Free sugar associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk

Free sugar associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk
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New research reveals that consuming a high intake of free sugars is linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a new study published in BMC Medicine, researchers analysed the effects of high consumption rates of free sugars on the cardiovascular system which illuminated the need to address global dietary recommendations.

Rebecca Kelly and colleagues analysed 110,497 individuals from the UK Biobank who had completed at least two dietary assessments. The researchers tracked individuals for around 9.4 years, and within that period, total cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke combined), heart disease, and stroke occurred in 4,188, 3,138, and 1,124 participants, respectively.

What are free sugars?

According to the NHS, most adults and children consume free sugars in high amounts. Free sugars are:

  • Any sugars added to food or drinks: These are commonly found in biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yogurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.
  • Sugars in honey, syrups, nectars, and unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices, and smoothies. Although these naturally occur, they still count as free sugars.

The NHS recommends that adults should have less than 30g of free sugars a day, and children aged seven to ten should only have 24g per day.

Connecting sugar intake and cardiovascular disease prevalence

The researchers found total carbohydrate intake was not associated with cardiovascular disease outcomes.

However, when the team looked at the types and sources of carbohydrates consumed, they discovered that higher free sugar intake from foods like sugary drinks, fruit juices and sweets was associated with increased risk of all cardiovascular disease outcomes. For each 5% high total energy from free sugars, the associated risk of total cardiovascular disease was 7% higher. Furthermore, the researchers found that the risk of heart disease was 6% higher, whilst the risk of stroke was 10% higher.

However, consuming 5g higher fibre per day was associated with a 4% lower risk of total cardiovascular disease, but this association was not significant when accounting for body mass index (BMI).

The team suggested that replacing free sugars with non-free sugars and a higher fibre intake may help protect against cardiovascular disease. Additionally, they outlined in their study that not all carbohydrates may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease; therefore, considering the type and source of carbohydrates is important when linking it to cardiovascular health.

The research highlights the importance of adapting global dietary recommendations in line with new evidence. Many adults and children are unaware of the effects of free sugars and how easily it is to consume more than the recommended amount.


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