Heart Disease is a Sugar Disease

heart disease sugar disease

If you have been following conventional advice, then you’ve been told to avoid fats to prevent heart disease. Turns out if you want to maintain a healthy vascular system and prevent heart disease, sugar is the target you want to seek out and eliminate.

Research has found people who get at least 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugars of any kind were more than three times more likely to have low levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol in their bloodstream, a risk factor for heart disease, than people who got less than 5 percent of their calories from sweeteners. The high sugar consumers were also found to have higher triglycerides than normal, another risk factor for heart disease.

For a person who eats 2,000 calories a day, 25 percent is 500 calories, or 125 grams of sugar. To give you an idea, a medium white chocolate mocha has about 60 grams of sugar while a pecan roll has about 50. And that’s just breakfast. While most people worry about added weight from excess sugar, they should also consider their risk of heart disease.

Metabolic syndrome from sugar raises heart disease risk

Researchers turned their microscopes on sugar when it became clear during the explosion of obesity and diabetes over the last 20 to 30 years that metabolic syndrome is the leading risk factor for heart disease.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition brought on by a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates that eventually causes insulin resistance. Eating a diet high in sugars and starchy carbs—pastas, pastries, breads—causes your body to pump out high amounts of insulin. Eventually the body’s cells, overwhelmed by the demands of insulin, become insulin resistant. Also, the pancreas becomes overwhelmed by pumping out so much insulin and becomes exhausted. As a result, blood sugar levels skyrocket. Many people with insulin resistance go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.

It’s the chronically high insulin and blood sugar levels that are so hard on the vascular system and increase the risk of heart disease precipitously. In addition to increased belly fat, metabolic syndrome also brings with it high triglycerides (fats circulating in the bloodstream), high blood pressure, lower HDL (the good cholesterol) and higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, high inflammation, and a long list of other chronic health conditions. If scientists want to induce metabolic syndrome in lab animals, they simply feed them a diet high in sugar. Even when sugar comprises just 20 percent of calories it induces insulin resistance.

In humans, regularly consuming soft drinks, sweetened juices and bakery products are sufficient to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Junk fats, such as processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils—fries, chips, and processed foods made with trans fats and soybean oils—fuel the damage to the body.

How sugar damages arteries

Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease because high levels of sugar circulating in the bloodstream inflames and damages the lining of the arteries. The body uses cholesterol to patch the damaged areas contributing to the formation of plaque within the arteries—a process known as “atherosclerosis.” Although an effective short-term fix, this eventually leads to the creation of artery-clogging plaque, and drives up the risk of a heart attack.

How much sugar should you eat

The answer is fairy straightforward, none. The human body operates wonderfully on carbohydrates derived from fresh vegetables and fruit. However, the American Heart Association suggests no more than 5 percent of calories come from sugar. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 24 grams, or the equivalent of six teaspoons.

To put it in perspective, a can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar; a regular size frozen yogurt has 40 grams; a 16 ounce mocha drink with whipped cream has 47 grams; a bag of Skittles has 47 grams; 8 ounces of bottled ice tea has 23 grams; and a Clif Bar has 21 grams. It is very easy to quickly exceed the limits of sugar consumption that increase your risk of heart disease.

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  • Alexander Rinehart,

    We're recovering from. the low-fat craze, which really was about reducing saturated fats. It forgot a few things. Saturated fats are made up of short, medium and long chain saturated fats which each have unique metabolic pathways (oops to everyone lumping saturated fats together). In fact, short and medicum chain fats bypass cholesterol, travel straight to portal vein where they are burned like carbs in the liver or recycled, re-enter liver and burned like carbs anyway (hm no wonder endurance people like these fats).

    The other issue is that it's not the fats that are bad, it's rancid or oxidized fats. How do you make a fat rancid or oxidize, well you process it and expose it to heat/light, or you combine other free radical stresses from say…sugar, hence this article. So high fat diet + high sugar diet + sedentary living = heart disease. Fat alone may actually be protective, especially saturated fats, because they are inherently stable.

    And when you look at the medium chain saturated fatty acids and their monoglycerides they are remarkably (and selectively) anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. Maybe that's why they're so prevalent in mother's milk which helps support infant immunity while maintaining the 700 species of healthy bacteria found in breastmilk.

    Awesome stuff, thanks for the article.

  • Raymond

    All this is fine, but questions still remain for me. What constitutes good carbs vs bad carbs? Obviously raw vegetables are good carbs, and to an overwhelming extent, so are raw fruits. but what about dried fruits? what about vegetables like peas? potatoes? beans? as for grain products, what about quaker oats, i mean, the kind where oats is the sole ingrediant from which one can make oatmeal? what about those high fiber nutrition bars, such as Fiber One? what about unflavored, plain yogurt or other unflavored dairy products? What about dark chocolate? My overall point here, is that even if i accept the idea that bad carbs are the culprit, I still need to know precisely which are the good carbs, and which are the bad ones to be avoided.

