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Are Sugary Beverages Hurting Your Heart?

(Last Updated On: November 30, 2020)

The Effect of Sugary Drinks On Your Health

soft drinkStaying hydrated, especially in the hot summer months, needs to be at the top of the priority list. But not everything you drink is good for you. In fact, some of the beverages that you may be chugging to keep from feeling parched could be doing serious harm.

Obviously we all need to be drinking water, but sometimes plain old water just isn’t what you want. Sometimes we turn to a soda, but other times it might be a fruit flavored drink to help us feel refreshed.

The problem lies in the sugar that is often added to flavored drinks, be they bubbly or not. That additional sugar can have far-reaching effects on your cardiovascular health over time.

How Bad Is It Really?

New research led by Cheryl A.M. Anderson, PhD, MPH, MS, professor and interim chair of family and public health at the University of California, San Diego and chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee, reveals that sugary beverages may really be taking a toll.

Anderson and her colleagues collected data from over 106,000 women with an average age of 52. None of the women that participated had a history or previous diagnosis of diabetes, heart attack or stroke.

heart riskParticipants in the study self-reported on their beverage consumption and hospital records were also analyzed. This information was used to determine which women were more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, or undergo a surgery to repair clogged arteries.

Results found individuals who consumed one or more sugary beverages per day were 26% more likely to need a medical procedure, such as an angioplasty.

It also revealed one or more beverages increased the chance of stroke by 21%.

Choose Your Beverage Wisely

As it turns out, not all sugary beverages are created equal.

Many of us may assume soft drinks would be worse for you than a fruit-flavored drink with added sugar. We are wrong.

Individuals who drank one or more soft drinks per day were associated with 23% higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared to women that never or rarely drank them.

However, those sugar-added fruit drinks were associated with a shocking 43% increase in the risk of heart disease!

Why is this?

As Anderson explains, “It [sugar] raises glucose levels and insulin concentrations in the blood, which may increase appetite and lead to obesity, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

Why To Take Notice

Women especially need to be aware of the sugar they are adding into their diets.

According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN and nutritionist, “consuming excess sugar creates a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels, followed by a strong dip. This dip can increase the risk of inflammation, and inflammation is the base of any heart disease.”

This is especially important for women as Kirkpatrick explains, “Women have always been in the population where they are more likely to die from a heart attack and stroke than men, and they also have less obvious symptoms.”

How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

sugarThe American Heart Association’s guidelines for women recommend keeping your sugar intake at or below 6 teaspoons.

To put it into perspective, a single 12-ounce soda contains an average of 8 teaspoons of sugar.

One soda has already put you over the recommended amount, and that’s before you consider the sugar in anything else you eat or drink over the course of the day.

But Sweet Things Are Delicious

Craving sugar, or sweet things, is something that humans have felt and used for thousands of years.

According to Caroline West Passerello, MS, RN, LDN, “historically, the taste of sweetness provided from sugar is what helped early humans determine what plants were safe to eat and nutritious to consume.”

Since most of us aren’t having to use the taste of sweetness to protect ourselves from being poisoned, we can take a different approach to ingesting sugar. The first thing to remember is there are different kinds of sugar that come from different sources.

The sugar in the soda you’re eyeing is just sugar that comes with calories. Naturally occurring sugar in fruits comes with vitamins and nutrients as part of the package.

You don’t have to draw a hard line in the sand and try to immediately cut sugar out of your diet completely. You can set some attainable goals and take baby steps if you need to.

Take a serious look at your diet and determine where you can cut out sugar. For some people this may be consuming food and drink that contains less sugar, or reducing the quantity you ingest. For others, it may be a case of consuming less items with sugar, or consuming sugar with less frequency.

Here are a few easy things you can do that will not only reduce sugar intake in either case, but make your diet healthier overall:

fruit– Get the sweet treat you’re craving from a natural source. Fresh or frozen fruit is a great way to go. You’ll appease your sweet tooth while also getting fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.

– Eat your fruits, don’t drink them. The act of chewing tricks your body into feeling fuller and curbs cravings. Plus, you still get the goodness, like fiber, which is often lost when juice is processed.- Instead of filling a whole glass with fruit flavored juice, make yourself a mocktail. Mix a small portion of the fruit juice with sparkling water for a refreshing treat that will still have the flavor without all of the sugar.

– Next time you head to the kitchen for a snack or open the fridge to quench your thirst, think about what you’re grabbing. You don’t have to learn to hate sweet things, you just have to be mindful. Your long-term heart health is worth foregoing that soda in the afternoon.

Sources: Sugar‐Sweetened Beverage Intake and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in the California Teachers Study: Lorena S. Pacheco, James V. LaceyJr, Maria Elena Martinez, Hector Lemus, Maria Rosario G. Araneta, Dorothy D. Sears, Gregory A. Talavera, and Cheryl A. M. Anderson; 2020 Sugar and Heart Health: What Women Need to Know
Michelle Pugle; 2020

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