The Sweet Truth: Why Saturated Fat Got All The Blame
Until recently, it seemed like it was common knowledge that saturated fat is bad for you. Regardless of whether you’re someone who counts macros or you have no real nutritional knowledge whatsoever, you have most likely been told to avoid saturated fats at all costs. But why is this the case? Is saturated fat really as bad for you as we have been lead to believe? And what about excess sugar consumption?
As time goes on, more and more scientific research is conducted on the link between the food we consume and the affect it has on our overall health. As studies progress, we find that it is actually excess sugar that seems to play the larger role in chronic disease in contrast to the ever shamed saturated fat - but how could this be?
"If you avoid saturated fat at all costs and you'll be healthy!" How legitimate was this claim?
Where Did The Saturated Fat Myth Come From?
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer worldwide, with over 31 percent of global deaths attributed to the disease. CVD kills more than 17.5 million people annually and is a serious problem. Of course, the scientific community has known about the effects of CVD for decades and have conducted numerous studies into the associated risk factors, including the link nutrition plays in the development of the disease. During the 60s and 70s, scientists condemned saturated fat and its link to heart disease, thus, we all banished this fatty assassin from our diets, assuming we would be safe and keep our hearts healthy.
CVD kills more than 17.5 million people annually
However, documents found among long forgotten cobwebbed shelves by a University of California researcher showed that many of the dietary recommendations for consumption of saturated fats and sugars (many of which we still acknowledge as "correct" today) were actually shaped by the big bosses of the sugar industry. The documents show how large companies throughout the sugar industry have paid researchers millions of dollars to actually play down the role of sugar and its association with chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity. Moreover, obesity rates and the rates of obesity related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia have gone up according to research lead by the American Diabetes Association.
Is saturated fat like coconut oil the main and only culprit behind the obesity epidemic?
It even turns out that one of the scientists paid to downplay the effects of sugar went on to become one of the key players at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and assisted in drafting the federal dietary guidelines in the late 70s. If nothing else, this should tell us that rather than worrying only about how saturated fat could affect us, we should be paying closer attention to the risks associated with excess sugar consumption. Not only in our own diets, but those of our children.
The Link Between Sugar and Chronic Disease
Current research shows us that the relationship between excess sugar consumption and chronic diseases is astounding. Current studies, some of which we will look into in more detail, have shown that excess sugar in our diets plays a very significant role in obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and some forms of cancer.
75% of items in your grocery store contain added sugar, and the average american consumes 3-4x times the daily recommended amount of sugar
The first factor to consider is that excess sugar consumption is strongly linked to obesity, which is currently a major health epidemic, especially in the US. It is estimated that more than 400 million people worldwide are obese, with a whopping 33% of the US population falling into the obese category. It is also estimated that more than $147 billion of US healthcare costs are attributed to health problems associated with being overweight and obese. Studies have also shown that obesity is a major risk factor for numerous chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and even premature death.
Type 2 Diabetes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 29 million Americans have diabetes; incredibly, 1 in 4 of them are completely unaware they have the condition. More than this, 1 in 3 US adults are estimated to have pre-diabetes, something that many people are unaware of. Pre-diabetes causes your blood sugar levels to rocket, but they are just not quite high enough to be considered as full blown diabetes. Sugar consumption and obesity are considered major risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
I think it is safe to say that no parent would dream of giving their child alcohol, especially knowing the associated health risks. However, what many people don’t realize, is that sugar - especially when consumed in excess by children - can be very damaging to the liver as well. Although alcohol also affects the brain, resulting in physical signs of overconsumption in the appearance of being “drunk”, when it comes to liver damage, sugar is also very detrimental.
This is because our liver can only handle so much fructose at one time and consuming excessive amounts of fructose will overload the liver, causing it to turn the fructose into stored fat. When this happens repeatedly, it leads to a fat-filled liver, which can potentially cause a plethora of health issues. This can be a significantly important factor in the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
A cupcake once in a while is fine - its the excess sugar consumption that you should be aware of
It is apparent that saturated fat was given a bad rap at the hands of the researchers who were heavily influenced by the sugar industry. However, it is also apparent that oh-so-sweet sugar is not as innocent as once thought! Therefore, the best way to avoid the onset of chronic disease and promote longevity is to consume a diet that avoids excess sugar and replace that with healthy alternatives instead. Not all saturated fat is bad, but that doesn't mean you should eat it in uncontrolled excess either. Moreover, learn how your body reacts and responds to different nutrients and adjust your diet accordingly - we all respond differently to macronutrient intake. Everyone is different! And finally, check out our 9 hacks for how to maintain a healthy lifestyle!