Sweet or Sour?

The latest news that saturated fat is to be reduced by food giants (Nestlé and Mondelez amongst them) http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/26/saturated-fat-cut-pledge comes as another blow to our society. Once again, the government has chosen to wilfully ignore cutting edge actual scientific evidence in favour of antiquated and incorrect information. Just days ago, Aseem Malhotra, writing for the British Medical Journal, opinionated that it is sugar rather than fats which have led to the current epidemic of obesity and heart disease – an opinion grounded in biochemical science.

Whilst it is without doubt that reducing (actually, eliminating) our trans-fat intake can only be beneficial, it has been argued time and time again that non-processed fats are not only healthy, but essential. As long ago as 1929, scientists carried out experiments on rats, looking at the effects of a fat-free diet on their health. The results were “leaky skin”, where skin cells simply fell apart and the same effects were seen in children fed low-fat diets.

We have come a long way since then – from realising the importance of fats in constructing cell walls and giving us energy to maintaining brain health – to all but eliminating them from our diets since the 1970’s in the low-fat craze that has seized Western societies ever since (see my previous blog on fats http://www.csnutrition.org/fats-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/. It is becoming clearer and clearer that it is not natural fats that have undergone no chemical modifications or allowed to turn rancid that are the cause of the modern health crisis, but sugar.

Firstly it is important to remember why fats in the diet are seen as so dangerous to our health. Cholesterol has long been seen as the culprit of heart disease, building up in our arteries and hardening to block the blood flow to the heart. However, cholesterol is so essential to our health that our bodies manufacture far more than we could ever take in from dietary sources. In fact, we take in just 20-25% of cholesterol from diet and manufacture the rest. Dietary cholesterol has hardly any impact on serum levels as the bodies’ complex mechanisms reduce production when dietary intake rises. That also means that when dietary intake drops, the body starts to make more – so essential is it to our systems. Therefore reducing our intake of cholesterol containing foods will do almost nothing to reduce our serum levels and in fact may raise them,  so why is it still being touted as general medical advice? Cholesterol is not made from fats but rather from, you’ve guessed it…sugars.

When our bodies break down sugars the resulting metabolites become building blocks for both cholesterol and saturated fatty acids. If we burn the sugars we take in quickly then they are all used up and no fats are produced. However, if we sit at our desks or on the sofa eating say, a Kit Kat, there is little output for the sugar consumed and it becomes saturated fat and cholesterol in our body. Note that our bodies can manufacture fats from sugar but not the other way around. If our bodies cannot use all the extra fat and cholesterol made from sugar, it is dumped in the cells around our organs.

The other reason that the news that fats will be reduced in many industrial foods but not the sugar content is bad news, is blood sugar control. It is becoming common knowledge that balancing our blood sugar levels is an important factor in maintaining health and reducing the risks of diabetes type II. When blood sugar levels peak and trough it causes many unpleasant symptoms such as mood disturbances, extreme and unquenchable thirst, headaches and frequent urination. Sugar is highly toxic and the body pulls out every trick in the book to eliminate it from the bloodstream as fast as possible. Rises in blood sugar levels stimulate the pancreas to release insulin, which packs the sugar away quickly and if there is too much sugar being released too quickly into the bloodstream over a long period of time, the process by which insulin is released become fatigued and insulin production slows. This is often the start of diabetes type II.

A crucial factor in slowing the release of glucose into the bloodstream after eating any foods and particularly high sugar ones is combining that sugar intake with fat. Fats and also proteins will slow the release of sugar, ensuring less peaks and less work for the body to store it away so fast. Whilst I make no claims that Kit Kats are in any way healthy as they stand, it is likely that by reducing their fat content, they are about to be made even less so. Calling the decision to reduce fat levels in products a “responsibility pledge” is absurd and Jane Ellison’s assertion that it is “hugely encouraging” that so many food giants have agreed to partake in this pledge is, quite simply, laughable. How does anyone still think that low fat products are going some way to reduce the incidence of heart disease when we have been consuming nothing but since the 1970’s and the incidence of heart diseases are booming?

Whilst is it laudable to reduce the only truly unhealthy fats – trans-fats – in industrialised foods, these are in fact unsaturated oils and not saturated fats at all, so why are we concentrating on reducing the other kind? The advice that the government is following is out-dated and incorrect and they would do well to sit up and take notice of that being given by those doctors and researchers that actually understand the mechanisms at play.

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