Few things in this world are more complicated than nutrition. Nutritional recommendations and diet fads change more than the wind. It’s hard to say that anything in nutrition is definitive. Fat used to be the enemy in the 90s, then accepted in the 2000s, then high fat was praised in the 2010s. In just two decades, fat went from enemy to friend.
When the low-fat diet trended in the 90s, food companies had to replace the taste that was missing with their reduced-calorie and low-fat foods. Sugar became the most common replacement. Despite the low-fat trend, America’s obesity rates continued to climb. That’s when sugar became the enemy.
So which one is the enemy? The great food debate of the past few decades seems to revolve around fat and sugar.
A Quick Breakdown of Macronutrients
There are three sources of calories: protein, carbs, and fat. These are called macronutrients. Macronutrients are where we get our energy from. Protein has never been the issue. Food scientists, dieticians, and nutritionists alike have always agreed that protein is good for us and should comprise around 10-30ish percent of the human diet.
Sugar is a carbohydrate. Specifically, it is typically a simple carbohydrate, which means it can be quickly converted into usable energy. If that energy isn’t quickly expended, the body tends to store it as fat for later use.
Fat is also complex. There are many types of fat that can be consumed. You may have heard of saturated, unsaturated, trans, omega 3, omega 6, and 9 fats. Even you have different types of fat in your body.
Is Sugar Good Or Bad For You?
The good. Carbohydrates like sugar are the preferred fuel source for the body.
Simple sugars help deliver quick energy when we need it but can also be used for energy later in long-term storage. Sugar can be a dynamic nutrient.
The bad. Unused sugar is like getting pumped up for a game, but you decide not to play at the last minute. Some not-so-great things can happen from there. As mentioned earlier, the sugar is later stored as fat. That is a process that takes time and energy. It is theorized that the body sometimes has a hard time converting it all to fat. This is thought to cause ADHD-type symptoms, making it difficult to concentrate or even stay still. Research isn’t definitive on this, but there’s no question that having a lot of unspent energy can cause problems in the body.
Is Fat Good or Bad for You
The good. Fat offers lots of protection. Fat helps protect our brain, nerves, and cells and is vital to their optimal function. Low amounts of fat in our diet will cause problems in how our body functions.
The bad. One gram of protein is 4 calories. One gram of carbohydrate is 4 calories. One gram of fat, however, is 9 calories. Fat doesn’t make us any more fat than the other macronutrients. The problem is that it doesn’t take as much to put on unnecessary weight. A tablespoon of fatty oil has as many calories as a fistful of protein. It’s very easy to consume too much fat, giving us more calories we can use.
Which is Worse, Sugar or Fat?
Both sugar and fat are vital to athletic performance and our general health. However, given the standard diets of the modern world, getting enough sugar or fat is never much of an issue. The typical kid, adult, athlete, and non-athlete eats too much of both sugar and fat. Overconsumption of each has its consequences.
The sugar and fat debate will continue to rage on in future decades for various reasons. How much of it should we eat? Should we eat more carbs than fat? Or the other way around? There is no doubt that sugar is good for you, and too much is bad for you. Fat is also good for you, but too much is bad as well.
We’ve established that fat is vital to many bodily functions. There are many types of fats, but most types can be used to support these functions.
Sugar is also vital to health. Sugar provides glucose, which is the only fuel source for the brain. Without sugar, the body is in trouble.
So the truth is that neither is the bad guy. It just depends on the circumstance that is you! Sugar and fats provide benefits in their own way.
Is fat worse for you than sugar? If you are an active athlete, then probably yes. Active people tend to use sugar and carbohydrates better than less active folks. For less active folks, sugar is typically worse for you. Sugar is a great way to prepare for physical activity. If you aren’t physically active, it’ll probably be stored into fat that you won’t easily burn.
These dietary trends didn’t consider that not all humans are the same. Some of us have very different activity levels than others. Quantity, quality, and timing matter too. In the 2020s, we probably have a more intelligent understanding of that now.
Is sugar or fat worse? It depends. They are both vital. They are both enemies when abused. Your health needs are unique. It’s up to you to figure out what’s best for your body and goals.