By Dr. Ranjita Sengupta, MD, FACC, FACP, FASE
Despite continuing controversy, Mayor Bloomberg might be on to something with his proposed sugary drink ban. New research is giving people significant reason to focus less on watching their cholesterol and more on watching their sugar intake. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, it’s not only diabetics who risk heart-related problems from above-average blood sugar levels. Even slightly higher levels of sugar in the blood noticeably increase a non-diabetic’s risk of ischemic heart disease. Ischemic heart disease is commonly recognized in the form of heart attacks, atherosclerosis, and angina, and is the most common cause of death among adults worldwide.
These recent findings solidify a trend I’ve been witnessing first-hand for quite some time, as nearly 60% of my non-diabetic cardiac patients experience high blood sugar. When working with my patients to maximize their heart health, I routinely discuss the importance of keeping a close watch on their sugar intake, and I’m oftentimes met with their defensive denials of having a sweet tooth. Many of my patients are consuming sugar unknowingly, which is why it’s more important than ever to educate yourself on heart healthy food choices and other preventative measures you can easily incorporate into your daily routines. Try implementing the following tips to proactively protect yourself from heart disease:
- Shop informed. Navigating the grocery store and selecting heart healthy food options can be extremely difficult, especially with readily available nonfat options that seem like the smart choice. However, many nonfat options are loaded with sugar to ensure they retain a good taste. Many people assume that “nonfat” translates to “healthy,” but sugar is much more harmful to your body than fat. I always urge my patients to read nutritional labels and pay attention to both sugar and sodium levels. Try to choose items that contain no more than 10-12g per serving of sugar, and no more than 100-200mg per serving of sodium.
- Eat the right foods at the right times. It’s not only important to select the right foods, it’s also extremely important to consider the times at which you’re eating them. Concentrate your sugar and carbohydrate intake during the daytime, since they’re harder for your body to digest, and aim for lighter dinners that contain more protein. Since white bread, white pasta, and white rice all contain sugar, make them sides in your meal, and serve a leaner protein as the main dish.
- Stay active. While it’s hard to routinely incorporate extended workouts into an already jam-packed schedule, exercise is essential for maintaining hearth health and preventing disease. I encourage my patients to aim for 30-45 minutes of exercise a day, 3-4 times per week. The type of exercise is an individual choice, and can range from brisk walking to a more intense gym workout, but doing it on a regular basis is key. Exercise helps lower blood sugar levels by reducing stress.
Everyone knows to watch their cholesterol, since it can have detrimental effects on heart health, but sugar is an important culprit to also keep a watch on. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can put you at risk for developing diabetes later in life, and can raise your risk of heart disease. Following the above tips and staying informed on the latest research will go a long way in making sure your heart remains healthy.
Ranjita Sengupta, MD, FACC, FACP, FASE, is a board-certified cardiologist at Somerset Medical Center.