Next time your stomach is growling and you’re reaching for that candy bar, you might want to rethink your snack choice.
It turns out sugar is one the first things you should limit in your diet if you want to protect your heart.
It can raise your triglycerides, and when consuming more calories than needed, your body will store those triglycerides as fat cells, according to Tiffany Krogstad, a licensed registered dietician at the Sanford Cardiovascular Institute in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Any excess calorie is going to cause weight gain, Krogstad said. If you’re overweight, you’re at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
“When reading nutrition labels, you need to pay attention to added sugar specifically,” Krogstad said. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”
What to look for
Added sugars are put into foods or beverages during preparation or processing. Consuming too much can contribute to a raise in blood pressure and inflammation. When there’s inflammation in the body you’re more at risk for heart disease or certain types of cancer, which then puts you at risk for heart attack or stroke.
Krogstad says brown sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, malt sugar, molasses, and anything that ends in “-ose” such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, etc., are ingredients to watch for on nutrition labels.
High fructose corn syrup is another concern. It’s cheap for companies to use as an added sweetener in things like sodas, flavored drinks, cookies and cakes and has the same amount of calories as sugar does, but is more processed. Even raw organic cane sugar will still affect your body, although many people tend to think of it as a healthier alternative.
How much is too much?
Many people consume more sugar each day than they may realize. Krogstad said it’s important to limit your intake, because the more you take in, the more your body craves it.
Recommended amounts of sugar per day according to the American Heart Association:
- Women: 26 grams
- Men: 36 grams
- Children: 26 grams
The bad part is, it adds up quickly.
“One tablespoon of honey is about 16 grams of added sugar,” Krogstad said. “Lots of people think, ‘I’m going to have this smoothie and add honey, but for women that only leaves you with 10 more grams for the day.”
She adds that there can be up to 42 grams of sugar in just a single can of soda pop, well over the recommended limit for men, women and children.
Being aware of the amount of sugar you consume each day is the first step to bettering your heart health. Krogstad suggests the following tips to watch your intake:
- Read labels.
- Try to stick to foods that have natural sugars, such as fruit, vegetables and milk.
- Avoid drinking sugary beverages such as juice, soda and lattes.
- Think about the condiments you use. When adding ketchup, BBQ sauce or salad dressing, try to select the ones that are low-sugar.
In addition, Krogstad said she often tells people not to go longer than three to four hours without some balanced snack or meal.
“When you have a carb like an apple, have some sort of health fat like nut butter or string cheese with it. Doing that will stabilize your blood sugar and keeps you full longer and hopefully prevents you from craving those sweets,” she said. “Never eat the carb alone because that all turns to sugar in the body, and we need some of that but not too much.”