Research reveals a correlation between intake of free sugar and cardiovascular disease

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Free sugars include those added during food processing, packaged as table sugar and other sweeteners, and naturally occurring in syrups, honey, fruit juice, vegetable juice, purees, pastes, and similar products where the food's cellular structure has been broken down, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration. They do not include sugars naturally occurring in dairy or whole fruits and vegetables.

A recent study published in the journal BMC Medicine has found that the relationship between carbohydrate consumption and cardiovascular disease may depend on the quality, rather than the quantity, of carbohydrates consumed.

To test this theory, the researchers analyzed diet and health data from over 110,000 people who participated in the UK Biobank cohort study between 2006 and 2010. Participants in the study recorded their food and beverage intake in two to five 24-hour online dietary assessments.

After over nine years of follow-up, the researchers found that total carbohydrate intake was not associated with cardiovascular disease. However, they found that higher intake of free sugars was associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and greater waist circumference.

The study found that participants who consumed more free sugars had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and stroke. Higher intake of free sugars was also linked to higher concentrations of triglycerides, which are a type of fat that comes from the foods people eat and extra calories their bodies don't immediately need.

Having high triglyceride levels can increase the risk of heart diseases such as coronary artery disease. The authors of the study suggest replacing free sugars with non-free sugars naturally occurring in whole fruits and vegetables to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Experts in nutrition and cardiovascular health agree that whole food carbohydrates take longer to break down into simple sugars and can act as an internal scrub brush when passing through the digestive system.

Reducing free sugar intake requires awareness and checking nutrition labels when shopping. Experts suggest cutting back on sugary drinks and choosing water sweetened with fruit slices instead. Fresh or frozen fruit can be a healthier dessert option than cakes, cookies, or ice cream. Foods with higher fiber content can help to keep you fuller longer.

Cooking and baking at home can also help to reduce sugar in the diet. The American Heart Association recommends that added sugars should make up less than 6% of calories per day, which works out to about 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Additionally, getting at least seven to eight hours of good quality sleep per night can help reduce the intake of sugary foods when tired.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting free sugar intake to less than 10% of daily energy intake, and even suggests that further reduction to below 5% may provide additional health benefits. The authors of the study suggest that these recommendations could be incorporated into dietary guidelines to help people lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition to its impact on cardiovascular health, consuming too much added sugar has been linked to a variety of other health problems, including dental cavities, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. As a result, many public health experts have called for policies and education efforts to reduce sugar consumption.

While the new study provides important insights into the relationship between free sugars and cardiovascular disease, there are some limitations to the research. For example, the study relied on self-reported dietary assessments, which may not always be accurate. Additionally, the study only assessed the relationship between free sugar intake and cardiovascular disease risk, and did not look at other potential factors that could influence this relationship.

Nevertheless, the findings highlight the importance of paying attention to the types and sources of carbohydrates we consume in our diets. By reducing our intake of free sugars and opting for whole, fiber-rich foods instead, we may be able to lower our risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health problems.