If you eat a pretty healthy diet and exercise regularly, a little bit of sugar probably isn’t going to kill you. After all, what’s the occasional ice cream after dinner or cocktails with the girls when you’re eating well most of the time? But if you’re consistently eating too much sugar and think you can get away with it because your diet is otherwise healthy, think again.
New research from the University of Surrey shows that even if you’re healthy, eating a high-sugar diet for just 12 weeks can seriously affect your metabolism and overall health. The researchers studied 25 men, 11 of which had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The study’s participants were either fed a diet where sugar made up 26% of their total calorie intake or 6% (close to the recommended dietary intake) for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, the participant’s blood lipid and cholesterol levels were measured.
The scientists discovered that by the end of the study, the otherwise healthy men had similar fat metabolism and liver fat to the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease sufferers. That is, all it took was 12 weeks of eating excessive sugar to deteriorate to the point where they were at risk of heart disease, damaged arteries and blood clots. When your fat metabolism is in bad shape, it also causes your body to hold on to more — you guessed it — fat!
Our findings provide new evidence that consuming high amounts of sugar can alter your fat metabolism in ways that could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
-Study author Professor Bruce Griffin
Bruce notes that while the average adult may not be eating the amount of sugar the participants in the study did, people who drink a lot of soft drink or eat a lot of candy could be at risk. So, if your diet generally resembles that of a child at a birthday party, it may be time to rethink your habits!
That being said, a lot of sugar is actually hidden so while you may think you follow a low-sugar diet, you could be wrong. Here’s how to find out how much is too much and which sugars — if any — are OK. Or check out our guide to alternative sweeteners.