Sugar and Cholesterol: What You May Not Know!

Because of its particular and irresistible taste, when you start eating sugar, you usually want to consume it more and more until you’re full and you have a stomach ache. Yet, sugar is a very bad food for health when consumed in excess. The problem is that it is easy to fall into excess with sugar. Excess sugar can lead to a lot of health problems: diabetes, hyperglycemia, hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, stroke, overweight and obesity, cavities, advanced aging, and the list goes on. But, what most people ignore is that high sugar intake also impacts blood cholesterol levels. How? Keep reading!

sugary foods

How does sugar affect cholesterol?

In a recent US study, which examined the link between intake of added sugars and blood lipid levels, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta report that dietary sugars may lower HDL levels “good cholesterol” while increasing LDL levels “bad cholesterol” and triglyceride levels, which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

These results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), are based on analysis of data from 6,113 adults who participated in a survey – the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) – which was between 1999 and 2006.

The data also show that daily intake of added sugars has increased by 6% since the late 1970s. In addition, 15.8% of calories consumed daily would come from added sugars – while in 1977-1978 it was only 10.6% calories that came from the added sugars.

“The added sugars are food additives that can be recognized by consumers, and it has already been proposed that there is specific labeling of the food and beverage containers that contain them”, according to the team of researchers, led by Jean Welsh.

“The results of our study demonstrate that increased intake of added sugars is associated with significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including lower HDL cholesterol, higher triglyceride levels, and a higher triglyceride/HDL ratio”, they added.

Details of the study

Welsh and colleagues checked whether the consumption of added sugars could affect blood lipid levels; especially the level of HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides. Using the NHANES data, the researchers grouped participants according to their carbohydrate consumption: the reference participants group consumed less than 5% of the total calories in added sugars, and the other groups consumed 5 to 10%, from 10 to 17.5%, from 17.5 to 25%, and 25% and more of the total calories in added sugars.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that no more than 150 calories a day come from sugar for men and no more than 100 calories for women, which corresponds to 5% of daily calorie intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not to exceed 10%. On average, for the participants in this study, the caloric intake of sugar was 15.8% or over 350 calories a day.

The results revealed that the level of HDL was lower in people who consumed more added sugars. The reference group had an average HDL level of 57.91 mg/dL, while participants who consumed the highest amount of added sugars had an average HDL level of 46.33 mg/dL.

In addition, high consumption of added sugars was associated with an increase in triglyceride levels and triglyceride/HDL ratio, according to the researchers.

The researchers took into account other factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity and conclude that these are sugar-specific effects.

The culprit would be fructose

Discussing the potential mechanisms involved in this decrease in HDL levels, Welsh and colleagues noted that while current mechanisms are “not fully understood”, studies indicate that fructose would play an important role. Fructose is a monosaccharide found in large quantities in almost all added sugars. It has already been shown that this carbohydrate increases the production of fat in the liver, but also the production of triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).

“Although long-term clinical trials that would investigate the effect of reducing added sugars and other carbohydrates on lipid profiles are required, our data support dietary guidelines that target reduced intake of added sugars”, the researchers added.

Note: fruit is also a source of fructose, but the fiber and antioxidants it contains reduce its impact on cholesterol.

Do you eat hidden sugars?

The sugar impact on cholesterol does not involve only, the little white parallelepiped that you put in your coffee. The most dangerous sugar is hidden in foods where it is easy to forget:

– Above all in sweet drinks – all sodas, but also fruit juices, and especially energy drinks, including sports drinks …
– Cakes and pastries are also rich in sugar, of course, just like chocolate and confectionery … but that, you already knew it is not it?
– More unexpected as sources of sugar are the prepared dishes: salad dressing, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, rolls and meat for hamburgers. Of all the packaged foods that we find in a grocery store, 64% contain added sugar. Although their taste does not seem sweet, they sometimes contain a lot. Sugar, which hides in processed foods and sweets, maybe behind that in the last thirty years, the obesity rate has doubled and diabetes has tripled.


To better control cholesterol, it would not only be important to limit the intake of bad fats and choose those of good quality but also to limit added sugars. For example, if you take coffee, take it without sugar. Do not drink any more sodas. Reduce your consumption of cookies and other treats to the maximum. Try to maximize homemade preparations to be able to effectively minimize your sugar consumption.

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Although we base our articles on recent scientific researches, the content on should not be considered as medical advice or a recommendation for medical treatment, but as educational and informational articles that are strictly the personal opinion of's authors. As the reader, you are recommended to consult your doctor to discuss any health issues and treatments. We shall not be held responsible or liable for possible health consequences from following the information in our articles.