Forget About Salt—Fear the Fructose
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I haven’t run out of things to say about soda. Do you drink soda regularly? You may want to reconsider. For people with high blood pressure, doctors used to think that salt in the diet was among the worst offenders. But new research shows they’ve been barking up the wrong tree. The real culprit is actually sugar. Or, more specifically; fructose.
Soda happens to be the single greatest source of added fructose in most Americans’ diets. Sugared or diet, it doesn’t matter. Soft drinks, sodas? It doesn’t matter what you call them, either. It’s all bad for your health. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the “silent killer” for a reason. With few noticeable symptoms, it often goes undetected for years. It’s a leading risk factor for heart problems, including heart attack and stroke, which explains the grim nickname.
“Sugar may be much more meaningfully related to blood pressure than sodium,” wrote researchers, in a seminal article published recently in the British Medical Journal. "Compelling evidence from basic science, population studies, and clinical trials implicates sugars, and particularly…fructose, as playing a major role in the development of hypertension…Moreover, evidence suggests that sugars in general, and fructose in particular, may contribute to overall cardiovascular risk through a variety of mechanisms," they added.
While some people are indeed “salt sensitive,” meaning their blood pressure rises somewhat after eating a salty meal, not everyone responds to table salt in this manner. New research indicates that the real culprit all along—the risk factor that raises just about anyone’s blood pressure—is added fructose in the diet.
“It is time for guideline committees to shift focus away from salt and focus greater attention to the likely more-consequential food additive: sugar,” wrote researchers. Those are strong words, and they signal a potential sea change in our thinking about the impact of dietary sugars on cardiovascular disease risk.
DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC. The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease. Open Heart 2014;1: doi:10.1136/openhrt-2014-000167.