Many processed foods are full of sugar and salt that raise blood pressure, increasing risk for heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. Most dietary salt does not come from the salt shaker and most dietary sugar does not come from the sugar bowl. Food manufacturers add tremendous amounts of sugar and salt to make foods taste good. North Americans would have far less high blood pressure if they avoided processed foods, including sugared drinks, and ate more foods as they grow in nature: vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and other seeds.
Even moderate doses of added sugar for short durations can raise blood pressure and increase risk for diabetes, heart attacks, and premature death (British Medical Journal, December 10, 2014). Epidemiological studies in humans and experimental trials in animals show that added sugars increase blood pressure, blood pressure variability, heart rate, the heart’s needs for oxygen, inflammation, insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. This report confirms many previous studies:
• Fifty percent of those with high blood pressure have markedly elevated levels of insulin, compared to only ten percent of those with normal blood pressure (J Intern Med 1992;231:235–40). High insulin levels indicated high blood sugar levels and increased risk for premature death.
• People with high blood pressure have decreased ability to respond to insulin and have higher sugar and insulin levels (Metabolism 1990;39:167–74).
• People most likely to have high blood pressure have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels and do not respond normally to insulin, take in excessive amounts of sugar and are the ones most likely to develop high blood pressure from a high-salt intake. (JAMA, May 21, 1996; see Who is Salt Sensitive?) Recommendations to avoid salt have had very little effect on reducing the incidence of high blood pressure. The prevention of high blood pressure appears to depend far more on avoiding sugar than it does of avoiding salt.
• One 24-ounce soft drink can cause an average maximum systolic increase in blood pressure of 15 mm Hg and an increase in heart rate of nine beats per minute.
•Those who consume 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar have an almost threefold increased risk of heart attacks.
• A study of 160 men and women showed that those who drank fruit juice daily had higher blood pressures than those who drank it only occasionally (Appetite, January 2015; 84(1):68–72). Many people believe that fruit juices are healthful, but extensive data show that all sugared drinks, including fruit juices, are associated with increased risk for high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain. On the other hand, sugars in whole fruits have been shown to reduce risk for diabetes.
• People who are most likely to suffer high blood pressure are those who are overweight. When you study only people who are not overweight, salt intake has little effect on high blood pressure (Eur J Prev Cardiol, published online Oct 3. 2014).
My Recommendations If you have high blood pressure, the most likely causes are being overweight and having high blood sugar levels. Lifestyle factors that raise blood sugar levels include not exercising, eating red meat (blocks insulin receptors), eating foods with added sugars and taking sugar in drinks. Exercise, weight reduction, a healthful diet that is low in processed foods, and alcohol restriction usually will lower high blood pressure significantly.
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