Curb sugar use for a healthy heart

Curbing your consumption of sugar in your diet can impact heart health.

The average American eats or drinks 22 teaspoons – or almost half a cup – of added sugar each day. The American Heart Association recommends six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and nine for men. Currently, Americans consume their weight -- about 142 pounds -- in sugar in just one year.

Let’s explore where those sugars can be found. Added sugars are put in a product during processing to make it taste better and to improve shelf life. Sugar has little nutritional value and adds extra calories. Think about a teaspoon of sugar. That's what about 4 grams of sugar looks like. A 12-ounce can of regular cola contains about 40 grams – or 10 teaspoons – of sugar! When you read the labels on foods in your supermarket, it's no surprise that you find plenty of sugar in products like ice cream, jams, cookies and soda, but it can be downright shocking to see 12 grams of sugar in pasta sauce or barbecue sauce – and even more in bottled teas.

From birth we prefer sweet drinks and foods. Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. They stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Most brain cells are influenced in some way by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual function, sleep, memory, learning and appetite, which is why some people crave sweet foods. Even though sugar might make you feel good, too much sugar can impact heart health as it relates to cholesterol, triglycerides and weight.

Researchers have indicated that eating too much sugar may lead to heart-hazardous levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood. So, they decided to gauge the health impact of the sugar contained in an average diet . Researchers wanted to see if people who were eating a regular diet, had an association between the added sugar they were eating and what their triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels were.

Findings revealed people consuming less than five percent of their daily calories in added sugar, as compared to those in the highest consumption group — who got 25 percent or more of their daily calories in added sugar — were twice as likely to have low levels of HDL cholesterol. According to health guidelines, HDL cholesterol levels below 50 mg/dL for women and 40 mg/dL for men are considered low; 43 percent of the highest sugar consumers recorded low HDL, while only 22 percent of the lowest sugar consumers did. This in turn impacts heart health. It is reported that a low HDL cholesterol level can accelerate the development of heart disease.

So bottom line, curb the use of sugar in your diet, read the ingredient and nutrition labels of products you purchase. Increase portions of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat foods that have little or no added processing and added sugars. Buy cereals with little added sugar and use dried or fresh fruits for a sweet taste and benefits of fiber.

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