Blood Pressure — Reducing Sugar Likely More Helpful Than Salt Restriction

Reducing sugar intake may be more important for preventing and controlling high blood pressure than restricting sodium, according to a recently published article. Authors DiNicolantonio & Lucan point out that average reductions in blood pressure achieved by salt restriction tend to be small, while higher sugar intake significantly increases blood pressure. They also note that reduction of sodium content of processed foods has likely contributed to greater sugar intake, as folks increase consumption of lower-sodium foods to meet their unchanged physiologic drive to consume sodium.

Most (77%) sodium in the US diet comes from processed and prepared foods, with only 6% added while eating and another 5% added while cooking. And since processed foods are also a major source of added sugars, cutting back on processed foods is an important strategy to reduce intake of both sodium and sugar.

The article goes on to point out that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and those who consume 25% or more calories from added sugar have an almost threefold increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease. While it’s difficult to imagine consuming that much added sugar, it turns out that one out every 10 American adults does consume this amount of added sugar according to USDA statistics.

To help visualize this, you can translate sugar into teaspoons. Average consumption of added sugar in the US is roughly 24-47 teaspoons (or ½ to one cup) a day! Someone consuming one-quarter of their 2000 daily calories from sugar would be ingesting about 31 teaspoons/day (or about 2/3 cup sugar). Much of this added sugar comes from beverages, and even from beverages promoted as healthy choices (see chart below).

Food ProductOzTsp Sugar
Cola beverage2016
Cola beverage1210
Red Bull Energy Drink87
Coffee drink (flavored), venti2020
Coffee drink (flavored), grande1616
Coffee drink (flavored), tall1212
Jamba Juice Mango1616
Naked Green Machine1514
Fuze Refresh Strawberry Guava1811
Vitamin Water Defense208
Snapple Mango Green Tea168

To translate the sugar listed on a food label into teaspoons, just divide the total grams of sugar by 4. You might be surprised to see how much sugar there is in processed food products.

So to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, enjoy unprocessed foods more often and minimize or avoid sweetened beverages. Replacing processed foods with fresh vegetables and fruits is especially helpful, because they are naturally low in sodium and rich in potassium, which helps relax blood vessel walls and thus lower blood pressure. One way to enjoy a variety of fresh vegetables is to serve them with Avocado & Yogurt Dip with Cilantro – you and your guests will be surprised how satisfying healthy food can be!

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