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measuring spoons with the tablespoon filled with sugar

Consuming a lot of added sugar is associated with numerous health concerns, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Yet recent research suggests that even moderate amounts can stimulate harmful metabolic changes.

In a recent study in the Journal of Hepatology, Swiss researchers observed 94 healthy male participants ages 18 to 30, controlling for those who have elevated liver fat, consume lots of sugary drinks, or exercise more than three hours weekly. During the seven-week trial, most participants were asked to consume beverages sweetened with a different type of sugar — fructose, glucose, or sucrose (table sugar, which is a combination of fructose and glucose) — while a small group of volunteers was asked to abstain from sweetened drinks altogether.

Unlike previous studies that have involved copious amounts of added sugar, the total consumed for this study was 80 grams a day — barely more than the USDA’s recommended limit of 50 to 75 grams.

Nevertheless, the researchers found that participants consuming drinks containing fructose or sucrose began producing fat in the liver at twice the rate of those in the glucose and control groups. “And this was still the case more than 12 hours after the last meal or sugar consumption,” adds study lead Philipp Gerber, MD, MSc, senior researcher at the University of Zurich.

Gerber and his colleagues were also surprised to note that beverages containing sucrose — not previously associated with these kinds of changes — actually led to slightly higher fat production rates than fructose-sweetened drinks.

These results, Gerber says, represent a critical step in identifying the harmful effects of added sugars and informing future dietary guidelines.

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Molly Tynjala

Molly Tynjala is an Experience Life assistant editor.

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