Many people think that the best way to manage your high cholesterol is by avoiding cholesterol-heavy foods, but this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, many other types of foods can affect your cholesterol levels far more.
For example, diets heavier in added sugar may impact your cholesterol levels in ways you may not realize.
So, what exactly is the relationship between eating added sugar and your body’s cholesterol levels? To learn more, we talked with a couple of expert dietitians. Here’s what added sugar does to cholesterol, and for more tips on eating healthy, check out 5 Worst Drinks That Can Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack.
What sugar can do to your cholesterol
“When it comes to dietary changes to improve cholesterol most of us do not think about added sugar. However, significantly reducing added sugar in your diet can improve cholesterol in major ways,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements.
But how exactly can added sugar impact these levels? “Added sugar can cause inflammation in the body and lower HDL cholesterol, which is a form of cholesterol known as ‘good cholesterol’ and is one way the body fights LDL, or ‘bad cholesterol,'” says Best. “It has also been shown that added sugars increase the body’s triglyceride levels, which is the amount of fat circulating in the blood.”
According to a study published in The Journal of the American Heart Association, people who consumed added sugar in the form of a 12-ounce soda on a daily basis increased their chances of having high triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol.
An important note about added sugar
When talking with our dietitians, we were reminded that much of the research found online can make it seem as though even small amounts of added sugar will always greatly impact your cholesterol, which can sometimes create an unnecessary motivation for highly restrictive dieting. Instead, most of the research is looking at diets significantly heavier in added sugars, not those that include it from time to time.
“Though added sugars offer no real nutritional benefit, they don’t have to be completely eliminated from our diet,” says Rachel Fine, RDN and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition. “Total elimination of added sugar is practically impossible and can lead to obsessively restrictive disordered eating habits.”
When monitoring your cholesterol levels and watching your consumption of added sugars, Fine suggests including some heart-healthy foods as well.
“In regard to supporting cholesterol, I encourage a mindset of inclusion, not exclusion. Incorporate more foods rich in monounsaturated like olive oil and avocados, which are heart healthy as they reduce LDL cholesterol levels while increasing HDL cholesterol levels.”