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Are Added Sugar and Heart Health Linked?

Here’s a quick quiz:

Choose the best answer to the following questions. The answers are provided at the end of the article.

1. Increased consumption of added sugar can lead to a higher risk of developing

a. Obesity

b. Type 2 diabetes

c. Heart disease

d. a  and b

e. All of the above

 

2. Which of the following is the biggest source of added sugar in the American diet?

a. Bake items (pies, cakes, muffins, etc.)

b. Sugar-sweetened beverages

c. Ice cream

d. Candy

e. Breakfast cereals

 

Sugar occurs naturally in foods that are carbohydrates. For example, lactose is the natural sugar found in milk, and fructose is the natural sugar found in fruit. Some foods with naturally occurring sugar include fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. These foods also contain important nutrients. For instance, plant foods have fiber, minerals and antioxidants; dairy foods contain protein and calcium.

 

Consuming too much added sugar is what can lead to negative health outcomes. This is the type of sugar that food manufacturers use in products to provide flavor or improve shelf life. A common type of added sugar is high-fructose corn syrup.

 

Added sugar mainly is present in foods such as fruit drinks, soft drinks, cereals, cookies, cakes, candies, flavored yogurt or milk, and most processed foods. It also can be found in foods such as breads, cured meats and a variety of condiments.


The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) for most women and no more than 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for most men. Consuming too much added sugar increases the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

 

Due to this link between added sugar consumption and risk of chronic illness, the Food and Drug Administration has required the Nutrition Facts label to list the amount of added sugar in food products. All manufacturers are required to make this label change by Jan. 1, 2021.

 

Here is an example of the new food label:

Food label

 

The new food label lists the amount of added sugar and total sugar in grams (g). Some foods or beverages may have added and natural sugars. For example, if the label on chocolate milk says the milk has 13 g of added sugar and 25 g of total sugar, this means it has 12 g of natural sugar (25 g minus 13 g = 12 g). A label for regular milk may say the milk has 0 g of added sugar and 12 g of total sugar, which means those 12 g of sugar are natural.

 

Table 1. The amounts of added sugar and total sugar in certain beverages and foods. The amounts of sugar listed in these foods/beverages are typical, but they may differ by brand, so reading food labels is important.


Table 1.

 

Food/Beverage

Type of Sugar in Food/Beverage

Added Sugar (g)

Total Sugar (g)

Teaspoons of Added Sugar

Whole/2%/skim milk (1 cup)

Natural sugar (lactose)

0

12

0

Apple (1 medium)

Natural sugar (lactose)

0

19

0

Chocolate milk

(1 cup)

Natural sugar (lactose) and added sugar

13

25

3

Cola (12 ounces)

Added sugar (high-fructose corn syrup)

40

40

10

100% apple juice

(4 ounces)

Natural sugar (fructose)

0

14

0

Lemonade

(8 ounces)

Added sugar (high-fructose corn syrup)

27

27

7

Quiz Answers: 1. e 2. b


For more information on added sugar and heart health, visit www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugar-101.

 

Maria Topp, Dietetic Intern, Concordia College

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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