How Sugar, Not Fat, Raises Your Cholesterol

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How Sugar, Not Fat, Raises Your Cholesterol

Excess carbohydrates and sugar lead to cholesterol and weight gain, explains Dr. Doni Wilson, which is why balancing blood sugar levels every day is so important.

When you go to the doctor and get a cholesterol reading, you may be cautioned against eating high-fat foods. But very little fat from foods becomes cholesterol in your blood. What produces cholesterol is rather the excessive consumption of carbs at any one time. The cholesterol and triglycerides in your bloodstream come not from consuming excess fat, but rather, from consuming excess glucose.

I’m not just talking about excess glucose over the course of a week or even a day.  I’m talking about what happens when you consume excess glucose in one sitting. 

Let’s take a closer look at exactly happens when your body gets too many carbs at one particular meal.

Carbohydrate Metabolism

Fig. 1: Carbohydrate Metabolism

First, you digest the carb-containing food, breaking it down into the individual glucose molecules that are small enough to cross the cells of your intestinal walls and enter your bloodstream.  Because you have eaten too many carbs, you have far too much glucose stuck in your blood.  You don’t have enough insulin to move all that glucose into your cells.  So what happens to that excess glucose?

Some of it is stored in your liver as a substance known as glycogen, to be released when you don’t eat. Harking back to our hunter-gatherer days, our bodies created a backup system to ensure that even if we can’t get any food for a couple of days, we won’t starve to death.

The liver can only hold so much glycogen, however.  So what about the glucose that doesn’t fit?  Your body has three choices:

  1. convert the glucose into body fat, which translates into weight gain, most likely around your middle;
  2. convert the glucose into lipids (fats), which remain in your bloodstream as cholesterol and triglycerides;
  3. convert the glucose into fat that is stored in the liver, leading to a condition known as “fatty liver.”

If you overdo it on the glucose every once in a while, this process is not really so dangerous.  But if you regularly eat large amounts of glucose in a single meal—even if you avoid it for the rest of the day—your body begins to adapt to these large infusions of glucose in ways that are highly problematic.

First, your body registers that you have too much glucose in your bloodstream for the amount of insulin that is there… so your pancreas starts making more insulin.  Your body experiences the high insulin levels as a “stress messenger,” with two very troubling results:

  • Inflammation, which contributes to a host of health problems. Some of these issues are relatively minor, such as acne, colds, and infections— but some issues are very serious, such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer.
  • Adrenal stress, which likewise contributes to a host of health problems, including weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Meanwhile, the inflammation produced by the excess insulin also creates extra body fat. The extra insulin in your system also leads to extra body fat. And, in a truly vicious cycle, extra body fat creates still more inflammation.

The ultimate bad end of this negative synergy is what doctors term “Syndrome X” or “Metabolic Syndrome,” in which the patient faces a quadruple threat: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, and excess weight. This creates a greatly increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The good news is that there is a solution: rebalance your carbohydrate metabolism. Read my 5 tips to start balancing your blood sugar here.

When you feed your body according to your physiology—getting the right amounts of carbs distributed evenly over time—you are giving your body the amounts of glucose that perfectly match your insulin’s ability to get that glucose into your cells.

If there happens to be a little glucose left over, it can go into your glycogen storage.  But your body is never getting so much glucose that it has to be converted into body fat or cholesterol.

Adapted from The Stress Remedy: Master Your Body’s Synergy and Optimize Your Health, a book by Dr. Doni Wilson, available at and at Amazon.

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    • It can be a multi-step process Connie. First is to determine whether a food reaction is related – by doing an IgG/A food panel and then avoiding the foods that react. Also important to make sure you are getting enough water and exercise each day. Then we look for other potential causes, such as an MTHFR mutation or nutrient deficiency or adrenal issue.

  1. Greetings. I am 62 year old woman who seeks your help I what proper food to eat during the day. I am lactose intolerent with high cholesterol which I am trwating by taking lipitor, I have gastritis in stomach and duodenum which I taling proton pump for, I am prehypertensive and pre diabetic. Thank you much

    • Faiza,
      Hello! You have a very common pattern – high cholesterol, gastritis, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. They are all related, and can be solved, but it does require diet changes, and help from a practitioner trained in naturopathic/functional medicine. In terms of what to eat, I find the best first step you can take is eat a small meal – containing protein, healthy fats and a small amount of complex carbs (veggies/fruit/nuts) every 3 to 4 hours through the day. For most people that means eliminating not just lactose, but all dairy, as well as gluten and other grains. You might want to check out The Hamptons Cleanse as a support system for you… and let me know if you’d like to meet so I can help you further.

  2. I have lived LCHF for nearly 18 moths and successfully got my T2DM into the healthy NON diabetic range without drugs. What I do not understand is why my cholesterol numbers are still high…… Low HDL High LDL but Tri’s are wonderful at 1.3. Doctor would tie me to a chair if he could to force me to take statins!!!!

    • Wonderful, great work! It may be a genetic tendency to make LDL. You might consider having LP(a) checked, as well as a genetic panel. Read more here.

  3. Hi there. I just received blood work that indicated very low iron (7), low vitamin D, and very low LDL (my HDL is ok). Also, my white blood cells are in the very low range. My doctor recommended I “take iron pills and drink more milkshakes.” I’m vegan, and not at all convinced that there isn’t an underlying cause that is related to all of these low levels… I’m wondering about leaky gut syndrome, as I’ve had a lot of trouble with my gut most of my life. But I’m particularly worried about my LDL which is around 36. Is it possible for leaky gut syndrome to affect your body’s ability to create cholesterol? She mentioned I was in the danger zone for experiencing neurological effects due to this low level… But she had no advice beyond eating fatty, animal-based foods. If cholesterol really isn’t very affected by fatty foods, how do I get it back up? And if it’s made by excess carbohydrates, how do I carb load with a gluten and dairy sensitivity? Frustrating….

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