Sugars Aren’t So Sweet for Your Heart

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To keep your risk factors for heart disease in check, it’s best to focus on whole foods
Eating too much of certain types of sugar could be bad for your heart. But how much and what types of sugar are okay? Public health organizations differ in their positions on the topic, so a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism aimed to shed some light on the subject.

How much is too much?

The American Heart Association Nutrition Committee recommends that people get no more than 100 (women) to 150 (men) calories from added sugar per day. On the other hand, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that no more than 25% of the total daily calories come from added sugars. This amounts to a difference of 400 to 525 calories! The new study investigated the effects of different sugars on measures of heart disease risk factors to begin the process of coming up with an updated recommendation.

Forty-eight people between 18 and 40 years were instructed to drink daily three servings of beverages sweetened with glucose, fructose, or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which provided 25% of their daily calories. Measures of heart disease risk factors, including triglycerides, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B (apoB) levels were measured before and at the end of the two-week study.

Glucose makes the “A” list

Triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol, and apoB levels increased significantly at the end of the study in the fructose and HFCS groups, but not in the glucose group. These results suggest that the current recommendation of a maximum of 25% added calories from sugar may be too high, especially since in the typical Western diet many of these calories come in the form of fructose and HFCS.

“Additional studies are needed to determine whether the substantial increases, seen after just two weeks, are further aggravated with longer-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup-sweetened beverages,” said lead study author, Kimber Stanhope from the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the University of California, Davis.

The low down on sweets

Fructose, also called fruit sugar, is abundant in most fruits. Honey is about 40% fructose and 60% glucose, and agave nectar is about 55% fructose.

High fructose corn syrup can be found in many packaged foods and sweetened beverages. Most HFCS used in commercial drinks contains about 55% fructose and 42% glucose.

Glucose is found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and sweeteners, including table sugar (sucrose), which is comprised of equal amounts of fructose and glucose.

To keep your risk factors for heart disease in check, it’s best to focus on whole foods. This means eating foods as they’re found in nature—the whole apple instead of apple juice, an ear of corn instead of high fructose corn syrup—and to put a strict limit on added sugars. When you do indulge in a sweet treat, opt for natural sweeteners like date sugar, raw honey, or maple syrup. These foods have the advantage of containing vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that are important to human health.

(J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2011;doi:10.1210/jc.2011-1251)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.