Research has found people who get at least 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugars of any kind were more than three times more likely to have low levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol in their bloodstream, a risk factor for heart disease, than people who got less than 5 percent of their calories from sweeteners. The high sugar consumers were also found to have higher triglycerides than normal, another risk factor for heart disease.
For a person who eats 2,000 calories a day, 25 percent is 500 calories, or 125 grams of sugar. To give you an idea, a medium white chocolate mocha has about 60 grams of sugar while a pecan roll has about 50. And that’s just breakfast. While most people worry about weight gain from sugar, they should also consider heart disease.
Metabolic syndrome from eating too much sugar raises risk of heart disease. Researchers turned their microscopes on sugar when it became clear during the explosion of obesity and diabetes over the last 20 to 30 years that metabolic syndrome is the leading risk factor for heart disease.
Metabolic syndrome is a condition brought on by a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates that eventually causes insulin resistance. Eating a diet high in sugars and starchy carbs—pastas, pastries, breads—causes your body to pump out high amounts of insulin. Eventually the body’s cells, overwhelmed by the demands of insulin, become insulin resistant. Also, the pancreas becomes overwhelmed by pumping out so much insulin and becomes exhausted. As a result, blood sugar levels skyrocket. Many people with insulin resistance go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.
It’s the chronically high insulin and blood sugar levels that are so hard on the vascular system and increase the risk of heart disease precipitously. In addition to increased belly fat, metabolic syndrome also brings with it high triglycerides (fats circulating in the bloodstream), high blood pressure, lower HDL (the good cholesterol) and higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, high inflammation, and a long list of other chronic health conditions. If scientists want to induce metabolic syndrome in lab animals, they simply feed them a diet high in sugar. Even when sugar comprises just 20 percent of calories it induces insulin resistance.
In humans, regularly consuming soft drinks, sweetened juices and bakery products are sufficient to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Junk fats, such as processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils—fries, chips, and processed foods made with trans fats and soybean oils—fuel the damage to the body.
How sugar damages arteries. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease because high levels of sugar circulating in the bloodstream inflames and damages the lining of the arteries. The body uses cholesterol to patch the damaged areas contributing to the formation of plaque within the arteries—a process known as “atherosclerosis.” Although an effective short-term fix, this eventually leads to the creation of artery-clogging plaque, and drives up the risk of a heart attack.
How much sugar should you eat. The answer is fairy straightforward, none. The human body operates wonderfully on carbohydrates derived from fresh vegetables and fruit. However, the American Heart Association suggests no more than 5 percent of calories come from sugar. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 24 grams, or the equivalent of six teaspoons.
To put it in perspective, a can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar; a regular size frozen yogurt has 40 grams; a 16 ounce mocha drink with whipped cream has 47 grams; and a bag of Skittles has 47 grams; 8 ounces of bottled ice tea has 23 grams; and a Clif Bar has 21 grams. It is very easy to quickly exceed safe limits of sugar consumption and thus increase your risk of heart disease.
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