Five Facts About Sugar, Your Heart and What To Do
Sugar is everywhere, not just in desserts and candy. Take a look at the labels of things like condiments and salad dressings, breakfast cereal, and even bread and you’ll find several ways that sugar can sneak into your day. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Americans consume about three times more than the recommended threshold per day. Knowing a few facts can help set some goals to keep health on track.
- How much sugar is OK? AHA guidelines recommend that men have no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar a day. For women, the goal is 6 teaspoons (25 grams).
- Honey is still sugar. While honey may seem like a healthier alternative, it’s still an added sugar that your body processes quickly. Natural sources for low calorie sweetness include stevia or monk fruit, which are generally recognized as better for you.
- Keeping blood glucose under control can help prevent dementia and stroke. Type 2 diabetes almost doubles the risk of dementia. And a healthy blood sugar level helps promote good blood vessel health, which can help avoid strokes.
- Sugar in beverages and packaged foods contributes to cardiovascular disease. A recent study from teams at Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts University, Harvard and the New York City Department of Health estimates that reducing 20% of sugar from package goods and 40% from beverages (sodas, fruit juice, energy drinks) could prevent millions of cardiovascular events such as strokes, heart attacks, cardiac arrest and diabetes over the lifetime of the adult population. What to do? Become an avid label-reader and opt for water or unsweetened tea or coffee.
- It can be possible to reverse prediabetes. Nearly half of Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. Research suggests that eating a low calorie diet and/or limiting carbohydrates can lower blood sugar levels over time. For people who are obese, bariatric surgery has also been successful in reversing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
What To Do About Sugar Cravings
The nature of sugar and sweetness is that it gives us a reward that makes us want more. If you want to reduce the amount of sugar you consume, start by asking yourself a few questions.
- Why do I want to eat [this sugar] instead of something else? Is it an emotional trigger that makes me feel better?
- Am I really hungry, or just eating because I am bored/depressed/happy/feel I need a reward?
- How will I feel after I eat this?
Beware that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are not necessarily better for you. Because they are so sweet, they can support a continuation of cravings.
How to Battle Sugar Cravings
It’s not always easy to make changes in dietary habits, especially when what you want to eat tastes so good! Here are a few tips to make it a little easier to reduce daily sugar consumption:
- Add your own sweetener to foods/beverages like plain yogurt, oatmeal and iced tea. You can add less than pre-sweetened items contain.
- Read labels to track grams of sugar and make choices to match your commitment.
- Drink more water. Sometimes our body says we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty.
- Take a walk or do a few exercises. Get away from the temptation and release endorphins that can make you feel good.
- Eat whole or dried fruit. Even these have sugars, so manage your amounts per day.
- Identify triggers for sugar cravings to help you manage the temptation.
- Make a list of personal reasons you want to resist excess sugar.
Going cold-turkey, no sugar at all for up to a few weeks, can help reduce your dependence on sugar. How much time it takes depends on how much sugar you used to eat. Once you’re out of the habit, you can enjoy treats periodically.
National Kidney Foundation
American Heart Association
National Institutes of Health