Heart Disease: It’s not all about Dietary Fat, It’s a Sugar Problem Too!

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Because many of our partner programs at Second Harvest serve at-risk populations, focusing on the distribution of healthy, fresh food is of vital importance. It is a sad truth that heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. Food insecurity only heightens this risk: individuals with low food security have increased incidents of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Second Harvest is working to promote healthy, fresh food across our service area, and is partnering with hospitals and healthcare providers to meet the healthy food needs of our community.

With Valentine’s here and our thoughts on sweets and chocolates, we spoke with Sheri R. Vettel, MPH, RD, LDN who is a registered dietitian at the Partnership for Community Care (P4CC) in Greensboro, North Carolina about sugar. Ms. Vettel has several years of experience in clinical nutrition and public health and has a passion for working to address food insecurity in her community.

************************************************************************************************************ If I took a poll, I would wager that almost all of you have heard to avoid deep-fried foods, bologna, and bacon to lower your risk of heart disease.

While this is typically true, a very important link is missing—sugar! This doesn’t just mean the crystalized white substance in it’s pure form— but the sugar in soft drinks, candy, granola bars, baked goods, convenience foods………….and the list goes on and on.

Let me explain.

Studies have found that total cholesterol levels increase when high-sugar foods are eaten in place of high-fat foods. More specifically, high-sugar foods can increase triglycerides (a fat in the blood) and “bad” cholesterol, or LDL. There is also some evidence that they lower “good”cholesterol, or HDL.

Diets high in added sugar also increase inflammation in the body. In this case, it is not a good thing! This inflammation is a body process that may increase our risk of heart disease by adding sticky plaque to the arteries and damaging them. This damage elevates the risk for stroke and heart attack.

High sugar diets also promote insulin resistance, a process where the body has trouble using insulin to move glucose (sugar) into our cells. Insulin resistance is associated with diabetes, as well as the risk for an unfortunate coronary event.

Even though there is a lot of evidence backing up the link between sugar and heart disease, some (especially the sugar industry) disagree. I personally don’t believe the research we have should be ignored.

I also realize this information comes at an unpopular time. In fact, you may have just been given a box of heart-shaped chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

Before you toss the box of chocolates, consider this:

Dietary patterns are what determines one’s disease risk. An occasional chocolate is not likely harmful for most folks, however multiple chocolates per day might be. The focus is not eliminating ALL sugar from the diet, but making choices that are much lower in the sweet stuff more often.

Here are Some Easy Swaps and Tips:

● Instead of instant oatmeal packets with sugar added, make your own oatmeal with rolled oats, cinnamon and fruit.

● Use fruit and nut butter on whole-grain pancakes and waffles instead of slathering them in syrup.

● Instead of soda, try mixing 4 oz. of 100% juice with 4-6 oz. of unsweetened, naturally-flavored seltzer water.

● Choose “healthier” sources of carbohydrates instead of refined, or processed carbohydrates. For example, snack on apple slices with peanut butter instead of peanut butter crackers. Try a homemade whole-grain and fruit muffin instead of a snack cake.

● Plan for sweet treats and keep portions small. Impromptu cakes, cookies and frozen chocolate coffee drinks are not always a good idea—even though it may seem like it at the time.

● Become a food label detective! If the ingredient list has several types of sugars listed, especially in the beginning of the list, it might be best avoided. Sugar has many different names making it tricky to spot. Some of the names are:

o Agave o Cane juice o Dextrose o Glucose o High fructose corn syrup o Malt syrup o Nectar o Sucrose

When making donations to Second Harvest Food Drive, we encourage our generous donors donate healthy food that works for all people.

Learn more about what healthy foods to donate to support those in need here.

Learn more about the nutrition services offered at Second Harvest Food Bank here. Photo Credit: Raj Stevenson / Flickr.com

Sheri R. Vettel MPH, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian at the Partnership for Community Care (P4CC) in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has several years of experience in clinical nutrition and public health and has a passion for working to address food insecurity in her community. She co-manages the Partnership Pantry Healthy Food Bank Program at the P4CC, an initiative to help individuals with chronic disease manage their health with diet. She loves to write and contributes regularly to Mothering Magazine.

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