What Causes Cardiovascular Disease? Sugar! Could a Low Sugar Diet Help?

More and more evidence is suggesting excessive sugar is what causes cardiovascular disease.

what causes cardiovascular disease

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Finally, after decades of obsessing about fat, researchers are focusing on sugar in their quest to understand what causes cardiovascular disease. The latest study to zero in on sugar is the largest yet to link sugar to dying from heart disease, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The study’s findings about the dangers of excessive sugar suggests that a low sugar diet could prevent (and possible even treat) diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

The amount of sugar we eat in the U.S. is excessive and is linked to an increased risk of dying from CVD, according to the new government study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.[1] The study found that consuming too much added sugar—in foods like sugar-sweetened drinks, desserts, and candy—increases the risk of death from heart and blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease, heart failure, and strokes.

Risk of Death Increases Exponentially With Increased Sugar Consumption

“The risk of CVD death increases exponentially as you increase your consumption of added sugar,” Quanhe Yang, the study’s lead author and a senior scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told USA Today.[2] Yang and the other CDC researchers found that the more added sugar people consumed, the higher their risk of death.

The most common sources of added sugar were sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and candy. Subjects who consumed 25% or more of their total daily calories from added sugar faired the worse; they were almost 3 times more likely to die from CVD than people consuming less than 10% of their daily calories from sugar. Those who got from 10% to 25% of their calories from added sugar were 30 percent more likely to die from CVD.

We Eat Way More Sugar Than We Should, Say Experts

On average, U.S. adults consume about 15% of their daily calories—about 300 calories a day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet—from added sugars. That’s equivalent to a little more than 2 cans of regular soda. One can of soda contains about 140 calories of added sugar—about 7% of the daily calories of someone eating 2,000 calories a day. The World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 10% of calories from added sugars. Even more severe are the American Heart Association’s recommendations.  The AHA suggests women consume no more than 100 calories a day and men no more than 150 calories a day from added sugars. That’s 6 teaspoons for women and about 9 teaspoons for men, and it’s about 5% to 7% of daily calories, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

The researchers made sure the sugar itself explained the increased risk of death, and not other components of the participants’ diets or their weight. They also controlled for other CVD risk factors and made sure the results weren’t being influenced by differences in people’s age, sex, education, smoking habits, physical activity, medications, or blood pressure.

A Low Sugar Diet is the Way to Go

“Our results support current recommendations to limit the intake of calories from added sugars in U.S. diets,” the authors conclude. Easier said than done, right? Yet plenty of people have successfully transitioned to a low sugar diet, and there’s no reason you can’t either. We have articles filled with tips on how to cut out sugar in a way that won’t leave you crazy with cravings or feeling deprived. Take advantage of our resources now!

[1] JAMA Internal Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563.

[2] USA Today, Feb 4, 2014. Eating too much added sugar may be killing you.

Originally published in 2014, this blog has been updated.

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  • Are there any sodas that use stevia My husband does not eat sweets but drinks sodas.

  • Great article Kathleen, nice to have some low sugar support after the recent attacks on higher protein-based diets (which turns out were loaded with carbohydrates?) Dora, I noticed your comment… there’s a line of soda called Zevia, you can find it at Whole Foods and probably other health stores. The gingerale is my favorite. 🙂

  • Beverages can be part of a balanced lifestyle, and it’s important to keep sugar intake in perspective. As CDC data confirms, food, not beverages, is actually the top source of sugars in the American diet. Moreover, soda intake has declined in recent decades and beverages with sugar comprise a relatively small share of the average calories in the American diet.

    With that said, beverage companies are committed to being part of real solutions to public health challenges with initiatives like Balance Calories. This effort aims to reduce sugar and calories consumed from beverages by offering more little or no sugar choices and smaller portions and then finding ways to get people to try them. We also have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of every bottle, can and pack we produce.

    It’s also important to note that beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners can be a useful tool as part of an overall weight management plan. In fact, the CHOICE study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January of 2013 confirms that low- and no-calorie beverages can be an important tool in helping reduce calories.


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