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Do We Really Need a Dietary Bad Guy?

April 3, 2014

Fat HealthFat ScienceDiet TalkFat News

Have you heard?

Saturated fat is not bad for your heart.

According to the linked Huffpo piece above, it’s SUGAR that was the boogie man all along. Sugar is the cause of every obesity-related health problem there is. Sugar is the real bad guy.

From that article:

So let’s not kid ourselves anymore about what’s really making us fat. Sugar is the leading culprit today in causing inflammation. Here are some specific stats from an article printed in February 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], which are worth sharing:

  • Sugar is connected to an increased risk of heart attack and dementia, as well as other inflammatory diseases, such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver problems, arthritis, reduction in beneficial HDL cholesterol, increase in triglycerides, and cancer.
  • Those with the highest sugar intake had a 400 percent higher risk of heart attack than those with the lowest intake of sugar. Note the current recommendation by the American Heart Association: One’s daily intake of sugar should be only 5-7.5 percent of one’s total caloric intake.
  • It takes only one 20-ounce soda to increase your risk of heart attack by 30 percent.
  • If you consume 20 percent of your calories from sugar, your risk of heart attack doubles.

A single 20-ounce soda increases your risk of heart attack by 30 percent? Maybe the author meant to say 20 ounces of soda a day. I dug a little deeper and I found this article. Here’s the quote that really struck me from this source:

There is disagreement about how much added sugar is acceptable in a healthy diet, they note. Added sugar should be less than 25% of total calories according to the Institute of Medicine, but less than 10% of total calories according to the World Health Organization. The American Heart Association has even stricter recommendations: less than 100 calories a day (about 5% of total daily calories) for women and 150 calories a day (about 7.5% of total daily calories) for men.

How awesome is that? Recommendations for daily sugar intake range from 25% for everyone by the Institute of Medicine to 5% for women by the American Heart Association (AHA). That’s a pretty massive range, right? For a 2,000 calorie diet, 25% is 500 calories and 5% is 100 calories.

The HuffPo piece recommends limiting grains and fruits as sources of natural sugar. The USDA’s My Plate website says, “Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.” So when the most conservative recommendation for daily added sugar calories (the AHA) calls for no more than 100 to 150 calories of a 2,000 calorie diet, they aren’t talking about rice and bananas. At least, that’s my interpretation.

A little more digging and I came across this hilarious post at Skepchick. Some smart ass looked at the rise of sugar consumption since 1822 and continued the trend to figure out when the average American will be eating a diet consisting of 100% sugar. In case you’re curious — 2606. And since the rise in sugar consumption correlates almost exactly to the rise in life expectancy Americans have enjoyed since 1822, he predicted immortality will arrive at the same time the all-sugar-all-the-time diet does.

Sugar equals immortality

All kidding aside, here’s the thing: moderation is key. Drink soda and eat cake when those are the things you want (barring a medical reason to avoid them), but be mindful about it. Be aware of what you’re putting into your body. Be wary of labeling foods good or bad, and just listen to what your hunger signals and appetite are telling you. It’ll probably take a while to get past the idea that saturated fat is the big culinary boogie man. I’m not sure that putting sugar, or anything else, in that villainous position is the right way to go. Eat sugar if you want it and you don’t have a medical reason to stay away from it. Removing the stigma from sugar (I’m addicted! It’s making me fat! It’ll give me a heart attack!) might help reduce the urge to binge on it.

Ask yourself this: How many times have you finished that pint of Ben and Jerry’s just to get it out of your house because you are NEVER having ice cream again? How many times have you overindulged on — anything, really — because you got started on a “forbidden food,” so you might as well go all in now? How many people do you know who have fallen off of Paleo by eating all of the sugar they could get their hands on?

Moderation. It’s not a dirty word. It’s not an “excuse” either. Food is not your enemy — not bacon and eggs, and not sugar. No food is your enemy. Food is just food. Morally neutral and unlikely to ever make you immortal.

