Research shows that consuming too much dietary sugar can lower levels of “good” cholesterol and increase levels of its “bad” counterpart.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, which is a source of energy for the body.

Both adults and children may experience health problems in later life if they consume too much sugar in their diet. However, a person can reduce sugar intake for a healthier diet.

This article explores the connection between sugar and cholesterol. It discusses what cholesterol is and the effects of sugar consumption on both good and bad cholesterol. It also explains how a person may manage sugar intake and when to contact a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Cholesterol is a fatty molecule and steroid essential for health, as it plays several important roles within the body. One crucial function of cholesterol is providing structural integrity to cell membranes and managing their fluidity, which helps to control how proteins and lipids, or fats, move within the membrane.

That said, cholesterol is also important for other reasons. For instance, the body can use cholesterol to synthesize molecules such as vitamin D, alongside a range of steroid and sex hormones. Additionally, cholesterol in bile salt allows the digestive system to extract fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Scientists divide cholesterol into two types: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. People sometimes call the former “bad” cholesterol and the latter “good” cholesterol.

This is because people who have higher amounts of LDL cholesterol may be at an increased risk of developing serious medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, aortic aneurysms, and stroke. In contrast, people with higher amounts of HDL cholesterol are less at risk of developing these conditions.

It may be helpful for a person to lower their LDL cholesterol levels and increase their HDL cholesterol levels. Since different foods have different effects on cholesterol levels, maintaining a balanced diet is important for managing cholesterol levels.

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Sugar is a kind of carbohydrate. There are different types of sugar that occur naturally and others that people chemically refine.

Many people use sugar as a food sweetener and preservative, but it also affects cholesterol levels in the body. This section discusses the effects of refined sugars on cholesterol levels.

According to a 2016 medical review, as sugar intake increases, LDL cholesterol levels go up, whereas HDL cholesterol levels go down. This is especially true of some sugars, such as refined fructose or sucrose, as opposed to other sugars, such as glucose.

Furthermore, the researchers of a 2020 study suggested that replacing fructose or sucrose with starch may lower LDL cholesterol levels. Starch is a complex carbohydrate made up of glucose.

Scientists have observed similar effects in children. For instance, a 2021 study investigated the effects of added sugar intake on 8-year-old children. The researchers found a significant decrease in HDL cholesterol levels in children who consumed higher amounts of dietary sugar.

However, a 2022 review of scientific research found that consuming low levels of added dietary sugar has minimal effects on long-term LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. However, the researchers noted that further studies into this topic are necessary.

People who are concerned about their cholesterol levels may not need to cut added sugars out of their diet completely. However, reducing their added sugar intake may be beneficial.

There is some debate about how much sugar adults can healthily consume on average, as the amount varies between individuals.

However, according to the American Heart Association, adult females should consume no more than 25 grams (g) of added sugar per day, and adult males should consume no more than 36 g of added sugar per day.

Some scientists estimate that, on average, people in the United States consume between three to six times that amount. Therefore, many Americans are at risk of developing several health conditions that have a link to high sugar consumption, including:

People can replace added sugars with other sources of energy. These might include natural sources of unrefined sugar, such as fruits and vegetables.

People should speak with a healthcare professional for further advice about how to modify their diet safely.

A doctor can diagnose elevated LDL cholesterol levels or hypercholesterolemia. This condition can cause the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which can lead to an increased risk of:

Anyone who is concerned about their cholesterol levels should speak with a doctor. A doctor can offer further advice about lowering cholesterol intake and perform tests to determine if a person has healthy cholesterol levels, if necessary.

If a person has high levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol, they may be at risk of serious health problems. Eating too much added sugar can lead to this imbalance of cholesterol levels. People may consume too much sugar from a young age.

However, a person can reduce their dietary sugar intake. A healthcare professional can help a person manage their diet and lower LDL cholesterol levels.