Salty vs. Sweet: Is Salt or Sugar Worse for Your Heart? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on February 19, 2015

Salty vs. Sweet: Is Salt or Sugar Worse for Your Heart?

We have long been told to banish the salt from our kitchen and recipes for the sake of our hearts. And sure, sodium isn’t a friend to our hearts. But it turns out there may be something out there much worse than salt: sugar.

More research and studies have been coming out proving that sugar, in particular added sugars, is detrimental to our heart health.

But before you toss out your sugar bowls, along with your salt shaker, you should know that your body actually needs both of these to function properly.

So how can salt and sugar negatively impact your cardiovascular health? It comes down to the amount and type you’re consuming.

When it comes to sodium, Americans are notorious for eating way more than we need. The American Heart Association recommends that we try to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but most people consume a whopping 3,400 milligrams each day. That’s due in large part to the fact that sodium hides in a lot of foods such as soups, bread, pizza, cold cuts and restaurant foods.

However, excess sodium doesn’t necessarily have a direct link to heart disease. Rather, consuming too much sodium on a regular basis can cause you to retain excess fluid in your body. This excess fluid can lead to increased blood pressure, placing an added burden on your heart and increasing your risk of heart disease.

This is not the case with added sugars. Studies have found that added sugars pose a larger threat to your heart health and may even be a direct link to heart disease.

Our bodies are built, metabolically, to take in sugars and store them as energy. And the very best way to store these sugars is in fat. When you consume an excess of added sugars that aren’t used shortly thereafter as energy, they are converted into stored body fat.

As the cycle of eating too much added sugars and your body storing it as body fat goes on, it leads to weight gain. When you’re carry too much extra weight, your heart has to work harder to do its job.

Not to mention that excess sugar and weight can lead to diabetes – another heart disease risk factor.

Just like sodium, added sugars hide in foods we would least expect to find them in, including ketchup, pasta sauce and barbecue sauce.

Not sure what exactly added sugars are? They’re the sugars and syrups added to food and beverages when they’re processed and prepared. It may not be obvious that some foods and drinks contain added sugars, but you can find out by taking a look at your packaged food’s nutrition label and list of ingredients. If you spot anything in the list of ingredients that ends in “ose,” like sucrose, that’s added sugar. High fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrate are also considered added sugars.

How can you protect your heart from excess sodium and added sugars?

First, read your foods’ nutrition labels. And know that the following foods are notoriously high in added sugars:

  • Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks
  • Grain-based desserts
  • Fruit drinks
  • Dairy desserts
  • Candy
  • Ready-to-eat cereals
  • Yeast breads

However, the simplest way to not only eliminate the excess salt and sugar, but improve your overall health, is by cutting back or eliminating processed foods from your diet. Seventy-five percent of sodium we eat comes from processed foods. Seventy-five percent! And a lot of those same processed foods have added sugars in them.

So, cut back on those frozen dinners and boxes of crackers. Your heart will thank you.

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