It has been noticed that excess intake of sugar plays a vital role in increasing the cholesterol levels in the body. According to a study, sugar consumption can also raise the markers for cardiovascular diseases. Consumption of more added sugar leads to lower ‘good’ cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. HDL is responsible for taking excess ‘bad’ cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to the liver.

About Excess Intake of Sugar

Added sugar is any caloric sweetener used in food that is processed or prepared. Apart from increasing the calorie content, added sugar has no nutritional value to offer. It is recommended that women should restrict their daily sugar consumption to 100 calories and men should restrict it to 150 calories. It amounts to 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

Added sugars and simple carbohydrates are converted into sugar rapidly in the body. This includes not just desserts like cakes or cookies but also foods processed from refined grains, like bread and white rice. High blood sugar leads to high cholesterol levels, which is also known as very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), and low levels of HDL. High blood sugar levels can also damage the lining of the arteries.

Carbohydrates are absorbed by the body as sugar and if the blood sugar levels go up, the body responds by releasing insulin to balance the sugar in the blood. Insulin is a vital hormone produced by the body that makes sure that the sugar is stored in the body for use between meals. Over time, it not only stores the sugar but shifts the body into a storage mode.

With rising sugar levels in the body, HDL or good cholesterol levels start decreasing. On the other hand, levels of triglycerides, fats that pose cardiovascular risks, increase. Therefore, HDL and triglyceride levels are directly connected to a person’s sugar consumption. The more sugar people consume, the lower are their HDLs and higher are their triglycerides.

The consumption of excess added sugar not only increases the risk of low HDL levels by three times but is also a major risk factor for heart diseases. Generally, when one thinks of food that can lead to high cholesterol, foods with high amounts of saturated fat or trans fats are the first to come to mind. However, they aren’t the only risk factor behind high cholesterol that should be considered.

Causes of Cholesterol

High cholesterol leads to fatty deposits on the walls of blood vessels. These deposits keep growing over time, resulting in an obstruction of the blood flow in the arteries. Sometimes, these deposits can break suddenly, forming a clot that may lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Some people inherit high cholesterol, but in most cases, it is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle or eating habits. Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent high cholesterol is to follow a healthy lifestyle that includes good eating habits, regular exercising, and if required, by taking necessary medication.

In the blood, cholesterol is the waxy substance that is needed to build healthy cells. But at the same time, high cholesterol levels can lead to an increased risk of heart diseases and other heart-related issues. Most of the cholesterol that’s present in the body is produced by the body itself and not absorbed from the diet. Therefore, maintaining cholesterol is not about avoiding foods that contain cholesterol but avoiding foods that help the body make more cholesterol.

Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to proteins and their combination is known as lipoproteins. Based on what the lipoprotein carries, there are different types of cholesterols in the body:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is also known as bad cholesterol and it carries cholesterol particles all through the body. The bad cholesterol accumulates on the walls of the arteries and makes them hard and narrow. This obstructs the blood flow which can lead to serious problems later on.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol as it picks up excess or unnecessary cholesterol from the body and transports it to the liver.

Symptoms of Cholesterol

Though no determined symptom can indicate the level of cholesterol in the blood but high cholesterol can lead to other problems that have symptoms, such as angina (chest pain caused due to heart disease), stroke, high blood pressure, and circulatory problems. Soft, yellowish growths on the skin can also indicate a genetic predisposition to cholesterol. These are also known as lesions and xanthomas. People suffering from diabetes or obesity are also known to have high cholesterol. Arteries affected by high blood cholesterol can also cause impotency in men.

Prevention and Treatment

High cholesterol is treatable. Lowering cholesterol also helps reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. If you are an adult, make sure that you get your cholesterol tested periodically. If there is a problem, consult your doctor for ways to adjust your cholesterol levels as necessary.

To lower the cholesterol levels in the body, the best way is to reduce the consumption of saturated fats to 5-6% of the daily calorie intake and to minimize the amount of trans fats being consumed. This means limiting the intake of red meat and dairy products that are made from whole milk. Limiting or refraining from fried food and cooking with healthy oils, like vegetable oil, is also recommended.

A heart-healthy diet would include fruits, whole grains, vegetables, fish, nuts, and poultry while minimizing sugary foods and beverages. Doing so also increases fiber intake, which can help reduce cholesterol levels by almost 10%.

Stay Hearty and Healthy

  1. Living a sedentary lifestyle lowers the HDL levels in your body. So, there is less good cholesterol to remove the bad cholesterol (LDL) from the arteries.
  2. Even around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises in a week are enough to keep a check on the blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Swimming, brisk walking, dancing, cycling, etc. are some good activities for the same.
  3. Smoking reduces HDL levels in your body. If a person has unhealthy cholesterol levels, smoking adds to the risk of heart disease. Quitting smoking can help lower cholesterol levels. Non-smokers on the other hand should avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
  4. Obesity can also raise LDL levels and reduce HDL levels in the body. Therefore, losing weight can also help improve cholesterol levels. Even 10% of weight loss can make a significant change in cholesterol levels.

Behavioral changes can go a long way in keeping the cholesterol levels in check. However, if lifestyle changes fail to bring about major changes, one will be prescribed medication to bring their cholesterol levels under control.

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