Reducing Sugar Intake Improves Health Quickly, Researchers Find

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We know sugar is not exactly the healthiest thing we can consume, but a new study underscores just how dramatically and speedily eliminating it from our diets can affect our well-being.

The study, published in the September issue of Gastroenterology, looked at obese children who habitually consumed sugar (fructose). The children’s sugar consumption was restricted for nine days without a change in overall calories; the sugar calories they had been consuming were replaced by complex carbohydrates.

In that short amount of time — just nine days — the children showed less conversion of sugar to fat, a reduction in liver fat, and improvement of insulin, glucose and lipid metabolism. The findings indicate that reducing sugar intake even short-term may lower the risk for obesity, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

“The magnitude of the metabolic changes in only nine days was surprising,” the study’s lead author, Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD, a professor at Touro University California, tells Healthy Eats.

The results suggest that fructose – specifically the conversion of sugar to fat (de novo lipgenesis, or DNL) — disrupts liver metabolism, Schwarz says, adding that rapid reduction of DNL may drive the speedy metabolic improvements that occurred when sugar intake was restricted.

The key takeaway from the study for consumers? “Stay away from sugary drinks, juice and food with added sugar,” which can be found in many processed foods, Schwarz advises. “This will improve both your glucose and fat metabolism.”

And the improvements may occur more quickly than you might expect.

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Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Glamour and Marie Claire, as well as Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

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