Sugar and fat have long competed against one another as the root cause of many cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. Fat has always won this battle in the past, sweeping past sugar with its higher caloric load and its propensity to remain in the body, clogging the transport systems and ultimately creating an unsightly bulge around the abdomen.
However, fat is the protector and insulator of our vital organs. It provides the structure of every cell in our body and creates natural steroids and hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. Yet fat is still touted as the enemy of a healthy diet, causing the production of many low fat, yet high sugar foods.
The oversimplification of the debate between sugar and fat has led to broad misconceptions. When the low fat diet was proposed, the distinction between fats was never made. This led to the exchange of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with processed carbs and salt, creating the illusion that the diet was heart-healthy.
In the 1960s, the American diet consisted of 45 percent fat and, as a result, only 13 percent of adults were obese and less than 1 percent had type 2 diabetes. Today, that number has more than doubled to 34 percent suffering from obesity and 11 percent suffering from diabetes, with Americans consuming less fat than before. This statistic demonstrates the hold sugar has developed upon our society.
In a recent study, Harvard researchers had subjects replace their saturated fat intake with simple carbohydrates. The results contradicted popular belief. There was no significant health benefit, and, on the contrary, the ‘carbed up’ individuals were more prone to developing obesity and type 2 diabetes due to the elevated sugar levels in their blood. There was also no direct connection between fat intake through diet and fat stored in the body. However, when the healthy replaced the saturated, the heart’s health increased dramatically.
Sugar in the body works solely as fuel, which means one should only take in as much as they expend. Since the brain can only use sugar as an energy source, it is understandable that sugar has generally slipped past scrutiny. However, our processed sugar intake has increased tenfold in the past century. Sugar’s prevalence is made known through every low-fat alteration of processed food consumed. Sugar comes in hidden forms, such as the simple carbohydrates that have replaced the fat in our fat-free foods and the refined sugars more readily stored as body fat than the versatile fat molecule itself.
It seems as though fat has now officially lost its title. Excess refined sugar now lies at the heart of America’s obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Faizah Shareef is a senior majoring in exercise physiology.