Sweet Tooth Tied to Heart Troubles

Sugar consumption and heart disease deaths linked in new study of US adult diets

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

(RxWiki News) Sugar may taste sweet, but as a new study suggests, it could be harming our hearts.

This new study looked at added sugar consumption in a large sample of American adults.

The study showed that most Americans ate more added sugar than is generally recommended, and that an increase of added sugar was associated with an increased chance for death from heart disease.

"Try naturally sweetened fruit when a sugar craving strikes."

This new study focused on added sugar — sugar that doesn't occur naturally, but is added when food is being processed or cooked. Common sources include sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy desserts, grain-based desserts, candy and ready-to-eat cereals.

According to the study's authors, who were led by Quanhe Yang, PhD, of the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, recommendations on how much sugar is okay vary.

"The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugar make up less than 25 percent of total calories, whereas the World Health Organization recommends less than 10 percent," Dr. Yang and team explained. "The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men."

One can of soda typically contains around 140 calories from added sugar, or 7 percent of daily calories in a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet.

Dr. Yang and team used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to estimate how much sugar was in the diet of most Americans. NHANES is a telephone survey executed every few years to include thousands of adults from around the US. In total, 31,147 participants were identified for this study.

These researchers found that the average percent of daily calories from added sugar has been changing over the past several decades, from an estimated 15.7 percent in 1988-1994 to 16.8 percent in 1999-2004 and then down to 14.9 percent in 2005-2010.

The study showed that in the most recent years (2005-2010), 71.4 percent of adults consumed 10 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar, and around 10 percent of adults consumed 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugar.

Dr. Yang and team also looked at rates of deaths from heart disease. They found that as the percentage of daily calories from added sugar increased, so did the risk of a heart disease-related death.

Adults who consumed an estimated 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than their peers who consumed around 8.0 percent of their calories from sugar.

"Our results support current recommendations to limit the intake of calories from added sugars in US diets," Dr. Yang and team concluded.

Sugar consumption was self-reported by the study's participants, which could have allowed for some error. Further research exploring added sugar and heart disease is needed.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition expert based in Ashland, Oregon, stressed that while a correlation between the two doesn't necessarily mean causation, there is evidence that added sugar is harmful and further research into this topic is definitely needed.

"Anyone watching the nutritional trends associated with the standard American diet has been concerned that added sugars (found in intentionally sweet foods, as contrasted with the natural sugars in fruit and vegetable carbohydrates) are overfilling our collective energy tanks and compromising our health at the same time," said Dr. Gordon.

"It is worth noting as well, that many people who are aware of the likely health risks associated with increased sugars try unsuccessfully to restrict their intake, long before reading this article!" said Dr. Gordon. "For weight loss or health, many folks try to cut added sugars and find themselves unable to do so."

Dr. Gordon noted that while each person is different, she generally recommends generous servings of protein (around 30 grams per meal) and healthy fats (like including some cheese or butter) to help reduce post-meal sugar cravings.

This study was published online February 3 by JAMA Internal Medicine. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
January 31, 2014
Last Updated:
February 3, 2014