Link Between Added Sugars and Cholesterol Levels

My parents send me the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter after they read it each month, which is great because I learn something and occasionally get material for the blog. The cover article for July was about how sugars affect cholesterol levels, which is something I thought many of you would be interested in. I often get e-mails from people asking what foods are good for lowering cholesterol. This is always a tough question. I know people who eat a healthy diet who have high cholesterol, and I know people who eat terribly but have low cholesterol. So, it’s difficult to tell someone what to eat without knowing a lot more about their family medical history, current diet, exercise routine, and more.

This article claims that the first study was conducted on the relationship between sugar and cholesterol levels, and the conclusion was that sugars added to processed foods can increase LDL cholesterol, lower HDL cholesterol, raise triglycerides, and increase overall risk of heart disease.

It states that Americans get about 16% of our total daily calories from added sugars found in processed foods. That’s about 90 grams of sugar, or 21.4 teaspoons. Gross!

The group that ate increased levels of added sugars from processed foods had lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels at the end of the study, and higher levels of unhealthy triglycerides. The interesting part, though, is that LDL (bad) cholesterol levels increased only in women in this group. There wasn’t really any explanation as to why men’s LDL cholesterol was not affected by the processed foods in the same way the women’s was. I was surprised to hear these results, but I recommend taking them with a grain of salt. Not that I know more than the medical experts at Tufts, but I don’t want men to read this and think it’s okay to eat more processed foods! We all know that processed foods can take a toll on our health in many different ways, and the best diet is one consisting of fresh, whole foods and minimal amounts of processed foods.

There’s one other interesting part of the article I wanted to point out. Towards the end, they provide some “tips” for reducing sugar intake. One tip reads, “Buy sugar-free or low-calorie beverages.” Besides the fact that I completely disagree with this, there is another tip they give that says to “Use zero-calorie sweeteners in moderation.” Now, I agree with using zero-calorie sweeteners in moderation, but these are the sweeteners used in sugar-free or low-cal beverages, which they are encouraging people to drink! Makes no sense to me.

Either way, it’s an interesting article and I’m glad there is some concrete evidence that sugars from processed foods are not good for cholesterol levels. So many people are constantly concerned about their cholesterol levels, yet continue to eat a diet high in processed foods. Maybe this will give them the motivation they need to transition into a more whole foods based diet! And remember that even foods that appear healthy usually have lots of added sugars and are still highly processed. They may advertise the protein or fiber, but always check sugar content!

Have a great weekend!

Source for this post: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, July 2010, Volume 28, Number 5

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