We have often been told that eating processed foods is linked to various health problems.  The cause was thought to be mostly due to the high amount of sodium and the low nutritional value of these foods.  A new study from the UK adds another element to the dangers of processed foods.   This study found a link between “free sugars” (added sugars) and an increased risk in cardio-vascular disease.

Free sugars are those found in processed foods (sugars that were added during the processing of the food) as well as sold as table sugar and other sweeteners. It also includes sugars naturally occurring in syrups, honey, fruit/vegetable juice, purees, pastes, and other products where the structure of the whole food has been broken down.  Sugars naturally occurring in dairy or within structurally whole fruits and vegetables are not considered “free sugars”..

The key finding of the study was that it was not the amount of carbohydrates consumed that was the problem but more the type and source of the carbohydrates = free sugars.  The greater the amount of free sugars the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease.  It was also found that a high level of free sugar consumption was linked to a higher concentration of triglycerides within the body.  Triglycerides are a type of fat that comes from butter, oils, and some other consumed fats, but also from the extra calories consumed that the body does not need and therefore stores.  This is often the result of eating free sugars when the body has no need for this type of energy.  This free sugar is transformed into fat and put into storage.  High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of heart disease.

It all comes down to how the body processes sugars. Free sugars are already broken down and are all absorbed by the body.  This promotes inflammation, stress on the heart and blood vessels, and increased blood pressure.  Often free sugars are in foods with little to no nutritional value, which may lead to over eating and excess caloric intake.   Sugars from dairy and whole foods however, take longer to break down and part of it, the part found in fibre, cannot be broken down at all.  As a result, the body does not experience the spike in blood sugar that free sugars give us. As well, the fibre, acts as an internal “scrub brush” as it passes through the digestive system, cleaning things up as it goes along.

The best way to limit the amount of free sugars you are consuming is to read the nutrition and ingredients labels. Check all labels even for breads, cereals, yogurts, and condiments. Cut back on sugary drinks and drink water flavoured with slices of whole fruit instead.  Switch to fruit for desert instead of cake or cookies.