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AHA dietary counseling has positive effect on reducing added sugar intake

  Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD

Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD

Adhering to the American Heart Association (AHA) diet and getting regular dietary counseling can help patients moderately decrease how much added sugar they consume. However, to reduce the prevalence of metabolic syndrome, which excessive sugar intake contributes to, successful public health strategies are still needed, according to a new study by UMass Medical School behavioral health scientists published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, and colleagues found that after one year of AHA dietary counseling, the intake of added sugars—sugars or syrups added to foods and beverages during processing or preparation—decreased by 23.8 grams per day among the 119 participants with metabolic syndrome (MetS). However, the added sugar intake from the majority of the participants still exceeded AHA recommended daily limits, which is no more than 150 calories or 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons) of added sugar for men and 100 calories or 24 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar for women.

“For this reason, the researchers said that successful public health strategies that focus on reducing added sugar intake are still needed,” Dr. Ma and colleagues wrote.

According to the study, more than one third of adults in the United States suffer from a cluster of health problems that increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Collectively classified as metabolic syndrome, symptoms include high blood pressure, high fasting sugar and a large waistline. The rising prevalence of MetS is a likely consequence of sedentary lifestyle and the obesity epidemic.

To determine the effect that AHA dietary counseling could have on added sugar intake among participants with MetS, researchers met with 119 participants with MetS from June 2009 through January 2014. The researchers, including Sherry Pagoto, PhD, professor of medicine, and Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH, associate professor of medicine, hypothesized that the AHA dietary counseling would decrease added sugar consumption and the change in dietary habits may help to alleviate MetS symptoms.

Throughout the study, participants followed the AHA dietary guidelines, which call for reducing sugary beverages, minimizing sugar intake and emphasizing vegetables, fruit, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and participated in individual and group counseling sessions to adhere to the AHA dietary guideline. Participants provided dietary information at baseline, three months, six months and 12 months during their one-year AHA counseling period.

After the year of counseling, intake of added sugars decreased, with nonalcoholic beverages such as soda no longer being the leading contributor of added sugar. However, added sugar intake still exceeded AHA recommended limits for the majority of participants, possibly due to the difficulty of dietary adherence and other factors beyond the participants’ control, such as sugar added during food manufacturing.

“Continued high consumption of added sugars by individuals after one year of AHA dietary counseling highlights the need to identify and build on successful public health strategies to further reduce added sugar intake,” the researchers concluded.

Lijuan Zhang, MD, PhD, and Christine May, PhD, postdoctoral researchers at UMMS, also contributed to the study along with researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.