Fats or Sugars: Which contributes more to Obesity?

Carolyn Hoy

Editor’s note: [The intention of this article is to introduce the reader to the glycemic index and is in no way a replacement to medical advice. If you would like more information about sugars, fats, and the glycemic index contact a health care professional in your area. If you have medical questions, please contact your health care professional.]

That box of SweeTarts is so enticing. It would make your movie-watching experience so much tastier, you reason. And when you glance at the nutritional facts, you notice that your favorite treat contains zero grams of fat. The perfect snack, you think, ignoring the calories and especially the sugar because if there is no fat, it can’t make you gain weight, right? Wrong.

Contrary to popular myth, sugar, not fat, is the real culprit in obesity. Why? A study reported by National Geographic called, “Fats vs. Sugar: Which Do We Crave More?” reveals the truth.

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Bodybuilidng.com suggests including fruits like peaches in a healthy diet.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net Suat Eman

Sugar is addicting, just like illegal drugs, according to the article. The more people eat, the more they want. And the more they want, the more they tend to eat. Excess sugar is converted to fat in the body, so just because a box of candy says “zero grams of fat” does not mean it will not “go straight to the hips.” Sugar is the hidden devil that creeps into the diet.

However, not all sugars are equally bad. This is because different foods have different glycemic loads. According to healthy.usnews.com, the glycemic load measures how food impacts blood sugar levels and is set on a scale of 1 to 100. Foods that are easily digested, primarily carbohydrates, have higher scores because they cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

Unfortunately, a problem with a spike is that “what goes up must come down,” and in the case of high-glycemic foods, that drop is rapid; an article on Bodybuilding.com called, “All Carbs Are Not Created Equal” explains this concept. This quick drop is referred to as a “sugar high” or “sugar crash” and is the reason why sugars can make a person feel energetic for a short time before they completely lose energy.

These high-glycemic foods do not only result in sugar crashes; they also result in weight gain because they directly affect insulin, which is one of the body’s most powerful growth hormones. Repeated spikes in insulin tell the body to store the sugar as body fat, which is why a food that has little or no fat on the label, but is high in sugar, can still cause body fat to develop.

Luckily, not all sugars cause this spike. According to whfoods.com, foods that are 55 and under on the glycemic scale are considered “low glycemic foods,” and they cause insulin to release more slowly into the blood than high glycemic foods. This avoids the spike and decreases the chance of these “good” sugars being stored as body fat.

Which foods contain good sugars and which contain bad, though? Don’t fruits and vegetables, considered to be “health foods,” have high sugar counts? They do, but they also have fiber, vitamins, and minerals, according to National Geographic, and as a result their sugars absorb less quickly and their glycemic levels are lower. Simple sugars like candy and soda, on the other hand, provide “empty calories;” calories with no nutritional value. They do not fill people up, so people eat them in excess.

So what can be done? Bodybuilding.com suggests eating nuts, legumes, sweet potatoes, and oats. Suggested fruits are plums, peaches, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, and grapefruit. Pasta boiled for five minutes and polished or brown rice are suggested. Lastly, vegetables—excluding carrots, corn, and root vegetables—are suggested as part of a healthy diet.

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According to Bodybuilding.com, carrots, as well as corn, peas, honey and corn chips, should be avoided when a person is trying to lose weight.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net luigi diamanti

Foods that should be avoided when trying to lose weight, according to the same Bodybuilding.com article, include honey, candy, carrots, corn, peas, flaked cereals and corn chips. Puffed cereals, including white rice, wheat, corn and even rice cakes, should be avoided. Regular russet, instant and mashed potatoes, as well as breads, especially white, make the list as well. “Instant” versions of rice, oatmeal, wheat, and grits round out the list.

Although sugar and fat can cause weight gain, sugar more secretly and viciously than fat, the solution to weight loss is not one diet or cutting out one type of food. As an experiment by twin doctors discussed on Fox News revealed, “Eliminating a single macro-nutrient like fat or sugar is not a solution to weight loss, nor are fad diets.” Rather, people should adhere to healthy lifestyles, exercising regularly and avoiding “empty calories” in the form of simple sugars and unnecessary fats.

To see more information about the glycemic “loads” of certain foods, visit Harvard’s website.

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