Why Sugar Isn’t The Bad Guy: Part One

Just as fat was demonized in the 1980’s sugar seems to be taking a bashing as dietary zealots whipping boy. With sugar avoidance becoming the latest media headline it’s compelling that sugar now plays the role that saturated fat once played and it is now responsible for the obesity epidemic that was once fats responsibility.


With what has been published you never really hear about the positive side of sugar or how it is used in the human body. Overwhelmingly the opinion of newspapers and numerous documentaries is that sugar is evil incarnate and will get you addicted, hooked on the giddy feeling of euphoria that only milk chocolate can give before you are sat in a pile of high sugar energy drinks looking for your next hit if you can get your obese frame out of bed.


The alarmism highlights that sugar correlates with a number of diseases from diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. However all of these conditions are multi-factorial in cause. You cannot attribute their development purely to sugar intake. Lifestyle and other dietary behaviours are also responsible.


What also is clear is that over the last 30 years activity has decreased as we undertake more sedentary occupations while total calorific intake has increased by over 400 calories daily. Sugar consumption although being blamed for the increase in people’s weight has only risen by a few calories on  average since the 1970’s. In fact the consumption of fats, oils, dairy fats and flour and cereal products have increased by about 180 calories which is about 4.5 times the average increase in the intake of sugar. In summation- we are not eating excessively more sugar than what we were consuming 30 years ago.


This point highlights that modern lifestyles indicate we are eating more of everything and we are less active than the previous generation. It’s a bit hard then to primarily blame sugar for this issue as we do not see an exact change in sugar consumption.


In the next post I will highlight the role that sugar plays and how science has been twisted in pursuit of a media story.

Diet Review: The Dukan Diet

So far I have been quite reserved in my writings on certain types of diet. But as all superheroes have the nemesis all personal trainers I guess have an industry pet hate. Now the reasons for this hatred are not jealousy- I understand that marketing is involved to sell things. When someone though is in a position of authority and has a title such as “Dr” people will listen to this and consider that persons advice “true.” Regardless of the positive and negative of a product stick a doctor on the front and it will sell. Why? We all believe what doctors say. Twin it with a few celebrity clients and a marketing budget and we have a diet to sell!

Described as a breakthrough diet book the Dukan diet has bee perched at the top of the diet section book shelf for sometime. Indeed with over a million copies sold someone must be losing weight!

The diet consists of 4 phases. First phase, limited carbs and high protein. Second phase, high protein with a few choice vegetables- though you can only eat them every other day. Third phase, add fruit- but not too much. Phase 4 is a maintainance phase and you can eat normally but on a Thursday repeat phase 1 and just eat protein (Thursday must be really bad for fat storage or something). You can drink water, tea and coffee and talk a multivitamin do brighten things up a little


So does it work? It is a high protein, carb restricted diet so you will lose weight quickly early on. This will be muscle glycogen and water (I have seen people lose up to 10kg with this approach- it isn’t permanent). As the diet maintains a high protein intake it has a tick in the box for maintaining lean muscle tissue. Body carbohydrates are depleted and in turn you will look elsewhere for energy and you are likely to increase fat burning as part of the process. Great! The negatives are as follows. On all low carbohydrate diets ultimately your metabolism will adjust to a lower consumption level over a period of time. Therefore, you can tolerate less carbohydrates. Starvation over time can lead to metabolic slow down and decreased hormonal status- again a negative for long term fat loss and maintenance  The programme encourages disordered eating- avoiding certain vegetables on certain days makes no sense. 95% of the time it isn’t over consumption of spinach that is the issue so the strict phases initially are not necessary.


There are a few other critiques, food choice is severely limited- this plan takes it to the N’th degree. You can only eat to this restrictive list-assigning foods to certain days is impossible in the long term. This can result in nutritional inefficiencies and in turn lead to health issues. The Dukan diet is near enough impossible if you don’t eat meat, fish or eggs. While this plan will lose you weight it is unnecessarily harsh, twinned with the fact (that the author even admits) that you will see an immediate bounce back in weight with normal carbohydrate consumption it could be considered that it is a diet that creates a false economy of fat loss.


Diet Review: Low Fat Diets

Low fat diets are as much part of the dieting landscape as bad behaviour is to premiership footballers. That is that there is a perception that fat is bad and consuming a diet low in fat is good. But is that true?

Low fat diets really are a product of the 1980’s- a bit like bad hair and electronic music, it doesn’t make it right. This came from the want to quantify nutritional intakes which in effect resulted in judgments being placed on consumption of everything from protein to vitamins and even salt. This was followed up by a number of other reports focusing upon saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease. Further to this recommendations where then given for the consumption of different types of fats from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats through to trans fats.

As always the diet industry jumped on the band wagon with low fat diets with many products you will recognize from today including Rosemary Conley and the Pritkin diet. As weight loss requires the body to utilize body fat as an energy source then reducing fat is the quickest and easiest way to reduce total energy consumption. Also, the negative links with coronary heart disease and arterial blockages as well as links with cholesterol (a type of fat) explain why the general consensus is that fat is a negative and consumption of fat equals storage.

What do we need for adequate health- well we can reduce fat heavily and I will talk about the negative implications of this. As a general recomendation fat consumption is widely recommended to be between at least 20 to 30% of total daily calorific consumption. Most low fat diets result in this being reduced to 10% though research highlights moderately low-fat diet with varied fat consumption, where 20 to 30 percent of calories come from fat, is more likely to keep the weight off in the long term.

Most foods contain some form of fat and for good reason. We need it to survive. Our body needs fat to make cell walls as well as the production of hormones. Without which we cannot maintain our metabolism. Vitamins are also absorbed and stored in body fat meaning long term restriction of fat can severely damage your nutritional status. We also need certain fats for the upkeep of our body- omega 6 and omega 3 are probably recognizable to most people. It is not surprising that the health message has become confused as on one hand fat is bad for your health but science simply refutes that you need a consistent fat consumption for the maintenance of your body and health.

Even the negative argument about saturated fat consumption is being challenged- as I have stated before correlation does not denote cause. Finding arterial fat does not mean that saturated fat is solely responsible for heart disease. Indeed we can process it and we do not a certain amount for the maintenance of the body these studies also interestingly correlated increased obesity with increased fat consumption, discounting an increase in sugar and carbohydrate consumption which occurred as well during this time frame.

The one negative for fat consumption is trans fats which are made made through the hydrogenation of oils to improve shelf life- most processed foods will contain these fats. Our body cannot use these and they should be avoided.

But the 100 million dollar question…. They work…. don’t they? Well yes because a lot of the time you are reducing net food consumption so it can help with weight and fat loss. However the negative implications may be reductions in your hormonal health and therefore your long term ability to maintain your metabolic rate, immune system etc.

So what happens if I overeat fat? The same things as protein and carbohydrates. It will be stored as body fat. The key is to work out what you need and balance your intake so it is consistent  Metabolically it is easier to convert consumed fat in to body fat but as we need it for so many vital purposes it is important to maintain a sensible level of consumption as opposed to reducing it heavily.