    • Yvonne

      The answer is simple, eat whole foods. Most processing should be done in your own kitchen cooking. If it comes in a box or a package, avoid it. There are a few exceptions, like coconut oil, But its a good rule of thumb. All grain is processed so bread is out, oatmeal is out.

    • Elizabeth

      Raymond, some veg is better cooked so you don't have to worry about eating all your veg raw. I'm not sure about dried fruit, but I'd say don't eat too much. I would think the drying would concentrate the sugars. Whole grains in moderation are better than processed of course. When I look at a nutrition bar I think candy bar. Look at the ingredients label. Chances are you'll see added sugar in some form. They are also entirely made of carb in many instances. Then the ones like Fiber One will be total crap and most certainly GMO. Keep searching as I do. You are asking good questions.

      • Raymond

        Thank you to all of you for your great answers, and even just for responding to me at all. I very much appreciate it. Let me say here that for me, this is not a theoretical question at all for me, nor a question of fine-tuning my diet. For one thing, I have been very overweight my entire adult life, now weighing in at 333 pounds. Fortunately I am tall with broad shoulders, but I am still 153 pounds overweight. My guess is that most of you cannot even imagine being that overweight. And this is not just a matter of looking better or feeling better about myself. My life is literally at stake. This past Friday, my doctor advised me to get a defibrilator installed into my chest, right next to my pacemaker already in there. But such surgery has the very high 18% risk of giving me a stroke. Meanwhile, I now have heart failure. This seems to largely be due to my having sleep apnea, which stops me from breathing when I sleep, which in turn deprives my brain and heart of much needed oxygen, which is destroying my heart. The doctor told me that my losing weight is no longer enough to solve my problems, but common sense tells me otherwise. It just seems to me that if I weighed 153 pounds less than I do, then all that extra fat preventing me from properly breathing when I sleep, would go away, giving my heart a chance to recover. This gives you some idea why I am asking these questions about added sugar.

        Getting back to that issue, please let me know if I finally understand this concept. Here is what it seems to boil down to. A diet with no added sugar, would consist of nothing but the following: for protein: meat, poultry, fish, unflavored dairy products, beans, and peas. for carbohydrates: raw fruits and intact vegetables. for fats: avocados, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils like olive oil. Am I finally getting this right?

    • Alex

      @Raymond, one of my favorites books on this is The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf… Easy to read and very informative. Best wishes!

  • Hans

    @Raymond: This is still an unanswered question. Some LCHF enthusiasts (including me) have totally taken out these kinds of carbs to feed entirely on above-ground veggies, combined with fat. For more info, check out Peter Attia's awesome blog, He and Gary Taubes has also started an initiative to actually perform the studies that are required to answer Your questions once and for all; NuSI ( They are raising funds from ordinary people and foundations without connection to the food industry, so that their studies can be performed without any "strings attached". If You are interested in these questions and have a couple of bucks to spare, consider donating to NuSI at their homepage.

  • Rebecca

    Avoid anything made by man, and eat only what Mother Nature provides. Those high fiber nutrition bars? just read the ingredients. Lots of added sugars and overly processed ingredients. Quaker oats? Again, overly processed, and all the good fiber removed to make it palatable and edible. Grains in their "whole" form are not exactly edible. Go grab a stalk of wheat and chew on that a while.

    It's easy to read food labels, but if you have to read a list of ingredients half an inch long, it's too much. Go back to basics. Start from scratch. If it comes in a shiny crinkly package, or you can just pop it in the microwave and wham bam thank you mam in 3 minutes you are eating dinner, don't eat it.

    • Debbie

      Raymond, I can imagine being that overweight. I am a 5'8" woman who has lost 100 pounds. I have more to lose. I do not have the same health issues you have but I had (have) my own. I have t2 diabetes and I had complications which I've reversed through eating low carb. I am not a strict rule following Paleo or Primal though I'm always tweaking and refining my diet and eliminating and trying to eat more clean. Wanting to eat more nutritious and clean food was a natural evolution as I regained my health. I've become more aware and want to do better for my body and see just how much better I can continue to feel. I guess I'm a Low Carb High Fat type person who dabbles in Paleo/Primal. I get recipe ideas, etc. I have to tailor Paleo and Primal to fit my needs and that usually means cutting carbs from the recipes.

      I don't eat any grain at all.

      I eat dairy but no milk (too many carbs). I have whipping cream, cheese, butter, full fat plain Greek yogurt.

      The only fruit I eat are berries and in small quantities. I'm talking 4 blackberries in my yogurt or 1/8 cup of blueberries. I have to keep the carbs down.

