If you think the only side effects of eating too much sugar are cavities and weight gain, think again. According to a study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a diet full of sugary foods increases your risk of dying of heart disease even if you’re not overweight.

While the average American consumes 10% of calories from added sugar, the study focused on people who took in at least 25% of calories from sugar. Amazingly, these folks were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than the average American sugar consumer.

The biggest offenders? Sugary beverages such as soda, energy drinks and sports drinks. Other culprits include cookies, cakes, pastries, fruit drinks, ice cream, candy and boxed cereals.

The science isn’t clear in regards to how sugar harms the heart. Research has shown that sugary drinks can raise blood pressure and we know that high-sugar diets may cause a build up of harmful fats in the bloodstream. Both of these factors are known to increase heart disease risk. For me, the inflammation connection makes a great deal of sense. Studies have linked chronic low-grade inflammation to cardiac disease (as well as other diseases) and we know that a diet high in sugar can cause inflammation.

The next time you’re craving a soda or piece of cake, remember your heart and give it some extra love in the form of a glass of refreshing mineral water or a piece of juicy fresh. And read labels! Added sugars are in everything from salad dressings to canned beans to soups to breads to frozen meals to yogurts, and more! You can figure out how many teaspoons of added sugar are in a product by reading the Nutrition Facts label and using the equation: 4 grams = 1 teaspoon sugar.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons for men and 25 grams or 6 teaspoons for women.

If you’re having a hard time quitting sugar consider joining one of my online sugar detox groups. It’s a great way to reset your palate with custom meal plans, recipes and a robust support group.

Until next time, make every bite count.