P.S. Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting sugar will make you immortal. That would be silly, because:

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Nof permalink
    April 3, 2014 11:49 am

    Everyone needs to read that Skepchick post. It is a work of art.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    April 3, 2014 12:17 pm

    Every time researchers come out and say “this food is bad for your health” or “that food is bad for your health”, I pretty much ignore it. Over my 60 years of life, I’ve seen them say eggs are bad for you, good for you, bad for you, etc. I’ve seen them say the same thing about butter, about milk, about nearly every other food there is. I just figure that they have to have something to get their knickers in a knot over, something they can create a panic about, so they can continue to get those research dollars to keep on finding ways that they can use to keep people focused on the weight = health paradigm so we won’t see all the other things that are wrong with the world and actually have the time, energy, and will to fix them.
    And as for that meme going around Facebook that says every slice of bacon you eat takes 9 minutes off your life? As much as I love bacon, and as much bacon as I’ve eaten in my life, I should have died about 100 years ago. And since no one really knows exactly how much time on earth each one of us has, how do they know that? Am I really going to miss those minutes, since they’re all at the end of my life? You know, those minutes spent in a nursing home, not knowing who the hell I am, who the hell anyone else is, being fed, bathed, and diapered by strangers. Am I really going to miss those minutes/hours/days/whatever amount of time I lost because I ate OMGBACON!!! Yeah, I don’t think so, and I’d much rather eat foods I enjoy than live forever (because yes, there can be only one!). Love that reference, btw.

    • Carolyn permalink
      April 3, 2014 4:21 pm

      “Am I really going to miss those minutes, since they’re all at the end of my life? You know, those minutes spent in a nursing home, not knowing who the hell I am, who the hell anyone else is, being fed, bathed, and diapered by strangers. ”

      That’s assuming the default is to end up unable to take care of yourself and mentally unstable. Taking good care of yourself now may mean spending your last days surrounded by your friends and family, or doing what you enjoying doing, like the 80 something year old who died after completing the New York marathon. Of course, you could eat whole foods and avoid processed stuff and still die an early death, there are no guarantees, but my bet’s on avoiding the Standard American Diet.

    • Dizzyd permalink
      April 3, 2014 5:24 pm

      I totally agree with you, Vesta. How is it you always manage to say what I’m thinking? lol

  3. purple peonies permalink
    April 3, 2014 12:51 pm

    given that these orgs are infiltrated by industry shills, i honestly can’t trust anything they recommend. i eat what my body needs (which is exactly NO gluten, and no animal products… with a few other allergies), and i wish everyone else could do the same, because we can’t trust most of the advice we’re given.

    the whole reason bacon became a breakfast food is because a pork company paid a doctor to say it’s healthy without any evidence to back it up. now those same companies are putting those same doctors into the same agencies that are telling us this sort of thing is perfectly healthy. even if it were true (which it’s not– like you said, it’s about moderation, IF you’re going to consume any at all), none of this is based on sound trustworthy unbiased research. ultimately, it’s almost always going to be funded by industries who stand to benefit from the “conclusion.”

  4. April 3, 2014 2:53 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    In my own case I craved refined sugar as if it was cocaine for most of my pre-puberty existence. I was always told that I just had to not eat that stuff and that I was a weak and bad person if I did. Consequently, it became forbidden fruit, so to speak. I’ve been bulimic, I’ve binge eaten without purging, I’ve starved myself, I’ve over-exercised. The craving never, ever went away.
    Eventually I learned that insulin resistance causes cravings for simple carbohydrates. I learned this after I developed type 2 diabetes. Nobody ever told me that there was a physical reason for my cravings. They just told me that I was a bad, lazy fat person.
    I’m not saying that eating sugar (or anything else) caused my diabetes, because that would be bullshit. What I’m saying is that I had a genetic vulnerability to developing diabetes. I may never have been able to stop this from happening, no matter what I ate. But I might have been able to get the cravings for simple carbohydrates under control, or I might at least have been able to live at peace with myself, had it not been for the blaming and shaming that I received every time I tried to seek help.
    I’m so angry I could spit nails right now.
    We absolutely do not need a “food bad guy,” although I’d say that Big Food has a lot to answer to. Instead of blaming fat people, why not go after the real bad guys?
    Sometimes (a lot of the time) our society really makes me sad.

  5. Elizabeth permalink
    April 4, 2014 9:50 am

    This is an excellent column, and the morality labels Shaunta writes of are directly related to Cie’s experience of personal shaming and blaming. Good people eat good food, and bad people eat bad food. Absurd! if you think about it for even a minute!

    I, too, ate sugar as an adolescent but I was deprived of nutritious food by a mother that became diet-obsessed. Sugar is a great stress reliever and an easy thing to eat (and steal) if you are hungry and nutrient-deprived. That said, sugar does not have a conscience and is a totally neutral substance in our morality wars.

  6. April 4, 2014 10:38 am

    “Ask yourself this: How many times have you finished that pint of Ben and Jerry’s just to get it out of your house because you are NEVER having ice cream again? How many times have you overindulged on — anything, really — because you got started on a “forbidden food,” so you might as well go all in now?”

    Are you in my head? :p

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