      I eat beef, chicken fish and eggs for protein.

      I eat low carb veg. Mostly broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, lettuce greens, green beans, minimal shredded carrot for color/texture, Brussels sprouts, celery, cucumber, yellow squash, pumpkin, spaghetti squash, etc.

      For fat I have olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocado, butter, cream cheese, and, yes, I eat commercial mayo.

      I do use Stevia for a sweetener. No honey for me. Too many carbs. I dabble in other artificially sweetened foods, too.

      I drink water and coffee and occasionally have tea.

      Like I said, I'm not a perfect Paleo or Primal person. I'm kind of doing the best I can and do continue to tweak and improve along the way. I'm not all grass fed beef and uncured meats but I'm starting to steer towards organic whipping cream and butter.

      I have the A1c of a normal, non-diabetic person. I do take meds but feel that diet is the number one factor in my control of my blood sugar. My cholesterol labs are all great. I have normal BP with no medication. I'm on two prescription meds for my diabetes. No other meds but I also take supplements and aspirin.

      Just keep reading and educating yourself. If weight loss is what you're after then carb restriction is key, IMO. Paleo isn't always low carb. It's a heck of a lot lower than the standard Western diet, however, I can't have all the fruit or honey and sweet potato, etc, and still lose weight.

      • Raymond

        Debbie, thank you for your answer. So sorry about your diabetic condition, but I am glad that you found a dietary way of curbing that condition. I myself have to worry about diabetes, both because I am a middle-aged, very obese man, and because it runs in my family. Last time I checked my blood sugar, it was 100, which is too high, but not too dangerous in itself.

        The diet you are following, sounds very much like the one I am now trying to follow with extra vigor. About the only thing about your diet that I might suggest, is to consider buying Canola mayonnaise instead of the regular kind. Canola mayonnaise is high in the much-needed omega 3 fatty acids. Then again, if you are not within driving distance of a health food store, it may be next to impossible to find.

        As for your avoiding both fruits and potatoes, I may try to also avoid those as well. Things can get mathematically complicated, but basically, within the permitted foods I listed above, I would only eat those foods that meet two conditions: the carbs to fiber ratio of any given serving food, should not exceed ten, and the calories to protein ratio should not exceed forty. In practice what this would mean for me, is to stay away from fruits, potatoes, and even unflavored dairy products. So all i would really be left to eat would be meat/poultry/fish/eggs, almost all intact vegetables, nuts, and using healthy oils such as olive oil for cooking. That is quite a strict diet, perhaps too strict to keep for any length of time, and so if I feel a craving for carbs that just will not go away, then at that point I might eat some raw fruits.

        btw, I also take two baby aspirins every day, a bunch of prescription heart medication, and a whole lot of vitamins/mineral supplements. I need to remember to drink much more water than I do. Late at night sometime last week, I suddenly and quickly drank four cups of water within about a minute. I slept very well that night. So maybe dehydration is a factor here as well.

        • Leaf Eating Carnivore

          @Raymond –

          I’m sorry to hear that you are having such troubles.

          My first reaction is that you should immediately begin looking for a Doc in who knows about treating hyperinsulinemea, Metabolic Syndrome, and Diabetes with carb restriction, and who knows enough to be looking out for possible thyroid issues. I’m not a Doc, but everything you have described sounds, at least in part, like the many of the consequences that usually arise from insulin resistance and high blood sugars.

          Conventional docs like to focus on weight as the causative factor for cardiovascular disease – and although it is a contributor to your plight, both hormonally and, as you guessed, mechanically, the ultimate cause may well include the same disordered carb metabolism that so many of us are fighting. This is not to say that you don’t have other stuff going on, either genetic, or otherwise, but it’s an obvious suspect.

          To the point, your BG is mostly OK, but have you had a fasting insulin level done? And a thyroid panel?

          But first I would urge you to get aggressive about finding a way to ameliorate your apnea – whatever it takes. At this point, it sounds like you are in a spiral, so until you address this facet you will probably have a hell of a time losing weight, and you absolutely risk having a further deterioration of your cardiac status. Apnea can, in fact, be a trigger for all the cascade of ills you describe.

          As far as sticking to the low-carb eating plan, I can only say that you have to decide what you really want: better health, or doughnuts and disease. And then do what you gotta do, and just firmly decide to be happy with it.

          My husband and I are both Low-Carb, going on 5 years now. Best thing we ever did. Trust me – with sufficient motivation (If I don’t do this, I’m gonna die, either quickly, or worse, by excruciating inches), you can get past the initial stage of “wanna chew your leg off” – 3 days to 2 weeks, while your enzymes adjust to burning fat instead of sugar. Then work to get rid of all of the habitual (and sometimes addictive) behaviors and cravings driven by your former diet. So focus hard enough on your fear to stop you from expanding back into crap.

