Are doughnuts, cakes, and ice cream on your preferred “treats” list? While the occasional sweet can be part of a balanced diet (and part of your cheat meal or cheat day), keeping sugar intake to a conservative amount is better for your overall health–even if you’re at a normal weight. Your sugar habit might not show up on waistline, but it can go straight to your heart.

The American Journal of Nutrition states that those who consume a sugar-laden diet have a higher risk of dying of cardiovascular heart disease regardless of weight. You no longer have to be overweight or obese to be at high risk for a heart attack. A diet high in sugar also raises your triglycerides (the main ingredient in body fat) and increases the amount of LDLs or bad cholesterol (low density lipoproteins). Next, your liver dumps the artery damaging fats into your blood stream, which can cause high blood pressure and unnecessary stress on the heart. Over time atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) ensues and pieces of hard plaque can break off and block off blood flow leading to the heart and brain (stroke). 

High blood sugar levels impair your HDLs (good cholesterol) from getting rid of unwanted cholesterol in your blood vessels, according to Robert Zembroski M.D., Specialist in Functional Medicine. When this cholesterol remains in your blood vessels over time inflammation, atherosclerosis, and blockages occur and effect blood flow to your heart.

The Journal of the American Medical Association did a 15-year study where participants consumed 25% or more of their daily calories from sugar. The participants had double the risk of dying of a heart attack than those participants who consumed less than 10% of their calories from sugar. The study showed that individuals who consume a diet higher in sugar are much more susceptible to having cardiovascular disease and/or high blood pressure regardless of the individuals weight, BMI (body mass index), sex or activity level. 

It’s no wonder that most Americans fall victim to over consumption of sugar. With so many drinks, lattes, smoothies (most are riddled with sugar), sodas, sports drinks and juices to name a few, point being it’s hard to avoid. Then you factor in ice cream, frozen yogurt, cookies, cakes and crackers (yes, crackers contain high fructose corn syrup) and don’t forget sugar laden cereals and flavored oatmeal. Most are well beyond their daily intake before the day is even half over!  This cycle for most continues day after day, year after year. Do you see the problem with this over time? Sugar is in almost everything we consume. It’s one main reason that you must learn to read labels and know exactly what you are putting into your body.

How much is a safe amount?

Your overall diet shouldn’t contain more than 15% of added sugar. For a woman that’s the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar (100 calories). There are about 16 calories in one teaspoon of sugar.  For a man the limit is 9 teaspoons resulting in about 150 calories. A 12oz can of soda has 9 teaspoons. If you’re a woman and you drink more than one can of soda a day you are already over your limit not even factoring in sugar from other sources like cookies, crackers or perhaps your morning cereal. One startling fact is that most of us consume up to 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, every day!

Read on for tips on how not to become the next cardiac statistic, and where to shave some sugar from your diet. 

SEE ALSO: Cardio Training and Your Heart


Limit or cut out completely sugary drinks.

Try adding a little cranberry juice to flavored seltzer to aid in cutting back on soda. Add sliced lemon, cucumber or mint to your water for added flavor.

Drink teas and coffees unsweetened.

Herbal berry flavored teas hot or iced are naturally sweet without added sugar. If you must have a little sweet in your morning cup of Joe slowly cut back on your added sugar or try a little stevia.

Eat fruit, not junk.

Consume a variety of fruits daily for the sweet taste while also adding fiber, vitamins and minerals. While fruit does contain sugar (fructose) it also has fiber. “The fiber in fruit slows down the absorption of the fructose in the gut,” says Dr. Zembroski.  If you prefer to juice he suggests using more vegetables and less fruit. Try fresh berries after dinner with a little organic coconut cream on top to give it that dessert flavor.

Take your hand out of the cookie jar.

Limit cakes, cookies and sugary treats as much as possible. Once you can break the habit you will feel better and may notice that your weight drops as well. Don’t keep these processed foods in the house to avoid over consumption.

SEE ALSO: Skip the Sugar

Indulge wisely.

Enjoy dark chocolate and get some health benefits as well. A 1-ounce square of 70-85% cacao dark chocolate has 170 calories and 7 grams of sugar (28 calories worth).

Read labels carefully.

This is extremely important. There are so many hidden sugars not to mention high fructose corn syrup in most cookies, cakes, ice cream and crackers.  An informed consumer is a healthy consumer.

Moderation is key.

You don’t have to avoid foods you enjoy and endure a life of deprivation. That will make you miserable and may even cause you to overindulge. If you can learn to enjoy sweet treats in moderation say once or twice a week along with an exercise program and clean eating regime you will be fine. Eating treats is about finding the balance. You can have your cake and eat it too (while keeping your heart healthy) if you practice these tips.