Do sugary drinks increase heart disease and stroke risk?

Sugar’s harmful health effects were reinforced by a study released on Monday.

A study released in the journal BMC Medicine found that diets high in free sugars, which include sugar added to processed foods and soda, as well as sugar found in fruit juice and syrups, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke [1]. Approximately nine years’ of health outcomes were tracked for more than 110,000 people ages 37 to 73 in the United Kingdom based on their eating habits.

Based on the results, each 5% increase in the percentage of free sugars in a person’s diet was associated with a 6% increase in heart disease risk and a 10% increase in stroke risk. Cody Watling, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, said the most popular form of sugar consumed by study participants was “preserves and confectionery,” such as cookies, sugary pastries and scones. 

In addition to fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts were also common. Fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugars were excluded from the analysis because they are not considered “free sugars.” According to Watling and his team, multiple assessments of participants’ diets were included in the UK Biobank, a large-scale database of health records.

Do sugary drinks increase heart disease and stroke risk

Expert recommends avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages

Using the assessments, the researchers estimated participants’ carbohydrate intakes, then further analyzed carbohydrate types to determine their free sugar intakes. After that, the authors compared the incidence of cardiovascular disease among the participants.

People with the highest risk of heart disease or stroke consumed about 95 grams of free sugar per day or 18% of their daily energy intake, according to Watling. According to US guidelines, added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of a person’s daily calories.

Harvard University epidemiology and nutrition professor Walter Willett, who was not involved in the study, says avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages is the most important thing we can do. In spite of the fact that orange juice has some health benefits, Wiltt said it contains the same amount of sugar as Coke due to its sugar content. Because defining a limit in grams doesn’t take into account people’s dietary needs, Watling said sugar intake recommendations are based on percentages of total energy [2].

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“Suppose, for instance, a female is small, and her body requires a lot less energy than a male whose height is 6 (foot) 7. They must consume more food,” Watling said. In contrast to sugar intake, Oxford researchers found a positive relationship between fiber consumption and heart disease risk: Consuming 5 grams of fiber a day was linked to a 4% lower risk. Researchers found that this did not hold true when body mass indexes were taken into account.

A large body of prior research has also demonstrated the health benefits associated with fiber consumption and the risks associated with sugar-rich diets. Instead of focusing solely on added sugars, the researchers included sugars from honey, syrups, and fruit juice in their analysis.

Further research is needed, however, to confirm the association they identified between free sugars and stroke risk. The study shows, however, that types of carbohydrates may matter more than total amounts of carbs, said Watling.

“For overall general health and well-being, we should be consuming carbohydrates that are rich in whole grains, while minimizing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and confectionary products with added sugars,” Watling added.

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