Skip to main content
Walking the Line

Keep your heart healthy: limit added sugar

Pink heart cookies with frosting on them and a pink tulip. Extension logo and wordmark.

We will be pausing to celebrate American Heart Month on this month's destination as we travel together on our wellness journey. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death, not only in Illinois but across the nation. Heart disease is a general term referring to any condition affecting the structure or function of the heart. Examples include having high blood pressure or high cholesterol, having an abnormal heart rhythm, or having a weak heart.

The good news is that heart disease is preventable in most people. You can take steps to decrease your risk of developing heart disease by increasing your physical activity, managing stress, getting adequate amounts of sleep, and eating healthy.

Limiting the amount of added sugar in your diet is the healthy eating strategy we will be focusing on today. There is significant research supporting the need to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet. Consuming a high in added sugar diet is linked to many chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, liver, and heart disease.

In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical, researchers noted that over a 15-year study, people consuming more of their calories from added sugar had a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who consumed less of their calories from sugar.

The association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease has many factors. However, when you look at the multiple ways that sugar impacts your health, it is not a surprising conclusion. 

In the short term, a diet high in sugar can impact your mood, contribute to tooth decay as well as weight gain. In the long-term, it increases your risk of obesity, inflammation, diabetes, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, all of which increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Limiting Added Sugar

2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugar to no more than ten percent of your total daily calories. However, if you already have heart disease, you may want to consider following the American Heart Association's stricter recommendations which limit added sugars to no more than six percent of your total daily calories.

Let's put it into more understandable numbers using the Dietary Guidelines:

  • 1,800 calories/day, or about 180 calories, or 45 grams of added sugar.
  • 2,000 calories/day, or about 200 calories, or 50 grams of added sugar.

Tips for Limiting Added Sugar

Read the nutrition facts label. Added sugar is now included in the nutrition label to help you determine if it's a good choice for you. Pay close attention to the condiments you use, as many have added sugars. If you don't want to give up some of your favorite condiments, simply switch to one that has less added sugar.

Limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Research shows liquid calories do not have strong satiety properties or suppress hunger. This is because the body does not detect liquid calories like calories from solid foods. Therefore, use caution when consuming fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened waters, and coffee and tea beverages with added sugars because these beverages are the leading sources of added sugars in the American diet.

Focus on whole foods. Whole foods are foods that have been minimally processed. Examples include fruits and vegetables, consuming whole fruits instead of fruit juices, brown rice instead of white rice that has had the bran and germ removed, and using rolled or steel-cut oats versus instant or quick-cooking oat when making oatmeal.

Skip the cookie. Instead, enjoy a refreshing piece of fruit for a snack or dessert. Fruit comes in a variety of textures and flavors. And best of all, they are generally low in calories and fat, which means you can enjoy them without worrying about the extra calories. They are also an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and they are high in fiber.

Whatever step you choose to make on your wellness journey, I simply encourage you to keep moving forward. If you have taken time off because of the holidays or the cold weather, that's okay. However, now is the time to begin again. If you have been faithful in moving forward in your journey, I want to offer you continued encouragement and challenge you to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet this month.

SOURCE: Diane Reinhold Nutrition and Wellness Educator, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 11). Get the facts: Sugar-sweetened beverages and consumption. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from

Quanhe Yang, P. D. (2014, April 1). Sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from

Tallmadge, K. (2013, August 6). Stealth assault on Health: Beverages Pack Calorie Punch (op-ed). LiveScience. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from