Staying sugar-free for a while will make things taste sweeter than they did before, new research out of the Monell Center finds. And this may help people veer away from a high-sugar diet while still getting to taste and enjoy the sweetness here and there.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined healthy adults who consumed about two or more high fructose corn syrup (or other sugary) soft drinks every day. In other words, they consumed a pretty high amount of sugar on the regular. The researchers divided them into two groups: One (made up of 16 participants) would maintain their regular, sugary diet, and the other (comprising 13 participants) would take part of a low-sugar diet for three months.

The low sugar diet involved the participants eating the same amount of calories they had eaten previously, while replacing 40 percent of their past sugar calories with calories from fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. After each month, the participants consumed vanilla pudding and a raspberry beverage. The low-sugar diet group rated the foods as much sweeter in both intensity and pleasantness than those who had maintained their original high sugar diet. While both groups preferred the same amount of sugar in each, it appears that the low-sugar dieters were able to enjoy their sweetness even more.

“Over-consumption of sugar is widely believed to contribute to obesity and related health problems such as heart disease,” said Paul Wise, a sensory psychologist at Monell Center and an author of the study, in a press release. “If people could adjust to a lower-sugar diet over time without affecting food acceptance, it might be possible to gradually reduce added sugars in food and beverages without causing rejection.”

The results differ from past research on salt diets, where participants on low salt diets ended up preferring less salt when they finished. However, the sugar results still offer hope to people who are looking to decrease their sugar levels.

"The factors that underlie liking for sugar and salt may differ," said Gary Beauchamp, a behavioral biologist at Monell and another author of the study, in the press release. "The salt findings formed part of the rationale for the National Academy of Sciences' recommendation to decrease salt consumption by gradually lowering the amount of salt in prepared and restaurant foods. Modern diets contain a large proportion of calories as sugar, but this same tactic may not work as well to help reduce the amount of sugar that people consume."

High levels of sugar, especially fructose, can wreak havoc on many aspects of your health. Too much sugar leads to fat buildup in the body, and over time can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Reducing sugar from your diet in the form of soft drinks can have a huge impact on your health from the get-go, improving your heart, brain, teeth, and skin health. And whatever path you take in lowering your sugar consumption, there may be some comfort in knowing that you'll enjoy sugary treats even more when you're not eating too much of it.

Source: Wise P, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015.