In my last article for US Wellness Meats, I discussed the natural sweetener erythritol, and why it is the premier sweetener for people who are sensitive to FODMAPs, have IBS, or suffer from gut dysbiosis.
Today, I’ll show you why consuming sugar (from any source!) is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease… and why erythritol is not only the safest sweetener to use (but how it can actually help promote cardiovascular health).
Sugar: The Real Cause of Heart Disease
Sugar: It’s delicious…. addictive…. and deadly.
Fifty years ago, the biggest lie in the history of nutrition was told to the American public. In the 1960s, an organization (currently known as the Sugar Association) paid Harvard researchers to conduct a review of studies on the causes of heart disease.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with an industry group paying for research. But in this case, documents published in JAMA Internal Medicine now prove that the sugar industry cherry picked the studies and told researchers the conclusions to draw.
The researchers confirmed they were “well aware” of the stipulations and received $50,000 (in today’s dollars) for the study.[i] And what did the sugar industry get for their funding?
A prestigious Harvard study, published in New England Journal of Medicine, placing the blame for heart disease on saturated fat and cholesterol… while exonerating links to sugar.
And so began an era where sugar was positioned as little more than “empty calories.” High-sugar foods like breakfast cereal got the Heart Association Seal of Approval… while farm-fresh eggs, butter, cheese and beef were demonized.
According to the USDA, annual consumption of fructose rose 1,000% in the years after this study![ii]
But the truth is that sugar – NOT saturated fat – is a primary cause of heart disease.
Let’s take a look at the research…
Sugar Boost Triglycerides
Triglycerides are a form of fat found in your blood. They’re also a critical measure of cardiovascular health. A study published in Circulation shows high triglycerides can increase heart disease risk by 61%.[iii]
And nothing raises triglycerides more than fructose…
Fructose is the predominant sugar found in fruit, where it comes in small amounts and bound in fiber (which slows the release into your system). Consumed sparingly, in this evolutionary context, fructose does not cause too many problems.
But we no longer consume this sugar “sparingly.” Fructose is found in high concentrations in honey, agave, maple syrup and of course, corn syrup. It also makes up half of the sugar in any product that lists “sugar” in the ingredients (with the remainder as glucose).
So, what makes fructose so dangerous (especially to your heart)?
When fructose is metabolized in the liver, triglycerides are one of the main byproducts. This is why triglycerides soar on fructose… and it can happen FAST!
- A study of healthy medical students showed a high-fructose diet caused triglycerides to double in just six days![iv]
And fructose not only increases your production of triglycerides… it also impairs your ability to remove them from your system. This was evidenced in a study published in the American Journal of Physiology. It showed that when rats were fed a fructose-rich diet, their triglyceride production increased 20%. But due to impaired clearance, this relatively modest increase in production resulted in blood levels SIX TIMES higher than baseline![v]
And there’s another way eating sugar harms your heart…
Sugar Creates Massive Free Radical Damage
Cellular damage caused by free radicals is a critical contributor to EVERY chronic disease… from cataracts to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s… and of course, heart disease.
And take a look at how consuming sugar impacts the formation of free radicals in your body:
Researchers at Kobe University examined the roles of fructose and glucose in the production of free radicals. When the scientists introduced glucose, free radicals increased 568%. That is bad enough… and a very good reason to consume less sugar!
But it’s not nearly as bad as the results they recorded on fructose. In fact, when the researchers introduced fructose, the same free radicals increased 4,704%![vi][vii]
Given these results, it should be no surprise that the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed 17-times higher oxidized cholesterol levels from fructose, compared to glucose![viii] And while cholesterol itself is essential and healthy… once it becomes oxidized, it is a significant menace to your cardiovascular system.
And speaking of cholesterol…
Sugar Elevates “Heart Attack Particles”
Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap, when it comes to heart disease.
The truth is that cholesterol is vital. It helps form the membranes around every cell and every inch of nerves in your body. And it’s required to produce a range of critical hormones. You NEED cholesterol!
But of course, not all cholesterol is beneficial…
One particularly dangerous kind is very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). These compounds are so tiny, they can lodge under the cell walls of your arteries, causing inflammation, plaque… and heart disease.
And fructose provides the building blocks for these deadly particles.[ix][x][xi]
Take a look:
- A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of a high-fructose diet on healthy males. The researchers recorded an average 72% VLDL increase in one month![xii]
- Or consider Apo-B, which is even smaller and more dangerous. A UC Davis study showed that fructose raised Apo-B levels 807% higher than glucose![xiii][xiv][xv]
Now that we’ve discussed oxidized cholesterol and triglycerides, what about blood pressure – another key element in the development of heart disease?
Average Sugar Consumption Elevates Blood Pressure to “Extreme” Levels
Nearly one-third of adults suffer high blood pressure. And while most doctors urge you to cut salt, they should say… “Watch the sugar!”
A review of studies in Open Heart shows that dietary sugar is more strongly associated with high blood pressure than sodium. And fructose deserves much of the blame.[xvi]
A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology showed that subjects who consumed 74 grams of fructose (the average daily consumption for an adolescent) had 77% greater risk for “extreme” high blood pressure![xvii]
So, don’t believe the decades of lies about saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. These essential compounds do not cause heart disease. The primary risk factor is sugar.
