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Secret Sugar Raises Heart Risk

woman having breakfast
June 3, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

If you saw an 11-year-old go into a convenience store and try to buy a pack of cigarettes, you’d be astonished. But if that same 11-year-old walked up to the counter with a huge box of sugary gummy bears or donuts, no one would bat an eyelash.

Even more ironic, sugar and its evil twin, high-fructose corn syrup, can be classified as two of the worst killers of our time. In my opinion, they’re just as destructive and addictive as cigarettes. The only difference is that sugar is legal and widely available to everyone, even the most vulnerable victims—children and teens.

Why are these sweeteners so dangerous? First off, they have absolutely no nutritional value. Zero. In addition, both increase your risk of some of the most life-threatening conditions of our time—insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately, most people don’t realize just how terrible these sweet “monsters” are until it’s too late. They’ll come to my office overweight, sick, and desperate to get well. Many of these patients are in their 20s or 30s…way too young to be suffering from such debilitating diseases. Yet not even youth or resilience can protect them from the toxic effects of poor diet and too much sugar.

If it’s hard to believe that this seemingly harmless substance can wreak such havoc on your system, research published in April shines a light on just how quickly sugar/high-fructose corn syrup can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease in young adults. The results are nothing short of shocking.

Greater Risk in Just Two Weeks

The study followed 85 people between the ages of 18–40. Divided into four groups, the participants drank beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup equivalent to 0 (control), 10, 17.5, or 25 percent of their daily energy (calorie) requirements.

The researchers monitored changes in several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including triglycerides, uric acid, apolipoprotein B, and LDL cholesterol. They found that all of the participants drinking the sweetened beverages had elevated triglycerides. But the people consuming the 17.5 and 25 percent drinks also experienced increased LDL, uric acid, apoliproprotein B, and other markers for cardiovascular disease.

Overall, the more sugar they ingested, the worse their risk profiles. Even small doses proved to be harmful. And worst of all—just two weeks of regular consumption was all it took for health to deteriorate.

Banish the Beast

This study shows that a regular diet of sugar doesn’t just hurt you months and years down the line. The impact is almost immediate.

Unfortunately, cutting risk is not as easy as telling you to avoid sugar. The problem is that sugar is everywhere.

Of course, you’ll find sugar in the products you’d expect—candy, juice, ice cream, and prepackaged junk foods (cookies, pastries, donuts, etc.). But it’s also in seemingly healthier or savory foods such as crackers, condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, relish), salad dressing, cereals, bread, and yogurt. Even many children’s medicines and cough syrups contain high-fructose corn syrup!

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The Drug-Free Diabetes Cure

Realistically speaking, completely eliminating the sweet stuff is challenging. But if you can reduce your consumption by at least 50 percent (and closer to 75 percent), you’re well on your way to better health.

First and foremost, you should totally cut out all items that blatantly contain sugar. Start with beverages. You don’t need juice, soda, energy drinks, fancy blended coffee concoctions, and “vitamin water” in your life. Stick with plain water, coconut water (especially post-workout or if you need an energy boost), unsweetened tea and coffee, and occasional dairy (including half and half for your coffee, if that’s what you prefer).

Next, let go of junk food. Candy, chocolate, cakes, cookies, ice cream, granola bars, etc. should be very occasional treats, not daily habits. Also cut out products made with refined flour, such as baked goods, bread, bagels, croissants, and muffins. If you must have bread, look for sprouted grain bread in the freezer section of your grocery store.

If you can master these two steps, then you’ve taken an enormous leap in the right direction. Then you can start to cut back on hidden sugars found in foods you would least expect.

This is admittedly the hardest step, because who doesn’t like a little ketchup on their burger every so often! For this reason, I simply encourage you to be aware of ingredients. When shopping, look at the labels. If sugar is one of the top ingredients, don’t buy it, or look for lower-sugar alternatives.

A Word on Artificial Sweeteners

It can be tempting to forgo sugar-laden sodas or beverages for artificially sweetened alternatives, such as diet soda or flavored waters. But aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose (Splenda) tend to have the same negative effects on weight and overall health as regular sugar. If you simply must use a sweetener in your tea or coffee (or if you want to cook or bake sugar free), try 100-percent natural alternatives such as stevia and xylitol.

Stevia comes from the leaves of a bush native to Paraguay. Not only does it have few, if any, side effects, it also has anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and glucose-controlling properties. So people with diabetes can use stevia without it spiking their insulin. Stevia also shows promise for the treatment of obesity, hypertension, and diarrhea.

Xylitol is another option. While not calorie-free, it contains fewer calories than sugar—9½ calories per teaspoon to sugar’s 15 calories.

Xylitol raises the pH of your mouth, making it more alkaline. This keeps bad bacteria in check and lowers the risk of gum disease and cavities. For this reason, many brands of chewing gum and toothpaste contain xylitol.

One thing’s clear: Sugar/high-fructose corn syrup is the enemy. Take whatever steps necessary to get it out of your diet, and your heart and entire body will thank you.

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