Learn How Sugar Can Affect the Heart

Glucose is necessary for cells, as they can't live without it. However, sugar can affect the heart if we consume it in excess. In this article, we'll see how this damage develops.
Learn How Sugar Can Affect the Heart

Last update: 13 August, 2021

The presence of carbohydrates is widespread in all diets around the world. They’re an element with a strong presence, especially in industrialized countries. The problem is that sugar can affect the heart, even in people who aren’t diabetic.

Traditionally, people thought that the problem of high blood sugar was a complication only for people with diabetes. But experts no longer believe that to be true. When we look in detail at the food composition of what we eat every day, we see that excess sugar can affect the heart.

Glucose isn’t isolated in the human metabolism, but participates together with fats and proteins in the complex mechanism of cellular life. Moreover, all tissues depend on sugar in one way or another, so its action is distributed throughout the body.

To this, we have to add the pandemic of obesity, for which the consumption of ultra-processed foods is a risk factor. Most of the food products we buy are deliberately sweetened and increase the kilocalories we consume. And that, in the medium term, is bad for cardiovascular health.

Added sugar can affect the heart

Foods with added sugar can affect the heart faster than we think. And, as we mentioned, this extra sweetness is hard to avoid at the grocery store.

A study that appeared in the journal JAMA found that a high intake of sugars increased cardiovascular risk. Specifically, people with an intake of more than 17% of daily energy through added sugars increased their risk of death from cardiac causes by up to 38%.

Let’s clarify that the added sugar appears in the manufacturing process of the product. In saying that, we mean that it doesn’t come naturally in the food but, rather, humans add it on purpose. It’s easy, then, to understand that we’re dealing with something artificial.

Moreover, in a more complex sense, people who increase their consumption of added sugar tend to decrease the proportion of good fats in their diet. By not stimulating the increase in HDL cholesterol, which cleans the arteries, we multiply our cardiac risk.

A bowl of white granulated sugar.
Sugar is present in foods that we buy, which it’s added to artificially.

Continue reading: What Are the Warning Signs of Hyperglycemia?

How can sugar affect the heart?

We know that sugar can affect the heart when we ingest it in excess and in ultra-processed forms. Now, how exactly does it damage us?

The theory behind the danger of added sugar to cardiovascular health is based on accounting for excess. By ingesting more glucose than we can process in a short time, this molecule leads to complications, as there seems to be excess.

Glucose should enter the cells so that they can convert it into energy. That energy moves the cells’ circuits and allows us to carry out our daily activities. However, if excess sugar remains, the body stores it for use at times when it needs it.

The problem lies in excessive storage because the intake is higher than necessary. One of the forms of storage will be fat, and this translates into excess weight and obesity.

The role of insulin

In addition, the excess of sugar circulating in the blood demands that the pancreas produces more insulin. The effort that the organ has to make is so great that its production machinery is exhausted and gets out of control. We then go through periods of hyperinsulinemia, with a lot of insulin in the blood, and hypoinsulinemia, with little blood insulin.

Insulin is a metabolic regulator that’s not only responsible for glucose. It also has among its functions the regulation of lipids. Therefore, its malfunctioning raises triglycerides and bad cholesterol, or LDL.

When all these factors come together, the ultimate result is an increase in cardiovascular risk. We reach the point where a person has somewhat elevated sugar levels, high triglycerides, a lack of insulin, and is overweight. The heart becomes a target organ for an acute event.

Vegetables forming the shape of a heart.
A good diet for the heart should prioritize fresh foods and be low in sugars.

Find out more: Recommended Foods for Cardiovascular Health

What to do about sugar

You don’t need to be a nutritionist to learn how to regulate added sugar in your diet. You just need to change some habits and protect your heart.

It’s important to know that carbohydrates are divided into two general forms:

  • Simple carbohydrates: These include sugars added to food by the food industry.
  • Complex carbohydrates: These are good for health, have beneficial effects, and can be consumed to a greater extent than simple carbohydrates.

In strict terms of figures, an adult should have to have their limit of added sugar between 6 to 9 tablespoons per day. This is considerably less than the average intake in industrialized countries, which is around 22 tablespoons in a day.

Since we can’t physically measure these spoonfuls in daily life, it’s best to reduce the consumption of products that we know contain extra sugar. For example, we can mention sodas and soft drinks, pastries, yogurt, and commercial juices.

Less sugar for more heart

The decision to change your diet to protect your cardiovascular health is a necessary one. You can’t silently risk your quality of life by consuming products that harm you.

You already have the information you need: Sugar can affect the heart when consumed in excess. Therefore, it’s time to act accordingly and take care of yourself.

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