Sugar vs Salt: What impacts your heart health more?

Whether you’re eating too much sugar or too much salt, you are putting your heart at risk. But which one is worse for your heart health?

Arushi Bidhuri PUBLISHED: 18 MAY 2023, 16:30 PM IST

Who doesn’t like to devour a chatpata dish that is both spicy and salty? And who can forget the delicious sweet dish we all eat every meal? Well, the heart wants what it wants but is it healthy for your heart? In the past few decades, research has increasingly shown that a diet rich in salt and sugar can trouble your heart and put you at risk of several cardiovascular diseases. For the sake of your heart, let us find out if sugar and salt are good for your heart or not!

Why is sugar bad for your heart?

Natural sugars may not be as bad for you as processed sugar or even artificial sweeteners. Ever heard of added sugars in processed foods? Well, your favourite junk foods – soft drinks, processed fruit juices, cookies, candies, cakes – contain added sugar which can lead to several health problems.

Citing a 2014 study published in the journal JAMA International Medicine, Dr Tandon states that people who consumed 17-21 percent of calories from added sugars were more likely to die of a heart ailment than those who didn’t. “So, the more added sugars you consume, the greater your risk of having a heart disease,” says the expert.

Sugar may not affect your heart directly, but it may impact it indirectly by increasing the risk of the following risk factors, adds the expert. Excess sugars in your diet are metabolized by your liver and converted into fats, which over a period can lead to fatty liver and obesity, which in turn can increase your risk for heart disease.

Excess sugars in your diet are an easy way to put on weight. Added sugars are simple carbohydrates that are digested easily. Sweetened drinks such as soda and soft drinks, are not as filling as solid ones and therefore do not satisfy or turn off your appetite system as a protein or fat-rich or fibre-rich diet.

Excess added sugars can also promote chronic inflammation and increase your blood pressure, which in the long term up your risk of developing heart disease.

How does salt affect your heart?

By salt, we mean your sodium intake. While sodium is an essential mineral required for maintaining overall health, too much of it can be problematic for not just your heart but the body. Dr Tandon says 1500 mg of sodium per day is more than enough for an adult to meet their daily sodium requirements. As per the Foods Safety and Standards Authority of India, your sodium intake should be less than 5 grams a day. Also, salt is not the only source of sodium. Bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold meat, soups, savoury snacks, poultry, cheese, omelettes and more daily foods contain a lot of sodium.

Sodium is regulated by our kidneys. Consuming too much sodium makes your body retain more water while keeping its concentration normal. This leads to an increase in overall blood volume, making the heart work harder, thus increasing your blood pressure levels and stress on your arteries. In the long run, it leads to hypertension, which further increases your heart disease risk. So, you might feel bloated and you may experience swollen feet and ankles, explains Dr Tandon. While a high intake of salt can up your risk of developing heart disease, low sodium intake can also put your risk of low blood pressure.

One should remember that increased sodium intake may have variable effects on different individuals. Some individuals who may be ‘salt sensitive’ show a higher rise in BP compared to those who are not, explains the doctor.

Salt vs sugar: Which one is worse for your heart?

Too much sugar in your system can make you obese, push you towards diabetes, and promote atherosclerosis, all of which increase your risk of developing heart disease significantly. On the other hand, excess sodium can increase your blood pressure levels, putting you at risk of heart disease.

Whether you eat too much sugar or too much salt, both can increase your risk of heart disease. Whether you like salty or sugary foods, you must eat them in moderation. The next time you think about consuming too much salt and sugar, think about how much you are increasing your risk of developing heart disease.

The key to a healthy heart is to eat a diet rich in potassium and low in sodium. Including foods such as whole foods (cereals), vegetables, and fruits might help increase the risk of heart disease. Another good practice would be to read the labels on food items and look specifically for sodium and added sugars so that you can avoid those products. Make sure you’re keeping track of sodium and salt intake.

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