Just in time for Halloween, FoodFacts.com wants parents and caregivers in our community to take note of some important research information regarding children and the consumption of added sugar. Fascinating information … just not very pro Halloween candy consumption. It might make you think twice about your stance that sugary sweet haul that’s about to enter your home. Sugar calories are much worse than other calories when it comes to our children.
Children are manifesting increased rates of adult diseases like hypertension or high triglycerides. And they are getting diseases that used to be unheard of in children, like Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. So why is this happening?
Everyone assumes this is the result of the obesity epidemic – too many calories in, too few out. Children and adults are getting fat, so they’re getting sick. And it is generally assumed that no one specific food causes it, because “a calorie is a calorie”.
The role that sugar plays in contributing to chronic disease has been studied for years and a research group at the University of California, San Francisco has just published research in the journal Obesity that challenges this assumption. If calories come from sugar, they just aren’t the same.
It’s clear that the cause of rising rates of health conditions like Type 2 diabetes isn’t as simple as people just eating too many calories.
Obesity is increasing globally at 1% per year, while diabetes is increasing globally at 4% per year. If diabetes were just a subset of obesity, how can you explain its more rapid increase?
And certain countries are obese without being diabetic (such as Iceland, Mongolia and Micronesia), while other countries are diabetic without being obese (India, Pakistan and China, for instance). Twelve percent of people in China have diabetes, but the obesity rate is much lower. The US is the fattest nation on Earth and our diabetes prevalence is 9.3%.
While 80% of the obese population in the US is metabolically ill (meaning they have conditions like diabetes, hypertension, lipid problems and heart disease), 20% is not. Conversely, 40% of the normal weight population has metabolic syndrome.
If normal weight people have these conditions, how then are they related to obesity? Indeed, we now know that obesity is a marker rather than a cause for these diseases.
Epidemiological studies have found a correlation between added sugar consumption and health conditions like cardiovascular disease. So could cutting excess sugar out of our diets reverse metabolic syndrome?
The group at UCSF studied 43 Latino and African-American children with obesity and metabolic syndrome over a 10-day period. They started by assessing their metabolic status – insulin and glucose levels, as well as blood fats and other markers for disease, like lactate and free fatty acids – on their home diet.
For the next nine days, each child ate an individual tailored diet. Their meals provided the same number of calories and protein and fat content as their usual home diet. They were given the same percentage of carbohydrate, but starch was substituted for sugar. The big difference: this special diet had no added sugar. This means their diet had no sugar from sugarcane or high fructose corn syrup. The kids consumed foods such as fruits and other whole foods that naturally contain some sugar. These foods also have fiber, which reduces the rate of sugar absorption, so they don’t affect the body the same way that added sugar does.
Chicken teriyaki was taken out of the meal plans. Turkey hot dogs were put in. Sweetened yogurt came out. Baked potato chips were put in. Donuts came out. Bagels were put in. They were given unhealthy processed food, just with no added sugar. Each child was given a scale to take home, and if their weight was declining, they were made to eat more. Then they were studied again.
The children had eaten the same number of calories and had not lost any weight, and yet every aspect of their metabolic health improved. With added sugar cut out of their diet for 10 days, blood pressure, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad cholesterol”), insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance all improved. And remember, they kids weren’t given just leafy greens and tofu – they were fed processed foods, just ones without sugar.
Further studies are needed to see if this will also work in adults, and if the benefits are short-term or long-term.
While people can identify sugar as unhealthy and understand that there’s much too much added sugar in our diets, they are often unclear as to why. The prevailing concept that “calories are calories” is being proven false over time. This information clearly points out that added sugar is having negative effects on the health of children by illustrating how removing that sugar from unhealthier diets has positive effects for the kids involved. That’s pretty powerful.