Be Sweet to Your Heart this February

Be Sweet to Your Heart this FebruaryMost of us are aware that reducing dietary fat, monitoring our blood pressure and exercising are heart healthy, but far too few us of are aware of new research revealing more about the link between added dietary sugar and our risk for disease.

According to a recent study found in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with an increase in a specific type of body fat that may affect heart disease and diabetes risk.

Data collected from research in the ongoing Framingham Heart Study revealed a direct correlation between greater sweetened beverage consumption and increased visceral fat among middle-aged adults.

This deep type of fat, which wraps around vital organs like the intestines, pancreas and liver, affects hormonal function and is believed to play a key role in insulin resistance, a primary risk factor in developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

“Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink. To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health,” stated Caroline S. Fox, M.D., M.P.H, lead study author and a former investigator with the Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and a special volunteer with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

In 2001-2004, the average intake of added sugars in the American diet was 22.2 teaspoons daily, or an extra 355 calories a day. Today, that number is higher as individuals consume the two most common forms of added sugars, high fructose corn syrup and sucrose, in soda (both caffeinated and decaffeinated), sports and energy drinks, sugar-added fruit juices, lemonades and specialty coffee drinks.

As a result of the growing body of evidence linked with consumption of sweetened beverages, the American Heart Association developed the following recommendations:
• No more than 100 calories/6 teaspoons per day of added sugars for women
• No more than 150 calories/9 teaspoons per day of added sugars for men

If all of this information has you pondering reducing your added sugar intake, you should know that the sweet stuff is often incorporated in many food items and beverages that you don’t typically think of having added sugar, i.e. spaghetti sauce, soup, dried fruits (read the labels).

When checking the ingredient list, be sure to look
for added sugars under the following names:
• Brown sugar
• Corn sweetener
• Corn syrup
• Fruit juice concentrates
• High-fructose corn syrup
• Honey
• Invert sugar
• Malt sugar
• Molasses
• Raw sugar
• Sugar
• Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose,  maltose, sucrose)
• Syrup

You can dramatically reduce the amount of added sugar you consume daily by following these basic tips:

·  Toss the table sugar. This includes white and brown sugars, syrup, honey and molasses. Try using half the amount with coffee, tea, breakfast cereal, pancakes, etc.

·  Swap out the soda. Opt for low-calorie beverages. Water is always the best choice!

·  Eat fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits. Avoid fruit canned in syrups and select those in water or their own juice. Or, rinse and drain them.

·  Compare food labels and choose products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. Dairy and fruit products will contain some natural sugars. Checkout the ingredients list for added sugars (see names above).

·  Add fruit. Use fresh or dried fruits in cereal or oatmeal (bananas, cherries or blueberries, raisins or cranberries). Get creative – your taste buds will thank you.

·  Cut the serving back. When baking, try cutting the amount of sugar called for by 1/3 or 1/2.

·  Try extracts. Instead of adding sugar to your recipes, use almond, vanilla, orange, lemon or other extracts for a boost of flavor.

·  Replace it completely. Dump the sugar and pump-up the spices using cinnamon, ginger, allspice or nutmeg. Experiment!

·  Substitute. Use unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar (1 to 1 ratio).

·  Go for dark chocolate. Celebrate Valentine’s Day the right way and select only the highest quality dark chocolate (50% or higher) to make your love interest and his or her heart happy. Darker chocolate is often lower in sugar and fat while being extra rich in heart-healthy antioxidants.

Be sweet to your heart and start reducing added sugars from your diet this February. To learn more about the Framingham study and reducing sugar intake, as well as other heart-healthy measures you start this Heart Month, please visit

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