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Feature Article Be Sweet to Your Heart, Limit Sugar

By Paula Dalesky, FNP

Do your Valentine’s plans include a box of decadent chocolates? Sweet temptations abound this month. I find it hard to resist mini chocolate candy bars, donuts in the break room and an afternoon cola to wash it all down.

But February is also heart month. And new dietary guidelines suggest that we’re eating too much sugar, putting us at greater risk for heart disease, the number one killer of women.

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 showed the risk for cardiovascular disease increases with the amount of sugar we eat. This study led to new dietary guidelines released by the government earlier this year that call for not more than 10 percent of daily calories to come from sugar.

In a 2,000-calorie diet, we’re being told to limit sugar to no more than 12 teaspoons a day. The recommendations by the American Heart Association go even further, suggesting no more than five teaspoons a day for women, and nine teaspoons a day for men.

The typical American consumes up to 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, more than twice the recommended amount. To put it in perspective, a regular 16-ounce soda has about 35 grams of sugar, nearly nine teaspoons. In fact, sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.

But sugar is everywhere, not only in our beverages. You can find it in so-called health foods, such as flavored Greek yogurt and protein energy bars. Sugars and syrups are also added to many processed foods.

We’ve known for a long time that eating too much sugar can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Now we know that eating too much sugar can actually kill you. People who get 17 to 21 percent of calories from sugar have a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The risk is double for people who consume 21 percent or more of their calories from sugar.

One of the easiest ways to reduce sugar intake is to cut out sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sport and energy drinks and specialty coffee and teas. Try a tasty alternative instead, water with lemon or lime, seltzer water or herbal teas.

To find out how much sugar is in a food or beverage, read the nutritional label. Under carbohydrates, the amount of sugar is listed in grams per serving, as well as a percentage of the total daily value. In general, less than five percent of the daily value is considered low-sugar, and more than 20 percent is considered a high-sugar food. And don’t be misled by tricky sugar synonyms such as sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, galactose, lactose, corn syrup, cane syrup, malt syrup, brown rice syrup. It’s just sugar in disguise.

This Valentine’s Day, and all year long, be sweet to yourself by limiting sugar. Think ahead and have a game plan for a healthy snack: a Cutie tangerine (7g sugar), a handful of whole nuts like cashews (7g sugar) or veggies with guacamole (9g sugar) or hummus (2g sugar). You don’t have to give up sweets entirely, because that can lead to a downslide. Allow yourself to enjoy an occasional splurge, such as a piece of dark chocolate.

Paula Dalesky is a family nurse practitioner at Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute in Corvallis. She can be reached by calling 541-768-5205.