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Before we were worried about carbohydrates in our diets, low fat was the fad. Marketing campaigns worked hard to blame saturated fats as the main cause of heart problems, which lead to an increase in production of foods with high sugar content. At this time the sugar industry paid off research companies to keep quiet about the link between sugar and cardiovascular disease.
The downplay of the correlation between sugar and heart disease was dangerous because it led to the production of foods that had their fat content removed and lots of sugar added in order to preserve taste. The combination of adulterated information about nutritional health and the drastic change to the content of marketable products on the shelf was bad for the overall health of the nation.
However, we now know that the link between saturated fats and risk for heart disease is a weak one. Studies have shown that reduction of saturated fats in the diet has little impact on cholesterol and one’s risk for heart disease.
What about other fats?
Artificial trans fats are fats produced from the processing of fats to increase their shelf life. This is accomplished through chemical reactions that add hydrogen ions to the fat molecules, a process known as hydrogenation. Because of the new molecular structure of these fats, they tend to “stack” on top of each other more efficiently, which makes them particularly effective at clogging arteries. Once a layer of these fats builds up on artery walls, it is extremely difficult to break the molecules lose and remove the resin. A tip to prevent this is to look for and avoid hydrogenated oils on product ingredient labels.
Natural trans fats are less abundant in the grocery store today. They are found in smaller quantities in certain meats and dairy products, most commonly lamb and some beef products. These fats have the same negative impact on cholesterol as artificial ones but are much easier to avoid.
Health risks of trans fats
What about sugar?
It is now acknowledged that sugar is responsible for the high incidence of obesity and Type II Diabetes in the U.S. When consumed regularly, sugar has a tendency to cause weight gain, especially in sedentary populations. Sugar that is not used as energy shortly after being consumed is converted to stored fat in the body, and builds on adipose tissue. So it’s really the combination of overconsumption and being inactive that leads to health problems. It should also be noted that the timing of when you eat or drink sugar matters. For example, if you are planning a run, a Gatorade you drink before is not going to be stored as fat; it will be used as energy on your run. This can be an efficient way to get quick energy.
Sugar also has been shown in research to alter the way the pancreas releases insulin and the way cells utilize it. Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for allowing sugar to be used by our tissues for energy. When our body is constantly being fed sugar, the insulin response is not as strong (less is released) meaning sugar is floating around the blood stream for extended periods. This phenomena leads to diabetes, which can lead to heart disease.
Tips to reduce your sugar intake