Sure, we all know that sugar is the pits for our health. It contributes to cancer, diabetes, gout, tooth decay, and of course, obesity. But just how much weight gain can be attributed to sugar alone? A new study took a look at this question…and the results surprised us. In fact, its link to obesity has been somewhat overstated.
Because the World Health Organization is updating its guidelines on sugar, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand evaluated over 15,000 studies on sugar and its link to obesity. After removing the ones that had participants dieting or exercising to lose weight, they were left with 68 studies that purely looked at adults who consumed sugar and what this did to their weight.
What they found was no surprise in one regard: People who increased their consumption of sugar–either in the form of solids (like desserts) or liquids (like soda) gained weight. But what was surprising was the amount of weight they gained: Just 1.6 pounds a year.
On the flip side, those who reduced their intake of sugar lost about as much weight over the year.
It’s puzzling in some aspects because we’ve all been taught that sugar is so toxic to our waistline. So is it? Yes, say expert–just not as much as we thought. And of course, a large contributor to that weight gain comes from soda, explained Walter Willett to The Salt, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of an editorial in the study.
What’s emerged most clearly is that sugar in the form of water, sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, is especially problematic. It’s almost impossible to eat 17 teaspoons of sugar, but it’s very easy to drink at 20-ounce soda with 17 teaspoons of sugar.
So does this mean we shouldn’t strive to curb our sugar intake? Of course not. Like the study says, it can lead to weight gain. It can also come in other forms than just refined sugar, says Willett:
A totally narrow focus on sugar is just too limiting. We really need to focus on carbohydrate quality, and not on sugar alone.
Photo: absolute.c via flickr.com