Sugar and Heart Health: What Are The Facts?

February is American Heart Month.

The role of an overall healthy diet in cardiovascular disease risk reduction is an important one and The Sugar Association supports current efforts by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association1 advising the American public to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes engaging in physical exercise 3-4 days/week and consuming a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical oils and nuts as the centerpieces of daily diets, with sweets and red meat playing a more limited role — all within an individual’s caloric needs.

So what are the facts about sugar and cardiovascular health?

Despite headlines to the contrary, quality peer-reviewed and published evidence linking sugar and cardiovascular disease simply does not exist. Unfortunately, when the media reports findings of an observational study (not a well-designed trial or clinical study) as proof of ‘cause and effect,’ this creates headlines that, in turn, mislead the public. Such is the case with sugar and cardiovascular disease.

One major example is a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that linked “added sugars” intake to death from cardiovascular disease. The study resulted in sensationalized headlines, but many of these reports failed to mention that the study’s own authors wrote that “the biological mechanisms underlying the association between added sugars intake and CVD risk are not completely understood.”

Such sensationalized coverage of one study, particularly an observational study, can cause consumers to make sudden and extreme dietary changes —yet, there may be no evidence that confirms this relationship or evidence for a plausible mechanism (such as a known path for a dietary factor to lead to disease) to explain the reported association. After many examples over time of bad science and overblown scientific reporting, consumers are rightfully becoming more skeptical … or they should.

Recommendations as important as those that aim to reduce the risk of chronic diseases should be based on rigorous research rather than hypotheticals or opinions—something for us to remember during American Heart Month and every month!

(1) Reference: 2013 AHA/ACC Lifestyle Management Guideline (http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1770218)

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POSTED IN: The Sugar Packet