Kelly Bell, of Dunedin, asks :-

Why is sugar bad for the heart? I recently purchased a can of pears in juice, which had a Heart Foundation tick, and a can of apricots in syrup, which did not. (The pears were sweeter than the apricots.) As a sweet-loving, non-smoker, non-meat eater is my risk of heart disease as bad as, or worse than, my brother who smokes and eats meat?

Jim Mann, a human nutritionist at the University of Otago School of Medicine, responded.

There is no evidence to suggest that sugar is bad for the heart.

Excessive intakes of sugar, especially when consumed in sweet drinks, or together with fat in foods such as cakes, biscuits and chocolates, seems to be associated with an increaesd risk of becoming overweight. Being overweight certainly puts people at risk of heart disease and indeed many other diseases. The Heart Foundation tick provides an indication that a particular food is an appropriate food choice for heart health within that food group. For example, a margarine with a tick has been tested and found to have an appropriate combination of fatty acids. It does not mean that one should eat an excessive amount of that food. Absence of a tick does not necessarily mean that the food should not be eaten. It may simply be that the manufacturer in question has chosen not to enter the Heart Foundation programme. Of course it may be that the food is not a good choice for people trying to achieve heart health.

I cannot give you a specific answer to your question about the apricots and pears save to say that apricots may be more sour than pears even when sugar is added! I have no doubt that you are at lower risk of heart disease than your brother. Being a male and a smoker are two characteristics of your brother which are very important risk factors for heart disease. He can't do anything about his gender but he could stop smoking! Meat is not a risk factor for heart disease provided one eats lean meat not cooked in fat. Sweet treats should not do you any harm either provided they do not have a high saturated fat content and you are not overweight.