Got Hypertension? Sweets — Not Salt —Could Be to Blame

If you’ve got high blood pressure, your doctor has probably asked you to restrict your salt intake. But new research suggests that it’s not salt alone that causes blood pressure to skyrocket. According to a new study published in the journal Open Heart, excessive consumption of sugar — and especially fructose — could be to blame for many cases of hypertension.

Added Sugars Increase Hypertension Risk

Added Sugars Increase Hypertension RiskHigh blood pressure causes over 348,000 deaths each year in the United States, and costs a total of $50 billion in annual health costs. While the link between excessive salt consumption and high blood pressure is long-established, researchers are now discovering that reducing salt intake may not be the best way to lower the risk of heart attack and other complications of hypertension.

While previous hypertension treatment guidelines have recommended patients eat less than three grams of sodium a day, new evidence suggests that a daily consumption threshold of three to six grams of sodium is, in fact, ideal.

So, the relationship between salt and high blood pressure isn’t as well-understood as experts once thought. And now evidence is emerging that eating too much fructose, a component of high-fructose corn syrup that’s added to a wide range of American food products, can raise your risk of high blood pressure by as much as 30 percent. Drinking just one 24-ounce sugary soda can raise your blood pressure by 15/9 mm Hg and raise your heart rate by nine beats per minute.

Eating sugar may stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, causing an increase in heart rate and causing the heart to pump more blood. It may also encourage the kidneys to retain more sodium and may make arterial walls stiffer and less flexible. All of these factors may work together to contribute to higher blood pressure as well as increasing the heart’s oxygen needs. Eating more than 25 percent of your daily calories in the form of added sugars can triple your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

How to Avoid Dietary Sugars

Americans currently eat two to eight times more dietary sugar than the World Health Organization recommends, and consumption of dietary sugars among teenagers can be as much as 16 times current health recommendations. The average American eats about 74 grams of added fructose per day. Part of the problem is that so many food products in the U.S. contain added sugars. But sugary soft drinks alone contain large amounts of fructose — a person who drinks just two and a half cans of soda a day is consuming around 74 grams of added fructose.

Doctors stress that the fructose that naturally occurs in whole fruits is not of concern. While whole fruits do contain a lot of sugar, they also contain other nutrients, like fiber, that change the way the body metabolizes the fructose and balances things out. Vegetables, milk, and whole grains also contain dietary sugars, but again, the other nutrients in these foods affects the way the body metabolizes these naturally occurring sugars in ways that are believed to be beneficial.

If you indulge in too many foods that contain added, rather than naturally occurring, sugars, you may need to add hypertension medication to your shopping list the next time you visit You can avoid many added sugars by avoiding cakes, cookies, pies, non-diet soft drinks, pastries, doughnuts, fruit juice, and other sweets. Instead, try sugar-free yogurt or fresh fruit for dessert. Buy low-sugar versions of your favorite preserves, jellies, or syrups. When buying breakfast cereals or other processed foods, read the label carefully and look for added sugars like:

How to Avoid Dietary Sugars

  • Brown sugar
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Invert sugar
  • Corn syrup or corn syrup solids
  • Confectioner’s powdered sugar
  • Fructose or liquid fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Honey
  • High-fructose corn syrup or HFC
  • Maple syrup
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Pancake syrup
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • Nectars, like pear or peach nectar or just fruit nectar
  • White granulated sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Cane juice or sugar cane juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Evaporated corn sweetener
  • Glucose
  • Crystal dextroseWhen you buy canned fruit, look for fruit that is packaged in juice or water, not syrup. Drink diet soda or water and take it easy on the blended coffees. Snack on cheese, whole grain crackers, vegetables, fruits, or yogurt instead of sugary foods like cookies, candy, or cake.

    If you suffer from hypertension or have a family member who does, you should know that a link between excessive sugar consumption and hypertension has been found. Cutting back on your sugar consumption can lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health, but that’s not the only reason you should do it. Eating less sugar can make it easier to control your weight, and get the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy without going over your daily calorie limit.