fat's bad rap may be over
Fat has been blamed for our expanding waistlines for years but is it really to blame? What about the role increased sugar has played?
Compared to the 1960s the average person in the UK is on average 3 stone heavier - and there is nothing to suggest that it won't increase over the next couple of decades - unless something changes. How has this happened you might wonder? Many people have asked the same question, prompting many different answers, but I think this article by Jacques Peretti is one of the best I have read for a while.
He discusses how the food we eat nowadays is largely to blame for our increasing waistlines. And, flying in the face of three decades of public health campaigns, the biggest contributor turns out to be not fat after all, but sugar.
Sugar, in the form of glucose, is vital for all living processes from breathing to digestion, it's what gets broken down into energy that our cells use and it's crucial that we balance our blood sugar to stay healthy. Surinder's video on maintaining our energy levels explains some of the main reasons why balanced blood sugar levels are so important, one of which is the maintenance of a healthy weight. However, not all sugar is created equal, and depending on how we ingest it, will determine whether we can use it efficiently, or even at all.
Low fat, No fat
But back to where all this seems to have begun. In the 1970's there was a big debate about whether it was sugar or fat that was to blame for heart disease (obesity wasn't a problem then). Professor John Yudkin at the University of London blamed sugar, however, the food industry, especially the sugar industry, put considerable effort into lobbying against his claims, and supported another hypothesis that fat was to blame - creating a vast new and very lucrative market for them to enter - the low fat market.
At the time, the US president, Richard Nixon, already under pressure over the Vietnam War, was also under pressure to stem rising food prices. He needed a drastic change to America's approach to farming and his administration found it in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Sweeter and cheaper than sugar, adding it to processed foods reduced production costs dramatically. Nixon oversaw the introduction of mass production farming and in doing so won over many influential people and hence the votes needed for his re-election campaign.
The huge increase in corn production in America also gave farmers a cheap (if unhealthy) way to fatten their animals to unprecedented sizes. Cows can't digest large quantities of corn.
Look in any supermarket and what you'll see is a low fat or fat free option for nearly everything. The problem is that when fat is removed from food where it naturally occurs, it becomes a lot less satisfying, leading us to want to eat more than if we had eaten the full-fat version. In order to compensate for this lack of satisfaction, the food manufacturers add sugar and salt. Some foods need a lot of sugar to compensate for the missing fat.
Sugar or sugar?
Sugar can come in many different forms, and in terms of our health, not all sugar is created equal.
White refined sugar, that is added to say cakes or biscuits, leads to a sharp and sudden increase in our blood sugar levels.
Fructose, the sugar found mainly in fruit, has a different effect depending on how we ingest it. If it's taken in fruit juice, it's likely to have a more negative effect on our blood sugar levels (causing a spike), than if we eat a piece of fruit, with its natural enzymes and fibre that help to slow down the release of the sugar and improve its metabolism - so that it has a beneficial effect on our blood sugar levels.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), sometimes called glucose-fructose syrup in the UK - Richard Nixon's sweeter, cheaper alternative - is now an ingredient in almost every processed food produced.
We'll talk more about HFCS in the future, but it's important to know that it's very difficult for the body to metabolise, it puts our liver under a lot of stress, leading to a build up of fat and can contribute to diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. HFCS, is now one of the highest sources of calorie intake in the US, and has paved the way for today's obesity epidemic.
Sugar has been found to have the same effect on our brain as heroin and has for many people literally become an addiction.
There is also now increasing research supporting the original findings of Professor Yudkin, that excessive sugar is having a detrimental effect, not just on our waistlines but also on our heart, liver and other organs.
Meanwhile the proposed regulation by New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to limit the size of a soft drink - no more super-sizing - has caused huge controversy, and a lot of push back by the soft drink manufacturers.
No more bad guy
For too long fat has been the bad guy but some fats are essential for life - and as strange as it might sound, some fats actually help to burn fat.
We all know about the potential problems with saturated fats but not so much about the benefits of essential fats like the Omega 3s found in foods like avocadoes or wild salmon.
Maintaining a healthy weight means limiting our intake of refined sugars, it also means making sure we are getting enough essential fats in our diet and also that we are doing some form of regular exercise.
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