Sugar-free diet rapidly improves children's health

sugar cubes
CC BY 2.0 Mykl Roventine

A short nutritional study found significant improvement in the health of obese children when sugar was cut completely from their diets, while overall calories remained the same.

We know that sugar is bad for our bodies, but there has been much debate about whether physical problems are caused by the sugar itself, or rather, the weight gain that goes along with consuming sugary foods.

A new study published in the journal Obesity supports the former point – that sugar itself is toxic and that cutting back on sugar consumption can rapidly improve one’s health, even if overall calorie intake remains the same.

Researchers took a group of 27 Latino and 16 African-American children, all of whom were obese and already exhibited one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome – risk factors that include excess body fat around the waist, hypertension, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol.

On average, these subjects had been receiving 27 percent of their daily calories from sugar, mainly through consumption of sugary beverages. By comparison, the average American takes in 15 percent of daily calories through sugar.

The subjects had all sugar removed from their diets and replaced mostly with starches, in order to maintain their usual calorie count. “Total dietary sugar and fructose were reduced to 10 percent and 4 percent of total calories, respectively.”

The New York Times reports: “The goal was not to eliminate carbohydrates, but to reduce sugary foods and replace them with starchy foods without lowering body weight or calorie intake. So instead of yogurt sweetened with sugar, the children ate bagels. Instead of pastries, they were given baked potato chips. Instead of chicken teriyaki – which typically contains a lot of sugar – they ate turkey hot dogs or burgers for lunch. The remaining sugar in their diet came mostly from fresh fruit.”

Even though the study ran for only 9 days, all children saw a rapid improvement in their health. The LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol levels fell by 10 points. Diastolic blood pressure decreased 5 points. Trigylcerides (a type of fat that contributes to heart disease) reduced 33 points. Fasting blood sugar and insulin levels were greatly improved.

“This study argues that the health detriments of sugar, and fructose specifically, are independent of its caloric value or effects on weight…. [This study] supports change in public health policy regarding sugar intake and food labeling.”

It is unfortunate that we still need studies to prove to us that sugar is bad. As New York Times commenter Wolfram Alderson wrote, “The only reason we are still arguing about the negative health impacts of sugar is because billions of dollars are being spent to fool the American public into thinking unlimited consumption of sugar is safe.”

The reduction of sugar to 10 percent of daily calories (roughly 12 teaspoons per day for adults) reflects the recommendation made by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee earlier this year. The FDA’s parallel request for better labeling of added sugar in food products has met much resistance from the Sugar Association trade group, which says the FDA lacks “adequate scientific evidence”. Hopefully studies like this one will back up the push for improved labeling, as well as foster greater public awareness about the detriment of a sugar-rich diet.

Tags: Diet | Health | Kids

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