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Everyone loves a sweet treat once in awhile. But too much sugar can cause serious health issues that may make you regret those indulgences. The good news is that it can be replaced with healthier alternatives that leave your appetite satisfied and your body healthy.

Added Sugar Leads to Heart Disease

Do you love those heart-shaped candies on Valentine’s Day? You’re not alone — but the sad fact is that too much added sugar can hurt your real heart. Added sugar increases your risk of dying of heart disease, even if you are not obese. In 2014, Harvard Heart Letter reported on a 15-year study that found people who got 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar were twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who got 10 percent or less of their calories from sugar. The difference came down to sugar, not body mass index, age, sex or activity level.

High Sugar Intake Leads to Metabolic Syndrome

It’s great to count calories to monitor your weight. But a 2015 study at the University of California San Francisco reported that not all calories are the same. Researchers found that cutting sugar from the diets of children reduced metabolic syndrome, even though diets were developed to keep the calorie, fat, protein and carbohydrate counts the same as before sugar was restricted. The kids had improved liver function, lower blood pressure, less bad cholesterol and one-third their previous insulin levels after just nine days.

Leading Cause of Obesity

Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, a serious medical condition. While sugar does not directly cause diabetes, it often contributes to weight gain. Being overweight may also cause unhealthy cholesterol levels and other conditions.

How to Cut Back on the Sweets

There is good news. You are probably taking in more sugar than you realize, but it’s easy to make replacements. Start with sugary beverages. It’s amazing to think that drinking just one 12-oz sweetened beverage a day can add up to 15 pounds in one year. Instead, drink bubbly water with a sprig of mint or wedge of lime.

The Effect of Soda on Your Health

Keep a stash of fruit instead of candy or baked goods. Sure, there’s still sugar in nature’s desserts, but there’s less fructose, which is linked to bad cholesterol. In addition, fruit provides something candy doesn’t: vitamins and minerals. Slice apples and eat with a dollop of natural peanut butter or mix a handful of blueberries in all-natural plain yogurt.

Sugar may be scary, but you always have the option to take control of your own health. It’s easier than you think!

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