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The alphabet of a healthy heart: Sugar

Of all illnesses, many people are most afraid of suffering from a heart attack. And rightly so. Cardiovascular disease is now the most common cause of death in industrial nations such as Germany or the USA.

Most of us know this from simple check-ups at the doctor’s office: the highest risk factors for the development of illnesses of the cardiovascular system are high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and blood lipid levels, obesity, smoking, and an elevated blood sugar level. A healthy lifestyle can minimize the risk and also improve the prognosis in advanced diseases. 

In our Healthy-Heart-Alphabet, we will regularly offer you tips and advice on how to live a healthy life.

Carbohydrates – sweet poison?

Aside from the well-known rule that you should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, there are also a few other key rules to consider when it comes to establishing a nutrition plan to keep your heart healthy.

It seems as though the consumption of refined carbohydrates such as wheat, flour and sugar has led to a significant increase in diseases that can now be found across our entire civilization, among them Diabetes mellitus and illnesses of the cardiovascular system. Just recently the World Health Organization WHO has lowered the recommended daily dose of refined sugar for adults to 25 grams. This is only six teaspoons. A can of Coca Cola (330 ml) already has 35 grams of sugar. Additionally, sugar is used as a cheap flavour enhancer in a large number of products in the supermarkets without us even noticing. Therefore, an average person consumes about three times more sugar per day than the recommended amount. The WHO recommendation refers only to artificially added sugar or sugar which can be found in fruit juices or honey. Natural sugars as found in fruit and vegetables are not included in this dose, as current scientific research shows no evidence of this type of sugar having a negative effect on our health.

A high sugar consumption in the long run leads to a permanently augmented insulin distribution. Over a long period of time, this can result in a debility within the pancreatic insulin producing cells and an insulin resistance in the body cells. In the case of insulin resistance, most of the body cells are no longer able to absorb the sugar which will then remain in the blood. A permanently augmented blood sugar level can lead to the development of the so-called adult onset diabetes, respectively Diabetes mellitus Type 2, and with it, an impairment of the vascular walls. 

Furthermore, sugar and fat are closely linked in our metabolism. The more superfluous carbohydrates we take in, the more fat will be stored in our cells. Here, especially the fat cells which are not situated directly under the skin but within the body, are dangerous cells. This visceral fat has the ability to spill out second messengers and infection mediators which interfere with the metabolism and promote infectious processes. This means that insulin resistance and the development of arteriosclerosis are very strongly associated with the amount of visceral fat cells in the body.

Since carbohydrates remain the foundation of our nutrition pyramid, the main aim should be to reduce our sugar consumption to the unsweet, long-chained carbohydrates such as starch. These carbohydrates are split enzymatically and distributed into the blood over several hours after eating. Long-chained carbohydrates therefore hold the blood sugar at a steady level, satiating for a longer time after the meal is digested than is the case with saccharose or glucose. These carbohydrates can be found in rice, whole-meal products, potatoes or legumes.

In regards to how many carbohydrates one should take in, always remember Paracelsus’s words: 

“Everything is poisonous and nothing is poison-free; it’s all about the dosage.”

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