Is Sugar or Salt a Bigger Contributor to Cardiovascular Disease Risk?



By Courtney Cosby

The leading cause of premature mortality today is cardiovascular disease (CVD). Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most important risk factor of CVD. The primary focus for controlling hypertension for many years has been the reduction of sodium in one’s diet, but the question has since been raised whether excess sodium or sugar in the diet is a bigger factor in the development of CVD.

Reducing Sodium Can be Tricky

Today the benefits of reducing sodium are debatable as a reduction of salt intake may only have a small effect on blood pressure. Additionally, sodium intake of 3 grams or less per day may do more harm to a person than good, although many health care professionals restrict sodium intake to no more than 2.3 grams per day for heart health. If a person reduces their sodium intake and their levels become too low, blood pressure may either be reduced or increased (the direction it will go is not always predictable). If a person already has low blood pressure and it is further reduced, this can be a problem, just as a rise in blood pressure for a person struggling with hypertension can be dangerous. Low sodium can also cause undesirable effects like an increased workload for your heart and a higher heart rate.

Furthermore, the daily recommended threshold of sodium for hearth health and wellness is currently 3-6 grams per day in healthy individuals, according to several studies. Most Americans’ sodium consumption falls within this range.

The latest school of thought is that cardiovascular disease risk has less to do with reducing sodium intake and more to do with highly processed foods, the majority of which contain another white crystalline substance that is more harmful than salt: sugar.

The Case against Sugar

According to recent evidence published in an online journal, added sugars have a worse effect on the cardiovascular system than added salt. Added sugars, primarily fructose, can cause an increase in blood pressure and blood pressure variability as well as an increase in myocardial oxygen demand and heart rate. Excess sugar may also contribute to insulin resistance, inflammation and other forms of metabolic dysfunction. This study suggests that not only is sugar a greater risk factor in terms of CVD but that sodium may even be inversely related to cardiovascular risk altogether.

Sugar makes up at least 10 percent of calories eaten by the average American on a daily basis, although about 10 percent of Americans get a whopping 25 percent of their daily caloric intake from sugar. Individuals who get 25 percent or more of their daily calories from sugar have an almost 3 fold greater risk of cardiac death compared to those who consume less than 10 percent of their daily calories from sugar.

It is not entirely clear yet exactly how excess sugar harms the heart but research has proven that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (especially those with fructose’s ugly cousin, high fructose corn syrup) can raise blood pressure (hello, hypertension) and may also stimulate the liver, causing it to dump harmful fats into the bloodstream. Each of these factors are major factors when it comes to heart disease risk.

Is Sugar Really the Problem or is it the Lack of Healthy Food Consumption?

If so much sugar is consumed in our diets, then could it not be that the risk for CVD is merely a result of not getting enough healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in our diets because we fill ourselves up with sugar? Not according to one study that measured participants’ Healthy Eating Index. In this study, researchers examined how well participants’ diets matched up to federal dietary recommendations. The results showed that no matter how much healthy food a person ate, individuals who ate more sugar had a higher risk of cardiovascular mortality.

Federal guidelines still limit the amount of salt we eat and, although minimal, there is still evidence pointing to an association between salt intake and a slight risk of the development of CVD. However, there is strong evidence pointing toward the dangers of added sugar in our diets. For optimal hearth health and a decreased risk of the development of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends that you strive to keep your intake at 100 calories of added sugar (about 6 teaspoons) or less if you are a woman and 150 (about 9 teaspoons) per day if you are a man.  Contact your best Tucker, GA chiropractor if you want more information.