Reducing sugar in diets even without cutting calories or losing weight has the power to dramatically improve health, experts have said.
A new study involving obese children found impressive results in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol in as little as ten days, with scientists warning that sugar was “metabolically harmful not because of its calories” but because it is sugar.
Its comes as the UK government is coming under increasing pressure to take implement a sugar tax, with chef Jamie Oliver among those calling for the levy.
The new research will be seized upon supporters of the tax, not least in Scotland, where according to the Food Standards Agency Scotland, 17.4 per cent of the average child’s calorie intake is made up of non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) – sugars added to food and drink or table sugar – well above the government target of 11 per cent.
The US study, published in the journal, Obesity, looked at the effect of restricting sugar on metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
Some 43 children aged nine to 18 took part in the study at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital. Over nine days, the children followed a meal plan that included all snacks and drinks, but restricted sugar intake. Overall, the total dietary sugar was reduced from 28 per cent to 10 per cent, and fructose from 12 per cent to 4 per cent of the total calories.
The changes led to dramatic improvements in health in a short time, with a drop in blood pressure and cholesterol, and improved liver function. Fasting blood glucose levels fell by five points while insulin levels were cut by a third.
The study’s lead author, Dr Robert Lustig, said: “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.
“This internally controlled intervention study is a solid indication that sugar contributes to metabolic syndrome and is the strongest evidence to date that the negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity.”
He added: “Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease. This has enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease, and healthcare costs.”
Co-author Jean-Marc Schwarz added: “These findings support the idea that it is essential for parents to evaluate sugar intake and to be mindful of the health effects.”