Many Americans have a love affair with fat and sugar for some obvious reasons, such as adding flavor and smoothness to foods. However, there is a growing concern over the health risks associated with a high-fat, high-sugar diet. Eating foods with added sugar and fat results in excess calories, which can increase body weight, blood cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels and is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
For years the focus was on fat and the risks associated with a high-fat diet on conditions such as heart disease. The food industry quickly responded with a wide variety of fat-free products like muffins, cookies and ice cream. To create a product that’s still desirable after cutting fat, they added more sugar. Many items lost the fat but gained calories. In some products, the sugar content nearly doubled. As a result, we are now recognizing the risks associated with a high-sugar diet.
So, what is the right choice?
The key to good health is being educated about fat and sugar and knowing your limits.
Not All Fats Are Created Equal or Are Equally Good for Your Body
The human body needs a certain amount of oils for good health. Fat is needed for fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. It is necessary for the production of many hormones, and fat is the only source for the essential fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body but are fundamental for life.
There are three types of natural fats found in food: monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids. Each fatty acid has a different property and acts differently in the body. All fat is made up of a blend of the three fats with the proportion of fatty acids differing with the type of fat.
- Saturated fats should be reduced because they raise blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found only in animal foods. Excess cholesterol fills up arteries and is linked to heart disease and strokes.
- Monounsaturated fats, found in abundance in olive oil and peanut oil, appear to protect against heart disease.
- Polyunsaturated fats can be further divided into the omega-6 and the omega-3 families. It is recommended to eat more omega-3s, which are thought to have a positive impact on heart health and play an important role in brain and eye function. Oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are a good source of omega-3s, as are walnuts and some oils like soybean and rapeseed.
You May Not Be Aware of How Much Sugar You Consume – to the Detriment of Your Health
The average American consumes nearly 400 calories from added sugars each day – the equivalent of 22 teaspoons per day. The American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism and the Council on Epidemiology and Prevention released a scientific statement entitled Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health in late 2009. The statement suggests that American women should consume no more than 100 calories and men no more than 150 calories from added sugar each day.
“Added sugar” includes sugars and syrups added to foods during processing or preparation, including sugars and syrups added at the table. The recent increase in average sugar intake is largely because of increased consumption of soft drinks, fruit drinks, desserts, sugars and jellies, candy, and ready-to-eat cereals – with soft drinks and other sweetened beverages accounting for the largest source of added sugars in the American diet. The current food label does not differentiate between natural sugar and added sugar. The proposed new food label will be designed to separate them to help the average consumer to make wiser choices.
Sugar is a carbohydrate. When carbohydrate is consumed in the diet, there is an effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight and well-being.
Sugars, (fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, etc.) when consumed in excess, are particularly harmful because they elevate insulin levels, overloading the liver with carbohydrates.
Many people are not aware of how much sugar they are consuming through added sugars or the risks associated with high levels of consumption.
The following are problems linked to a high intake of added sugar:
- Insulin resistance has been linked to excess sugar and contributes to obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes mellitus in humans.
- Added sugar through soft drink consumption has been linked to increased calorie intake, greater body weight, and lower intake of valuable nutrients. The sugar in carbonated beverages is absorbed very quickly. This may explain why people who consume sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis seem to have an increased risk of developing diabetes. (It’s not great for your teeth, either.)
- Blood pressure may be elevated due to a high intake of added sugar. In the Framingham Heart Study, they found that people who consumed more than one soft drink per day had a higher chance of developing hypertension and a 44% increased chance of having a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.
- When added fats are replaced with simple (refined) carbohydrate such as desserts, serum triglyceride levels increase and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol decreases. Refined carbohydrates are foods high in sugar and low in fiber.
- Chronic hyperinsulinemia has been linked to excess sugar intake. Hyperinsulinemia may cause people to eat more or eat even when there is no physiological need to eat by preventing dopamine clearance from the pleasure center of the brain.
- People who consume a large amount of added sugar typically have reduced intake of calcium, vitamin A, iron, zinc and fiber.
Three Tips for Eating Less Sugar and Saturated Fat
- Fuel your body first. Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk, lean meats, and other foods with limited or no processing.
- Choose whole-food snacks, such as fruits and nuts, rather than high-refined sugar snacks, such as candy bars and soda.
- Remember that sugar is sugar, whether it is from honey, agave syrup, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, etc. Reading the ingredient label will help you to identify naturally occurring or added sugar.