Monday, April 26, 2010

Added Sugars Linked to Cholesterol Levels

Added sugars in food increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and trigycerides, and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

We have all been made aware, for many years, of a putative link between cholesterol levels and a diet rich in fat. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which followed more than 6,100 subjects from 1999 to 2006, the amount of added sugar consumed by the subjects was correlated to their cholesterol and triglycerides level. The more added sugar they consumed, the higher their LDL and triglycerides levels (that's bad), and the lower their HDL cholesterol level (that's bad too). HDL cholesterol level was 50% to 300% more likely to be low for people who got more than 10% of their daily intake of caolires from sugar, compared to those who got less than 5% of their calories from sugar.

The implication: a diet rich in sugar may be nefarious to cholesterol and triglycerides levels, and conducive to heart risk. We knew that too much sugar was contributing to weight gain - this is the first time that we see a direct link between sugar and other cardiovascular risk factors.

The study found that sugar represented on average 360 calories a day, or 16% of the total calories ingested daily, an increase of over 50% in the past three decades, according to study co-author Miriam Vos, MD, of Atlanta’s Emory University. This amount represents 21 teaspoonfuls of sugar, or 2.5 to 3 times more than the levels recommended by the American Heart Association.

There are significant amounts of added sugar in many soft drinks, fruit drinks and processed foods. In fact, as fat levels are gone down in processed foods following increased consumer sensitivity to fat content, they have often been replaced by more added sugar. Frequently found added sugars include high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, cane juice, table sugar, brown sugar and many more. A recent study reported on this blog found that high fructose corn syrup was actually more nefarious than regular sugar.

Another study published this month by the Italian National Cancer Institute finds that simple carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (indicative of carbs that are easily turned into sugars by the body), such as white flour or white rice, increase the risk of heart disease in women.

Our understanding of nutrition has gone through several radial changes in the past 40 years. Our focus on fat as the root of all nutritional evil may, in the future, make way to a more comprehensive understanding, where sugars and refined carbohydrates could be equivalent risk factors.

Want to read more about it? Try the New York Times, CNN, WebMD, USA Today,, FoodConsumer, CBC News, or

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