It’s 2018, and we have just made a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions, many of which pertain to getting fit and healthy. However, with hundreds of sources on exercise and nutrition, people are getting confused. We are looking at one of the most confusing nutritional debates of them all, fat versus sugar.
There’s been a lot of debate in the field of health, most notably in nutrition, where diet fads are forever changing and debated. Ketogenic diets, intermittent fasting diets, and raw diets are among recent trends.
There is one debate however that has gone on for decades that continue today.
It’s Fat versus Sugar. Which among these two is really the culprit behind heart attacks, stroke, obesity, cancer, and diabetes?
In 1953, Dr. Ancel Keys said fat is the culprit in a presentation at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. Years later, Professor John Yudkin identifies sugar as an alternative culprit in his book “Pure, White, and Deadly” published in 1972. The debate has gone on since then.
Who is Dr. Ancel Keys?
Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys, a Physiologist, was famous for three things: K-rations, The Mediterranean Diet, and The Seven Countries Study.
K-Rations was developed by Keys when he was serving the U.S. Military in World War II. The rations were small packed meals meant to sustain soldiers in active combat duty for a whole day.
The Mediterranean Diet, meanwhile, was developed by Keys with his wife, Margaret Keys. They published it first in the book “How to eat well and stay well the Mediterranean way, (Doubleday, 1975).” It is thought that they have developed the diet after the numerous studies on diet by Keys, most notably, the Seven Countries Study.
The Seven Countries Study
The Seven Countries Study is often confused with Key’s 1953 paper “Atherosclerosis: A Problem in Newer Public Health,” which presented data from six countries and plotted the death rates of men from degenerative heart disease and its correlation with the total percentage of their consumption of dietary fat. Jacob Yerushalmy and Herman Hilleboe released a paper in 1957. They questioned why only six countries were chosen by Keys when data from 22 countries were available and continued that if data from these 22 countries were considered, the significance of the said correlation would have been weakened. Many bloggers and critics of Keys incorrectly point this out as Yerushalmy and Hillboe’s critique of the Seven Countries Study.
The real Seven Countries Study started a year later in 1958, with 16 cohorts of men from seven countries namely: USA, Finland, Yugoslavia, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, and Greece. The first phase of the study (from 1958-1983) would follow 16 groups (cohorts) of middle-aged men. The second phase (1984-1999) extended the surveys from nine cohorts in Europe. Mortality data was to be collected up to 2014.
To summarize the result of the Seven Countries Study, it showed that blood cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease.
Who is John Yudkin?
Meanwhile, Professor John Yudkin, a British Physiologist, was most known for his controversial book published in 1972 “Pure, White, and Deadly” which told the public of the dangers of the overconsumption of sugar and its ill effects on health. The book sold well, but Yudkin suffered professionally because of its publication.
The Scientific Fall of Yudkin
After Pure, White, and Deadly was published in 1972, Key’s dismissed Yudkin’s theory in a paper saying that Yudkins has “no theoretical basis or experimental evidence to support his claim.”
It was downhill for Yudkin after that. He was uninvited to conferences, or his conferences were canceled at the last minute after pressure from sponsors. His papers, expressing critical views on sugar, were not published, and he was ridiculed by the British Sugar Bureau.
We really don’t know if the sugar industry played a hand on how Yudkin’s work was ridiculed and discredited in the scientific community; but in 2016, the New York Times reported on how the sugar industry paid scientists to publish research that indicted fat as the culprit of bad health instead of sugar. The sugar industry, it said, did this in as early as 1967.
Recent Studies on Fat Vs Sugar
In an infographic, Dr. Mark Hyman from the Cleveland Clinic summarizes what we currently know of Fat versus Sugar.
- Makes us Insulin Resistant
- Slows our metabolism
- Excess sugar gets stored as fat
- A diet high in starch and sugar causes inflammation
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Makes us less hungry
- High-quality fat allows for better metabolization of insulin
- Omega-3 fats are healthy
- Trans fats do more harm
Dr. Hyman suggests to eat whole foods with healthy fats, fiber, and carb that will not spike blood sugar, and avoid processed foods.
The Confusion Continues
However, as long as there is no scientific consensus on nutrition guidelines, everything will be up for debate. We can only hope that, as new studies become available, get published, and attract attention, they would contain true scientific data. Data that has not been influenced by any industry.
As it is, most health practitioners will continue to recommend the recommendations of their respective health authorities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Health and Human Services (HHS) for instance releases their dietary guidelines for Americans every five years. The current dietary guidelines are for the years 2015-2020, so we can only expect the USDA to update their guidelines in the next two years or so.
And so the confusion continues, and the debates will go on for years to come.