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Cutting Sugar for just 9 Days can Improve Children's Health, Study Reports

Update Date: Oct 28, 2015 03:48 PM EDT

Cutting processed sugar out of young children's diets for about one week can immediately lead to health improvements, a new study reported.

For this study, Robin Lustig of the University of California San Francisco and Jean-Marc Schwarz of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University in California recruited 43 obese Latino and Black children between the ages of nine and 18. The children all had high blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. They also had too much fat in their livers.

The researchers then placed all of the children on a restricted diet that cut out added sugar that came from sources, such as sweets and sodas. The children were still allowed to eat certain "junk" foods that they would normally eat, such as pizza. The researchers were also careful about keeping the children's daily caloric intake the same as before to try to prevent weight loss.

Overall, added sugar was reduced from 28 percent of total calories to around 10 percent. 10 percent is the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

After nine days of following this diet, the researchers found that the children's blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels dropped. Blood pressure fell by an average of five points, low-density lipoprotein, aka "bad" cholesterol, decreased by 10 points and triglyceride levels, which also measure cholesterol, decreased by 33 points. The children lost an average of two pounds.

"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 Lustig.

"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. Some said we were overwhelming them with food," Schwarz added, reported by NBC News. "I have never seen results as striking or significant in our human studies; after only nine days of fructose restriction, the results are dramatic and consistent from subject to subject."

The researchers did acknowledge that there were holes to their study, which critics were quick to point out. First off, the sample set was too small. Second, the study was too short and third, the children were too similar to one another.

"It's an important study that adds to the weight of evidence, and really calls out for us to examine the fact that eating patterns, and what a healthy eating pattern is for the American public, are as important as total caloric intake," Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, director of metabolic support in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and bone disease at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, commented reported by CBS News. He added, "Obviously, it's going to need to be corroborated in a different setting and a different population."

The Sugar Association criticized the study's results, stating that the researchers could not determine whether or not it was the lack of sugar or the weight loss that contributed to the children's improved health.

"The study was set up to ensure that the subjects maintained their body weight," the association said. "As the study unfolded, the subjects didn't. Thirty-three of the 43 participants lost weight -- a significant average of 2 pounds per person over nine days. This makes it impossible to separate the effects of weight loss from dietary changes on the health variables measured."

Sugar, in general, however, has been repeatedly linked to several health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.

The study was published in the journal, Obesity.

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