Is Sugar Bad for Your Heart?

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., January/February 2010

Improve heart health by reducing added sugars in your diet.

"I found your header to misleading; I thought the article would discuss findings that show the link between too much sugar and heart health, which clearly does not occur. The information presented was interesting, but is only a bit of...

Let’s face it: Americans eat too much sugar. We consume 355 calories—or 22 teaspoons—of added sugars a day, says a recent study. Added sugars are those added to food by consumers or manufacturers. “Reducing added sugars will reduce cardiovascular disease risk,” says Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the American Heart Association (AHA) writing group for the AHA scientific statement on sugars and cardiovascular disease and EatingWell nutrition advisor. “High intakes of added sugars are linked with increased risks for high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, risk factors for heart disease.”

Recently the AHA recommended limiting added sugars, advising that women eat no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, or about 6 teaspoons, and men should stick to less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons. (A 12-ounce can of cola has about 8 teaspoons.)

These recommendations apply only to added sugars, which supply calories but no nutritional value, and not to sugars that occur naturally in healthful foods (fructose in fruits, lactose in dairy). It’s fairly easy to keep track of sugars you add yourself. Added sugars in processed foods are more difficult to track. “Sugars” on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars. Check the ingredient list for sugar and all its aliases: corn syrup, honey, molasses, etc. In general, the closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains.

Here’s a list of sugars added to processed foods:

  • Corn sweetener or syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Syrup and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)

EatingWell is now listing added sugars in our recipe analyses.

Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., is the Nutrition Editor at EatingWell.

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