When it comes to sugar, the common wisdom is to enjoy it in small doses. Not only does it wreak havoc on teeth, but too much sugar is also known to contribute to weight gain.
Now, a study financed by the National Institutes of Health and published this week in the journal Obesity reveals just how harmful the sweet substance is on health—particularly for kids who are battling obesity.
What's even more interesting is that when you take away added sugars from an obese child's diet, according to the study, that child's blood pressure, cholesterol readings and other factors improve in less than 10 days.
In the study, researchers sought to answer the question: Is it added sugar that's causing the harmful effect on health, specifically metabolic health and its connection to Type 2 diabetes, or is the weight gain that accompanies the added sugar intake to blame?
So scientists enlisted 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were obese, black or Hispanic, and at risk for related health issues such as diabetes. They replaced foods that were high in sugar with foods that were high in carbohydrates, so that overall calories didn't change. (For example, instead of eating yogurt with sugar, according to the New York Times, the children ate bagels instead.)
What the scientists found was surprising.
In as few as nine days (because the researchers were on a "tight" budget, the Times reports, they didn't complete a full 10 days), scientists recorded lower LDL cholesterol (the so-called "bad" kind), lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides (which contributes to heart disease), as well as improvements in fasting blood sugar and insulin levels.
"This paper says we can turn a child's metabolic health around in 10 days without changing calories and without changing weight—just by taking the added sugars out of their diet," Dr. Robert Lustig, a researcher on the study and a pediatric endocrinologist at the Benioff Children's Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco, tells the Times. "From a clinical standpoint, from a health care standpoint, that's very important."
The study comes after a 2014 proposal from the Food and Drug Administration recommending that food companies list the amount of added sugars (as opposed to the natural sugars that occur in, for example, fruits) on their products' nutrition labels. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, another federal government organization, also recommends that no more than 10 percent of daily calorie intake be comprised of added sugars.
While Dr. Sonia Caprio, a pediatric endocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at Yale Medical School, admits to the Times that the study is small, she doesn't disregard its findings.
"This is an important area of research that might solve some of the metabolic issues that we are facing in children, particularly in adolescents," she says.