We are aware that sugar is bad for our bodies, but there have been many arguments about whether physical issues are caused by sugar itself, or instead, the weight gain that accompanies consuming sugary foods.
A new study published in Obesity – the journal – supports the former point: that sugar itself is unsafe and that a sugar-free diet can quickly improve one’s health, even if general calorie intake stays the same.
Researchers recruited 16 African-American and 27 Latino children, all of whom were obese and already showed one or more signs of metabolic syndrome – risk factors include abnormal cholesterol, high blood sugar, hypertension and excess body fat around the waist.
On average, these participants have been getting 27% of their daily calories from sugar, largely through consumption of sugary beverages. The average American, by comparison, consumes 15% of their daily calories through sugar.
The participants were all given a sugar-free diet, and the sugar was replaced mainly with starches in order to sustain their usual calorie count. Total fructose and dietary sugar were reduced to 4% and 10% of total calories, respectively.
According to a report by the New York Times, the aim was not to remove carbohydrates, but to decrease sugary foods and replace them with starchy foods without reducing calorie intake or body weight. So rather than yoghurt sweetened with sugar, the children ate bagels. Rather than pastries, they ate baked potato chips. Rather than chicken teriyaki, they were given burgers or turkey hot dogs for lunch. Any sugar in their diet came mainly from fresh fruit.
Although the study only ran for 9 days, all children experienced swift improvement in their health. The bad cholesterol levels reduced by 10 points; diastolic blood pressure fell by 5 points. Triglycerides decreased by 33 points. Insulin and fasting blood sugar levels were significantly improved.
This study debates that the negative health effects of sugar, fructose especially, are independent of its effect on weight or calorific value. This study encourages change in public health policy with regards to food labeling and sugar intake.
It is unfortunate that we still require studies to prove to us that sugar is bad. Hopefully studies such as this one will influence the push for improved labeling, as well as encourage greater public awareness about the benefits of a sugar-free diet.