Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Sugar, Heart Disease and Stroke

The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada has just released a new and extensive position statement on sugar and cardiovascular disease. This is exciting news in the nutrition world because it's official acknowledgement of a problem that many health care and fitness professionals have been talking about for a long time now.

The policy statement represents a significant about-face for the Heart & Stroke Foundation (HSF) of Canada. Not many months ago HSF were criticized when their Health Check program put it's seal of approval on a bag of candy. Since that time the Health Check label program has been cancelled. Today we see the release of a comprehensive statement on why sugar is bad for heart health and a long list of evidence-based recommendations for decreasing or stopping sugar consumption.

The opening "facts" to the policy statement are fascinating, some of which we have reported on this blog in previous articles:

  • Sugar, a carbohydrate, provides energy and has no other nutritional benefits
  • Excess sugar consumption is associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer & dental cavities
  • Recommended intake of sugar is 5-10% of daily calories (or 6-12 tsp) from all sources of sugar.
  • On average Canadians get 13% of their daily calories from added sugar alone. This does not include the naturally occurring sugar they also eat in foods like fruit, milk & honey.
  • Those who eat 10-25% of their calories from sugar have a 30% higher risk of death from heart disease or stroke.
  • Those who eat more than 25% of their calories from sugar have triple the death risk
  • One 355 ml can of sugar sweetened beverage (pop) contains 10 teaspoons of sugar.
  • In Canadian teens the average daily consumption of sugar just from soft drinks is 94 teaspoons for boys and 45 teaspoons for girls.
  • Over 60% of Canadian adults and 31% of youth are overweight or obese
  • Heart disease and stroke are responsible for 27.3% of all deaths in Canada. It's estimated that 80% of heart disease can be prevented with lifestyle changes like diet change. 
Not surprisingly the HSF policy statement recommends that people eat a whole foods diet. In other words cut out the processed food and you will drastically reduce your sugar intake and improve your chances of survival. 

I already know what you're thinking. That you don't eat much processed food. You don't eat very much sugar. But guess what? You probably do. It's added to your bread, flavoured yogurt, cereal, sauces, gourmet coffee, packaged and frozen foods. It's hidden in places you never thought possible. Just for shirts and giggles go to any free on-line nutrition program or app and plug in a few days of your food intake and see how much sugar you're eating (Click here for LoseIt or here for MyFitnessPal). 

The HSF policy statement also makes recommendations for governments, employers, schools, community organizations and the food industry. It's a bit of a call to arms and asks people to be politically and socially involved in addressing this health problem. Kudos for that. 

My personal pet peeve is beverage machines in schools. I cringe when I drive by our local primary school and the soft drink company delivery truck is backed up to the door filling the machines with nutritionally vacant and health damaging beverages. How did these companies get their machines in our schools in the first place? 

So have a look round. First at your own consumption and then at your immediate environment and community. See if you can work together to change the food environment and prevent disease in you and your families. And if you have a few minutes the HSF Paper is definitely worth a read. 

Click here to read the full Heart & Stroke Foundation Position Statement on sugar. 
Click here to read an article written for this blog on sugar called Tough Love.

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