The Link Between Sugar and Metabolic Health

lump-sugarPerhaps the worst food offenders are the ones with an extremely high amount of sugar. From candy, sweets, to the usual food we eat, there’s a point when too much of a supposedly ‘good’ thing becomes detrimental to your health.

A new study shows just how crucial reducing sugar is in terms of losing weight, reducing calories, and reverse a myriad of chronic health disease.

Sugar Danger

Robert Lustig, MD, MSL, and pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco notes that “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.”

He adds that, “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.”

diabetesMetabolic syndrome actually encompasses a variety of different conditions, and sugar is the root of the problem. These include an increase in blood pressure, higher blood glucose levels, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist. These are just the tip of the iceberg though and are relatively ‘harmless’ if you compare them to an increased susceptibility for diabetes, strokes, and heart diseases.

The study took 43 children between the ages of nine and eighteen who were obese and were suffering from at least one metabolic disorder. For nine days, they were given food that restricted sugar but used starch as a substitute to maintain the same fat, protein, carbohydrate, and calorie levels as their home diets. The menu didn’t restrict all sugar though; the nine day diet plan included fruits, and used carbohydrate-rich foods as a substitute to ensure they maintain the same calories.

The results showed just how instrumental sugar really is in terms of affecting metabolic health. In just nine days, nearly every aspect of the participant’s metabolic health improved without a change in weight. Diastollic blood pressure, for example, was show to decrease by 5mm, and ‘bad cholesterol’ was reduced by over ten points. Insulin levels were also cut by a third.

Obesity and Metabolic Health

Lustig notes that “All of the surrogate measures of metabolic health go better, just by substituting starch for sugar in their processed food – all without changing calories or weight or exercise.” He adds that ultimately, “a calorie is not a calorie.”

In the end, the study proves that the calories aren’t the problem; it’s where they go. Calories from sugar are arguably the worst, though, as they have a tendency to turn to fat in the liver, which Lustig explains, ‘driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease.”

The researchers hope that their new study would potentially make changes in the food industry, and broaden the understanding of chronic disease.