Saturday, April 9, 2011

Study linking sugar consumption to CVD

It can take a bit of detective work to find authoritative information linking sugar consumption to heart disease and strokes.  However, this is neatly packaged in a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  Specifically, we read that:
Consuming a higher amount of added sugars in processed or prepared foods is associated with lower levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C, the "good cholesterol") and higher levels of triglycerides, which are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

"Monitoring trends in consumption and understanding the effect added sugars have on risk of cardiovascular and other diseases is critically important, because added sugars are a potentially modifiable source of calories," the authors write. "Added sugars are food additives that can be recognized by consumers and have been proposed for specific labeling on food and beverage packaging."
The website,, picked up the story too, adding some further commentary:
The dyslipidemia findings echo those from the Framingham Heart Study three years ago that associated elevated TG and low HDL-C, among other markers of the metabolic syndrome, with consumption of at least one sweetened soft drink daily  ...

[This] is also consistent with a body of literature linking high-carbohydrate diets with elevated risk of stroke and heart-disease events, prospective short-term studies suggesting that increased sugar consumption promotes dyslipidemia, and the well-recognized worsening effects of greater carbohydrate intake on TG and HDL-C levels...
Of all the food on our plates, sugar is probably the least nutritive.  Many experts argue that it is actively harmful, and it's a view that is supported by this study.

Objectively speaking, sugar should be the first food to eliminate, if you knew you needed to make some improvements to your diet.

But a sugar-habit can be difficult to break, both because it is so addictive, and because we live in a culture of baking.  I have to wonder if this is why the Canadian Diabetes Association is strangely reluctant to tell people to avoid sugar, advising instead:
Sugars can be included in a healthy diet as a part of a carefully planned meal plan. Carbohydrates, including sugars, should be spread evenly over the day, as part of slowly digested meals.
Having grown up in a dentist's family, where our sugar consumption was fiercely restricted to prevent us from getting cavities, I used to fantasize about buying all the sweets and pop I wanted when I grew up.  Thankfully, when I did grow up, I didn't have much of a sweet tooth, so my own parenting style has much in common with my mother's.

She would be delighted to know that she turned out to be right, though perhaps not for all the right reasons.  I grew up without any cavities, for which I am thankful.  In addition, she led my brothers and me along a nutritional path that makes it easier to say "no thanks" when a plate of sweet stuff is passed around.

If organizations like the Diabetes Association were more like my mother used to be, they would take a stronger stand and advise everyone to say "no thanks" more often to sugar.

It might wake people up to the fact that sugar is a lot more harmful than they think.  I did a quick informal survey among my friends, and they had no idea that sugar could cause heart disease.

Given the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, lowering our collective consumption of sugar would go a long way towards reducing the occurrence of cardiovascular disease that is looming for many of us.  But we need more people and organizations to stand up and start saying it like it is:  Sugar can give you heart disease.  Period.

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