By: Kimberly Rodrigues
Free sugars refer to sugars that are added to a food by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, as well as sugars that occur naturally in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juice.
It’s important to note that free sugars do not include the sugars that are naturally present in whole fruits or vegetables, WebMD informs.
Free sugars are present in a variety of sources including processed foods, table sugar, candy, cookies, fruit juice, and sodas.
According to media reports, a study suggests that excessive sugar intake may increase the likelihood of experiencing a stroke by 10%. Researchers have emphasised the potential dangers of “free sugars,” which are primarily added to food rather than occurring naturally.
The study which is published in the BMC Medicine journal reportedly analysed data for 110,497 individuals in the UK. The aim of the researchers was to determine the relationship between diet and the risk of heart disease and stroke over a 9-year period.
The study participants were between the ages of 37 and 73 years old.
The study findings
Consuming more free sugars is reportedly associated with a higher likelihood of developing ischaemic heart disease, a group of heart issues caused by blood clots, and experiencing a stroke, the Daily Mail reports.
In the UK, the average person obtains approximately 12% of their daily calorie intake from free sugars.
However, according to the study’s findings, increasing one’s free sugar intake by 5%, which is roughly equivalent to consuming an additional small chocolate bar daily, would result in a 10% increase in the risk of having a stroke.
This increased consumption is also reported to be associated with a 6% greater chance of developing ischaemic heart disease.
According to Professor Tim Key, who collaborated on the research at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, “These findings suggest free sugar in general, and not just fizzy drinks, are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and strokes. Those with a sweet tooth can get non-free sugar from fruit, which is much healthier,” he said.
Free sugars & cardiovascular health
Speaking about the type of sugars people consume and its link to heart health, Rebecca Kelly, a researcher in Population Health at the University of Oxford, reportedly said in a statement, “Our research demonstrates the importance of considering the type and source of sugars consumed when assessing the associations between sugar and cardiovascular health.”
“Replacing free sugars with non-free sugars, such as those naturally occurring in whole fruits and vegetables, combined with a higher fibre intake may help protect against cardiovascular disease,” she said.
The study & other findings
The research reportedly analysed data from the UK Biobank study, focusing on middle-aged individuals who recounted their daily food and drink consumption over a 24-hour period.
The questionnaires, completed on at least two occasions, were assessed to determine the participants’ intake of free sugars.
The findings indicate that replacing 5% of one’s daily calorie intake from free sugars with an equivalent amount of non-free sugars from fruits and vegetables could potentially reduce the risk of stroke by 9%.
The NHS recommends that adults should limit their daily intake of free sugars to no more than 30g, which is approximately equivalent to seven sugar cubes.
Cody Watling, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford and one of the study’s authors, reported that the most frequently consumed types of free sugars in the research were cookies, pastries, and scones, as well as fruit juice and sugar-sweetened beverages.
He further notes that with regard to free sugar, “a glass of fruit juice is the same thing as Coke,” the UPI site informs.
According to Watling, individuals at the highest risk for heart disease or stroke in the study consumed 18% of their daily diet in free sugars, despite the US recommendation to limit added sugars to below 10% of daily caloric intake.
The study also reportedly established that not all carbohydrates are equal, and researchers additionally determined that a higher intake of fibre was linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to the findings, consuming five additional grams of fibre daily was associated with a 4% reduction in the risk of heart disease or stroke.
Watling is quoted as saying, “What’s really important for overall general health and well-being is that we’re consuming carbohydrates that are rich in whole grains.”
And “minimising the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as any kind of confectionary products that have added sugars.”