Books and movies have given us some classic villains. We love to see villains either find redemption or get justice in the end. Popular villains change over time; from Lord Voldemort, Agent Smith, the Joker, Darth Vader, and the Wicked Witch of the West to Richard III and Lady Macbeth.
The foods we eat have also had a long and changing list of villains over time. Coffee, eggs, butter, nuts, meat, salt, chocolate—all have spent time on lists of demonized foods, but nearly all have found some degree of redemption and aren’t nearly as detrimental to good health as once thought.
One villainous element of food that’s been blamed for myriad health problems is fat. For decades we were told to cut out fat and replace fatty foods with energy-producing carbs. The foundation for that villainy came from a 1967 Harvard review of research which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The report minimized the link between sugar and heart problems, and targeted saturated fat as the main cause of cardiovascular disease.
The problem, according to an article in JAMA Internal Medicine and reported by the New York Times, is that the Harvard research, which was bought and paid for by the sugar industry’s Sugar Research Foundation, drew false conclusions by implicating fatty foods. What the sugar industry and the Harvard researchers knew was that sugar was the culprit and a cause of cardiovascular disease and other health issues, not fat. The subsequent 50 years of misinformation resulted in skyrocketing levels of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Today, we are all beginning to realize that the study which was a focus for five decades had misdirected our attention, and we’ve welcomed a real villain into our homes and our diets. With awareness, we can change our ways which years of eating sugar has caused.
Harvard has been in the lead in sounding the alarm that sugar increases the risk of an early death from heart disease, with Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic also playing an important role. And the Journal of the American Medical Association has also published data backing the relationship between sugar intake and cardiovascular disease.
The American Heart Association has been warning the public of the danger of added dietary sugars, and has determined that, for heart health, the daily sugar intake should be limited to no more than 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, for men and 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, for women.
Sugar causes multiple health problems, some of which can cause a domino effect leading to heart disease. Here’s how:
Sugar Contributes to Obesity
- Eating is like putting money in a bank. If you withdraw all the money you deposit, your balance will be $0. If you deposit more than you withdraw, your balance will increase. And if you burn the same number of calories you ingest, your weight will stay the same; however, if you ingest more calories than you burn, your weight will increase.
- Added sugars are empty calories. They provide no nutritional value.
- Consuming sugar promotes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels impair cell function and promote inflammation. Inflammation increases insulin resistance, which starts the cycle over. As the cycle repeats, insulin resistance increases fat storage, creating excess body fat.
- Sugar—specifically fructose—affects signaling systems in the brain, increasing levels of hunger-stimulating neuropeptides while decreasing fullness signals, so you’re hungry more often and feel full less often.
Obesity Contributes to Diabetes
- A large percentage of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.
- Insulin resistance, caused by obesity, makes cells less sensitive to the insulin released from the pancreas. The pancreas goes into overdrive, trying to get insulin to the resistant cells. Eventually, the overworked pancreas, unable to keep up with the demand for insulin, will become more inefficient in insulin production, and will produce less and less, causing glucose—or blood sugar—to build up within cells, triggering type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes Contributes to Heart Disease
- High blood pressure, frequently a condition of type 2 diabetes, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- People with diabetes often have high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, two things which also occur in those with premature coronary heart disease.
- When the body transforms food into chemical energy, one of the waste products is a molecule called methylglyoxal. Normally, the body can get rid of the methylglyoxal, but diabetics have a harder time eliminating the molecule and it accumulates and builds up in heart cells, causing the heart to work more inefficiently. Eventually, the methylglyoxal will cause the heart to fail.
According to Science Daily, men with diabetes are 2.4 times more likely than non-diabetics to suffer heart failure, and women are five times more likely. Additionally, 68 percent of people age 65 or older with diabetes will die from some form of heart disease.
Sugar causes cascading health problems, which leads to being at a high risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that heart disease deaths are preventable through changes in lifestyle. One of the best ways to avoid heart disease is to avoid sugars. One of the best ways to avoid sugars is to replace them with plant-based SweetLeaf® Stevia Sweeteners.
SweetLeaf products have a non-glycemic response, so they won’t affect blood sugar or insulin levels. Plus, the entire SweetLeaf family of products are gluten free with zero calories and no artificial sweeteners. Try SweetLeaf Stevia Sweetener or Organic SweetLeaf Stevia Sweetener in packets or shaker jar, Liquid Stevia Sweet Drops®, in 2-ounce or convenient 50ml bottles, or SweetLeaf Water Drops® water enhancer in six delicious fruit blends.
Whether you use SweetLeaf in foods, beverages, or recipes, switching from sugars to SweetLeaf couldn’t be easier. Use our Stevia Conversion Chart or our interactive Stevia Conversion Calculator to know exactly how much SweetLeaf to use to replace sugar in all your favorite foods.
For more on sugar’s role in heart disease, WebMD has a short but informative video.