And with that, let’s discuss a healthy sweetener that actually supports good cardiovascular health.
Erythritol: The “Almost Sugar” that Acts as a Heart-Protecting Antioxidant!
Avoiding sugar is vital to the health of your heart (not to mention your brain and reducing risk of cancer, diabetes and more).
But, what about satisfying your sweet tooth? Does being healthy mean you have to forego the cookies, cakes and desserts you love to bake, savor, and celebrate with?
Thanks to erythritol – you can have your cake… and keep your heart healthy too!
And while the name might sound a bit “scientific” erythritol is actually a natural sweetener that is well recognized by your body. Not only are small amounts actually produced in the bodies of mammals, erythritol is also found in a wide variety of foods (like pears, grapes, mushrooms, wine, sake, watermelon and more).
Commercially available erythritol comes as a white, granular powder that can be used as a cup-for-cup replacement for sugar in all of your favorite recipes. It tastes very similar to sugar… except it has a glycemic index of zero and no calories. It also performs very similar to sugar in most baking recipes.
Better yet, research shows that erythritol has “strong antioxidant activity.” In fact, a recent study published in the journal Nutrition found that erythritol guarded against free radical damage in cells. It also helped protect against the vascular damage that occurs in diabetes.[xviii]
The researchers state that:
“The protective effects of erythritol need not be restricted to diabetes. Its unique free radical scavenging properties could be beneficial in other chronic disorders in which oxygen radicals are responsible for tissue damage.”
So, unlike sugar, which sends free radicals soaring hundreds of times over and causes extreme oxidative damage… erythritol is a sweetener that can actually protect cells from the ravages of free radicals!
When it comes to the health of your heart (and your body!), enjoy the fat-focused, low-sugar diet of our ancestors. Feast on juicy grass-fed ribeyes, bison burgers and pork belly… organic seasonal vegetables… wild seafood and bone broth.
And when the craving strikes for a sweet treat, satisfy your sweet tooth with a grain-free, low-sugar dessert sweetened with antioxidant-rich erythritol!
ED NOTE: Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more.
Kelley’s academic background is in biology and chemistry and for the last 15+ years, she has focused on the study of nutritional biochemistry…and the proven powers of compounds in foods to heal the body.
[ii] Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:537–543.
[iii] Gaizano et al. Triglycerides and coronary disease. Circulation. 1997;96:2520-2525
[v] Kazumi T, Vranic M, Steiner G. Triglyceride kinetics: effects of dietary glucose, sucrose, or fructose alone or with hyperinsulinemia. Am J Physiol. 1986 Mar;250(3 Pt 1):E325-30.
[vi] Sakai, M. Oimomi M. Experimental Studies on the Role of Fructose in the Development of Diabetic Complications. Kobe J. Med. Sci., Vol. 48, No. 5 pp. 125-136, 2002
[vii] Dicarbomyl free radical formation: Glucose: 568% | Fructose: 4,704% — Hydroxyl free radical formation: Glucose: 167% | Fructose: 2,230% | 568+167 / 2 = 368 | 4,704 + 2,230 /2 = 3467
[viii] https://www.jci.org/articles/view/37385/table/4 Fasting Oxidized LDL | glucose 0.7% | fructose 12.8% | 1,728% increase
[ix] Schaefer EJ. Lipoproteins, nutrition, and heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Feb; 75(2):191-212
[x] Schaefer EJ, Asztalos BF. Cholesteryl ester transfer protein inhibition, high-density lipoprotein metabolism and heart disease risk reduction. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2006 Aug; 17(4):394-8.
[xi] V. Thirunavukkarasu, A. T. Anitha Nandhini, and C. V. Anuradha, Effect of -Lipoic Acid on Lipid Profile in Rats Fed a High-Fructose Diet, Experimental Diabesity Research, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 195-200, 2004. doi:10.1080/15438600490486778
[xii] Lê KA, Faeh D, Stettler R, Ith M, Kreis R, Vermathen P, Boesch C, Ravussin E, Tappy LA 4-wk high-fructose diet alters lipid metabolism without affecting insulin sensitivity or ectopic lipids in healthy humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Dec; 84(6):1374-9.
[xiii] Stanhope K. et al. Consumption of Fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup Increase Postprandial Triglycerides, LDL-Cholesterol, and Apolipoprotein-B in Young Men and Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 10, 1 October 2011, Pages E1596–E1605, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1251
[xiv] Lamarche B1, Moorjani S, Lupien PJ, Cantin B, Bernard PM, Dagenais GR, Després JP.Apolipoprotein A-I and B levels and the risk of ischemic heart disease during a five-year follow-up of men in the Québec cardiovascular study.Circulation. 1996 Aug 1;94(3):273-8.
[xv] Whites Seth S. Martin et al. Diabetes. Apolipoprotein B but not LDL Cholesterol Is Associated With Coronary Artery Calcification in Type 2 Diabetic Diabetes August 2009 vol. 58 no. 8 1887-1892 doi: 10.2337/db08-1794
[xvi] DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC. The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease Open Heart 2014;1:e000167. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2014-000167
[xvii] Jalal DI, Smits G, Johnson RJ, Chonchol M. Increased Fructose Associates with Elevated Blood Pressure. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology : JASN. 2010;21(9):1543-1549. doi:10.1681/ASN.2009111111.