Sugar is bad news, as one new study from University of California San Francisco and Touro University California researchers showed. But what actually happens to a child’s body when there’s high sugar intake and when the sweet stuff is removed from diet?

According to Dr. Jean-Marc Schwarz, senior author of the study, when sugar was taken out of the diets of the 43 child subjects, they began to heed their bodies’ satiety clues, or know when they were full or hungry. Some even felt like they were being provided so much food, wrote the authors.

During the nine-day sugar-restricted trial, some kids reported they were being overwhelmed even if they consumed the same number of calories they do at home – sugar was controlled while fat, protein, carbohydrates and calorie levels were maintained.

The results were even considered more startling given how the kids were fed processed food items such as turkey hot dogs, potato chips, and pizza bought at local supermarkets, only they had low or no added sugar content.

Lead author Dr. Robert Lustig, a metabolic endocrinologist and obesity expert, explained that all the measures of metabolic health such as insulin, blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and liver function improved with sugar restriction. A little weight loss can quickly improve these metabolic markers, but the researchers noted that even child subjects who did not shed excess pounds had improved measurements.

Moreover, previous research highlighted the direct impact of added sugar on weight. Sugar was believed to overwhelm the liver, which converts it directly into fat. It was suggested that this process can cause the body to absorb extra sodium, leading to water retention and increased blood pressure. Dr. Schwarz argued that the small amount of weight loss in the children could be attributed to water loss.

Dr. Lustig further argued that sugar calories are the worst to have. “They turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease,” he said, adding its implications for the food industry, chronic illnesses, and cost of healthcare.

The findings, showing that kids’ amount of fat in their liver improved during the trial, also offered clues into how the sweet substance could be contributing to chronic disease. Obese or overweight kids, for instance, are now more commonly afflicted with fatty liver disease (called non-alcohol fatty liver disease), which was only previously associated with alcohol abuse.

Dr. Lustig hoped this information will be considered in the creation of the latest dietary guidelines of the U.S. agriculture department, estimated to be out by year’s end. The guidelines will recommend what food and how much Americans should include in their diet.

The study was published in the journal Obesity on Oct. 27.

Photo: Asobi Tsuchiya | Flickr

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