Does Sugar Affect Cholesterol Levels?

Posted on Thursday, August 12th, 2010
Written by: Angela, Nutritionist

Seattle Nutritionist Angela Pifer writes:

If you have high cholesterol, chances are you were instructed to reduce your intake of total fat, specifically animal fats, from your diet, become more active and to work on weight loss. What you weren’t told is that you should also address your sugar intake. A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association looked at the blood profiles and sugar intake of more than 6,100 adults (whose demographics were representative of the American population). On average, study participants consumed 21.4 teaspoons of sugar a day (24 teaspoons equals ½ cup!). Those who took in more sugar had lower levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides. It seems that the message is clear, added dietary sugar is connected with poor lipid profiles.

This is the first study to look at the connection between how much added sugars and ‘empty’ calories people consume and the effect on blood lipid profiles. Some factors for heart disease, like family history, cannot be changed. By identifying added dietary sugars as a contributor for a poor lipid profile people at risk can now begin to address what can be changed.

In addition, the study found that:

  • On average, people consumed 10.6% more calories from sugar a day than they did in the 1970’s.
  • The higher the intake of added sugar, the lower the person’s HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Participants consuming 10% of total calories from added sugar had three times the risk of having low HDL than someone who took in half that much sugar.
  • Participants with a higher intake of added sugar tended to have higher triglyceride levels as well.
  • **Women who took in more added sugar also had higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

How much Added Sugar is Too Much Sugar?

To make matters more confusing, medical and health organizations do not agree on a current recommendation. Depending on whom you ask the daily consumption of added sugars should fall below:

  • 25% , according to the Institute of Medicine
  • 10%, according to the World Health Organization
  • 6% or 7%, according to the American Heart Association

The Type of Sugar Matters

Though it would seem that Americans are eating a lot more sugar now than they did forty years ago, they are not. Sugar calories are up just 10% over those consumed in the 1970’s. What is different is the type of sugar people are consuming. In the 1970’s people consumed on average 343 calories a day of refined cane and beet sugar and only 2 calories from high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). High-fructose corn syrup has now risen to 41% of Americans total sugar intake. It is also the single most consumed caloric nutrient for the American Population.

The Cost of Calories

One of the reasons Americans are eating more calories from high-fructose corn syrup today than in the 1970’s is due to government incentives on corn production and tariffs on sugar. It is simply less expensive to produce HFCS than it is to produce cane or beet sugar.

A person might expect that added sugars, along with other food groups, have increased equally over time in response to inflation. That person would be wrong. The inflation-adjusted cost of added sugars has dropped by half since 1970. This change can be credited to the steep rise of low-cost ‘foods’ containing high-fructose corn syrup over the last thirty years.

Over the past forty years, the price of added sugars has dropped significantly more than the purchase price of each food group:

  • Fruit sources: 30% increase
  • Vegetable sources: Unchanged
  • Grain sources: 29% decrease
  • Dairy sources: 38% decrease
  • Fat sources: 38% decrease
  • Protein sources: 50% decrease
  • Sugar sources: 50% decrease

What Can You do?

  • Read nutrition labels and take note of how much added sugar you consume.
  • Reduce or replace foods containing corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, cane or beet sugar or sucrose.
  • Replace soda with water, sparkling water or mineral water.
  • Choose whole foods whenever possible. Fruit is a perfectly healthy addition to your eating plan. Eat frequently across the day and incorporate into green salads and grain dishes.
  • Be patient. As you move away from sugar added foods it will take some time for your taste receptors to lower for perceived sweetness. Whole foods may taste a little bland at first, but as your taste receptors begin to adjust you will be able to taste the sweetness in real whole foods.

Angela Pifer, MSN CN Seattle Nutritionist

Seattle Weight Loss Programs that Get Results!

Categories: Current Affairs, Uncategorized

3 Responses to “Does Sugar Affect Cholesterol Levels?”

  1. Mike Rainey says:

    My good cholestrol is at 42, while my bad is at 199.88. I eat quite a bit of sugar . and love orange slices. The candy elimination is obvious, but what can i do to lower my cholestrol levels.

  2. Eric Blankenship says:

    My doctor told me to lay off popcorn, potatoes and soft drinks with sugar etc..basicly white foods…..because of cholostrol…going up…..he told me to watch my sugar intake but i craved sodas with sugar..sugary koolaid..chips…and i eat popcorn and noodles etc..lots of starchy foods…i had not idea that it could make my cholostrol go up….i take meds for that but i never thought about sugar….plus i never drink water….i eat frosted flakes sometimes late at night…..thanks for the article…thanks ….i have learned a lot

  3. Tiffany says:

    One thing I am curious about is how sugar can affect cholesterol in vegans. I am a vegan and so is my good friend. We eat no animal products. Her doctor just told her not to eat any more sugar. Why would she still be having high cholesterol and should I worry too?

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