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A young girl decides between apples and an unhealthy treat.

In the latest salvo against the food industry, a new study suggests that reducing kids consumption of sugar could dramatically improve their health — and more quickly than you might think.

Working with a group of obese children, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, swapped out foods with added sugar and replaced them with other carbohydrates without changing the kids’ overall caloric intake. After only 10 days on the revamped diet, the study subjects saw significant improvements in LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and insulin levels, despite losing little or no weight.

As Anahad O’Connor reports in the New York Times, the results add credence to earlier research showing it’s the sugar itself, rather than the weight gain it can cause, that triggers type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

“This paper says we can a turn a child’s metabolic health around in 10 days without changing calories and without changing weight — just by taking the added sugar out of their diet,” explained lead study author Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF’s Benioff Children’s Hospital. “From a clinical standpoint, from a healthcare standpoint, that’s very important.”

The study, published in the journal Obesity, will likely intensify debate over federal guidelines released earlier this year recommending that consumers limit their consumption of added sugar in foods to no more than 10 percent of total caloric intake and calling for food manufacturers to list a “daily percentage value” for added sugars on their labels.

Those actions have come under heavy fire by the food industry. The Sugar Association said the FDA’s guidelines lacked “adequate scientific evidence” and the Grocery Manufacturers Association called the standards used by the government to establish the guidelines “inadequate.”

But Frank Hu, MD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told O’Connor that the study “strengthens the existing evidence on the relationship between added sugar intake and metabolic disease.”

The 43 children who participated in the study ranged in age from 9 to 18 and each was considered to have a high risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders. They had been consuming about 27 percent of their daily calories from added sugar, significantly more than the 15 percent consumed by the average American. By replacing foods like sweetened yogurt and pastries with bagels and baked potato chips, participants’ average LDL cholesterol levels fell by 10 points, their blood pressure dropped by five points, and their triglycerides plummeted by 33 points.

For fresh strategies to help you control your own sugar consumption, see “20 Tips to Cure Sugar Cravings and Kick the Addiction.”

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