April 21, 2010

The Institute of Medicine this week urged limits on the sodium content in processed food, warning Americans are getting too much salt in their diet. Emory University researchers suggest added sweeteners need a closer look as well.

Their study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed U.S. government nutritional data and blood lipid levels in more than 6,000 adult men and women between 1999 and 2006. The study subjects were divided into five groups according to the amount of added sugar and caloric sweeteners they consumed daily.

Researchers found that people who consumed more added sugar were more likely to have higher cardiovascular disease risk factors, including higher triglyceride levels and higher ratios of triglycerides to HDL-C, or good cholesterol.

"Just like eating a high-fat diet can increase your levels of triglycerides and high cholesterol, eating sugar can also affect those same lipids," said study co-author Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH, assistant professor of pediatrics, Emory School of Medicine.

Increased sugar consumption

"In the United States, total consumption of sugar has increased substantially in recent decades, largely due to an increased intake of 'added sugars,' defined as caloric sweeteners used by the food industry and consumers as ingredients in processed or prepared foods to increase the desirability of these foods," Vos and colleagues note.

In the JAMA study, the highest-consuming group consumed an average of 46 teaspoons of added sugars per day. The lowest-consuming group consumed an average of only about three teaspoons daily.

"It would be important for long-term health for people to start looking at how much added sugar they're getting and finding ways to reduce that," said Vos.

The study, "Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among U.S. Adults," was published in the April 20, 2010, issue of JAMA. It is the first study of its kind to examine the association between the consumption of added sugars and lipid measures, such as HDL-C, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C).

The study did not look at natural sugars found in fruit and fruit juices, only added sugars and caloric sweeteners.