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Fat or Sugar

February 8, 2015

From the viewpoint of nutrition, all foods are the same.  Our body is remarkable in that it can build all the tissues it requires and power itself from any food.  Inputs and outputs balance, of course.  The input can be carbohydrate, fat, or protein.  The output can be exertion or heat.  Any excess input accumulates in our bodies as fat.  These facts are the background that we require to understand other viewpoints.

Looking in more detail, there are differences in types of foods.  Proteins need to be kept in balance.  We require certain vitamins and certain minerals to prevent disease and promote health.  As well, some types of food can cause disease, usually only when we eat them in excess.  Some types are implicated in heart disease or obesity.

Does saturated fat cause heart disease?  Recent research has challenged this strongly-held belief.  Three articles that I’ve read recently describe the origin of the belief and point out that evidence of a link between saturated fat and heart disease has mostly disappeared.  Some studies show no association whatsoever.  They also state that some unsaturated fat provides no protection, but that trans fats are linked to heart disease.

Unsaturated fat is not just one thing, but several.  I found three articles that describe the different types, although they focus on omega-6 fatty acid.  Just substituting margarine for butter may not be effective if the margarine contains the wrong kinds of fatty acids.

It does seem that sugar is the new villain.  Barry Popkin, an American food science researcher, and Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist, have featured in many articles that I’ve read.  Robert Lustig is the author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar.  Most of the articles focus on the diabetes and obesity risk from sugar.  Some point out the high fructose level in soft drinks and fruit juices.  Even though fruit juice has a healthy image, it contains the same amount of sugar as soft drinks.

I conclude first of all that the links between saturated fats and heart disease are very complex, certainly more complex than we used to believe.  Spreading butter on your toast may not be a problem after all.  Margarine and vegetable oils are healthy too, provided that they contain the proper mixture of fatty acids.  Trans fats are looking like the bad guys; avoiding them seems like a good idea.

Excess sugar in the diet is a major contributor to obesity, mostly because the sugar is hidden.  We do need to reduce our intake of sugar, and food in general, and increase our activity in order to avoid obesity.


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