Sugar & Heart Disease


by the Go Red For Women Editors

Getting too much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

In a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine in January 2014, researchers found that the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in one’s diet, regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index (a measure of weight).

Specifically, those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent high risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar. The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21 percent or more of their calories from added sugar.

Recommended sugar intake for women

According to the study, most U.S. adults consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day. That’s more than three times the recommended amount for women.


Naturally occurring sugars and added sugars

What causes us to consume so much more additional sugar in our diet? There are two types of sugars in American diets: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.

  • Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose).
  • Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal). Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup).

You can use sugars to help enhance your diet. Adding a limited amount of sugar to improve the taste of foods (especially for children) that provide important nutrients, such as whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, is better than eating nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.

Sources of added sugars

The major sources of added sugars in American diets are regular soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks (fruitades and fruit punch); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk); and other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified some common foods with added sugars. The table below lists a few examples and the number of calories from added sugars they contain. Note the calories here are only from added sugars in the food, not the total amount of calories in the food.


Reduce added sugars, select no-sugar-added foods

Although sugars are not harmful to the body, our bodies don’t need sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food.

You have a daily energy need — the amount of calories (or energy units) your body needs to function and provide energy for your activities. Select low-fat and no-sugar-added foods to meet your daily energy needs. Depending on the foods you choose and the amount of physical activity you do each day, you may have calories left over for “extras” that can be used on treats like solid fats, added sugars and alcohol. These are discretionary calories, or calories to be spent at your discretion.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance.

Learn how to reduce added sugar in your diet.