Added Sweeteners and Heart Disease

August 29/Sri Lanka/Daily News -- Eating sugar and certain other sweeteners added to packaged foods may add to heart-disease risk by changing cholesterol levels and increasing blood fats, an Emory University study said.

Those who consumed food with higher levels of sugar showed a risk ranging from 50-300% higher of reduced levels of the good cholesterol that protects against heart disease, according to the research. Higher sugar intake also increased triglycerides, the blood fats that raise heart disease risk, said Jean Welsh, lead author of the research released in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The research is one of the first large studies to show added sugar changes cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart disease, Welsh said. "People need to be aware of how much sugar they're consuming. It does make our food taste better, but it is a source of calories that doesn't provide any nutrition," Welsh, a registered nurse and doctorate candidate in nutritional epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, said. "We need to understand what compromises we make to our health based on the diet we consume."

Previous research has shown that one kind of cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein or HDL, protects against heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. A second kind of cholesterol, called LDL for low-density lipoprotein, increases the risk, as does high levels of triglycerides.

Researchers in the study included 6,113 adults who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2006.

Participants were divided into five groups based on their intake of sugar, whether table sugar or sweeteners added to products bought at the store.

Those in the lowest group consumed an average equivalent of three teaspoons a day, while those in the highest averaged 46 teaspoons a day.

The researchers also found that as sugar consumption rose so did levels of blood fats or triglycerides. Those in the highest consuming sugar groups had 20-30% greater odds of having high triglyceride levels than those in the lowest sugar consumption group, she said. Johnson, the heart association spokeswoman, said she hopes these findings will raise awareness about the consequences of consuming too much sugar.

"My hope would be that ultimately people would become more aware of the sources of added sugars and some ways in which you could reduce added sugars in your diet," she said. "And also that the food industry will think about how to start to lower added sugars in their processed foods just like they're working to lower sodium."

From the September 7, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition