Treating yourself to that daily soft drink as a pick me up at work, or to power your gym workout or home chores sounds pretty harmless, right? Well, I’ve got some surprising news for you. Researchers at the University of California Davis have found a surprising connection between sugary soft drinks and heart disease. Let me tell you why…
Sugary Drinks Up Heart Disease Risk Significantly
Although your brain may think it’s reasonable to knock back 1 or 2 cold, soft drinks every day, your heart doesn’t think so. Your heart knows that even 1 high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetened drink can raise your risk for heart disease. Now, health researchers know it too and want you to save your heart by banning sugar or HFCS sweetened drinks.
Recently, a University of California Davis study revealed why sugary drinks are so harmful to your heart health. First, the study selected only young, heart-healthy men and women as participants. Second, this group was divided into 4 subgroups. One received drinks with 0% of HFCS (they were given “diet” drinks), the second 10%, the third 17.5% and the fourth 25%.
Even after only 2 weeks of drinking the HFCS sweetened drinks, the second, third and fourth groups showed elevations in blood markers for cardiac disease. These include triglycerides, low density lipoproteins (LDL cholesterol), and uric acid. And, it didn’t matter if the subjects gained weight with the study. Even the slimmest participants showed elevated cardiac markers.
The fourth group, those whose drinks were sweetened with 25% HFCS, had the highest levels of these markers. This told the researchers that the more HFCS in a drink, the more the cardiac markers increased.
But, even the second group, those who received 10% HFCS sweetened drinks, also had elevated markers. The study also revealed that the men who received the HFCS sweetened drinks had even higher elevations in cardiac markers than the women participants.
The researchers concluded that HFCS sweetened foods, whether they were soft drinks, bottled juices, sports drinks, coffee-bar drinks, cakes, cookies, etc, posed a significant risk to developing heart disease. They recommended that people limit their intake of added sugars in drinks and other foods to lower their heart disease risk.
In an earlier, related study reported by the American Heart Association, it was found that soft drinks contributed to about 180,000 deaths yearly from heart disease. These drinks contribute to a “domino effect” of disease that starts with weight gain. Then the next “domino” to fall is the development of diabetes, then heart disease. Even the development, and progression, of cancer has been shown to be directly related to high sugar intake.
So, is there any “safe” way to consume these sugary soft drinks? Previously, in 2010, the American Dietary Guidelines recommended that you consume no more than 25% of your daily diet come from added sugar.
Then in 2011, the American Heart Association recommended that this level was far too high. They recommended that you get no more than 450 calories per week from sugar-added drinks. This translates to four, 100-110 calorie drinks, a week.
Yet, even this AHA level may be too much according to the results of the new University of California Davis study. If only 2 weeks of drinking 10% sugar-added drinks can cause elevated cardiac markers, drinking 4 per week, or about 5%, can do the same.
If you were my patient, I would recommend you to ban any HFCS, or sucrose, containing drinks and foods from your diet on a regular, daily basis. These substances have no nutritive value and can do a lot of nutritive damage. They’ve been associated not only with dental decay, too high acid levels in your blood that leads to widespread inflammation; the development of diabetes, joint disease, and even Alzheimer disease.
But, celebrating a birthday with a “real sugar” piece of cake treat once in a while is okay. This won’t cause your cardiac markers to be permanently elevated. But, keep in mind you can make your own stevia sweetened birthday cake and you can even buy stevia sweetened soft drinks. If you want to drink juice, make your own out of fresh squeezed, natural fruits. You can also buy no-sugar or HFCS added juices at health food stores or chains that carry special diet foods. Making use of more naturally sweetened foods and drinks can put your mind at rest about raising cardiac disease markers.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.