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Too sweet

Bud Myers always assumed his good heredity and physical farmwork would keep him healthy and fit. But three years ago, his daughter noticed he was short of breath.

"My daughter's a nurse," he says. "She suggested I get it checked."

As a result, Myers, who farms near Spencer, Iowa, had angioplasty. He returned a year later for a checkup.

"The doctor said I could bury my head in the sand," Myers says. "But to avoid a heart attack, he recommended a triple bypass. During surgery, they found a weak aorta valve and replaced it."

Today, Myers has lost about 25 pounds. He monitors his glucose daily, but he doesn't require medication. He knows that good eating habits are key.

"I was getting a little reckless," he says. "My wife, Mary, is an awfully good cook, and I do have a sweet tooth."

The love of sugar

Myers is not alone in his love of sugar. Total U.S. sugar consumption has increased dramatically in recent decades. New studies suggest that sugar may be a major factor leading to heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Earlier this year, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta proved for the first time that cutting back on sugary foods and drinks prevents buildup of high levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. High levels of added sugars also lower HDL (good cholesterol) in the blood.

The study, published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on 6,113 adult responses to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2006. The average daily consumption of sugar was 3.2 ounces (21.4 teaspoonsful) or 359 calories. This represents 15.8% of the total average daily caloric intake.

"There was a statistically significant correlation between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels among U.S. adults," says Jean Welsh, one of the study authors.

Beware Of Added Sugars

In 1977-1978, added sugars contributed only 10.6% of adult calories. Two major categories of dietary sugar are:

1. Naturally occurring sugars contained in fruit, vegetables, or dairy.
2. Sugars and syrups added during processing/preparation and at the table.

Most dietary sugar today comes from soft drinks (8 teaspoons in a regular 12-ounce soda), followed by candy, cakes, cookies, and pies.

Last year for the first time, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued guidelines suggesting no more than 6 teaspoons a day (100 calories of added sugar) for women. The AHA advises 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men.

"Take a good, hard look at your diet," says Rachel Johnson, University of Vermont professor of nutrition and lead author of the AHA guidelines in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. "Figure out where the sources of added sugars are and how to cut back. If you want to consume foods and beverages high in added sugars, increase your energy needs."

Ways to cut sugar

Food manufacturers aren't required to specify added sugars -- only total sugars. Here are four ways to cut sugar intake.

1. Remember that sugar includes honey, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, molasses, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup. (If a product doesn't contain milk or fruit, all of the sugar is added.)

2. Replace pop with water and iced tea.

3. Reduce sugar in cakes, cookies, and desserts. Limit frosting and syrup.

4. Substitute fresh fruits on oatmeal.

Myers and his wife recently welcomed their third great-grandchild. That great-granddaughter is one more reason for taking steps to improve eating and exercise habits. "Mary is pushing a lot of fruits and vegetables in our meals," he says.

After all, when it comes right down to it, Myers knows his wife doesn't want him to be too sweet for his own good.

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