Sugar vs. Fat, which is worse?
When we talk about inappropriate diets, sugar and fats are always the protagonists, but what actually does the most harm?
Today, we are about three times fatter than we were in the 1960s. And it’s not because we’re eating so much more or because we’re moving less. In fact there is more variety of light foods, more sports options and more access to them. So, what factor is behind it?
We know that fat and sugar are the suspects when it comes to obesity, but we still seem to go through life not quite understanding how to balance our diets. Which is more fattening, fat or sugar? Which one should we abstain from?
First and last: nothing in excess is good, never. So both sugar and fat in bulk are harmful and directly related to cardiovascular diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, etc. But there is something important to consider.
For years fat was in the dock and sugar was ignored. This was because one gram of fat has 9 calories and one gram of sugar has 4. In that sense, fats are more fattening. But we actually demonize fatty foods more than we should and the problem is that over time we have become addicted to sugar.
Sugar is not inherently bad, but it’s how much and how often we consume it that matters. We have become accustomed to eating more than our bodies need.
Nutritionist Francisca Bustos explains: “The body has a limited amount of sugar reserves, but not fats, which can be stored without limit. Therefore, if we eat too much sugar and the amount that our organs can store has already been stored, it accumulates in the form of fat. As part of the fatty tissue or as triglycerides, which are fat molecules that accumulate in our arteries and increase cardiovascular risk.
Nutrition expert Dr. John Briffa points out, “the blame for obesity is increasingly being placed not on whole foods containing natural fats, but on processed foods loaded with refined carbohydrates and sugars, which are quickly converted into body fat”.
What really is sugar?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate: sucrose, a mixture of glucose and fructose.
a mixture of glucose and fructose.
Bustos explains that there are many types of carbohydrates and that some provide only calories (simple sugars), while others come with essential nutrients for our body, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes, among others (complex sugars).
“We must understand that even though carbohydrates are natural and come in healthy foods such as fruit (fructose), dairy (lactose), rice or noodles (starch), or artificial such as table sugar or processed products that contain it (cookies, chocolates, cakes, etc.), as long as we consume it, we should be aware of the fact that we are not only consuming carbohydrates, but we should also be aware of the fact that we are also consuming them as long as we consume them. too much is going to be harmful.
We must also consider that any sugar is not the same. Refined table sugar (simple sugar) is different, because it is an empty food. It has no nutritional power.
On the other hand, the complex sugars naturally present in fruit, vegetables, cereals and legumes, have a great advantage: their nutritional elements are essential for their absorption and use. They take longer to be absorbed, so they produce a slower and more moderate rise in blood glucose. This keeps blood sugar levels under control while providing the body with long-lasting fuel.
How healthy are low-fat products?
“It’s 0% fat, so it’s much less fattening” is the myth our minds believe when we buy food. Many products have their fat percentage lowered. But as they lose their natural flavour, they are unpleasant to taste. What are you doing to fix it? Easy, they add sugar as a replacement. This means that there are cases where even a low-fat product has more calories than a regular product. And while it’s not a rule, there are many other examples of how little caloric difference reduced-fat foods make.
Francisca explains that under the food regulations, the concept of “light” is simply understood as 20% less of something: sugar, fat or sodium. But the fact that 20% of an ingredient is reduced does not necessarily mean that the amount of other ingredients is not increased. Therefore, light does not equal calorie-free or even less healthy.
Many of the products we see as healthy, yoghurt, cereal bars, 0% fat products, flavoured waters, may have much more sugar than we think and we should trust more in the nutritional labels if we want to measure our diet, than in the commercial label of the product. Considering the percentage of our daily diet that the portion represents.
Why does sugar dependence occur?
First of all because we need it: sugar is essential, glucose is the food of our neurons par excellence and that is why we could not leave it.
Then, because we crave it: in addition to its pleasant sweet taste, sugar can lift your mood by causing your body to secrete serotonin, which is the “happy hormone”.
Finally, because it makes us dependent: very sweet foods (with simple sugar) fill us up and leave us empty very quickly. As they have a “high glycemic index”, they cause the glycemia in our blood to rise quickly and we get satiated, but it doesn’t last long. We’ll need it again in a little while.
Dr. Robert Lustig, an American pediatrician and endocrinologist and obesity expert, explains that sugar is like controlled drugs: “We have to wean ourselves off dependence. We have to unendulge our lives. We have to make sugar a pleasure, not a staple and daily element of the diet”. It’s not about escaping every meal and living traumatized by every treat we indulge in. We know it is not necessary. But we need to be more aware of what we are eating on a daily basis.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to start by reducing the amount of spoonfuls of sugar in your coffee or replacing a snack with a more natural one. It’s purely a habit thing. According to the FAO and the World Health Organization, carbohydrates are responsible for providing the bulk of energy needs, between 55% and 75% daily. But of these, simple sugar, should not exceed 10%: about 10 teaspoons between coffee, chocolates, sweets, drinks and other foods.
As you can see, sugar is not at all harmful, you just have to monitor the amounts you consume to avoid having problems with your health.