Cholesterol and cardiovascular health can be managed in part through regular exercise, but healthy eating plays a large role in maintaining a healthy heart. By adopting one small change in your eating habits — by lessening or removing sugar from your diet — studies show you can lower your cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, control blood pressure and blood sugar levels, manage the progression of heart disease and high blood pressure, and increase the chances of a long and healthy life. Let’s look at sugar’s effect on heart health and ways you can improve heart health through a few small dietary changes.

Sugar’s Effect on Heart Health

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, but each one of us can do a large part to manage it by adopting healthy habits. It’s possible that being mindful of our sugar consumption can go a long way in improving our health. For example, according to a study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology, obese children who cut sugar from their diet for just nine days improved their heart health and lowered their risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

As it turns out, not all calories count the same. Sugar has been attributed to impaired cognitive function, reduction of an Alzheimer’s-combatting brain chemical, increased depression, binge eating, acne, higher risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease, an increased risk of certain cancers, and high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which increase the risk of heart attack.  

Improving Your Heart Through a Healthy Diet

Sugar can sneak into many unexpected foods, making the difficult goal of eating well even more challenging. But, by changing just a few of your usual habits, you can take those first steps down the road to a healthier overall pattern of eating, and better heart health.

Swap out sugar for healthy snacks

It may be easier to reach for that cookie or a handful of Skittles to satiate a hunger pang, but before you to, try to swap out sugary sweets for heart-healthy alternatives. Keep healthier options readily available keeping them stocked in your home — easy, satiating finger foods should be kept within arm’s reach, and consider removing sugary snacks from your pantry altogether.

Make a Slow Adjustment

Cutting out sugar right away can lead to unintentional binging and backsliding. Take a slow and steady approach and wean yourself off the sweet stuff by gradually replacing them with healthier alternatives. For example, replace that sugary soda with sparkling water, or replace a morning pastry with an omelet or whole wheat bagel.

Check Labels

Marketing can be deceiving. Check nutrition labels and choose products with low sugar. Keep in mind while you’re shopping that a low-fat label does not also mean that product is healthier or is low in sugar. Try to select foods that contain 10 grams of sugar or fewer per serving.

Stick to Unprocessed Foods

Packaged and processed foods can hide a lot of sugar. Shop the outside of the grocery store, and try to swap out pre-packaged foods with fresh ingredients, and make meals at home versus eating out. For example, replace a meal of canned soup with healthy home-cooked chili that can leave you with plenty of leftovers for the week ahead.  

Changing eating habits takes time, but the benefits of lowering sugar intake are well-documented.  Making a few small changes in your diet can leave you at a lower risk for some of the nation’s biggest killers, and can lead to healthier, heart-happy life.