The Good and the Bad: Learn the Truth About Fat and Sugar

fat vs sugar

Over the past few decades, the diet industry has waged a fierce war on fat, leading consumers to believe that cutting down on your consumption of fat is the key to weight loss. However, it’s good to know that not all fats are unhealthy and that, on the other hand, many “healthy, low-fat foods” sometimes do more harm than good in the fight for your overall health.

Coconut oil on a wooden spoon

If you take a stroll through just about any supermarket, you’re bound to encounter an endless array of suspicious “healthy” foods. They may have been slapped with a “fat-free” or “reduced fat” label, but they may actually do more harm than good.

What the diet industry doesn’t tell you is that these low-fat foods are usually pumped full of preservatives, additives, and extra sugar intended instead to boost flavor and enhance palatability.

Zuckerwürfel

Not only can added sugar be even more detrimental than fat when it comes to your weight, but it can also take a toll on just about every other aspect of health as well.

Plus, by cutting down on your fat intake, you may actually be eliminating the many potential health benefits that healthy fats can provide (listed below).

Many consumers are left wondering – what has a more negative effect on your health – fat or sugar?

Negative effects of sugar consumption

  • Sugar has been shown to trigger inflammation, which is actually at the root of most diseases. Why? Sustaining high levels of inflammation long-term has been linked to an increased risk of several chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. (1)
  • Recent research also suggests that loading up on added sugar might heighten your risk of cancer. There is an indirect link between sugar and cancer risk, mostly due to the fact that obesity heightens your risk for many types of cancer. (2, 3)
  • As you may already know, sugar consumption has also been associated with a higher risk of obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, all of which can kick up your risk of chronic disease. (4, 5, 6)
  • Sugar is highly addictive, which can make it nearly impossible to quit cold turkey. Why? Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, simultaneously causing a slew of sugar withdrawal symptoms when you finally do decide to cut back on your sugar intake.

Keep in mind:

These negative health effects are limited to added sugars found in processed and unhealthy foods like baked goods, sugary sweets, and soft drinks.

Good sugars (and fats)

Plenty of healthy foods like fruits contain natural sugars, but they also supply a host of important micronutrients as well as fiber, which can slow the absorption of sugar and negate any potential negative effects on health.

But while added sugar is universally considered unhealthy across the board, fat is actually an incredibly important part of the diet and can come with a long list of health benefits.

Benefits of healthy fat

  • Unsaturated fatty acids found in foods like avocados, olive oil, and almonds can actually boost heart health, lower cholesterol levels, and alleviate inflammation.
  • Certain saturated fatty acids such as coconut oil may also have health benefits and have been linked to better brain function and increased fat burning (if eaten according to a planned calorie intake). (7, 8)
  • And while it may seem counterintuitive, upping your intake of healthy fats can also slow gastric emptying, keeping you feeling fuller for longer to ward off cravings and amp up weight loss.

However, not all fats are created equal.

The not-so-healthy fats

While fats found in whole, unprocessed foods such as nuts, seeds, and oils are jam-packed with benefits, the fats found in highly processed foods are not at all good for your health. Trans fats, for example, are found primarily in processed foods, and hydrogenated vegetable oils have been associated with a wide range of negative health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Steer clear and stick to healthier sources of fats instead to help optimize your health.

Someone pouring oil in a pan

Fat vs. sugar – what’s the answer?

The healthiest and most sustainable way to improve your health is to make minor changes for healthier choices. Sugar is highly addictive and has been associated with a number of adverse effects on health. Healthy fats, on the other hand, are an essential part of the diet and may actually aid in weight loss, improve heart health and reduce inflammation. For this reason, it’s best to swap the sugar out of your diet and fill up on healthy fats instead.

Remember:

Even if some fats are considered healthy, it’s best to eat them in moderation if you want to lose weight. Adjusting your calorie intake is crucial for weight loss, and fats, even the healthy ones, have a lot of calories.

guacamole

If you want to become your healthiest self, opt for foods like:

  • coconut oil
  • avocados
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • grass-fed butter
  • fatty fish
  • nutrient-rich nuts and seeds

I also suggest skipping the sugar from processed foods, sugar-sweetened juices, energy drinks or sodas, and other unhealthy sources.

Diet soda

If you do need to add a hint of sweetness to your favorite baked goods or beverages, select natural sweeteners like:

  • raw honey
  • stevia
  • dates

Not only can these ingredients supply a bit of extra flavor, but they also contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make them a much better alternative to plain, white, processed sugar.

Think you know how your favorite foods stack up in the battle of sugar vs. fat? Pick the best option out of the choices below to test your nutrition knowledge!

Avocado vs. Low-Fat Salad Dressing
Avocado
Low-Fat Salad Dressing

Correct!

Wrong!

Apple Juice vs. Apples
Apple Juice
Apples

Correct!

Wrong!

Energy Drinks vs. Bulletproof Coffee
Energy Drinks
Bulletproof Coffee

Correct!

Wrong!

Grass-Fed Butter vs. Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Grass-Fed Butter
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil

Correct!

Wrong!

Raw Honey vs. White Sugar
Raw Honey
White Sugar

Correct!

Wrong!

Fat-Free Yogurt vs. Coconut Oil
Fat-Free Yogurt
Coconut Oil

Correct!

Wrong!

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Dr. Josh Axe Dr. Josh Axe is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion for helping people get well using food as medicine. View all posts by Dr. Josh Axe »