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SAN FRANCISCO — Added sugars are known enemies of good health, but reversing the negative effects is possible — and it only takes a matter of days.
That's according to a new study from the University of California San Francisco, published in the journal Obesity. Researchers found that when they cut added sugar from the diets of 42 obese children, it took just 10 days to see significant drops in blood pressure and cholesterol, among other things.
And here's the clincher: the amount of calories the children consumed remained the same.
"This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it's sugar," said lead study author Dr. Robert Lustig in a release. "It is the strongest evidence to date that negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity."
For the study, researchers identified obese children with symptoms consistent with a metabolic disorder including high blood pressure, high glucose levels, excess belly fat and high cholesterol. These factors increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The participants, all between the ages of 9 and 18, were provided with enough food for nine days — swapping added sugar for starchy products that contained the same amount of fat and calories they were eating at home before the study.
That meant swapping high-sugar cereals, pastries and sweetened yogurt for foods like turkey hot dogs, baked potato chips and pizza.
The children were told to weigh themselves each day. The goal was to maintain weight, so when the children lost weight, they received more of the low-sugar food, researchers said.
"When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety cues," Jean-Marc Schwarz of Touro University, senior author of the paper, said. "They told us it felt like so much more food, even though they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar."
- Poor nutrition: Filling up on added sugars can cause you to skip out on nutritious foods
- Weight gain: Added sugar makes foods higher in calories and can impact cholesterol, blood pressure and liver function
- Increased triglycerides: Could lead to heart disease
- Tooth decay: All forms of sugar promote tooth decay by allowing bacteria to multiply and grow
In fact, some of the children said they felt they were getting too much food — more than they could possibly eat.
At the end of the nine-day period, the children were evaluated for metabolic markers of good health, and the results were drastic and dramatic. Health improved in nearly every way, despite little change in weight.
Diastolic blood pressure went down, bad cholesterol dropped, liver function improved, glucose dropped and insulin levels dropped by one-third, researchers said. All this, in just 10 days without added sugar.
"I was surprised at how much the kids got better, and in such a short period of time," Lustig told Yahoo Health.
And there's no obvious reason this process won't work for adults as well.
"We have every reason to expect that adults would see the same benefits," Lustig said.