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Medically Approved

Does sugar raise cholesterol levels?

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Dietary sugar and cholesterolHigh blood sugar and cholesterolDietary guidelinesTreatmentSummary
Research indicates that high intakes of added sugar may affect health factors like body weight and blood cholesterol levels, though more studies are needed to better understand this relationship.
Medically reviewed by Avi Varma, MD, MPH, AAHIVS, FAAFP
Updated on

Cholesterol is a type of fat your body needs for many functions, like creating cells and hormones. 

However, too much cholesterol may increase your risk of heart disease, so it’s important to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Part of doing so may include managing dietary choices, including sugar intake. 

Different types of cholesterol may affect your health in different ways:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is often also called “bad” cholesterol. High levels may narrow and harden your arteries and increase heart disease risk. 
    • Good: below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less than 70 mg/dL if you have coronary artery disease
    • Moderately elevated: 130–159 mg/dL
    • High: over 160 mg/dL
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This is often known as “good” cholesterol since it helps remove LDL from your blood. Higher levels are generally better.
    • Low: below 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women
    • Good: over 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women
    • Ideal: over 60 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: These are a type of fat that, like LDL, may harm your heart health if levels get too high. 
    • Ideal: below 100 mg/dL
    • Good: 100–149 mg/dL
    • Moderately elevated: 150–199 mg/dL
    • High: over 200 mg/dL
  • Total cholesterol: The sum of all your types of cholesterol.
    • Good: below 200 mg/dL 
    • Moderately elevated: 200–239 mg/dL
    • High: over 240 mg/dL

Does dietary sugar lead to high cholesterol levels?

Couple eating sugary donuts, which may elevate their cholesterol levels
Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines/Stocksy United

Experts do not know exactly how sugar affects blood cholesterol, with research showing contradictory or inconclusive findings. 

A 2021 systematic review found that a high intake of sugar leads to a slight increase in LDL cholesterol levels, though this was using just three studies. And, a systematic review from 2020 found limited evidence that eating more added sugar increases the risk of dying from heart disease.

The review also noted that reducing added sugar in your diet may improve triglyceride markers and that drinking sugar-sweetened drinks may negatively affect cholesterol levels. 

Meanwhile, a 2022 systematic review concluded that the evidence is still not clear surrounding added sugar’s effects on heart disease risk factors, including cholesterol levels. 

Another factor to consider is that a high intake of sugar often links to increased body weight. A 2020 review found that a higher body weight may negatively affect your cholesterol levels. 

Ultimately, more research is necessary to better understand how the sugar you eat affects blood cholesterol levels.

Is high blood sugar related to high cholesterol?

There is a link between your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, though the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. 

A 2019 review of 44 studies found that high blood sugar and high blood cholesterol often coexist. It also noted that individuals with type 2 diabetes, a condition where the body cannot regulate blood sugars properly, have up to three times higher risk of developing heart disease than people without diabetes. 

A 2022 review also explored the relationship between blood sugar and cholesterol. It concluded that blood-sugar-lowering medications may also lower cholesterol levels, while cholesterol-lowering drugs could impair how you regulate your blood sugar. 

A 2015 study explained that having diabetes increases the risk of developing diabetic dyslipidemia, which is when you have diabetes, as well as high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, and low HDL cholesterol levels. 

If you have concerns about your cholesterol or blood sugar levels, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional for personalized advice. 

Dietary recommendations to lower blood sugar and cholesterol

Although the intricate relationship between dietary sugar, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels is not completely clear, it’s well-accepted that following a nutrient-dense balanced diet may improve both blood sugar and cholesterol levels. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends emphasizing: 

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean proteins, mostly seafood, plants like legumes and nuts, and low fat dairy
  • heart-healthy fats like olive oil or avocado
  • minimally processed whole foods

At the same time, the advice is to limit:

  • processed foods like fried foods, baked goods, and fast food
  • added sugars
  • added salt
  • alcohol

A healthcare professional, like a doctor or registered dietitian, may guide you on a suitable heart-healthy diet that matches your health goals and dietary preferences. 

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There are various options for managing both high blood sugar and high cholesterol.

High blood sugar

The American Diabetes Association lists many medication options for high blood sugar levels, including:

High cholesterol

For chronic high cholesterol, the AHA suggests medications like: 

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Studies suggest that blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels affect each other and that high intakes of sugar may affect cholesterol levels. Still, more research is necessary to learn more about this connection. 

Regardless, following a heart-healthy diet, along with taking any appropriate necessary medications, is a good way to manage both your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. 

For tailored advice, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional.

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