Sugar vs salt: which is worse for your heart health?

Sugar vs salt: which is worse for your heart health?

Author Gill Shaffer Last updated 21st February 2020

  • Ingredients & Nutrition

We’ve always been told that too much salt and sugar in our diets is not good for our heart health, so what are we to make of research that claims excess sugar is by far the worse of the two?

  • Why sugar and salt are bad for heart health
  • How to cut your salt intake
  • How to reduce sugar consumption
  • Summary

A study, published by US researchers in online journal Open Heart suggests that sugar is in fact worse than salt for raising our blood pressure levels and heart disease risk.1

Along with suggesting that people need to focus more on cutting sugar consumption levels than their salt intake, the researchers claim that reducing salt levels could, in certain circumstances, actually do more harm than good.

Their findings, however, have caused a backlash amongst other scientists who maintain that in order to boost heart health, both salt and sugar levels need to be kept in check.

Why sugar and salt are bad for heart health

There are a number of studies that show excess sugar consumption could increase your risk of dying from heart disease (even if you’re not overweight) such as this report published in JAMA Internal Medicine.2 Here, the excess sugar caused inflammation of the arterial walls. It’s this consistent chronic inflammation of the blood vessels that can lead to heart disease and strokes.

Meanwhile, salt is essential for keeping your body fluids balanced at the right concentration but too much could send your volume of body fluids soaring. This in turn raises your blood pressure, which can cause even more serious heart health problems such as stroke or heart disease.

How to cut your salt intake

NHS guidelines suggest that you shouldn’t consume more than 6g (one teaspoon) of salt per day.3 Here are a few quick and easy ways to start reducing your salt intake today:

  • Instead of adding extra salt to your homemade dishes, add some flavour by making the most of heart-healthy herbs and spices as ingredients.
  • Opt for buying fresh meat as opposed to more processed versions which tend to have a much higher salt content.
  • Did you know that dissolvable (effervescent) tablets such as painkillers and vitamin supplements can contain as much as 1g of salt per tablet? Where possible, choose capsule alternatives instead.

How to reduce sugar consumption

Current guidelines suggest that no more than 50g of sugar for women and 70g for men should be consumed per day.4

  • A typical 250ml glass of fruit juice can contain up to seven teaspoons of sugar. Switch to water or lycopene-packed tomato juice instead.
  • Ditch the extra teaspoons of sugar in your cup of tea/coffee. If you can’t forgo them completely, opt for a low calorie sweetener.
  • Craving a sugary treat? Chow down on a piece of fruit instead of reaching for your usual chocolate fix. Although fruits do contain some sugar, they’re also packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. They’ll also help you to reach your 5 a day.


Whether or not sugar is indeed worse for heart health than salt, the fact of the matter remains that too much of either can be damaging to our hearts. We can all take steps to reduce our consumption and protect ourselves from these adverse effects.


  1. DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC. The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease. Open Heart 2014;1:e000167. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2014-000167
  2. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516–524. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563
  3. NHS,Salt: the facts, Live well eat well
  4. NHS, How much sugar is good for me?, food and diet common health questions