A Sweetheart Isn't a Healthy Heart

By Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD
A Sweetheart Isn't a Healthy Heart
Recent data suggests that sugar-sweetened beverages like regular soda and flavored waters with added sugars may do more damage to our health than previously expected.
February 15, 2012

Recent data suggests that sugar-sweetened beverages like regular soda and flavored waters with added sugars may do more damage to our health than previously expected. Research from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2011 found that drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages - like regular soda - may expand a woman's waistline and her risk for heart disease.[1]

In the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), scientists discovered that middle-aged and older women who drank two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day, such as carbonated sodas or flavored waters with added sugar, were nearly four times as likely to develop high triglycerides, increase their waist size and develop impaired fasting glucose than women who consumed one or less daily.  Although the women did not show weight gain on the scale, changes in these biomarkers for disease indicate that these women are at a high risk for developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke over time.

The men - possibly due to differences in calorie intake, did not show the same increase in risk, remarked the lead author in an interview with the American Heart Association.  Nor is it clear how the sugar-sweetened beverages influenced cardiovascular risk in the absence of weight gain.  Further research in the area is expected.

Limiting Sugar

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), we should limit the amount of added sugars in our diet to no more than half of our daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that's no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it's 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. The AHA recommends cutting back on sweetened items, choosing fresh fruits to satisfy our sweet tooth, adding flavor with herbs and spices, and making substitutions when cooking and baking.  The AHA also suggests trying non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose or saccharin in moderation. Non-nutritive sweeteners may be a way to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding more calories to your diet.[2]

Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD is a registered dietitian and provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.

1. Sugar-sweetened beverages may increase cardiovascular risk in women.  November 13, 2011.  Last accessed 2/8/12:  http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/sugar-sweetened-beverages-may-217750.aspx.

2. American Heart Association.  Sugars and Carbohydrates.  Last accessed 2/8/12:  http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Sugars-and-Carbohydrates_UCM_303296_Article.jsp#.TzLXxCPeSos

A Sweetheart Isn't a Healthy Heart

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