The average American adult consumes 77 grams of sugar (just over 6 tablespoons) per day, according to the American Heart Association. Compare that to the AHA recommended limits for added sugars…
Men: no more than 36 grams, which equals 9 teaspoons or 150 calories, per day
Women: no more than 25 grams, which equals 6 teaspoons or 100 calories, per day
For reference, a regular 12-ounce soda contains 32 grams (8 teaspoons) of added sugar. Many of us have been trying to avoid added sugars for years. Consuming too much sugar, and especially sugary drinks, has been implicated in weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Indeed, a 14.5-year-old study published in 2014 in JAMA internal medicine found that people who consumed 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugars had a 38% higher risk of dying from heart disease (compared to those who consumed 8% or less of their calories from sugars added). So we turn to artificial sweeteners. Hey, if a diet soda doesn’t contain sugar, that’s a better choice, right?
A new study published on September 7 in the journal BMJ has not-so-sweet news if this has been your solution to reducing your sugar intake. People who consume higher amounts of artificial sweeteners potentially have a 9% higher risk of heart disease and an 18% higher risk of stroke compared to their peers who do not consume artificial sweeteners.
Read on to learn about the potential link between sugar substitutes and cardiovascular disease, then find other ways to reduce your sugar intake in heart-healthy ways.
Related: Everything you need to know about sugar substitutes
What This Heart Health Study Revealed
To reach this conclusion, a group of French researchers analyzed the data of more than 103,000 French adults who participated in an online nutritional study. At the start of the study, the participants (who had an average age of 42 at the start and were about 80% female), completed questionnaires on diet, health, exercise, education, smoking status and occupation. They also completed multiple diet reviews at launch and every six months after for an average of nine years. These included a 24-hour diet reminder, in which each person was asked to report all food and drink consumed over the past day.
Scientists have used these ratios to estimate consumption of artificial sweeteners, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, red meat and other food categories. Participants also shared any new health events, including biometric reports and diagnoses, including for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
About 37% of these people reported consuming artificial sweeteners in some form, averaging around 42 milligrams per day. That’s equivalent to a single packet of sweetener (like the kind you might add to coffee or tea) or about 3½ ounces of diet soda. Among the heaviest drinkers, the average was about 78 milligrams (about 6 ounces of diet soda). Some have not consumed any.
Diet soft drinks accounted for about 53% of total artificial sweetener consumption, the researchers estimated. The next largest sources were sweetener packets (30%), and artificially sweetened yoghurt and cottage cheese (8%). Beyond fully synthetic sweeteners, scientists have also asked about more natural low- or zero-calorie sweeteners like plant-based allulose, monk fruit, or stevia. Participants consumed too little to be meaningful enough for research.
Related: The worst food for gut health, according to a dietitian
Compared to non-consumers, those who ate or drank products containing the most sugar substitutes differed in several ways:
Were more likely to be younger
had a higher body mass index (BMI)
Were more likely to smoke
Tendency to be less physically active
Were more likely to follow any weight loss diet
Consume fewer calories, saturated and polyunsaturated fats, fiber, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables
Consumed more sodium, red and processed meats, and dairy products
Drink less alcohol
Taking into account these other differences and variances in age, gender, activity, education, smoking status, and family history of heart disease, scientists found that subjects who fell into the category of ” high consumers” of artificial sweeteners had a 9% higher risk. for heart disease compared to those who did not consume it. The highest drinkers also had an 18% higher risk of stroke.
Researchers also tried to determine which was worse for heart health: added sugars or artificial sweeteners. They said artificial sweeteners “should not be considered a healthy and safe alternative to sugar”, but the jury is still out.
Further research, including studies that include more accurate diet monitoring than self-reports (it’s easy to lie or forget), is needed to confirm these findings. Future studies should also include a more diverse participant base and a more equal gender distribution.
Until we know more, it’s wise to stick with the World Health Organization’s recommendation to consume 10% or less of daily calories from added sugars; ideally around 5% or less if you ask the AHA. Watch for these 7 top sources of added sugars. And try to limit your intake of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium and saccharin. More research is also needed on natural low or zero calorie sweeteners and sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol, allulose, stevia and monk fruit, but the less sweetener you add, the better. ‘is.
Stick to natural sugars from fruit, if possible, and try our Slash Your Sugar 30-Day Challenge to help you slowly withdraw.
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