussed in the realm of heart health, but sugar (and everything else you’re eating for that matter) is important too. First and foremost, controlling our intake of sugar helps us maintain a healthy body weight. Foods and beverages (such as sodas and candies) that are mostly sugar are also mostly “empty” calories, contributing no other nutrients. These foods are normally consumed in addition to nutritious meals, causing an excess of total calories, which leads to increased weight. Excess weight causes stress on our entire circulatory system, especially our hearts. The more we weigh, the harder our heart has to work to pump blood throughout our body. As more and more work (or stress) is placed on our hearts, our chances of heart complications increase.

As recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it should be your goal to consume < 10% of total calories from added sugars. But how do you figure that out? Well, sugar is a carbohydrate, which contains 4 calories per gram. So, if you are consuming 2,000 calories per day and want no more than 10% of those calories to come from added sugar, a maximum of 200 calories per day can come from added sugar. Divide 200 calories by 4 calories per gram to get 50 grams as your sugar limit for the day. How much is 50 grams, you ask? It’s about 4 tablespoons or ¼ cup (1 cup of sugar is ~200 grams). This may seem like a lot of sugar, but it can add up quickly. The average 20oz bottle of soda contains between 50-75g of sugar…so right there is more than your whole day’s allowance. Don’t forget that the 50 gram limit is for someone following a 2,000 calorie per day diet. You may need more or fewer calories. To estimate your daily calorie needs (and then calculate your allotted grams of added sugar per day), check out this table from the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. While the definition of added sugar (and how it should be reflect on the new food label) remains a debate, keeping track of your total daily sugar intake can be a starting point for meeting this 10% guideline.

Some quick and easy ways to decrease the added sugar in your diet include: not adding sugar to your coffee or tea, cutting back on or eliminating soda or other sweetened beverages, or decreasing portion sizes and frequency of dessert. Many packaged products such as bottled salad dressings, pasta sauces, marinades, dips, and spreads that don’t even taste sweet often contain added sugars. Read the ingredient lists to avoid these hidden names for sugar such as: high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, malt, and evaporated cane juice (just to name a few).

Interested in more heart health topics? Check back next week for our post on the benefits of fiber.