How you take care of your body as you age has a huge impact on your vascular health. Ingesting large anounts of sugar creates high blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — which are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
In the American diet, the top sources of sugar are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods.
Sugar also has a presence in foods you may not assume like soups, bread, cured meats, salad dressings and ketchup.
Americans consume an excessive amount of added sugar. According to the National Cancer Institute, adult men for example, take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day which is equal to 384 calories.
Sugar is Bad for Vascular Health
When you consume excess sugar, the extra insulin in your blood can affect your arteries by causing the arterial walls to narrow. In turn, this narrowing reduces blood flow to your limbs.
The reduction in blood flow can cause Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), not to mention heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17 -21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.
“Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Hu.
How sugar actually affects heart health is not completely understood, but it appears to have several indirect connections. For instance, high amounts of sugar overload the liver. “Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat,” says Dr. Hu. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease.
Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages.
“The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Hu.
Protecting Vascular Health: How Much Sugar is Okay?
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 calories per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men).
To put this in perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, so having just one would put all women and most men over the daily limit.
Vascular Health: How Do You Kick the Sugar Habit?
Instead of soda, choose sparkling water with added fruit slices for extra flavor. Choose whole fruits if you have a craving for something sweet. If chocolate is your weakness, try substituting that regular candy bar for a semi-sweet version instead. Semi-sweet chocolate is known to have antioxidant benefits.
It certainly isn’t easy to kick the habit when it comes to giving up sugar but small changes can make a large impact.
Cut back on sugar as much as you can, take baby steps if you have to, and your heart will reward you by helping you to live longer.
Alabama Vascular & Lymphatic Specialists provides the most comprehensive, progressive, and personal care available for vascular disorders in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
We use the most up to date technology and minimally invasive procedures to help our patients feel better, walk faster, and live longer.