Salt has long been the enemy when it comes to hypertension, or high blood pressure. The high amount of salt people tend to consume in their diets, particularly that found in processed foods, contributes to several health conditions. Now however, researchers have linked added sugar in processed food with increased hypertension and cardiometabolic disease.
People who are on reduced sugar diets, and who avoid processed food, are likely to see lower rates of hypertension and cardiometabolic disease, according to a recent study. The report, published in the journal Open Heart, concludes that high-sugar diets may significantly contribute to higher cardiometabolic risk.
The study authors say future dietary recommendations should suggest replacing highly refined processed foods with natural whole foods. “It is a little bit frightening that we have been focusing on salt for so long,” Richard Krasuski, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told Medscape Medical News. Dr Krasuski was not affiliated with the research.
Cardiometabolic disease, also known as metabolic syndrome, is diagnosed using five markers: high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, low high-density cholesterol (HDL) levels, high blood glucose levels, and high serum triglycerides. A person with three out of five of the indicators has metabolic syndrome.
An estimated 34% of the adult population in the USA have cardiometabolic disease, and the prevalence increases with age. Dieticians and doctors recommend increased exercise (30 minutes of walking everyday), and a low-calorie, healthy diet to help prevent the syndrome. Many studies support this strategy to prevent the onset of metabolic disorders, however other research says we need to tackle socioeconomic factors before people will stick to the recommended lifestyle changes.
The recent study suggesting sugar influences cardiovascular health more than salt has strong results, but as yet, we can’t know if they will translate into long-term changes. The bottom line, Dr Krasuski told Medscape Medical News, is that although the science is not perfect, it is, in its entirety, good. He cautioned readers, however, to understand the research context when reading the conclusions.
Whether sugar or salt is doing us the most harm, the essential take-away from this study is: eat less processed food. A diet high in natural, whole food and fresh produce is unarguably healthier than one which contains lots of processed foods.