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Sugar and Cholesterol: Does Sugar Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?

Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Published in Nutrition

7 min read

February 23, 2022
March 1, 2024
eggs, bacon and pancakes on a plate and a glass of orange juice
eggs, bacon and pancakes on a plate and a glass of orange juice

There's a lot of talk these days about the health effects of sugar. While some claim sugar is responsible for everything from obesity to heart disease, others argue that sugar isn't as harmful as it's made out to be.

There's also a lot of conflicting information out there about the relationship between sugar and cholesterol. Can sugar actually raise your cholesterol levels? Does it have little to no effect at all on cholesterol?

Read on to learn a little more about the relationship between sugar and cholesterol so you can make informed dietary decisions.

What is the Relationship Between Sugar and Cholesterol?

a person eating a biscuit and drinking coffee

Cholesterol is a kind of lipid molecule found in cell membranes. Unlike fatty acids, including omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, cholesterol can't be burned off as an energy source. Instead, it plays a crucial role in ensuring proper cell function. It’s especially vital for the operation of cells involved in hormone and vitamin D production.

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). An accumulation of LDL cholesterol in your blood vessels can lead to a buildup inside your arteries, leading to health problems like blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. HDL is often called "good" cholesterol because it helps keep LDL from building up in your arteries.

How Sugar Impacts Both Types of Cholesterol

Most people know that sugar isn't good for them, but they might not realize how much sugar can impact their cholesterol levels. Sugar can affect both types of cholesterol (HDL and LDL), and sugar can significantly impact both. Too much of either can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other health complications, so it's essential to understand how sugar impacts each type.

Sugar and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (LDL)

chocolate eggs

Overeating sugar can raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease. LDL plays a role in the accumulation of cholesterol in your arteries, which is why it’s labeled as the bad cholesterol.

Eating a high amount of sugar in foods like baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and other ultra-processed foods can contribute to increased LDL cholesterol levels in the body. So if you're looking to keep your heart healthy, it's important to consider limiting your consumption of added sugars.

Sugar and High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL)

two croissants on a plate

As mentioned earlier, HDL is a type ofcholesterol that helps remove excess cholesterol from arteries and transports it to the liver, where it can be processed and eliminated from your body. 

Foods that support HDL cholesterol levels include: 

  • Fatty Fish: Salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help raise HDL levels
  • Olive Oil: This heart-healthy oil contains monounsaturated fats that can help increase HDL levels while keeping LDL levels low
  • Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts are high in HDL-boosting monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

When your HDL levels are low, you increase your risk of developing heart disease. There are links between elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream and lower HDL levels. So, it's essential to monitor your sugar and HDL levels closely.

The risks associated with low HDL levels include:

  • Cardiovascular Disease: Low HDL levels significantly increase your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
  • Memory Decline: Low HDL levels have been linked to a decline in memory in middle-aged patients.

Benefits of Controlling Your Sugar Intake

a person picking salad leaves

Did you know that excess added sugar intake may be one of the leading causes of obesity and weight gain? Many people don't realize just how much added sugar they're consuming daily. For example, did you know that Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons (or 77 grams) of added sugars per day? This is more than double the recommended amount.

For people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, not knowing how much added sugar is in their food can lead to spikes in their blood sugar levels. Over time, it also increases their risk of developing other health complications, such as coronary heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and nerve damage.

Controlling and understanding your added sugar intake can have a range of benefits. Besides regulating cholesterol levels within a healthy range, monitoring your blood sugar also improves your skin health, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and reduces your risk of conditions like some cancers, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

a list of benefits of controlling sugar intake

Tips For Limiting Your Sugar Intake For Minimal Cholesterol Impact

Do you have a hard time resisting sweets? If so, you're not alone. Many of us have sweet cravings at times, for many different reasons, and it can be difficult to address these. Remember that added sugars can be hidden in many foods you'd never expect it to be in, like yogurt, barbecue sauce, and even some dehydrated or dried fruit. Be aware of foods that contain high levels of refined sugar, like sodas, candy, and baked goods. 

Try to avoid these whenever possible. Another strategy is to ensure that you're filling up on healthy foods like whole fruits and vegetables. These foods don’t contain added sugars, are low in calories, and will help satisfy your hunger pangs.

You may be surprised to learn that reducing added sugar intake is one of the most effective ways to prevent a wide variety of health issues. As we've already mentioned, consuming excessive amounts of added sugar may impact cholesterol, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Added sugars can also have negative impacts on your blood sugar levels, weight, and overall energy. But, learning what foods are hiding refined and processed sugar and making smart dietary choices can help you cut down on your sugar intake without depriving yourself of your favorite foods. 

a person being served with a salad

Thankfully, you can take steps to keep your sugar intake in check and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Here are some tips to help regulate your sugar intake:

Avoid Heavily Processed Foods 

It's a good idea to stick to a healthy diet, complete with whole foods instead of processed foods that are filled with preservatives, salt, and simple sugars. Many wonderful fruits and complex carbohydrates can provide you with the energy you need without spiking your blood sugar levels.

Kick That Soda Habit

Sodas contain a lot of simple sugar. So, swapping soda for carbonated water or tea could help cut a lot of sugar from your daily intake. But be careful when you buy bottled tea. Many food industry teas are loaded with sugar, so it's always better to make your own.

Eat Whole Fruits Instead of Fruit Juice or Canned Fruits

Fruits offer a delightful natural sweetness, packed with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that bring numerous health benefits. When you consume juice or preserved fruit, you're not only consuming added sugar but also missing out on the beneficial fiber they provide.

Always Read Nutrition Information on Food Labels

By familiarizing yourself with the added sugar content in different food options, you'll gain a better understanding of which ones have added sugars or higher sugar levels. As you develop a habit of reading nutrition facts, you may find yourself naturally drawn to making healthier choices.

Eat More Protein and Healthy Fats

A balanced diet with protein and healthy fats helps prevent sugar cravings and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. If you're curious about snack foods options, go with avocado, nuts rich in healthy fats, and Greek yogurt.

Ensure You're Getting Enough Sleep

When fatigue sets in, your body may yearn for sugar as a source of energy. You'll also notice that you suddenly crave certain types of food that are high in added sugar or fat content.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Embracing a heart-healthy lifestyle can be frustrating and challenging. While you learn new information on what you can do about it, putting these answers into action is a whole other story. With the Nutrisense CGM program, you're not alone in this journey to better health. Our team of nutrition experts is here to support and guide you every step of the way.

As you ease into tracking your blood glucose levels with the Nutrisense continuous glucose monitor (CGM), you may start to notice patterns in your sugar cravings. Our dietitians and nutritionists will help you understand these patterns and provide personalized recommendations to help you make healthier food choices.

But it's not just about cutting out sugar completely. Our team will work with you to create a balanced and flexible approach to your diet that works for your individual needs and preferences. This can include incorporating nutrient-dense foods, such as lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats, into your meals.

Discovering what works best for your body no longer requires enduring a series of trials and errors. Using a CGM takes the guesswork out of your daily health choices. It provides real-time data and insights into how different foods, stress levels, and physical activity affect your blood glucose levels. And best of all, you don't need to constantly take blood samples.

If you are wondering if Nutrisense is the right fit for you, take our quiz to see how our program can support your health goals.

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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Reviewed by: Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Natalie received her degree in Dietetics from Mansfield University and a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition from the University at Buffalo. Her career has included nutrition education and program development in her local community, adjunct faculty at several collegiate institutions, and clinical nutrition in both inpatient and outpatient settings.