We already know that sugar wreaks havoc on your teeth, and isn’t doing anything to help your risk of diabetes. But, did you know that too much sugar can increase your blood pressure, cholesterol and strain your heart muscle?

Although the World Health Organization recommends that adults and children consume only 5% of their daily calories in sugar, they admit that for most of us it may be more realistic to be closer to 10%. Keep in mind that 5% is about 25 grams of sugar for most adults (6-7 teaspoons). To put this into perspective, one can of pop has about 10 teaspoons of sugar!

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar per day. That works out to 40 kilograms per year – or 20 bags! (Note: we’re talking about added sugar, not the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit).

So, what does this mean for your heart? The problem with sugar is that it contributes to inflammation of the arterial walls. What’s worse, is that excessive sugar consumption can also cause weight gain. Weight gain, combined with sustained high insulin levels, can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes – which further increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Here are 5 tips to help you reduce your sugar intake and keep your heart healthy:

1. Read food labels

By reading food labels, you will realize how often sugar is added to foods. Even things that you don’t think are sweet – like tomato sauce, crackers, condiments, and salad dressings – can be packed with sugar. So, the next you go grocery shopping, take a look at food labels and opt for low sugar foods.

2. Learn sugar’s aliases

When you read food labels, you’ll need to look for more than just the word “sugar”. Sugar hides under several names, including high fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, invert sugar, molasses, sucrose, brown rice syrup, and others. Many foods, even seemingly healthy ones like yogurt and cereal, may contain three or four different types of sweeteners. If several sugars appear on the label, it’s a good indication that the food is less healthy than you may think.

3. Buy unsweetened whenever possible

Once you know where sugar hides, you can start making better food choices. One strategy is to buy foods labeled “no added sugar” or “unsweetened.” You’ll find unsweetened versions of these common foods in most grocery stores such as non-dairy milk like almond and oat, nut butters (look for those made with only nuts and salt), applesauce, oatmeal, and canned fruit.

4. Swap out pop and juice with water

When it comes to juice, a piece of fruit is a better choice than juice due to the higher fibre content in fruit. Remember, water is always the best choice if you’re thirsty!

5. Don’t go cold turkey

Going cold turkey on sugar isn’t realistic for most people, so try to cut back slowly. If you normally put two packets of sugar in your coffee, for instance, try one for a week, then half, and finally add only a splash of milk. For yogurt, mix half a serving of sweetened yogurt with half a serving of plain, and eventually move on to adding natural sweetness with fresh fruit.

Prevention is key – book your virtual healthcare appointment today

Take the Heart and Stroke Risk Assessment to find out if you’re at risk of heart disease and stroke and how you can take action to live a longer and fuller life. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise or diet program.

If you would like to speak with a medical professional about your healthcare needs, head to https://tuliphealth.ca/talk-to-a-doc. Tulip Health is a virtual walk-in clinic that provides non-emergency related healthcare. It’s easy to use and it’s covered by OHIP. To book an appointment, visit www.tuliphealth.ca