New research suggests it's less important to count calories than it is to count grams of sugar.
A study, led by Dr. Robert Lustig at the University of California, San Francisco, links sugar to metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess belly fat and abnormal cholesterol.
"We notice that these patients with metabolic syndrome have higher rates of heart attacks and strokes, and they're more likely to die earlier. Therefore, [sugar] is toxic in that sense," explained Dr. Peter Lin, who contributes to CBC Radio's The Early Edition program in British Columbia. He was not part of the study.
Traditionally, health professionals have advised patients with these symptoms to simply lose weight through improved diet and exercise.
While that advice still rings true today, this research suggests that patients may achieve results more quickly if they target their sugar consumption in particular, Lin said.
Results in just 9 days
The study examined 43 obese children between the ages of nine and 18. Researchers replaced the sugary foods in each child's diet with starchy foods, while keeping the overall amount of calories the same.
- Child obesity at highest level in Canada and U.S.
- Diabetes association wants tax added to sugary drinks in Canada
"The whole goal was that they don't lose weight when they switch over to the diet. It's just they're removing sugar to see what that effect will be," explained Lin.
"They noticed everything got better."
Blood pressure decreased, cholesterol decreased, liver function tests improved, and even fasting blood sugar and insulin levels in their bodies dropped.
"The freaky part of this study was that it was only nine days long," Lin said.
Breaking down sugar
The key to understanding the results of the study is understanding how the body metabolizes sugar's two components, glucose and fructose.
- Fructose worse than glucose when it comes to sweetened drinks: study
- Fructose may spur overeating, brain scans suggest
"When you metabolize fructose in excess, your liver has no choice but to turn that energy into liver fat, and that liver fat causes all of the downstream metabolic diseases," explained Lin.
Still, Lin says there is no silver bullet.
"We're eating too many calories, there's no question.
"The question is, can we do it smarter so that we get the benefits really early?"
To hear the full interview with Dr. Peter Lin, listen to the audio labelled: New study says sugar is toxic.