Lowering total cholesterol and fat through diet can do a heart good, but if the low-fat foods in your diet are also high-sugar, you may have just robbed Peter to pay Paul. Researchers have found that a low-fat, high-sugar diet can reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Having low levels of HDL is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from the University of Maryland at Baltimore instructed 55 postmenopausal, obese women (average age = 59.5 years) to adhere to the
American Heart Association (AHA) Step 1 diet. The diet emphasizes low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods and aims to reduce total and LDL cholesterol, thus reducing risk of heart disease. To measure the effectiveness of the diet, researchers measured dietary intake, lipoprotein lipid concentrations and body weight before the 10-week dietary intervention period and after.

During the 10-week dietary intervention, the women met in weekly group sessions with a registered dietitian to review the principles of the AHA Step 1 diet, focusing on making food choices and reducing dietary fat, cholesterol and sodium. Subjects recorded their daily food intake, and their food journals were reviewed weekly by the dietitian.

After the 10-week period, on average, the women lost a small, but significant amount of body weight and reduced
total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but also decreased HDL cholesterol. The only dietary change that predicted the decreases in HDL cholesterol was the increase in the percent of simple sugars the women ate. Researchers noted, however, that further research is needed to determine the specific simple sugars that contribute to this decrease in HDL cholesterol in older women on low-fat diets.

This research was originally published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (January 2002).

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