Study probes perils of high-sugar diets, benefits of activity

A study led by SUNY Oswego faculty member Amy Bidwell brings new light to negative effects of high-sugar diets, plus how physical activity can have positive counter-effects.

Amy Bidwell, SUNY OswegoBidwell, who teaches in Oswego’s health promotion and wellness department, found that just adding 75 grams of fructose—two 20-ounce lemon-lime sodas—to the daily diet of healthy participants caused massive increases in cholesterol and other markers that can threaten heart and other health. But if the subjects were physically active at the same time, their bodies cancelled out much of the adverse effects.

“What we were looking for was if physical activity counteracts it, and we found it definitely did,” Bidwell said.

In a two-week period, the high-sugar diet produced a dangerous spike in many health factors, most notably an 88 percent increase in fat triglycerides and 84 percent rise in very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol among non-active participants. Long-term increases in these elements can significantly raise the chance of a heart attack or stroke.

But when physically active, participants taking the same high-sugar diet saw only a 33 percent increase in triglycerides and a 5 percent decrease in VLDL cholesterol.

Bidwell conducted the six-week study—which included two weeks on the sugar-added diet with high physical activity and two weeks on the same diet with low physical activity—while completing her doctorate in science education/exercise physiology at Syracuse University.

Overall calories were the same due to diet adjustments, but the changes in the overall health of fit, college-age subjects were dramatic, Bidwell said.

High activity

“Don’t eat a lot of added sugar, and be physically active,” Bidwell said. “The take-home message is that there is a difference between being active and exercising. Just because you exercise 30 minutes a day doesn’t mean you can add sugar to your diet.”

Bidwell emphasizes that physical activity, as reflected in the study, goes beyond regular exercise; participants took a minimum of 12,500 steps per day. “If you do a 30-minute workout, you’re only reaching about half that level of activity,” she said.

“These were healthy college-age students,” Bidwell noted. Her next step would involve research with less fit and more obese subjects, and having the initial findings published should help her pursue grants for what would be a larger, more expansive study.

Her research appeared in two journals: the American College of Sports Medicine’s Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Bidwell said that while many manufacturers are moving away from high-fructose corn syrup, those who replace it with sucrose (table sugar) are not providing a solution that is much more healthy.

The ultimate goal of the study is to encourage a change in behavior through reaching out to college students. Bidwell said she would love to see every college have a mandatory course on fitness and nutrition for its students, potentially paying dividends through longer, fitter lives.

PHOTO CAPTION: Active benefits—Amy Bidwell of SUNY Oswego’s health promotion and wellness department recently published research that found massive negative impacts of consuming just 75 grams of sugar—the equivalent of two 20-ounce cups of soda—daily, also discovering that physical activity can mitigate some of the high-sugar diet’s negative effects.

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(Posted: Jun 23, 2014)

Tags: syracuse university, suny oswego, science education, science, school of education, research, medicine and science in sports and exercise, heart health, health promotion and wellness, fructose