Eating too much of the sweet stuff can have some pretty sour consequences: High-sugar diets could be putting your heart at risk, new research published in Clinical Science suggests.
In the study, researchers recruited 25 men with high levels of liver fat—a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, which can often serve as a harbinger for heart issues—and those with low levels of liver fat. Then, they put each group on two diets with the same amount of calories for 12 weeks: a high-sugar diet, containing 650 calories worth of added sugar a day, or a low-sugar diet, which contained no more than 140 calories a day from added sugar. That’s similar to the recommended guidelines for added sugar, which is no more than five percent of your total daily calories, according to the study.
On the high-sugar diet, the men in both groups gained nearly five pounds, and lost the same amount on the low-sugar plan.
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When the guys who already had NAFLD ate the high-sugar diet, they experienced changes in the way their body broke down fat, meaning it was more likely to accumulate in the blood. That can put them at risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, the researchers said in a statement.
But the researchers also found that the group without NAFLD tended to gain liver fat after they ate the high-sugar diet. The effect? A high intake of sugars in these healthier guys produced the same kinds of metabolic changes seen in the way those with NAFLD broke down fat.
This suggests that eating a high-sugar diet could be putting your heart at risk—that’s even if you don’t have the traditional risk factors that may come with NAFLD, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men consume no more than 150 calories each day—or 36 grams—of added sugar each day. That’s about 9 teaspoons.
An obvious way to cut down your added sugar intake is to keep your spoon out of the sugar bowl when you’re prepping your morning coffee. But unfortunately, we take in a lot of added sugar each day without even knowing it.
For instance, if you drink just one 12-ounce can of Pepsi, you’ve already taken in 41 grams of sugar, which is well over the AHA’s guidelines. And even if you’re not glugging soda, you still could be taking in more sugar than you think. For example, just two tablespoons of honey barbecue sauce could pack 12 grams of sugar. Jarred pasta sauces, salad dressings, granola bars, and cereals can also be surprisingly sugary, too.