I’m always counseling my patients on a heart-healthy diet. They’re often surprised to learn that the worst offender is not what they’ve always thought – fat. No, in fact, more and more research has shown that the amount of refined, unnatural sugar in your diet is the real culprit of damaging heart health. So, I’d like to share with you what I tell my patients about the damage that their love of sweets is doing to their heart – and the rest of them.
Your Love of Sweets Is Souring Your Heart Health
We all like a sweet treat once in a while – a candy bar, a piece of birthday cake, a delicious drink from your favorite coffee place. And that’s fine as long as it truly is a once in a while treat. Unfortunately, in the SAD – Standard American Diet (aptly named, I might add) – sugar and white flour-based carbohydrates that turn quickly into sugar – have become more staples rather than treats. This, cardiovascular researchers believe, is the real culprit behind the level of heart disease in the United States today. Currently more than 2150 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day. That’s an astounding average of 1 death every 40 seconds!
Another statistic that goes hand in hand with heart disease is for “diabesity” – obesity caused diabetes. More than 8.3% of the American adult population has been diagnosed with the condition yet health researchers claim that it has become a “global epidemic”. It’s the single most important contributor to heart disease in a kind of domino-effect of damage.
High blood sugar leads to storing fat more easily – especially around your trunk where all your internal organs are. Dangerous pro-inflammatory hormones called cytokines get stored in fat and continuously release into your blood stream and tissues which spreads the inflammation. In your vascular tissues, inflammation can create “lesions”. Your body then attempts to heal these lesions by sending blood fats – cholesterol – to create a patch of sorts that adheres to the lesion.
These patches are what you commonly known as “arterial plaques”. The problem with these patches is that, like patching a blow out in a tire, those areas have become seriously weakened. These patch plaques can start to break off and obstruct blood flow resulting in a sudden heart attack or life-threatening stroke.
You can see, then, how this deadly heart damaging chain reaction starts with too much sugar in your diet. It contributes to obesity which our increasingly sedentary lifestyles don’t help. Our incredibly technologized-lives have enabled you to sit too much and get very little exercise during your day.
Over the last 30 years, studies show, we’ve taken in about 150 to 300 more calories a day that we used to and doing even less activity. In addition, too much sugar in the blood causes deficiencies in critical nutrients like zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium, that your heart and metabolism needs to function correctly.
Recently, numerous research studies have linked sugar consumption to cancer as well – another one out of Spain’s University of Madrid just released this month. Seems cancer cells grow wonderfully in sugar. The results are tumors that then disable your immune cells and further enable cancer to grow unchecked. Other research published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology has also shown that lower blood sugar levels also benefit the brain, protecting you against memory loss as you get older.
So, just how much sugar is too much in your diet? The American Heart Association recently published some guidelines for your heart health as well as the rest of you.
1. For men – no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day. Each teaspoon is equivalent to about 5 grams. The daily limit would be 45 grams of sugar.
2. For women – no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar, or about 30 grams per day.
These limits include sugar contained in the foods you eat, not just table sugar you sprinkle on foods, so you must read labels to know how much sugar/per serving you’re getting. Here are some other tips that I also recommend:
1. Try to limit sugar grams to 5 per meal/per serving. If you eat 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, spread out your sugar grams between them. If you eat more than 1 serving of a sugar-containing food, remember to figure that in as well. This will keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day.
2. Cut out refined sugar and eat only naturally-occurring sugars from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains which also contain fiber. Fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugar into your blood.
3. Eat a few ounces of protein and good fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado, etc.) with each meal to further slowdown the absorption of sugar into your blood stream.
4. Exercise! Helps build cardiac endurance as well as process sugar in your blood, helping to utilize energy better and stop storing calories as fat.
I’m all for a delicious piece of birthday cake, or a holiday sweet in moderation. If you remember to keep sweets like these as a “treat” in your life, and not a staple, get more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and good fats in your diet, as well as daily exercise, you can keep diabesity and heart disease at bay – as well as protect your brain health!
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
Heart Disease Statistics, http://circ.ahajournals.org/site/misc/StatUpdate.xhtml
Sugar and Cancer, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130201100149.htm
Lower Blood Sugar Levels May Be Good For Your Brain, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131023165016.htm
Tumors Disable Immune Cells By Using Up Sugar, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130606140452.htm
Sugars and Carbohydrates, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Sugars-and-Carbohydrates_UCM_303296_Article.jsp