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Too much sugar may lead to heart disease

Consumer Reports News: April 22, 2010 04:41 PM

It’s no surprise that more sugar in your diet can lead to weight gain—which can lead to other health issues such and obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. But a study published in the April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that consuming more added sugar itself (as opposed to sugar naturally present in foods like fruit and milk) may actually increase the risk of heart disease as well.

Americans consume more and more of their calories from added sugar, according to the researchers. Adults in the study consumed on average about 16 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. That’s up from just over 10 percent in the late 1970s, and far more than the American Heart Association’s recent recommendation of no more than 5 percent of total calories (about 100 calories from sugar per day for women, and about 150 for men.)

Added sugars generally contribute no nutrients other than extra calories to your daily total. But they’re prevalent in many of our food options. Take breakfast cereals. A new analysis in the UK, highlighted by the BBC, found that many cereals contained more sugar than ice cream, donuts and cake. British cereals may have slightly different formulations than they do in the U.S., but when we last looked at American breakfast cereals, we found that 11 popular brands had more sugar per serving than a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts, and two cereals were more than 50 percent sugar. And an international study we participated in found several examples in which the sodium and sugar in cereal sold in the U.S. were higher than in the same brands sold overseas.

And then there are the soft drinks. A single 12-ounce can of cola contains about a day’s worth of added sugars.
The JAMA researchers analyzed data on 6,113 adult Americans and found that people who eat (and drink) more added sugars had lower HDL (good) cholesterol, higher triglyceride levels, and generally more fat cells in circulating blood—all of which are important risk factors for heart disease.

As we’ve previously pointed out, U.S. food labels don’t provide a recommended daily level for sugars, which may make it harder for consumers to gauge their sugar intake than other important nutrients, like fiber and fat. And food labels don’t distinguish between those sugars that occur naturally in foods, and those that are added. They should, and the results published in JAMA add to the urgency. “Although long-term trials to study the effect of reducing added sugars and other carbohydrates on lipid profiles are needed, our data support dietary guidelines that target a reduction in consumption of added sugar,” conclude the study’s authors.

Kevin McCarthy, associate editor

If you want to reduce your sugar intake, here are 5 ways to cut back.

Aaron Bailey

   

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