With Halloween quickly approaching, the free candy from the door-to-door holiday is often blamed for everything from obesity to hyperactivity in the schools.
What happens to kids if all that sugar is taken away?
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco and Touro University decided to find out. They recruited 44 volunteers between ages 9-18, putting them on low-sugar diets and seeing how their bodies changed as a result.
All of the study participants — 27 of whom identified as Latino and 16 as African American — were obese, and had some other health ailment, like high blood pressure. Scientists designed a tailored diet to each participant after tests and questionnaires, creating new plans around a similar amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates as their normal diet. The only difference was cutting out 10 percent to 28 percent of the sugar, replaced calorie-for-calorie with starch.
“All of the surrogate measures of metabolic health got better, just by substituting starch for sugar in their processed food — all without changing calories or weight or exercise,” study author Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, said in a statement.
The researchers saw a reduction in diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, in only about a week and a half. And even though calorie counts were about the same as they typically consumed, the participants lost weight — an average of nearly two pounds in that short period of time.
Some kids lost weight so rapidly, scientists had to boost the number of calories they were feeding them.
While the study is very preliminary because of its small size, it has important implications for how we think about the negatives of sugar. Now, instead of thinking about sugar as empty calories that cause weight gain, they should be seen as a threatening effect on the body’s whole metabolic system.
What we can take away from the study is “that a calorie is not a calorie,” said Lustig.