Reducing added sugar for only nine days in the diets of obese children gave them enormous improvements in heart disease risk factors, according to a new study in Atherosclerosis. Researchers made just one change for the study of 37 children aged 9 to 18 who were at high risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. They cut the children’s daily sugar from 28 percent to 10 percent and fructose from 12 percent to 4 percent of total calories. They lowered the sugar by substituting foods high in added sugars, for instance, sweetened yogurts and pastries, for swaps such as bagels and pizza. They did not change total carbohydrate, fat, or protein. They gave children food and drinks with the same number of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates as their usual diets.

The result was a 33 percent drop in triglycerides, a fat linked to heart disease. Researchers also found a 49 percent drop in small, dense LDL cholesterol, a heart disease risk factor. The study revealed a 49 percent reduction in a protein called apoC-III, which is tied to high triglyceride levels.

This short-term study adds to the researchers’ earlier work linking added sugars to heart disease and metabolic disorders.

The earlier research concluded that obese children who reduced their sugar intake improved blood pressure and cholesterol after just 10 days. Scientists were looking for answers to the question whether it is sugar itself or the resulting weight gain that harms health?

Debate has been growing around added sugars or the extra sweeteners food companies put in their products. This is not the sugar that occurs naturally in foods like fruit.

In this initial study, researchers replaced foods containing added sugar with other carbohydrates and made sure that the children’s weight and calorie consumption stayed unchanged. Although they did not lose weight, the children improved. Scientists say the results show calories from sugar are particularly likely to contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases. All calories are not created equal.

Scientists studied 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 they considered at particularly high risk of diabetes and related disorders. All the children were black or Hispanic and obese. Each showed at least one or more symptoms of risk factors including hypertension, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol and excess body fat around the waist.
The children had been getting an average of about 27 percent of their daily calories from sugar. The average American consumes about 15 percent of their daily calories from sugar. The consumption of children is usually much higher, partly because they drink the most sugar-sweetened beverages.

The subjects’ LDL cholesterol fell by 10 points. Diastolic blood pressure fell five points. Their triglycerides dropped 33 points. And indicators of their diabetes risk –– their fasting blood sugar and insulin levels –– also improved dramatically.