Sugar – “Sweet” Star or Villain?
Salt – especially the refined table salt variety – has been considered for decades to be the ‘Villain in the Plot’ when it came to food additives and flavourings which had an adverse affect on blood pressure and the cardiovascular system as a whole.
But now the pendulum is starting to swing in another direction, and towards another common food additive, which is fast being tagged as not only the cause of increasing obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but also the direct cause of high blood pressure itself.
Yes, I am referring to the lowly monosaccharide or disaccharide molecule, more familiarly known as SUGAR!
The Many Faces of Sugar
In today’s diet Sugar can come in many shapes and forms. There are the so called simple sugars (Monosaccharides) such as the Fructose found in fruits, some vegetables, honey and cane sugar and Glucose found naturally in fruit and plant juices.
Then there are the compound sugars (Disaccharides) represented by Sucrose*, Lactose and Maltose – from sugar cane and sugar beet, milk and grains respectively. (* Sucrose is actually formed by a combination of a molecule of fructose and a molecule of glucose)
And then there are a whole bunch of other sugar-derived products used by the food industry including, but not limited to, granulated sugar, liquid sugar and syrups, molasses and invert sugars, as well as alcohol derived sugars, and even of course the whole gamut of chemically produced sugars called artificial sweeteners.
If you go to the grocery store you will be very hard pressed to find an item, particularly in the processed and packaged food aisles, which does not include one form of sugar or another.
Check out the video below to see what I mean.
video courtesy Daily Mail
Even the vegetables the mother finds in the store come with their own sources of sugar, but at least it is natural and digests much more slowly due to the soluble fibre content of the veggies.
So, Does Sugar Raise Blood Pressure?
Can sugar affect blood pressure? What do the research and studies say about this. Well, in a word –
There is a growing body of evidence – from studies conducted and from research – that in actuality Sugar has a more harmful effect on blood pressure than Salt.
In a 2014 review and statistical analysis of the results of all the international scientific studies (published in English in journals between 1965 and 2013) which looked at the difference in impact between high sugar consumption and low sugar consumption on blood pressure and cholesterol, a group of researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago discovered that a high sugar diet does indeed play a role in cardiovascular risk.
As Dr Te Morenga, one of the research fellows conducting the analysis, commented:
“our latest study did find significant effects of sugars on lipids and blood pressure among these types of energy-controlled studies.”
And she went on to add something which is rather interesting:
“In subgroup analyses we showed that by excluding the trials funded by the food/sugar industry, we found larger effects of sugar on lipids and blood pressure.”
The inference here is that those trial actually funded by the Food/Sugar Industry were much less likely to find any significant relationship between a sugar-rich diet and health issues – for obvious reasons!
How does sugar actually raise blood pressure?
The mechanism by which sugar consumption affects blood pressure is not entirely clear yet. However, it has been suggested by some researchers that high levels of sugar have an effect on the Hypothalamus which in turn causes heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise. Additionally the effect of sugar on insulin production in the body also comes into play here:
“Consuming sugar increases insulin levels, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate and blood pressure,” James J. DiNicolantonio, lead author of the study and a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
Further, according to Dr DiNicolantonio;
“Sugar also depletes the molecule ATP [adenosine triphosphate], which in turn, reduces nitric oxide — our most potent vasodilator in the body. This increases blood pressure, and increases the formation of methylglyoxal, which vasoconstricts our blood vessels, increasing blood pressure.”
So, the overall conclusion about sugar consumption certainly becomes clear in this research. It causes a whole host of problems for the body as soon as we try to break it down and metabolize it!! And raising blood pressure in just one of those side effects.
What to do?
Sugar is around us everywhere the food we eat and in the beverages we drink! What are we supposed to do?
Well, we do have more control over this than perhaps we might imagine. Here are a few suggestions to help reduce sugar’s impact on the body.
- Avoid as much as possible all processed and packaged foods, fast foods and sugary drinks such such as sodas, and diet sodas. Processed foods have very high levels of sugar in them and in some very harmful forms, such as high fructose corn syrup. And artificial sweeteners contain harmful chemicals which are no better for your body!
- Try to avoid drinking a lot of fruit juice, rather opting for vegetable juices, or preferably make your own smoothies. This way the fruit or vegetable fibre content is also present in the drink which then helps to mediate the effect of sugar absorption so the body can better deal with it.
- Eat more of the healthy carbohydrates, the ones which convert to sugar more slowly such as fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes (lentils and beans).
- Manage your sweet and dessert cravings by eating fresh fruit. Strawberries in particular are good for this, as they are low in carbs and have a minimal effect on raising blood sugar levels.
- Make sure you are drinking enough good quality (filtered) water each day (6 to 8 cups) in lieu of other drinks, many of which contain high levels of sugar, including alcohol. Additionally, the diuretic effect of sugary sodas containing caffeine can play a role in negatively impacting blood pressure – as, too, can diuretic medications actually used to control blood pressure.
- Choose sweeteners which are generally considered to be the least detrimental. Yes, there are a few available such as Stevia, Xylitol, Erythritol and Yacon Syrup. For more details on these, click here
So, to conclude this review of the effects of sugar on blood pressure, I put Sugar firmly in the role of Villain in the plot!!
I hope this article provided you with some interesting and informative insights. Please feel free to leave some feedback below if you would like to comment on this post.