ADDED sugar has been demonised in so many ways over the last few decades.
Everything from exacerbating ADHD symptoms in children to causing obesity has been hurled at its doorstep. Recently, yet another bugbear has surfaced, the claim that eating too much sugar will increase your bad cholesterol levels.
Is this true?
The connection between sugar intake and cholesterol levels first surfaced after a research review was published on the topic in 2016.
The review found that an increase in sugar intake resulted in an increase in low density lipid (LDL) cholesterol – the bad type – and a decrease in the good type of cholesterol, namely high density lipids (HDL).
However the researchers did note that this was primarily from refined fructose or sucrose (table sugar) added to foods, and not from the glucose we get from more complex carbohydrates such fruits, vegetables and grains.
However, another research review in 2022 contradicted this finding by suggesting that the evidence supporting restricting sugar to improve cholesterol levels was low quality and that if there was an effect, it was minimal and only short term at best.
It went on to state that all existing research to date has not been able to demonstrate a connection between cutting sugar intake and lowering LDL cholesterol in the long term.
What the research does suggest is that if you are a person who already has a high intake of added sugar in your diet – lots of fizzy drinks, sweets etc – then cutting your sugar intake might help reduce your cholesterol levels.
However, if you already have a reasonably balanced diet, cutting sugar from it would have little to no impact on your cholesterol levels, nor reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
If anything, totally eliminating sugar from diet might lead to other problems such as triggering a full-on eating disorder or if you feel you can never eat out or at the homes of friends and family – social isolation.
Needless to say, this does not give you a free pass to eat as many sugary treats as you want as a high sugar diet can impact your health in other ways. Tooth decay for example.
There’s also a clearly defined link between excessive added sugar in your diet and obesity.
As the saying goes, it is the dose that makes the poison. In the case of sugar, a sweetened teh tarik or a scoop of ice cream once in a while will not harm you. Especially if it’s paired with a balanced diet and adequate exercise.
As with all suggestions related to your diet, it’s best that you talk to your doctor about it before making rash, life-changing decisions. Even more so if you already have any pre-existing condition.