How Does Sugar Affect Cholesterol?

Do you have questions about cholesterol levels and sugar intake? Like, how are the two related and why? is it important to control sugar intake? Then, this article should give you some answers. 

High sugar intake can increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. This can lead to higher levels of cholesterol and fatty material in the blood, which can cause arterial diseases. Therefore, dietary changes to lower sugar intake can be very important and helpful. 

If you want to find out more about what sugar and cholesterol are, how the two affect each other and what you can do to lower your sugar intake, read on.

About sugar

Sugar is a form of carbohydrates. They are an essential part of our diet and physiology, as they are one of the major sources of energy for the body. Sugar exists in many different forms: 

  • Sucrose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Trehalose 
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose

The forms differ in chemical formation and are part of different foods. Lactose, for example, can be found in milk and dairy products, whereas fructose is commonly present in fruits and vegetables. Sucrose is present in many vegetables and is commonly added to our food or drinks.1, 2 

Important role of sugar in our health

Sugar is essential as it is a main source of energy for our body, apart from lipids (fats) and proteins. Based on the type of sugar, the body can process it more easily. Usually, high amounts of added sugars in drinks and food should not be consumed in a healthy diet. Eating high amounts of (added) sugar can lead to obesity or being overweight. This, in turn, can lead to further health issues, such as heart disease.2  

Common sources of sugar

Common sources of sugar can be divided into two main parts:1, 2   

Added sugar (usually added to food):

  • Soft drinks 
  • Pre-made meals and processed food 
  • Sweets

Natural sugar (a natural part of a food):

  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables 
  • Dairy products

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty material that can be created by the body, specifically, by the liver, and can come from dietary intake. Cholesterol is important for our health as it plays a crucial role in forming cells, vitamins and hormones. This shows that cholesterol plays a vital role in the functioning of our bodies in general. So, maintaining some amount of cholesterol in the body is very important.3, 4 

Role of cholesterol in our health

High levels of cholesterol can have negative effects on the body. Because cholesterol is a fatty substance circulating in the blood, high levels of cholesterol can hinder blood flow in our body. This increases the risk for:3, 4  

  • High blood pressure 
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Other circulatory problems

Types of cholesterol

There are two main types of cholesterol:5 

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol 
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol 

LDL cholesterol can generate fat buildup in the arteries. Due to the circulatory complications, it is therefore considered ‘bad’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is considered ‘good’ cholesterol because it transports LDL away from the heart and reduces the risk of further complications. 

How does sugar affect cholesterol?

Consuming high amounts of sugar increases the LDL cholesterol levels in your blood. This leads to the liver creating more LDL cholesterol. At the same time, HDL cholesterol levels decrease with high sugar intake. Moreover, high intake of sugar increases the level of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood. Due to this, the breakdown of fats in the blood is lowered. Thus, high sugar intake increases fat levels and LDL cholesterol in the blood. This can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and other circulatory problems.6 

Controlling sugar intake in your diet

To improve your health and lower the possible complications, dietary changes can be made in the following ways:7 

Drinks: 

  • Avoid sugary drinks and substitute with sugar-free or drinks containing less sugar.
  • If you drink coffee or tea with sugar, you can lower the amount of sugar gradually.
  • Drink less amount of store-bought juice (150ml/day), which has lot of processed sugars.
  • Drink water (recommended 6 to 8 glasses daily)

Food: 

  • Avoid food with a lot of added sugar (e.g., sweets). 
  • Avoid or lower the amount of takeaway or pre-made meals, as they often have high amounts of added sugar.
  • Snacking is possible in a healthy way. You can always check the ingredients and find food with low amounts of added sugar. If you feel motivated, you could also try to make your snacks, such as oat bars. 

When to seek medical attention

If you experience any symptoms of the complications mentioned above, seek medical help. Generally, it is always a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider if you are worried or have questions. If you experience any of the following symptoms call 999 immediately.

Heart Disease:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain 
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the chest or the rest of the body 
  • Nausea

Stroke

  • Slurred speech
  • Feeling numb on one side of the body or the face

Summary

Sugar plays an important role as an energy supplier, but too much sugar can quickly increase calorie intake and lead to being overweight. Some amounts of cholesterol are very important to our health, however too much can lead to complications. Cholesterol as the fatty substance runs through our veins and if there is too much, the arteries might be blocked, which could cause a stroke. High sugar intake increases cholesterol levels in the blood. Therefore, it is important to control sugar intake. One way is by avoiding soft drinks and supplementing them with sugar-free alternatives. Seek emergency medical care if you experience symptoms of a stroke or heart disease to ensure no further complications. Dietary advise must always be sought from a health professional. You can make the changes you want to!

References

  1. Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ [Internet]. 2012 Jan 15 [cited 2022 Oct 14];346(jan15 3):e7492–e7492. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/bmj.e7492
  2. Sugar: the facts [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/
  3. High cholesterol [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/
  4. What is Cholesterol? [Internet]. www.heart.org. [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol
  5. Hdl (Good), ldl (Bad) cholesterol and triglycerides [Internet]. www.heart.org. [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/hdl-good-ldl-bad-cholesterol-and-triglycerides
  6. Why a sweet tooth spells trouble for your heart [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sweet-tooth-spells-trouble-heart/
  7. How to cut down on sugar in your diet [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/how-to-cut-down-on-sugar-in-your-diet/
  8. Coronary heart disease [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2018 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronary-heart-disease/
  9. Stroke [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke/
  10. Healthy diet [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet

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Magdalena Pfaff

Bachelor’s in liberal arts and Sciences – Neuroscience, University College Maastricht

Pursuing a Bachelor in the field of neuroscience with special interest in the connection of body and mind from a biological perspective. She is a motivated and ambitious student who has experience in working in the laboratory, as well as in a therapeutic environment. By combining mental and physical health, she wants to do research and work with patients.

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