High-Sugar Diet Linked to Cholesterol
Added Sugars in Diet Triple Risk of Having Low Level of 'Good' Cholesterol
April 20, 2010 -- The average American eats the equivalent of about 21
teaspoons of added sugar a day -- about 2 1/2 to 3 times more than new heart disease prevention
guidelines say they should.
Excess sugar is known to contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other conditions
linked to heart disease, and now new
research links it to unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride
People in the study who ate the most added sugar had the lowest HDL, or good
cholesterol, and the highest blood triglyceride levels. People who ate the
least sugar had the highest HDL and the lowest triglyceride levels.
Eating large amounts of added sugar more than tripled the risk of having low
HDL, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
The study appears in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American
Added Sugar, Empty Calories
Added sugar is defined as any caloric sweetener used in processed or
prepared foods. Beyond increasing calories, added sugars have no nutritional
In guidelines released late last summer, the American Heart Association
recommended limiting added sugar in the diet to no more than 100 calories
a day for most women and 150 calories for most men.
That’s about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons for
To put this in perspective, the average 12-ounce can of regular soda has
between 8 and 10 teaspoons of sugar. A breakfast cereal with 16 grams
of sugar per serving has about 4 teaspoons.
In the newly published study, daily consumption of added sugars averaged
about 360 calories a day, or 16% of total daily calories.
That is an increase of about 6% in just over three decades, researcher
Miriam Vos, MD, of Atlanta’s Emory University tells WebMD.
“This is a dramatic increase, but it is not too surprising given the
proliferation of processed foods with large amounts of added sugar,” she
Vos and colleagues analyzed data on 6,113 adults who participated in the
large, ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from
1999 to 2006.
The lowest consumption group got less than 5% of their daily calories from
added sugars, while the highest consumers got 25% or more of their daily
calories from sugar.
Sugar consumption appeared to be directly related to HDL and triglyceride
levels. The more sugar the participants ate, the lower their HDL and higher
Compared to people who ate the least sugar, people who ate the most sugar
were three times more likely to have low HDL levels.
“Our findings strongly support the AHA recommendations to limit added
sugar,” Vos says.
Sugar Hiding in Drinks, Processed Foods
University of Vermont nutrition professor Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, the author
of the AHA sugar guidelines, says only a small minority of Americans meet the
goal of eating no more than 100 to 150 calories a day of added sugar.
Reading food labels can help, but because labels don’t distinguish between
added sugars and those that occur naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables,
and dairy products, they can be misleading, she says.
“When a label has the word ‘syrup’ or words that end in ‘ose’ like sucrose,
fructose, and dextrose, these are added sugars,” she says. Another
ingredient that represents added sugar is “evaporated cane juice.”
Johnson says anyone who wants to limit the sugar in their diet should start
by examining what they drink.
“We know that beverages are the No. 1 source of added sugar in the diet, and
we aren’t just talking about soft drinks,” she says. “Most fruit drinks and
sports drinks are full of added sugar.”
Eating fewer processed foods is also key, she says.
“The old mantra to shop the perimeter of the grocery store is as true today
as it ever was,” she says. “A diet based of fruits, vegetables, whole grains,
low-fat dairy, and lean meats will be low in added sugars.”