Ask any person on the street what’s the worst edible thing for your health, and they’ll likely say “fat.” However, it turns out that fat isn’t the biggest culprit in the health world. Rather, it’s sugar, according to recent research.
Sugar is toxic, according to a paper published by Dr. Robert Lustig, from the department of pediatrics at the University of California. Of course, we all knew that we shouldn’t guzzle candy, but Lustig believes his recent research actually proves that sugar can be gradually deadly, as his team has gathered “hard and fast data that sugar is toxic irrespective of its calories and irrespective of weight.”
The study involved 43 children of Hispanic or African-American descent aged eight to 18 years old. Each child was asked to fill out questionnaires to get an idea of how many calories they ingest per day. Then, each was asked to eat from a special menu for nine days that matched how many calories they would normally eat. The only difference? Most of the sugar was replaced by starch, even though the number of calories remained the same. Each child weighed themselves every day, and if they were losing weight, they were told to eat more.
“We took chicken teriyaki out, and put turkey hot dogs in. We took sweetened yogurt out, and put baked potato chips in. We took pastries out and put bagels in,” Lustig told TIME. “So there was no change in [the children’s] weight and no change in calories.”
But even though there was no change in number of calories, everything dropped considerably: their blood sugar levels, the amount of insulin their bodies produced, their triglyceride and LDL levels, and even the amount of fat in their liver. And this wasn’t just in the children who lost weight — it was in everybody, no matter how much weight they lost.
“Up until now, there have been a lot of correlation studies linking sugar and metabolic syndrome,” Lustig told TIME. “This is causation.”
Naturally, it’s not a good idea to eat lots of starches, and this isn’t an ideal diet to follow; however, the starches proved something essential: That sugar can have a massive (often negative) effect on health and weight independent of anything else. “I’m not suggesting in any way, shape or form that we gave them healthy food,” Lustig told TIME. “We gave them crappy food, sh*tty food, processed food — and they still got better. Imagine how much even better they would have gotten if we didn’t substitute and took the sugar out. Then they would have gotten even better yet.”
Now, this said, it’s important to note that not everyone thought the findings pointed to such definitive results. “We know that a healthy diet and weight loss cause good metabolic changes, and although this study tries to attribute its effects to low fructose, in fact it is impossible to do that because of the study design,” Susan Roberts, professor of Nutrition, USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts University, told TIME.
However, the researchers in the study believe that this could be real evidence that a calorie is not just a calorie. “Where those calories come from determines where in the body they go. Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart and liver disease,” Lustig said, according to The Washington Post. “This has enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease and health care costs.”
We always knew cookies weren’t exactly good for us, but if this study were to be true, it turns out that we should ditch ’em for crackers and chips. Good to know. . . even if we feel like indulging in sweets every now and again.
(Image via NBC.)