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Added Sugar in Diet Tied to Death Risk

Sugar can be 'hidden' in savory foods as well as desserts and soda, experts note

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Previous research has focused exclusively on the health effects of sugary beverages, Yang said. For the new study, the research team decided to look at how the total amount of added sugar in the American diet can affect the risk of heart-related death.

Recommendations for added sugar consumption vary, and there is no universally accepted threshold for unhealthy levels.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugar make up less than 25 percent of total calories, the World Health Organization recommends less than 10 percent and the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men, according to background information included in the study.

The researchers used national health survey data to review consumption of added sugar. They found that added sugar made up an average of 14.9 percent of daily calories in the American diet from 2005 to 2010, down from 15.7 percent from 1988 to 1994 and 16.8 percent from 1999 to 2004.

Nearly three of four adults consumed 10 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar, while about 10 percent of adults consumed a quarter or more of their calories from added sugar in the latest study years.

The researchers then compared data on sugar consumption with data on death from heart disease.

The risk of heart-related death increases 18 percent with the average American diet that receives about 15 percent of daily calories from added sugar, compared to diets containing little to no added sugar, the study authors found.

The risk is 38 percent higher for people who receive 17 percent to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar, and more than double for people who get more than 21 percent of their daily diet from added sugar, Yang said.

Although the study found that eating more food with added sugar was tied to a higher risk of heart-related death, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The Corn Refiners Association, which represents the manufacturers of one popular form of added sugar, fructose, said it had no comment on the study.

Commentary author Schmidt said added sugar could be increasing heart attack risk by disrupting a person's hormone system, throwing their metabolism out of whack.

By comparison, foods that are naturally rich in sugar -- such as fruit -- also contain lots of fiber and other nutrients, which reduces the impact the sugar has on the body, said Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and chairwoman of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee.

To avoid added sugar, read Nutrition Facts and ingredients labels carefully, Johnson said. Look out for ingredients that end in -ose, such as fructose or sucrose, as well as any type of syrup, she said.

"Brown rice syrup sounds really healthy, but it's actually a sugar," Johnson said.

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