American Diet Too Sweet for the Heart's Health

Most people should cut their sugar intake by 70 percent, heart association says.

ByABC News
August 24, 2009, 11:03 AM

August 25, 2009— -- Sugar sneaks into so much of our food -- from spaghetti sauce to salad dressing or peanut butter treats -- that it can be near impossible to stop eating added sugars all together. Despite those arrays of pink, blue and yellow packets of sugar substitutes, the average American eats 19 percent more sugar today than in 1970.

Today, for the first time, the American Heart Association (AHA) wants the average American to take a break from this love affair. Under new recommendations the AHA advises women eat no more than about six teaspoons every day in added sugars and men eat no more than 10 teaspoons.

If Americans followed the guidelines, the average person would cut their added sugar consumption by more than 70 percent.

"We know that soft drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. We really want Americans to start thinking about this," said Dr. Rachel K. Johnson, lead author of the study.

Beyond soda, the term "added sugars" includes any non-natural occurring sugar in our food including the copious amounts of extra sugar now commonly found in processed foods such as cereals, muffins, or even sauces for meat.

Johnson argues that all of these extra calories from added sugars are contributing to the obesity epidemic, which in turn leads to an upward trend in heart disease. The AHA estimates modern day sugar consumption tacks on an extra 76 calories each day over what the average person consumed in 1970.

"The high intake of added sugar has been implicated in a number of negative health outcomes, but primarily this targets obesity," said Johnson. "Sugars have been implicated in high blood pressure and inflammation which are risk factors for heart disease."

Many dietary specialists hailed the new guidelines. However some questioned whether making yet another complicated equation in the list of nutrition recommendations marketed to the public helps people eat healthier or just confuses the average consumer.

"Strictly from a health standpoint, sugar is a 'triple threat' - it provides extra calories, no nutrients, and it may displace other foods and nutrients in the diet that are more beneficial," said Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, an associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic.

ABC News contributor Dr. David Katz agreed.

"The recommendations are reasonable, and if anything, overdue," said Katz, the director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and an ABC News contributor.