Hidden Sugars May Be Killing You

Death risk from heart disease rose with increased consumption of sugars in processed foods

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) You may want to reconsider drinking that can of soda. Added sugars in processed or prepared foods and beverages are not so sweet on heart health.

Cereals, desserts, breads, fruit drinks, sodas and other packaged foods often come with more sugar than people realize. Sugars deliver zero nutritional value and contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A large new study has found that most U.S. adults are eating more added sugars than is recommended, and this increased sugar consumption raises the risk of dying from heart disease.

"Cut back on sugar consumption to lower heart health risks."

Quanhe Yang, PhD, with Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues analyzed data on 31,147 individuals who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Investigators discovered that one in 10 participants got about one-quarter or more of their calories from sugar that is added to food and beverages when they are processed or prepared.

Those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar more than doubled their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to individuals who got just 8 percent of their calories from added sugar. For those who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar, the death risk was 38 percent greater.

Major sources of added sugar in American adults’ diet included sugar-sweetened beverages (37 percent), grain-based desserts (13 percent), fruit drinks (8.9 percent), dairy desserts (6.1 percent) and candy (5.8 percent), according to the authors.

On average, U.S. adults are taking in about 22 teaspoons of added sugars on a daily basis. The American Heart Association, however, advises consuming no more than six teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and nine teaspoons (150 calories) for men.

A regular can of soda, for example, comes loaded with the equivalent of 8.75 teaspoons of added sugar.

Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington, told dailyRx News, “This study is important because it is the largest to date to demonstrate an association between high intakes of added sugars and death from heart disease.”

To help limit sugar consumption, Dr. Johnson urged people to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, sport drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sweetened teas and coffees. “They are the number one source of added sugars in Americans' diets,” she said.

Eve Pearson, MBA, RD, CSSD, LD, a registered dietician and owner of Nutriworks CNC in Fort Worth, Texas, told dailyRX News, "The easiest way to begin to limit sugar intake is go through your pantry and start eliminating foods that have sugar as the first, second or third ingredient. Note that it's not just the word sugar you're looking for though. Others include brown sugar, any syrup and crystalline fructose to name a few."

Dr. Johnson said she would like to see added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label so consumers can tell how much added sugars are in the products they are buying.

Currently, on the Nutrition Facts panel, the line about sugars includes both the natural and added types as total grams of sugar.

The study was published in February in the JAMA: Internal Medicine.

Review Date: 
February 8, 2014
Last Updated:
February 11, 2014