Skip Sugar, Not shrimp, for lower Cholesterol
Most of us have learned that foods like eggs, shrimp, and high fat meats are foods that make our cholesterol levels jump up. While these foods do contain some cholesterol, the body’s production of cholesterol holds a more important place in the book of lipid levels.
Genetics play a huge factor in the amount of cholesterol particles floating through your bloodstream, but new research (2010) shows that the sugar added to foods may deserve more credit for raising cholesterol levels than we have been giving it.
The food industry adds sugar to just about everything, from vegetables to bread, and the justification is to ‘increase desirability of the product’ as the study puts it. Humans in general are more apt to choose sweetened items for flavor as opposed to unsweetened ones. Kids are a prime example, as they typically crave sugary foods above any other.
Peaches, canned vegetables, baby food, sandwich wraps, deli meats, cereals, granola bars, salad dressings, canned soups, and sauces all commonly have sugar listed in that long ingredient list.
The American Heart association advises those of us looking to preserve our veins and arteries, and more importantly, our heart, to limit added sugars to fewer than 100 calories daily (or 25 grams of sugar) for women. This is the equivalent to the amount of sugar in two large bananas. For men, 150 calories is the max for added sugar intake, which is found in one large bowl of Raisin Bran and skim milk and one 20oz bottle of gatorade or a similar sports drink.
Most people consume added sugars equivalent to 16% of total calories, most commonly in the form of cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Examples of Added Sugar
- Del Monte Pineapple Chunks packed in heavy syrup contains 22g sugar, while the Del Monte Pineapple Chunks packed in its own juice only has 15g of sugar
- Smuckers Strawberry Jelly has 12g of sugar per tablespoon, while Polaner’s All Fruit Spread with Fiber has 6g of sugar per tablespoon.
- Ocean Spray Cran-Apple Juice Cocktail contains 35g of sugar, while Adam and Eve 100% Cranberry Apple Juice contains 30g of sugar, both for 8 fl oz.
- 1 cup of frozen sweetened whole strawberries contains 47g of sugar, while 1 cup of frozen unsweetened strawberries contains 10g of sugar.
The research behind sugar raising cholesterol levels is new and fresh, while the research telling Americans they consume too much sugar and refined carbohydrates is old and long-standing. Cholesterol levels typically go up when weight goes up, that we know for sure.
Scientists are not positive as to why added sugars increase cholesterol levels, except for some which suggest it could be partly due to the content of fructose, which has been shown to increase new lipid creation in the liver, and the secretion of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
The study showed those with the highest intake of added sugars had lower HDL or “good” cholesterol and higher triglycerides than those in the lowest percentage of added sugar intake. This pattern of decreased HDL and increased triglycerides is typical for people who have abdominal weight distribution and a hard time losing weight. This cholesterol pattern, seen in commonly in metabolic syndrome, is associated with increased heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even certain cancers.
So what does this mean for most of us? Watch the added sugar in the oatmeal that claims to lower your cholesterol. Touted as a health food that helps lower cholesterol, it’s actually the fiber in the oatmeal that can help lower cholesterol levels, just as bran cereals and other fiber-rich foods do.
In the end, consuming foods with added sugars is associated with raising cholesterol levels, and particularly the harmful patter of decreased HDL and increased triglycerides among US adults. More up-and-coming studies are being done to determine if removing the added sugars will help lower cholesterol levels. For now, it’s best to eat foods frozen or fresh and take a quick peek at the ingredient list before dropping it into your cart.
Welsh, S. A. (2010). Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults. Journal of the American Medical Association , 1490-1497.