If it sounds like your everyday food dilemma, you are not the only one. We have been told for years that to be healthy and slim we need to stay away from anything that has fat in it. However, it is sugar that has been getting the bad press recently and it looks like it is the bad guy that is here to stay. We asked our Nutritionists to explain, which is giving you the extra flab: fat or sugar?
How many times have you heard ‘fat is fattening’? According to Dr. Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives To Sugar it’s a big, fat diet lie. “Please forget the myth that fat is fattening; it is sugar and refined carbohydrates that make you fat. Sugar is nothing more than empty calories – it gives you no nutritional value at all. Worse than that, because sugar is devoid of nutrients, your body has to use other nutrients stored in your system in order to digest the sugar. So, not only are you getting absolutely no vital vitamins and minerals from the sugar, but your body is also losing valuable nutrients just by eating it. Hence, sugar causes a double whammy on the nutritional front and can actually create nutritional deficiencies.”
For many decades, gaining and losing weight had always been considered to be about calories. However, not all calories are equal. Dr Glenville explains, “It all depends on the form that the calories take, which determines whether they are going to cause a problem with weight gain or not.
“When you eat, your food is broken down by digestion into glucose (sugar) and absorbed through the walls of your small intestines. It’s perfectly natural to have a high level of glucose in your blood after eating. Your pancreas then releases the hormone insulin to move the glucose (sugar) from your blood, into your cells, to be used for energy.
“When you eat sugar or sugary foods, the food is digested very quickly and you will have much higher levels of glucose in your blood, which, in turn, will require more insulin to be released by your pancreas. Think of insulin as the ‘fat hormone’ of your body. When it is released, it directs the energy from your food into storage. So the more insulin you produce the more your food is likely to be stored as fat.
“Unfortunately, when your insulin levels are high, your body doesn’t use fat for fuel. It uses the glucose in your blood instead. So when insulin is being produced, you won’t lose weight; your body will cling onto your fat stores,” says Glenville.
The ‘F’ world
Our body needs fats for many reasons to keep us alive and healthy. Cassandra Barns, Nutritionist explains, “Perhaps most importantly, fats are needed for all our cell membranes, providing a fluid structure to let substances in and out of the cell, while maintaining its shape. They’re vital for our brain too: about 60% of the dry weight of the brain is made up of fat, including the omega-3 fat DHA as found in oily fish and fish oils. DHA is needed for vision too. Fats also allow nerve signals to pass around our body properly, as they make up a substance called myelin that insulates nerve cells. Many of our hormones, such as testosterone and oestrogen, are made from fats. And we even need fats to absorb vital fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, which is vital for immunity and eyesight, and vitamin K, which supports bone health and healthy blood clotting.”
Does Fat make us Fat?
Who is to blame?
So does fat makes us fat? Cassandra comments, “It’s true that an excessive intake of either fat or carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, simply by providing more calories than the body needs. But this doesn’t mean that fats should
be avoided altogether, otherwise we could run into some health problems. The key is to get enough of the healthy types of fats, while avoiding those that are more likely to cause problems. The healthier fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats (although most of us get plenty of omega-6), monounsaturated fats such as those in olive oil, and even some saturated fat found primarily in animal foods.”
The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are particularly important to have in adequate amounts. “DHA is important for the brain and eyes, and both EPA and DHA are crucial for heart health. In our food, these fats are only found in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, with very small amounts found in algae, wild game meats and ‘omega-3 eggs’. This is why many people may benefit from taking a fish oil supplement, such as Natures Plus Ultra Omega 3/6/9 (Revital £22.95),” Cassandra says.
The bad boys
However, there are fats we should stay away from. “With no nutritional benefits at all, trans fats are the worst fats and should be avoided at all costs. Found in many processed foods to prolong shelf life, they might appear on the label as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Trans fats are linked to an increase in heart disease and are terrible for your general health as they harden cells and arteries. They also cause fat to gather around the mid section, even if you are sticking to low calorie diet and block absorption of EFA’s, which are needed to overcome insulin resistance,” explains Dr Glenville.