New research has found added sugars are pretty bad for your health, but it also shows how quickly your body starts recovering
The last thing you want to hear after Halloween weekend is that sugar is toxic, but unfortunately, that’s the latest painful truth in nutrition news. Researchers from the University of California found that it is indeed true that sugar specifically increases your risk for serious diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. (Should Added Sugar Appear on Food Labels?)
The good news for you and your sugar hangover? In just nine days, much of your health will begin to bounce back.
The study, published in Obesity, looked at kids with a high-sugar diet and, for nine days, replaced the sweet stuff with starch while keeping their overall calorie count the same. And these weren't crazy health swaps either. “We took chicken teriyaki out, and put turkey hot dogs in. We took sweetened yogurt out, and put baked potato chips in. We took pastries out and put bagels in,” lead sugar researcher and study author Robert Lustig, M.D., told TIME.
So what happened after the week and a half sans sugar? Pretty much all levels measured improved. Beforehand, some of the kids were actually insulin resistant, a precursor state to developing diabetes (now that's scarier than ghosts and goblins!). After just nine days of having their total dietary sugar reduced to 10 percent of their daily calories, their fasting blood sugar levels had dropped by 53 percent and their bodies were starting to produce more insulin, which helped them break down the carbohydrates and sugars they were eating. The kids' triglyceride and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) levels were also lower.
The most interesting part is that all of these improvements were made on a diet that was low in sugar, but certainly not healthy. “We gave them crappy food, shitty food, processed food—and they still got better,” Lustig said. “Imagine how much even better they would have gotten if we didn’t substitute and took the sugar out. That’s the point.” (Not even your healthy foods are always safe, though, like these 8 Healthy Foods with Crazy-High Sugar Counts.)
While some experts aren’t entirely convinced the speedy improvements were due entirely to cutting sugar—the kids also lost weight, which can help improve cholesterol and blood sugar—no one would argue that we need more of the artificial stuff in our diets. In fact, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine last year found that eating up to 21 percent of your daily calories from added sugar increases your risk of dying from heart disease by a whopping 38 percent. The average American eats 83 grams of added sugar per day—nearly triple the 30 grams recommended by the American Heart Association.
So where does your Halloween binge fall on the scale of troublesome? Since one fun size pack each of Reese’s, Skittles, and M&Ms would already put you over the recommended daily limit, we’ll just say you probably went on a road trip far past the mile marker for “bad.”
But this study shows the damage isn’t permanent. If you’re still feeling the sugar shakes, try our Easy Guide to the Sugar Detox Diet and in just a few days you’ll be on the road to recovery—just in time for Thanksgiving.