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Heart Health: Manage Your Sugars

Heart Health: Manage Your Sugars

This is the second of a four-part series on heart health. In the first post I shared the role chronic inflammation plays in heart disease. In this post you will learn how managing the sugars in your diet can help reduce inflammation and protect your heart.

Did you know that the average American eats 150 pounds of sugar in one year? That’s the size of a human being!

Why Should You Care About Sugar?

Sugar plays a significant role in heart disease. It can also raise your risk of certain cancers, like colon and breast cancer.

In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at Harvard University, found that the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk of heart disease.

According to Dr Hu, too much added sugar in your diet can cause high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. All of these conditions are linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Added Sugar vs. Natural Sugar

I know what you’re thinking: “But Dr. Todd, I don’t drink soda, eat candy, or add sugar to my oatmeal in the morning, so this can’t be true for me.” Think again! Because sugar hides out in a plethora of processed foods, unless you’re eating nothing but a 100% whole food-diet, you are in fact consuming added sugar. And even sneakier, many of these foods don’t taste sweet. Here are just a few surprising foods with hidden sugar:

  • Grains: bread, cereal (hot and cold), crackers
  • Condiments: barbecue sauce, salad dressing, ketchup
  • Canned fruit (including applesauce)
  • Frozen meals
  • Nutrition bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Smoothies
  • Soup
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Yogurt

Understand that sugar occurs naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, unsweetened milk and yogurt, whole grains (i.e. quinoa, oats, etc.), beans, and nuts. Don’t worry about naturally occurring sugar because that’s not what gets you into trouble.

To spot added sugar in a food, scan the list of ingredients for the words sugar, cane sugar, or any of these secret code names for sugar: agave, barley malt, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maltodextrin, maple syrup, molasses, and sucrose, to name only a handful.

Beyond Added Sugar

In addition to being aware of added sugar, another powerful step you can take to protect your heart is to choose foods that are gentle on blood sugar. This is important because elevated blood glucose over time can damage blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. 

All forms of dietary carbohydrate break down into sugar (glucose) in the body. Certain forms of carbohydrate, called simple carbohydrates, are rapidly digested and cause spikes in blood sugar. They include table sugar, sweets, soda, and many processed foods.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They digest more slowly and keep blood sugar levels steady. They include:

  • Vegetables and greens
  • Fruits: especially berries, apples, and pears
  • Whole grains: steel cut oats, quinoa, brown and wild rice (sprouted grains are higher in fiber and gentler on blood sugar)
  • Beans, lentils, and peas

Notice this class of carbohydrates is prominently displayed throughout the Fx-100 list – a list of foods recommended by our team of experts that can be added to meals to support your health.

5 Tips for Managing Sugar

  • Choose sprouted breads and wraps for toast and sandwiches. Check out this delicious recipe for Sprouted Rainbow Veggie Wrap!
  • Instead of jam or jelly, spread your toast with fresh ground almond butter or mashed avocado.
  • Eat twice as many veggies as fruits.
  • Try bean-based pasta over regular pasta. My favorite is Explore Cuisine Edamame & Mung Bean Fettucine.
  • Instead of instant oats, choose steel cut.

Food for Thought …

If you want to sweeten your food, choose natural sweeteners like local raw honey, yacon syrup, or pure maple syrup. Remember, they are all still forms of sugar…so go easy on them (about a teaspoon or two).

In part three of this series on heart health you will learn how to identify pro-inflammatory fats and replace them with more heart-healthy options.

Dr. Todd Pesek, MD

By Dr. Todd Pesek, MD

Todd Pesek, M.D. is a holistic physician who specializes in disease prevention and reversal toward longevity and vital living. In addition to being Heinen’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Todd is the founder of VitalHealth Partners, a private group medical practice that focuses on preventive, integrative, holistic healthcare.

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