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Cholesterol

Explore the myths surrounding this popular health topic and learn how to restore and maintain healthy cholesterol.

What’s the Link Between Sugar and Cholesterol?

Gone are the days of solely worrying about dietary cholesterol influencing blood cholesterol. As research reveals a newer culprit, find out the link between sugar and cholesterol.

What’s the Link Between Sugar and Cholesterol?


What is the link between sugar and cholesterol? Does sugar raise cholesterol?

All the important questions about sugar and cholesterol are addressed here. So, read on to find out "does sugar affect cholesterol" (and even more)!

Are Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Related? 

Classically, either sugar or cholesterol was singled out as the culprits of cardiovascular disease or simply heart disease. Turns out, both relate to heart disease. 

Dietary cholesterol was once thought to be the main reason for heart disease. However, scientific studies have shown that sugar and cholesterol both play a complicated role in consumer health. Industries reliant on sugar knew this and were primarily the ones responsible for funding the studies that put cholesterol under a microscope.

Over time, research has revealed that both sugar and cholesterol are major players in heart disease. What's more, they have a complex relationship with one another. 

Basically, diets that are high in sugar cause the body to make more "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and less "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) levels. 

How Does Sugar Raise Cholesterol? 

Excessive amounts of sugar can lead to dangerous increases in the amount of fat in the blood. Long-term, large amounts of sugar can also cause parts of the body that break down blood fat to work less efficiently.

First, eating sugar raises the levels of sugar in the blood. Then, it causes levels of insulin (the fat-storage hormone) to rise. 

Essentially, more sugar means more insulin. Higher levels of insulin send more fat into storage in the body. 

Should You Avoid Sugar If You Have High Cholesterol?

Since high sugar diets can lead to higher levels of fat sent to storage, a long-term effect can be a difficult condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is linked to many conditions and makes achieving balance in the body extremely difficult. It often complicates chronic health disorders. 

Insulin Resistance Risks

In the case of insulin resistance, the body responds poorly to insulin. Liver, muscle, and fat cells are not able to properly respond to sugar (to take up sugar from the blood). Consequently, the pancreas produces more and more insulin in an effort to try and help move sugar from the blood into the cells. 

Over time, this can cause prediabetes and diabetes and raise the risk for other serious conditions. Foods with natural sugars, like fruit, contain sugar but also have nutrients like vitamins and minerals that help the body. On the other hand, refined foods are often high in sugar and lack any nutrients at all. 

How To Lower Sugar and Cholesterol

Luckily, not all hope is lost! There are many ways to lower sugar and cholesterol levels in the diet. 

Try one of these tips or tricks today for a healthier heart. 

1. Try High-Quality Carbs Instead of High Quantity

Whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables can be equally parts delicious and nutritious. Instead of focusing on the amount of carbohydrates eaten, try incorporating more high-quality carbs into a balanced diet

2. Level Blood Sugars With A Low Glycemic Index Item

Foods with a lower glycemic index score can help to stabilize blood sugar. These foods offer calories and energy without raising blood sugar too much. Some great options for low glycemic foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like oats.

3. Try High-Fiber Foods Like Legumes

Studies show diets like the Mediterranean diet significantly lower the risk of heart disease. Including Mediterranean-style foods like legumes, fish, nuts, olive oil, and lean meats can satisfy without spiking blood sugar. 

4. Remember That Artificial Sweeteners Aren't All That

While artificial sweeteners are certainly an alternative to sugar, most research shows that adding them to the diet does not actually help people maintain a healthy weight. 

Especially in the case of liquid calories packed with teaspoons of sugar, it can be easy to overload on something that makes the body secrete insulin. Instead, try unsweetened sparkling water or fruit-infused water to naturally cut sugar intake. 

5. Adhere To Healthy Habits

Exercising, ceasing smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are all positive habits to put into place. They can lower the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes or heart disease and help mediate problems related to insulin resistance. 

6. Look For Foods With "Healthy" Fats

The fats to look out for are the "unhealthy" ones. These include trans fats and too many saturated fats since they increase "bad" cholesterol (LDL). 

Try eating more "healthy" fats, like avocados, nuts, and seeds. 

7. Limit Processed Foods with Added Sugar

Cutting out packaged pastries may be one of the most simultaneously easiest, yet one of the hardest ways to reduce excess sugar consumption. While avoiding their intake can save on hundreds upon hundreds of calories, actually saying "no" may be difficult for some, particularly related to the sweet, tempting convenience they display. 

When desiring such products, allow such indulgences very sporadically. Also, prepare in the kitchen for tighter ingredient control. 

8. Recognize Hidden Sources of Sugar

Although pastries are an obvious source of sugar, some products are able to hide their addition quite smoothly. In fact, added sugars may even be in canned fruits and vegetables, salad dressings, deli meats, and granola bars.

9. Beware of "Healthful" Foods

Some packaged foods, especially if advertised as "low-fat," "fat-free," or "gluten-free," may appear as healthy on the outside. However, they might be loaded with sugar. Such products contain a tremendous amount of sugar to compensate for the elimination of other ingredients.

10. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label

Always take advantage of the Nutrition Facts label, as it is a valuable tool to identify sugar content. For instance, while two bags of sweetened and unsweetened strawberries look similar on the surface, glancing out at the Nutrition Facts label reads a different story. 

In fact, a cup of sweetened strawberries contains 47 grams of sugar, while its unsweetened variant contains only 10 grams.

11. Sift Through the Ingredients Label

When in doubt, sift it out! Along with the importance of a Nutrition Facts label, the Ingredient label holds significant value. 

Always try choosing products with minimal ingredients, including the addition of different types of sugar. It may be listed as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, agave nectar, cane sugar, and other forms on the ingredient list.

The Last Word On The Link Between Sugar and Cholesterol 

Some forms of sugar and cholesterol are healthier than others. Rather than focusing on quantities of food, focusing on the quality of the diet can help improve health. 

Keeping the heart healthy and avoiding insulin resistance is a key part of maintaining balanced, overall wellness. 

References:

Why a Sweet Tooth Spells Trouble for Your Heart. Cleveland Clinic. Published April 6, 2017. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sweet-tooth-spells-trouble-heart/

Moll J. How High Blood Sugar Affects Your Cholesterol Level. Verywell Health. Published April 23, 2020. https://www.verywellhealth.com/high-blood-sugar-and-cholesterol-697781

Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Issues. Published May 2018. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance

Pletcher P. Sugar and Cholesterol: Is There a Connection? Healthline. Published September 20, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/sugar-and-cholesterol.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on May 22, 2017. Updated on June 20, 2022.

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