In case you missed the news last week, How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat, historical documents from the 1960s have been found that prove the Sugar industry paid Harvard Scientists to blame heart disease on saturated fat. This complete breach of ethics has led to five decades of misleading information, the rise of low-fat, highly-processed food sources, and a society riddled with obesity and chronic disease. For thousands of years humans thrived on simple whole food diets, but one piece of misleading information gave humans the green light to indulge in sugar-filled foods, and here we are 50 years later in the midst of an obesity epidemic.
This news is sure to bring out all the low-carb fanatics and a whole lot of “I-told-ya-so” chest pumping, but let’s make one thing very clear: Sugar is one unique substance, and this news does not vilify all carbs. Furthermore, this news does not give people carte blanche to go out and consume a diet outlandishly high in saturated fat. Put on your cap of reason, and let’s talk about what this news tells us.
Your Dogmatic Approach is Asinine
First and foremost, I want to drill this into the heads of all humans: There is more than one way to achieve sustainable weight loss and health. People are constantly searching for the one diet that will lead to results, but this is an unrealistic ideal. Whether it’s low-fat, low-carb, Paleo, vegan or otherwise, success comes only through two variables: Individual context and consistency with the appropriate approach.
If you’re looking to get healthy and lose weight, following the advice of someone with a dogmatic approach is a red flag- run the other direction as quickly as possible. I’ve tried countless approaches over the years and the truth of the matter is that it is possible to find success on almost any diet, as long as you’re consistent and working within the right parameters. What parameters you ask? This takes me to my next point…
People misunderstand energy balance in the body because humans are hardwired to want hard numbers and clear calculations. If you want to fool yourself into believing you can control your health and body weight by meticulously counting the amount of useable energy you put into your body through food, I wish you good luck living in your fairy tale fantasy land. Yes, calories matter, but no, you can’t count them accurately no matter how hard you try. The human body will burn and require a different amount of calories every single day based on factors like activity levels, stress, sleep, food choices, and a myriad of other considerations. Try as you might, let me repeat: You will never be able to accurately “count” calories.
Where calories do matter is to ensure you’re in a proper caloric range for your lifestyle and goals. If you’re consistently eating above and beyond your daily needs, you will gain weight, no matter the food source. This is where sugar is dangerous because humans can consume a lot of it without ever feeling satisfied.
Dietary Fat Matters Too
Saturated fat may have been wrongly accused of causing heart disease but it doesn’t dismiss dietary fats in the discussion of weight loss and health. Much like sugar is dangerous because it’s easy to consume, dietary fat is in a similar position because fat sources are twice as caloric as foods composed primarily of protein and carbohydrates (9 calories/g vs. 4 calories/g). This goes back to what I mentioned above: Consume anything in excess, and you will gain weight.
But Aren’t Carbs Evil?
It’s human nature to take an answer and extrapolate to simply things. Here’s a common path:
Sugar is bad -> Sugar “spikes” insulin -> Sugar is a carb -> Carbs “spike” insulin -> All carbs are bad
I understand this train of thought and my brain has been there. I was wrong, very wrong, and I’m happy to own that. To succinctly explain why this is ridiculous:
- All foods elicit an insulin response. Insulin is required to clear nutrients from the blood. This is important because when excess nutrients float around in the blood stream for too long, they lead to inflammation and plaque, which leads to chronic disease.
- A healthy insulin response, which happens through ingesting an appropriate amount of food, leads to other appropriate hormonal responses in the body, encouraging systemic health.
- Going back to my point above, humans can ingest a lot sugar very rapidly, leading to an excessive insulin response. Chronically-elevated insulin results in tissues becoming less sensitive to insulin, leading to inflammation and making nutrients harder to clear from the blood, leading to chronic disease.
- Due to the amount of fiber and nutrients in whole food carb sources like root vegetables, fruit, rice, etc., it is extremely difficult to consume enough of these foods to mimic the result of ingesting sugar.
Long story short, carbs aren’t inherently bad. Humans require glucose for survival. Most of us will think better and feel better when we consume an appropriate amount of whole food carb sources. Vilify sugar as much as you want, but don’t fall into the trap of irrationally condemning nutritious whole foods.
So Who’s to Blame?!
Here are things that people like:
- Control, via concrete numbers and facts
- Excess and binging
- Being comfortable
- Living in black and white, never grey
Unfortunately for us humans, none of these items are conducive to health and losing body fat.
If you want to get healthier and improve your body composition, the first step is to adopt the mindset that you can’t control or restrict your way to positive results. The human body is beyond complex and the only way to sustainably lose weight is to make your body happy. In turn, the only way to make your body happy is to live in the grey, avoid extremes, and embrace a bit of discomfort.
You can control many things in life, but minimizing fat tissue will only come as the result of many synergistic, self-nourishing actions over a prolonged period of time. Fat loss doesn’t come by avoiding a specific macronutrient or even sugar itself indefinitely- it comes when you start treating your body with love instead of trying to shame it smaller through restrictive actions.
At the end of the day a bit of sugar can be part of a healthy diet, so long as it’s a dietary complement and not part of your nutritional foundation. The key to health and longevity is to focus on treating your body right, which can be achieved through eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that satisfies your activity level and hunger cues.
For more info on diet and nutrition, you know how to find me.