Heart Disease: Is Sugar or Fat to Blame?
If you are one of the 84 million Americans living with a heart-related illness, you may find yourself asking if sugar or fat is to blame. It’s easy to understand why so many people are so confused by the issue.
In the fall of 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association – Internal Medicine (JAMA) published the results of some shocking research. It uncovered the role the sugar industry may have played in shaping what we believe about sugar and fat in our daily diet.
In 1967, the Sugar Association (known at the time as the Sugar Research Foundation) paid three Harvard scientists to publish a review on the relationships between sugar, fat, and heart disease in The New England Journal of Medicine. The handpicked researchers downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease while simultaneously promoting the negative impact of fat on heart health.
At the time the article was published, medical journals didn’t require authors to complete financial disclosures outlining funding sources. One of the three Harvard researchers later became the head of nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This may be one of the reasons the myth that fat is worse for your heart than sugar still persists today.
More Added Sugar Means Higher Risk for Heart Disease
We now know the real role added sugar plays in our risk for developing heart disease. Research shows that:
- Added sugar contributes to obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. All three are leading causes of cardiovascular disease.
- People who consume 17 to 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar have a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who eat 8 percent or less.
- The relative risk for dying of heart disease doubles when calories consumed from sugar exceed 21 percent.
Added sugar is found in soft drinks, fruit juices, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, yogurt, ice cream, and some grain-based foods.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. But most adults consume a whopping 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day!
Does Fat Make You Fat and Contribute to Heart Disease?
Added sugar isn’t the only culprit behind heart disease statistics. Despite what ads for high-fat, low-carb diets say, fat plays an important role in heart health, too.
Saturated fat in your diet increases the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. LDL is the bad form of cholesterol. When LDL rises, so does your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Sources of saturated fat include:
- Beef, lamb, pork and poultry with skin
- Baked goods such as cookies, pies and cakes
- Dairy products like cream, cheese, and butter
- Fried foods
While it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor for their recommendation, the American Heart Association suggests limiting saturated fat to 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories or a maximum of 13 grams each day.
Moderation and Exercise are the Keys to a Healthy Heart
Most researchers continue to say that eating all things in moderation and exercising for 30 minutes, at least 5 days of the week are the keys to heart health.
If you are wondering how this advice affects your daily diet, U.S. News & World Reports just published its annual ranking of the healthiest diets. Year after year, both the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet rank at the top of the list. Both are plant-based diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in meat and dairy.
How have you managed to cut fat and sugar from your diet? What are some of your tips for eliminating foods that aren’t heart-healthy? Let us know in the comments below.