Is cutting sugar from one’s diet so powerful that it can make one healthier even without reducing calories or losing weight?

The answer appeared to be yes in a new study conducted by researchers from University of California San Francisco and Touro University California. The research, published on Oct. 27 in the journal Obesity, found that reducing sugar intake even without accompanying calorie reduction, made overweight children healthier in as little as 10 days.

Lead author Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, said that their findings definitively reflect the metabolic harms of sugar not because of its calories or weight impact. “Rather, sugar is metabolically harmful because it’s sugar,” he said the “strongest evidence to date” of sugar’s negative effects.

Metabolic syndrome is marked by conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol, all occurring together and increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Metabolic conditions only previously known among adults are now hitting children, including type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The study analyzed 43 Latino and African-American children ages nine to 19 who were obese and had at least one chronic metabolic condition. For nine days their sugar was restricted – sugar reduced from 28 to 10 percent, fructose from 12 to 4 percent – but was maintained the same fat, protein, carbohydrate, and calorie levels reported to be consumed at home.

After nine days, nearly every aspect of their metabolic health improved without weight changes introduced. LDL or “bad” cholesterol was reduced by 10 points, diastolic blood pressure by 5mm, and triglycerides by 33 points. Insulin levels were cut by a third, fasting blood glucose decreased by five points, and liver function results improved.

Senior author Dr. Jean-Marc Schwarz of Touro University added that when sugar was taken out of their diets, the children began heeding their bodies’ satiety cues.“They told us it felt like so much more food,” she said, highlighting the kids consumed the same number of calories.

Some subjects also reported they felt they were being overwhelmed with food during the sugar-restricted run.

Dr. Schwarz added that the “dramatic” results were consistent among all participants, recommending parents to evaluate their kids’ sugar consumption and be mindful of their dietary habits.

Dr. Lustig asserted that “a calorie is not a calorie” – the calorie source is important, and added sugar is deemed the worst due to its ability to turn to fat in the liver and drive insulin resistance and disease risk.

While sugar can occur naturally in food such as fruits, it is added in 74 percent of about 600,000 items in the United States food supply, according to a 2012 study. Americans are estimated to consume 23 teaspoons of added sugar every day, which is nearly 40 percent of added sugar per person every year.

Half of this amount is found in soda, energy drinks, and other beverages, while almost 20 percent are in non-dessert food items. The rest is in snacks and desserts mostly targeting children today.

Photo: Uwe Hermann | Flickr

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