What connection is there between food and drink with added sugar and coronary artery disease?
Until recently, the question had been inadequately answered by research, but an extensive study from Lund University in Sweden has now contributed important clues.
The study focuses on sucrose, a common type of sugar.
Sucrose occurs naturally in fruit and vegetables, but the majority of our consumption is through added sucrose.
Besides sweetened beverages, cakes and sweets, sucrose is added to many ordinary foods, such as dairy products, bread and jam. In Sweden, sucrose is the most common form of added sugar.
The study does not establish a causal link between the amount of sucrose and coronary artery disease.
But in order to reduce the risk of erroneous conclusions, the results have been adjusted for factors traditionally associated with cardiovascular disease.
These include lifestyle, such as smoking, alcohol and exercise habits.
Dietary consumption was also analyzed and adjustments made for foods which are seen as linked to cardiovascular risk, such as meat, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and coffee.
The basis for the research is a large population study, the Malmö Diet and Cancer Cohort Study, in which participants underwent health checks, answered questions on lifestyle and kept a food diary for a limited period of time.
Follow-up was conducted for an average of 17 years, on a total of just over 26,000 participants with no known diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Are there reasons to change the general dietary recommendations on the basis of the current findings?
“No, in my opinion there is currently very little to indicate that the prevalence of myocardial infarctions or other serious heart disease would be reduced if those who already follow the recommendations were to further limit their sugar intake.”
“However, it could be advisable to think about how to reach those whose consumption exceeds the current recommended level, and above all the major consumers of sweetened foods and drinks, through targeted initiatives.”
How high is sugar consumption in Sweden today?
“There are previous studies which show that 40% of the population consumes too much sugar, of which the majority have a slight overconsumption. There are also signs that the upward trend in sugar consumption has levelled off.”
The research team at Lund University will continue to investigate sugar and cardiovascular disease, including studies focusing on other diagnoses.
Citation: Warfa K, et al. (2016). Association between sucrose intake and acute coronary event risk and effect modification by lifestyle factors: Malmö Diet and Cancer Cohort Study. British Journal of Nutrition, published online. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114516003561.
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