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Cut sugar to cut your cardiac risk

By Suzanne Havala Hobbs
Suzanne Havala Hobbs
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Suzanne Havala Hobbs

Is that spoonful of sugar hurting you?

A new major study suggests that it might be. The study, led by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, found that the more added sugar people eat, the greater the risk of dying from coronary artery disease.

The study wasn’t designed to prove a causal link between sugar and heart disease and death, and it’s not clear how consumption of added sugar contributes to higher risk of death. But the study suggests that we all need to cut back on the added sugar in our diets.

Added sugars include table sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar and corn syrup. They’re added to soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, cakes, cookies, candy, and commercial breakfast cereals. You use them in baking and at the table, too.

In contrast, sugars that occur naturally in fruits and dairy products are not considered "added sugars" and are not associated with the increased health risk. The apples and oranges in your fruit bowl are safe.

But sweetened fruit juices, canned fruit in heavy syrup, sweetened, flavored milk or ice cream, and other sugar-enhanced fruit and dairy products are likely culprits.

How much sugar is too much? There’s currently no federal dietary guidance on an upper limit. Added sugars account for at least 10 percent of the total daily calorie intake for most Americans, and for many that figure reaches 25 percent of calories.

So what should you do?

• Eat fresh fruit for dessert instead of sweets. Sliced, fresh fruits in season are appealing, and baked apples are good in the winter. Add cinnamon and nutmeg for flavor. Plain, frozen bananas can make a great ice cream substitute.

• Add sliced fruit, berries or dried fruits to cold and hot cereals in place of sugar.

• Switch to diet soft drinks or, better yet, drink more water, coffee or unsweetened tea instead.

• Recondition your eating habits. Instead of daily desserts, pick one or two days a week for a treat instead.

Most importantly, be more mindful of the added sugar in the foods you eat. Use that awareness to begin to cut back.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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