Sugar is bad. Sugar makes you fat. We need to reduce our sugar intake. It’s an increasingly common message these days, and more and more research reinforces these facts. The question is, are we listening?
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that consuming less sugar may have a moderate but significant effect on reducing body weight.
Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand, as part of a study commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), analyzed data from 68 studies that directly observed the effects of free sugars on body weight in adults and children.
For the purposes of the study, free sugars were defined as sugars added to foods during manufacture, cooking, or preparation, in addition to sugars naturally found in honey, syrups (such as maple, corn, and agave syrups), and fruit juices.
The results of their analysis revealed that reducing free sugars in the diet by 10% has a small but significant effect on adult body weight, resulting in an average reduction of about 1.76 lbs.
Conversely, increasing free sugar intake was linked to an increase in body weight, about 1.65 lbs. Researchers suggest that this corresponding effect is due to a change in energy intake, since replacing sugars with other carbohydrates of equal energy did not change body weight.
Data on children was less consistent because of the difficulty in ensuring compliance with dietary recommendations. Still, the risk of being overweight or obese increased 55% among children who reported the highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages compared to those who reported the lowest intake.
Jim Mann, Professor of Human Nutrition and Medicine at the University of Otego and lead study author, states that while there is further research needed, particularly because few studies provided data for longer than 10 weeks, “when considering the rapid weight gain that occurs after an increased intake of sugars, it seems reasonable to conclude that advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries.”
The researchers contend that “the overall consistency of the findings, regardless of study type, is reassuring.”
The Bottom Line
While a nearly two pound weight gain from sugar consumption may not sound like much, the average adult gains about one to two pounds over the holidays and during the course of a year. Now think about those two pounds compounded over 10 years – 20 pounds. Over 20 years? 40 excess pounds!
What this study shows is that just by making a small change in diet – for example, cutting out or cutting back on sugary drinks – can result in long-term beneficial effects.
Many chronic health conditions, including obesity and diabetes, are linked to excess sugar intake (about 80% of type-2 diabetics are overweight), but these are conditions that can be prevented or controlled by modifying diet and lifestyle.
While there is no universally agreed-upon limit for sugar consumption, the WHO recommends that intake of free sugars amount to less than 10% of total energy intake. Keep this figure in mind to keep your figure and health in check.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.