A study from the University of Surrey in the U.K. has shown that even a healthy person can greatly suffer when too much sugar is consumed. It results in increased fat in the blood and liver, which raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and can even increase heart failure risk.
Research published in the journal Clinical Science involved two groups of men: those with high levels of liver fat and those with low levels. The participants were fed either a high- or low-sugar diet to ascertain if fat in the liver plays a role in the impact of sugar consumption on cardiovascular health. While the low-sugar diet had a maximum of 140 calories of sugar per day, which accounted for 6 percent of the daily caloric intake, the high-sugar diet had 650 calories of sugar, which accounted for 26 percent.
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A randomized crossover study design was used. This indicates that each man was randomly assigned to follow one diet and then the other diet.
High-Sugar Diet Results in Fat Accumulation in Liver and Unhealthy Metabolism
After 12 weeks of being on the high-sugar diet, the men with high levels of fat in the liver, a disorder called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), experienced changes in their metabolism linked to an elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes. (Fat metabolism is the process by which fat is broken down in the blood stream and utilized by the body cells.) When the healthy men with low levels of fat in the liver ate the high-sugar diet, they accumulated more fat in the liver and their fat metabolism resembled that of the group of men with NAFLD. The results show that healthy people aren’t immune to the adverse effects of eating a high-fat diet.
“Our findings provide new evidence that consuming high amounts of sugar can alter your fat metabolism in ways that could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Bruce Griffin, Professor of Nutritional Metabolism.
Children Are of Particular Concern
Because children and teenagers have a high consumption of sugary beverages, as well as eat candy and other sweets frequently, the study shows what such a diet portends for their health as adults.
“While most adults don’t consume the high levels of sugar we used in this study, some children and teenagers may reach these levels of sugar intake by over-consuming fizzy drinks and sweets,” adds Griffin. “This raises concern for the future health of the younger population, especially in view of the alarmingly high prevalence of NAFLD in children and teenagers, and exponential rise of fatal liver disease in adults.”
Earlier Research Ties High-Sugar Consumption to Higher Heart Death Risk
The results of the current study are consistent with previous research that reveals a link between high sugar consumption and heart disease. In a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, scientists found participants whose sugar consumption consisted of 21 percent of their daily caloric intake had a risk of death from heart disease 2-times higher than those whose sugar consumption was 8 percent of their caloric intake. Moreover, the likelihood of death rose as the amount of sugar consumed increased, regardless of a person’s weight and activity level.
AHA Recommendations for Added Sugar
According to the American Heart Association, added sugar in the diet should be limited to 100 calories per day in women and 150 calories per day in men. Added sugar refers to sugar included in the manufacture of food products, as opposed to the naturally occurring sugar in fruit.
To illustrate how easy it is to consume this amount, one can of regular soda contains 140 calories of sugar. Furthermore, sugar or the form of sugar called high-fructose corn syrup is added to innumerable food items, including bread, cereal, flavored yogurt, ketchup and salad dressing. One way to cut down on sugar intake is to eat fruit for dessert and save sweets or sugary beverages for an occasional treat. In addition, since most processed food contains sugar, opt for fresh unprocessed foods as much as possible.