It seems that the general public is aware that reducing saturated and trans fats, improving the diet by eating more fruits and vegetables (and thus, fiber!), and exercising regularly can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease later in life. When saturated fats were reduced in foods in response to public awareness of the heart-related dangers of these fats, what replaced them was added sugars. Unfortunately, people are less aware of the fact that added sugars also lead to the development of heart disease.

Added sugars come in many forms—high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, cane sugar…(the list goes on). Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars, especially for children and adolescents. In fact, per person intake of calories from soft drinks increased 70 percent from 1970 to 2000. A recent study in adolescents found that added sugars in the diet were associated with a reduction of good (HDL) cholesterol and an increase in bad (LDL) cholesterol—both heart disease risk factors.

This is no wonder when you consider that when Coke first came out in 1915, the bottle was 6.5 ounces. Today, it is not unusual to gulp down a 44- (or even 64-) ounce soft drink. Most soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup as the sugar source. High fructose corn syrup (sometimes disguised as corn sugar) is of particular concern due to its widespread presence in processed foods, the fact that it is absorbed and metabolized differently than sugar, and that it may contain mercury!

As a general rule, reducing all forms of added sugar is recommended. Increased intake of added sugars in the diet lead to heart disease in several ways. When there is too much sugar in the blood (more than cells can use for energy), the sugar (or glucose) is converted into triglycerides, which can be stored as body fat or remain in circulation contributing to atherosclerosis. Further, sugar increases inflammation and oxidative stress, both involved in atherosclerosis.

Your best bet for good heart health? DECREASE your intake of refined and added sugars, trans and saturated fats, and INCREASE fiber (which slows the absorption of sugar) by eating more fruits and veggies and whole grains.