How Sugar Affects Your Cholesterol

When most of us think of foods that are the worst for their cholesterol, eggs or shrimp often come to mind. But, this is a misconception! It’s not these foods that are adversely affecting your cholesterol. It’s sugar that’s the main culprit!

How can this be? The cholesterol that circulates inside our bodies is made inside our bodies, and not absorbed from our diet, and therefore it is not about avoiding foods that naturally contain cholesterol. It’s actually about avoiding foods that prompt our bodies to create cholesterol, and that’s where sugar comes in!

When I say sugar, I am referring to not only sweets (like cakes and cookies, candies and other desserts), but other foods containing or made from refined grains – like white rice, breads, bagels and pasta. How can these foods affect your cholesterol?

  1. All carbohydrates are absorbed as sugar. And when blood sugar levels go up (like after eating a bagel), the body responds by releasing insulin.
  2. Insulin is a vital hormone that makes sure sugar is stored in our bodies for use between meals. But it doesn’t just cause sugar to be stored. It shifts our bodies into storage mode in general.
  3. LDL, bad cholesterol, is the storage form of cholesterol! If insulin levels go up, LDL goes up. HDL, good cholesterol, is the non-storage form of cholesterol. If insulin levels go up, HDL goes down.
  4. If you’ve stored all the sugar you can and there’s still excess circulating in your blood stream, insulin helps turn sugar into fat. The result? Triglyceride levels go up.

To be clear, sugar that occurs naturally, like in fruits has a very different effect on our biochemistries. Sugar that comes in the form of a whole food (like an apple) is absorbed slowly because it takes more time to digest an apple, and this helps insulin levels to stay steadier. Note that I’m talking about a whole apple – not apple sauce or apple juice (which is digested more quickly, losing some of the positive effect on your biochemistry).

So, when eating carbohydrates, stick as close as you can to the original form (whole foods and grains). It’ll help you keep your insulin levels – and your cholesterol – in check.

Hope this information was helpful! If you have specific health concerns and would like to get your cholesterol checked, please call Prosperity Internal Medicine at 703-876-9300. Our group uses the latest advances in medicine, offering our patients access to innovative health management technologies, proactive team-based care, and an evidenced-based, patient-centered approach.