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New study targets free sugar for higher risk of heart disease, stroke

A new study provides more evidence that diets high in free sugars, found in sodas and processed foods, can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. File photo by Nica444/pixabay
A new study provides more evidence that diets high in free sugars, found in sodas and processed foods, can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. File photo by Nica444/pixabay

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A new study provides more evidence that diets high in free sugars, found in processed foods and sodas, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine on Tuesday, found total carbohydrate intake was not associated with cardiovascular disease, but that free sugar intake was specifically linked to a greater risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke. The more free sugars consumed, the bigger the risk, researchers concluded.

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Free sugar is found in processed foods, table sugar, cookies, candy, fruit juice and sodas, as opposed to natural sugars found in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.

The most common forms of free sugars consumed during the study included cookies, pastries and scones, as well as fruit juice and sugar-sweetened drinks, according to one of the study's authors, Cody Watling, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford who said when it comes to free sugar, "a glass of fruit juice is the same thing as Coke."

The study tracked the eating habits for nine years of more than 110,000 people in Britain. Researchers followed the health and diets of participants, between the ages of 37 and 73, using data from the UK Biobank.

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Researchers concluded that each 5% increase in free sugar intake in a participant's daily diet resulted in a 6% higher risk of heart disease and a 10% higher risk of stroke.

While the U.S. recommends added sugars be kept below 10% of daily calories, those with the highest risk of heart disease or stroke in the study consumed 18% of their daily diet in free sugars, according to Watling.

"Added sugars are often found in processed foods, which have little nutritional value and may lead to overeating and excess calorie intake, which in turn leads to obesity, a well-established risk factor for heart disease," Brooke Aggarwal, assistant professor of medical sciences in the cardiology division at Columbia University Irving Medical Center who was not involved in the study, told CNN.

As the study confirmed all carbohydrates are not created equal, researchers also found consuming more fiber lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease. Five grams of fiber a day were found to be associated with a 4% lower risk of heart disease or stroke, according to the study.

"What's really important for overall general health and well-being is that we're consuming carbohydrates that are rich in whole grains," Watling said.

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And "minimizing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as any kind of confectionary products that have added sugars."

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