Sugar is harmful even when consumed in small amounts

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  • It is well known that excessive amounts of sugar can have adverse health effects
  • However, the effects of smaller amounts of sugar have not been extensively explored
  • A new study suggests that even moderate amounts of sugar can negatively affect our health

Sugar is added to many foods we consume on a daily basis – from canned baked beans and yoghurt to juice and fizzy drinks. Sugar is quite calorific, and we know that consuming excessive amounts can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes.

The extent of the harmful effects of sugar is widely debated, as well as how much of it needs to be consumed in order for our health to be compromised. To address this knowledge gap, researchers at the University of Zurich and the University Hospital Zurich conducted a study to investigate the effect of moderate amounts of sugar on metabolic health.

Drinking sugary drinks every day

The study included 94 healthy male participants who were divided into groups that consumed beverages sweetened with one of three types of sugar: fructose, glucose or sucrose. There was also a control group that completely abstained from sugary drinks.

Previous studies mostly focused on the effects of the excessive consumption of sugar, but this study considered how a moderate amount of 80g per day affects one's metabolism.

Participants consumed a sugary drink every day for seven weeks, after which the researchers tested the effect the sugar consumption had on participants' lipid metabolism (system responsible for the breakdown and storage of fats).

Sucrose and fructose double fat production in the liver

Results of the study suggest that even moderate amounts of sugar can cause changes to one’s metabolism.

Study leader, Philipp Gerber explained: “Eighty grams of sugar daily, which is equivalent to about 0.8 litres of a normal soft drink, boosts fat production in the liver. And the overactive fat production continues for a longer period of time, even if no more sugar is consumed.”

The team found that two specific types of sugar were the culprits when it came to overactive fat production in the liver: fructose and sucrose.

“The body's own fat production in the liver was twice as high in the fructose group as in the glucose group or the control group – and this was still the case more than twelve hours after the last meal or sugar consumption,” said Gerber. 

An increase in fat production in the liver is concerning, as it can lead to conditions such as fatty liver disease and type-2 diabetes.

“Our results are a critical step in researching the harmful effects of added sugars and will be very significant for future dietary recommendations,” Gerber concluded.

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