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How Sugar Affects Your Heart Health

We’re all looking to live our best lives but when it comes to watching what goes into our body, we can sometimes overlook things. But nutrition and health are directly connected and eating healthier food can make a big difference, especially when it comes to heart health.  Since making the right food choices can help reduce your risk of heart diseases, you should be aware of the nutritional impact of everyday ingredients. Sugar is one such common ingredient that has more effect on your heart health than you might think. It’s ironic, but sugar is actually a bitter-sweet part of our everyday lives. Sweet, because most of us love the taste and let’s be honest, it’s hard to resist the cravings. Bitter, because an excessive amount of sugar can lead to an increase in your blood sugar, which can deteriorate your cardiovascular health. Within limited quantities, sugar is good for your body when consumed through whole foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables or simply put, unprocessed foods. However, added sugar that is commonly used in processed foods, can pose adverse risks to your heart and its overall health. The WHO recommends that added sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake.  Here are some of the ways in which sugar and heart health are correlated:  Sugar and Cardiovascular Diseases  While sugar may not directly affect your heart health, having too much of it frequently can lead to many health issues. Sugar intake and heart diseases are linked in a few ways: 
  1. Sugar, Diabetes and High Blood Pressure 
There is a three-way link between overconsumption of sugar, diabetes, and high blood pressure.   People diagnosed with diabetes are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure. When you have high blood pressure, the force of blood pushing against the artery walls is very high. This can also go unnoticed as it may not have any symptoms but it can cause health issues such as a heart attack.  People with diabetes also typically have high blood sugar. This occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin and blood sugar levels rise considerably. High blood sugar and heart attack are closely related.    
  1. Sugar and Cholesterol Level 
Not all cholesterol is bad. There are two kinds — LDL and HDL. HDL is the good cholesterol that our body requires in restricted quantities to produce vitamins and other hormones.  Too much LDL, on the other hand, can be harmful when it circulates in your blood and sticks to other substances to form lumps that can block arteries and result in a heart attack or stroke.  Consumption of higher quantities of added sugar is associated with increased levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and a decreased level of good cholesterol (HDL).  
  1. Sugar, Weight Gain and Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
It’s no surprise that if we don’t consciously watch our sugar intake, weight gain is inevitable - although the extent varies from body to body. When we tip closer towards the scale of a higher weight bracket and on a more extreme end, towards obesity, we drastically increase our chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.    People at risk for obesity could also face liver problems. The way that your liver processes sugar is very similar to the way it processes alcohol - by converting it into fat. An accumulation of fat can then give rise to “fatty liver disease”.  When this fat circulates in the blood stream, it can become one of the reasons for heart disease. Therefore sugar and heart disease are not independent of one another.    Keeping a Check on Your Sugar Intake  With all said and done, this is not a battle lost. “How harmful is sugar” might be the question we addressed in this article but we also did say this is bittersweet.    There are simple ways to continue indulging and giving in to your cravings while staying healthy: 
  • Switch to healthier alternatives: When having a sugar craving choose whole fruits which have a natural occurring sugar rather than refined or added sugar in desserts.  
  • Moderation is key: Balanced portions will make sure you remain healthy even if you have sugar occasionally.  When preparing food check your recipes and be mindful of how much sugar you add.
  • Balanced Diet: A Balanced diet comprising of all essential macro nutrients like carbs, proteins and fat with dietary fibres, and micro nutrients vitamins and minerals will help maintain heart and overall health. 
  • Check your store-bought items: When buying food, closely read the nutrition facts to watch sugar intake. You’d be surprised to find an excess of added sugar in food items you least expect such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals or even ketchup.
 
  • Exercise regularly: The benefits of exercise cannot be stressed enough. Whether it’s a 15-minute brisk walk or an intense training session, exercise regulates your body and its workings.
    Benefits of Sugar  On the sweeter side of things, some amount of sugar is good. Sugar is a form of carbohydrate and carbohydrates are needed to fuel the body with energy by being broken down into glucose and pushed into the bloodstream. Glucose, in turn, is essential for the functioning of the brain, nervous system, and red blood cells.  However, as we mentioned, it is better for your heart health to reduce your sugar intake as consuming high amounts can be harmful in the long run.  To conclude, sugar and heart disease and therefore, sugar and heart health go hand in hand. It is crucial to maintain a balanced diet along with a balanced lifestyle. Remember, when you choose a healthier life, you’re also choosing to enjoy it a lot more! If you’re looking for more tips on eating better, check out our beginner’s guide to a heart-healthy diet.   References:  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/diabetes/diabetes-and-high-blood-pressure  https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/diabetes-and-heart-attack-is-a-particularly-risky-combination  https://delhi.apollohospitals.com/blog/how-sugar-affects-your-cholesterol/  https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/obesity-sugar-and-heart-health  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8550265/  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/does-your-body-need-sugar#role-in-the-body