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Sugar vs Fat: Which is Less Healthy? By Gia Diakakis, RD

I grew up in the height of the “low-fat” craze, which was created in hopes of reducing coronary heart disease (CHD). Fat was targeted as the sole macronutrient that caused/contributed to heart disease. Fat was removed from everything possible. Non fat yogurt, Non fat ice cream, Non fat milk, non fat crackers, non fat salad dressing, even low fat cheese (cheese = fat!). After removing fat from these items, manufacturers quickly realized these foods became inedible and needed to be more appetizing. Enter sugar! Because sugar makes everything taste better!

Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a shocking article titled, “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease research. A historical analysis of internal industry documents.” To summarize, in the 1960’s, “two prominent physiologist were championing divergent casual hypotheses of CHD. John Yudkin identified added sugars as the primary agent, while Ancel Keys identified total fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol.” Just to clarify, there were two simultaneous studies evaluating the impact that each sugar and fat had on heart health. It was not a study comparing which one was worse (between sugar and fat).

While the research on saturated fat went on to be publicized and shape the “low fat craze,” the research regarding sugar was quickly silenced by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF). They paid “the equivalent of more than $48,000 in today’s dollars to three nutrition professors–at Harvard no less–to publish a research review that would refute evidence linking sugars to CHD.” In addition to having to “rework a section in rebuttal” to the research linking sugar to CHD, the SRF repeatedly thought of ways discredit the data. For example, they stated that the research wasn’t reliable because the studies used high doses of sucrose, and Americans don’t eat that much sugar. The truth, however, is that many Americans do eat a lot of sugar.

While it’s worrisome to know that experimental data can be skewed or “paid off” to prevent an industry from loosing money, the truth is actually not so complicated. Sugar and fat must be eaten in moderation, and a healthy diet should be rich in a variety of foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.