The number one cause of death in the developed world is cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure is considered the most important risk factor. We have all heard that salt is one culprit that can worsen hypertension, but there is new research showing that high sugar intake might be more important.
Writing in the British Medical Journal openheart, authors James DiNicolantonio and Sean Lucan analyzed nearly a hundred previous research studies on the influence of sugar or salt on heart and blood vessel health. They also looked at studies that examined different types of sugars, and concluded that the worst sugar for blood pressure control was fructose.
Fructose is one part of regular table sugar, but is also added to sweeten many beverages, soft drinks, and put into many processed foods. The authors quote studies that show that healthy young adults experienced a rise in systolic blood pressure of 6.2 mm Hg after drinking a fructose solution of 60 grams (a can of Coca-Cola has about 40 grams of sugar).
The authors point out that people who chronically eat a high sugar diet may increase their systolic blood pressure by nearly 7 mm Hg and their diastolic pressure by nearly 6 mm Hg. They point out that this is more significant than the increase from a higher salt intake diet. They write:
“Added sugars probably matter more than dietary sodium for hypertension, and fructose in particular may uniquely increase cardiovascular risk by inciting metabolic dysfunction and increasing blood pressure variability, myocardial oxygen demand, heart rate, and inflammation.”
Authors DiNicolantonio and Lucan argue that the research regarding salt intake and blood pressure is controversial, and that recent studies suggest the ideal daily intake of sodium for optimum cardiovascular health is between 3 and 4 grams per day, and that an intake below 3 grams per day might be harmful. In contrast, no researchers are suggesting that a low intake of sugar might be harmful to our health.
A major source of sugar in the western diet is processed food (which, by the way, is for many people their largest daily source of salt). So avoiding processed foods is a wise choice to protect your blood pressure, along with avoiding sugary drinks and limiting sugar you add to food.
Finally, it is important to point out that the authors address the question of fructose contained in fruits: “sugars, including fructose, in their naturally occurring biological contexts (eg, as whole fruits) is not harmful and is likely beneficial for cardiovascular health.”
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