Sugar isn’t good for your heart

Consuming too much sugar can harden the arteries that supply blood to the heart, making a person more susceptible to artery blockage


Avoid refined sugar and refined grains like flour. Photo: iStock
Avoid refined sugar and refined grains like flour. Photo: iStock

In the August issue of its journal Circulation, the American Heart Association (AHA) came down strongly on the consumption of added sugar in diets. “Taste preferences begin early in life, so limiting added sugars (to six teaspoons daily) may help children develop a life-long preference for healthier foods,” it said. A 2014 study in the JAMA journal, which AHA cited, says consuming 17-22% of calories from added sugar—more than nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women daily—raises the risk of heart disease by 38%.

Added sugar is converted to saturated fat in the body. This could, in turn, increase triglyceride concentrations in the blood and lower levels of good cholesterol. Consuming too much can harden the arteries that supply blood to the heart, making a person more susceptible to artery blockage. According to the World Health Organization, the optimal level of sugar consumption per day is six teaspoons.

Here’s a list of foods that use added sugar:

■Caramelized sweets, chocolates and desserts. A mini bar of chocolate has about 24g of sugar, which amounts to 27 calories.

■Aerated beverages, energy drinks, and squashes. A 350ml can of an aerated beverage has around as nine teaspoons of sugar. 

■Several cups of sweetened tea or coffee at work.

■Food items made from refined flour, such as doughnuts and pies. One doughnut has about five teaspoons of sugar.

AHA recommends that those aged 2-18 must get no more than 100 calories of their total diet from added sugar. In other words, consumption of sugar should be limited to six teaspoons a day for adults for a healthier heart. No added sugar should be given to a child before the age of 2—the formative time for developing a taste for sugar.

This recommendation is an eye-opener. It indicates, first, that heart disease is a cumulative culmination of nutrition choices that can start as young as two years. Second, there is no room for refined foods, especially refined table sugar or its multiple forms like icing, demerara and caster. Third, too much of refined grains like flour and corn starch can harden the arteries. 

What’s good for heart health

■Have two-three servings a day of foods high in soluble fibre like oats, coarse grains like finger millet, and quinoa to prevent blockages, insulin spikes and hardening of arteries.

■Snack on almonds. According to a study published in the Journal Of The American Heart Associationin 2015, having up to 42g of roasted almonds as part of an overall cholesterol-lowering diet plays an important role in lowering levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, and abdominal obesity.

■Increase the intake of green vegetables like wheatgrass, spinach, arugula, purple cabbage and raw beetroot. These foods contain vitamin B, which prevents the build-up of the metabolic compound homocysteine in blood. High levels of homocysteine increase a glycoprotein called fibrinogen in the blood, which contributes to clotting and, thus, can lead to arterial blockages and haemorrhaging. 

■Opt for sugar alternatives like jaggery, about 25g per day, that are more nutrient-dense.

■Include omega-rich seafood like mackerel and tuna to lubricate the arteries. One-two teaspoons of flaxseed powder can be an excellent source of omega nutrition. Skimmed paneer (cottage cheese) and lean poultry are other good sources of the protein, required for stronger heart muscles.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.

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