          At some point you will suddenly realize how much better you feel, and how horrible you felt before, and that alone can keep you on the straight and narrow. Then you can fully realize that this is not really a deprivation diet – it’s a life-long way of eating and living that can give you an improved life and happiness as a matter of intentional choice.

          1. In addition to the other recommendations given by others, I suggest you read the following:

          a. ‘Protein Power & The Protein Power Lifeplan’ (Eades & Eades)
          b. ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ &/or the shorter ‘Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It’ (Taubes)
          c. ‘The Art And Science Of Low Carbohydrate Living’ (Volek,Phinney)
          d. ‘Eat Fat To Lose Fat’ & ‘Know Your Fats’ (Enig)
          e. ‘Wheat Belly’ (Davis)
          f. ‘The Rosedale Diet’
          g. ‘The Primal Blueprint’
          h. ‘Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution’ (R.K.Bernstein)
          i. ‘Slow Burn” (Hahn)

          Major bloggers I currently follow: Mike&Mary Dan Eades, Gary Taubes, William Davis, Mark Sisson, Peter Attia, Robb Wolf, Paul Jaminet, R.D. Feinman, Chris Kresser, Chris Masterjohn, Robb Wolf

          Note that there are some major disputes over the concept of “safe starches”, and that knowledge evolves, so reading a variety of materiel, blogs as well as books, frustrating and confusing though that might be, is a good way to determining what strategy works for you. Personally, I favour Very Low Carb/Moderate Protein/High Fat. So far, this makes the most sense to me.

          In any case, good luck. I hope you find your way, and make it happen.

          And BTW, taking CoQ10, especially as Ubiquinol, is a known treatment for heart failure, used especially abroad. It’s also a must if you have been saddled with statins, as they do deplete this very necessary molecule. You might want to consider adding a low-carb ND or alternative MD/DO to your team – someone with a good nutritional focus.

          • Raymond

            Thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote, and for answering me. For the last month or so, I have been trying to avoid something called Added Sugar. It means that I am allowed to eat carbohydrates, but it must come from foods that would exist even if people did not exist. This means that things like raw fruits, intact vegetables, nuts, seeds, and unflavored dairy products are okay, but not junk food, nor permissible foods that are put into another form…for example, carrots are allowed, but not carrot juice.

            unfortunately, when I finally weighed myself the other day, I found out that I had lost only two pounds on this diet. Two pounds is not even statistically significant. Other than cutting out dairy products, I am not sure what else can do to improve my diet. Basically, my diet now consists of meat/chicken/fish and intact vegetables for my meals, and raw fruits for snacks. I am not even sure that I can imagine a diet healthier than that. And yet I am as fat as ever, in fact 151 pounds overweight. Meanwhile, enormous pressure is being put on me to have a defibrilator installed into my chest, next to the pacemaker that is already there, because my heart is becoming weaker with each passing day.

          • Raymond

            Woops, I just responded to you, but forgot to mention that I take a whole lot of vitamins (for convenience’s sake, that is what I call any nutritional supplement that comes in pill form). one of the many such supplements I take is indeed Co-Enzyme-Q, and have done so for years. Same with Omega 3’s, and many other supplements.

          • Peggy Holloway

            For people with severe insulin resistance, a ketogenic diet is most likely the best way to go. (Sounds like that is what you and your husband are doing). I have been low-carb for 15 years and keep tweaking – past 3 years I have gone very-high-fat/ketogenic. I absolutely agree with your reading list! To that, may I add the new book released today “Keto Clarity.” I was honored to be a part of the project, although I am not an author or expert and do not receive any monetary gain by promoting the book! I was given an advance copy and highly recommend it.

  • FYI

    Too all commenters – check out a book called The Perfect Health Diet. It's basically a modified (tweaked and improved) version of Paleo. Best nutrition book I've ever read. Also check out the authors' blog @

  • Anne

    Great article and thread here! And indeed high cholesterol is actually driven by over consumption of carbohydrates – mostly from a SAD diet. I also have written about this if you care to see it

    But I wanted to comment on use of canola oil. Please do not consume canola oil as it is entirely unfit for human consumption and is genetically engineered. It is the wrong kind of fat the body cannot use. Canola oil is derived from rape seed. Rape is an oil that is used as a lubricant, fuel, soap and synthetic rubber base and as a illuminate for color pages in magazines. It is an industrial oil. This oil is not fit for human consumption.

    ***Source: Weston A Price Foundation – Sally Fallon & Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Udo Erasmus

    Cell signaling is dependent upon the right fats as designed by nature! It’s the lock and key analogy; you need the right key to fit the lock. Stick to virgin coconut oil and olive oil and butter. No corn or soybean oil either.

    Anne Baker CN, LE

    Nourish Holistic Nutrition

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