In a fascinating new study published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that cutting sugar in children’s diets for just ten days caused marked improvements in their metabolic health – despite the fact that the sugar was replaced by other carbohydrates.
As summarized on the New York Times Well blog, researchers led by Dr. Robert Lustig selected 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were obese and at high risk of developing diabetes. Working closely with dietitians, the children were required to replace sugary foods in their normal diets with high carbohydrate/low sugar items like bagels or baked potato chips. The goal was to keep the children’s weight constant, so that any beneficial effects of the sugar reduction could not be attributable to the general benefits of weight loss.
Although the study lasted only ten days, the health benefits were surpisingly significant. From the Times:
On average, the subjects’ LDL cholesterol, the kind implicated in heart disease, fell by 10 points. Their diastolic blood pressure fell five points. Their triglycerides, a type of fat that travels in the blood and contributes to heart disease, dropped 33 points. And their fasting blood sugar and insulin levels – indicators of their diabetes risk – likewise markedly improved.
This study, which the Times calls “rigorous,” presents compelling evidence that sugar per se is a key driver of metabolic disease and that we need to take affirmative steps to reduce sugar in our children’s diets.
In that regard, for those of you who read my recent piece in Civil Eats regarding the truly shocking levels of sugar in many school breakfasts around the country, I have some good news to share from my district.
After hearing the concerns of the HISD Nutrition Services Parent Advisory Committee, our school food department informed us yesterday that it has already reduced the number of times juice is served to our children from five days a week to three, that it’s switching over to a lower-sugar (but not artificially sweetened) juice, and that it’s entirely eliminating Craisins (which contain six teaspoons of sugar per serving) from the breakfast menu. This means our kids are now getting more fresh fruit each week, in the form of apple slices, bananas and whole apples. The district also promises to introduce more protein entrees in the coming months, in lieu of sweetened grain items.
While our breakfasts still aren’t perfect, all of this is great news for Houston school kids. And I hope this development encourages all of you to speak up about sugary school breakfasts in your own children’s schools. For more information on sugary school breakfast and how to address the matter in your district, be sure to read my Civil Eats piece and also listen to my recent interview on the topic at Sally Kuzemchak and Dina Rose’s The Happy Bite podcast.
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