US researchers found that people who consume higher amounts of added sugar, such as in processed foods and beverages, are also likely to have higher heart disease risk factors.

You can read about the study by researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both in Atlanta, Georgia, online in the 21 April issue of JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.

A statement from Emory University describes the study as the first of its kind to examine the link between the consumption of added sugars and lipid measures, such as HDL-C, triglycerides and LDL-C.

(HDL-C stands for high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and is sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol, and LDL-C stands for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol.)

Co-author Dr Miriam Vos, who is assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine, told the press that:

“Just like eating a high-fat diet can increase your levels of triglycerides and high cholesterol, eating sugar can also affect those same lipids.”

In their background information the authors wrote that data from the mid-1990s shows that Americans consume nearly 16 per cent of their daily energy from added sugars, the most common of which are refined beet or cane sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup.

They explained that guidelines on healthy eating use the term “added sugar” to help consumers identify foods that have lots of calories and few nutritients, and defined it as “caloric sweeteners used by the food industry and consumers as ingredients in processed or prepared foods to increase the desirability of these foods”.

However, there appears to be little consensus on what is a healthy limit, and also, while increased carbohydrate consumption has been linked to blood fat profiles that raise cardiovascular risk, nobody has yet looked at how much of this could be from added sugars.

For the study, Vos and colleagues looked for links between added sugar consumption, blood fat levels and cardiovascular risk factors in data on 6,113 adults who took part in the 1999 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

They did not look at natural sugars found in fruit and fruit juices, only added sugars and caloric sweeteners.

To aid statistical comparisons, the researchers put the participants into 5 groups according to the extent to which added sugar contributed to daily calories: under 5 per cent (reference group), 5 to under 10 per cent, 10 to under 17.5 per cent, 17.5 to under 25 per cent, and 25 per cent and over.

They found that the groups that consumed the most added sugar were more likely to have higher cardiovascular disease risk, including higher levels of triglyceride and higher ratios of triglycerides to HDL-C.

More specifically the results showed that:

  • An average of 15.8 per cent of consumed calories was from added sugars.
  • The highest consuming group (25 per cent and over) consumed an average of 46 teaspoons of added sugars per day.
  • The lowest consuming group (under 5 per cent, the reference group), consumed an average of only 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
  • Among those consuming under 5 per cent, 5 to under 17.5 per cent, 17.5 to under 25 per cent, and 25 per cent and over, the adjusted mean HDL-C levels were 58.7, 57.5, 53.7, 51.0, and 47.7 mg/dL respectively (P < .001 for linear trend).
  • For these same groups, the geometric mean triglyceride levels were 105, 102, 111, 113, and 114 mg/dL (P < .001 for linear trend).
  • And for women, the LDL-C levels modified by sex were 116, 115, 118, 121, and 123 mg/dL (P = .047 for linear trend), while men showed no significant trends in LDL-C levels.
  • Among those who consumed 10 per cent or more of calories from added sugar, the odds of low HDL-C levels were 50 to more than 300 per cent greater compared with those who limited it to under 5 per cent (the reference group).

Vos and colleagues concluded that:

“In this study, there was a statistically significant correlation between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels among US adults.”

Vos said for the sake of their long term health people should look at how much added sugar is in their diet and find ways to cut it down.

“Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults.”
Jean A. Welsh; Andrea Sharma; Jerome L. Abramson; Viola Vaccarino; Cathleen Gillespie; Miriam B. Vos
JAMA, Vol. 303 No. 15, April 21, 2010

Source: Emory University.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD