Sugar vs. Fat - How Fat has Taken the Rap for Sugar's Mischeif

There is a strong debate going about the health risks of consuming sugar versus fat. It’s difficult to know what or who to believe. And the information presented to us keeps changing.

Is sugar causing obesity and diabetes? Is fat responsible for heart disease? Are they both evil, or are they being falsely villianized?

Of course, like most health-related issues, the answers aren’t simple. Some fats are good for us andsmall amounts of glucose are necessary. In a culture of extremes, we must look for moderation in this heated debate.

“The diet industry is polarized around simple debates such as fat vs sugar because there are huge amounts of money at stake. Farmers, food manufacturers, lobbyists, scientists and authors of diet books need to defend one or other side.”

- Dr. Alexander Van Tulleken, MD, The Sugar Blues

It’s easy to villianize sugar. And there are good reasons to.

Yet, sugars found in fruits, vegetables and grass-fed dairy products are balanced with dietary fibers and essential nutrients. The consumption of these sugars is not bad, it’s the amount of sugar consumed in the average American diet that is the problem.

Consider this: it is believed that in 1822 the average American consumed 45g of sugar every 5 days and in 2012 the average American consumed 765g of sugar every 5 days. That’s about 130 pounds of sugar a year. And most people don’t know half the time that they are even eating sugar because it is hidden away in supposedly savory, store-bought foods. Until the government acknowledges the link between the spike in American sugar consumption and serious illness and puts restrictions on the “sugar-marketing” that has become so prevalent, it is up to us to regulate our own sugar intake.

“Humans weren't designed to eat this much sugar. We used to get sugar once a year when fruit fell from the trees. Even honey was protected by the bees… Now, we eat 140 pounds, roughly, a year, on average. Our bodies simply didn’t evolve to be able to handle that.

So it hits the liver, the liver says I don't know what to do with all this sugar, so it starts to metabolize it in unusual ways and it gets turned into what are known as low-density lipoprotein particles. And that's the worst kind of cholesterol.”

–Sanjay Gupta, Chief medical correspondent CNN

The food industry is not doing us any favors when they add sugar to most packaged and prepared foods: spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, crackers and chips. Even the organic ones. When we eat these foods we don’t think we are getting huge doses of sugar, but we are. Likewise, carbohydrates convert to sugar in the body and many carbohydrate foods like white bread also contain no nutrients. Your body feels full, but actually it is starving because those empty calories do not provide the body with the nutrient resources it needs.

“If you want to lose weight it will be much easier if you avoid processed foods made with sugar and fat. These foods affect your brain in a completely different way from natural foods and it's hard for anyone to resist eating too much.”

-Dr. Alexander Van Tulleken, MD

Fruits and other natural sources of sugar also include nutrients and dietary fibers needed for a healthy system. Added sugars and industrial seed oils (canola, safflower, sunflower, see below for a more complete list) add calories without providing any nutrients, hence the term “empty calories.” These foods make your body feel full, but really it is not getting the nutrients it needs. Enough of an imbalanced diet and the body thinks it’s starving, even as weight is gained.

On a list of ingredients, sugar may be listed under the following names: sucrose (table sugar), corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup (made in labs to be even sweeter than possible in nature), fruit-juice concentrates, nectars, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweeteners, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, or other words ending in “-ose,” the chemical suffix for sugars. Sadly, even natural and organic foods touted as being healthy contain evaporated cane juice. Which is just sugar with a fancy name.

All said, there’s good reason to seriously reduce the amount of sugar you consume, even natural sugars.

Reasons to Avoid Sugar

1) Sugar consumption has a strong negative impact on the immune system. At a blood sugar level of 120 and above, the body's ability to destroy viruses and bacteria is reduced by up to 75%. As little as 20 grams of sugar has the capacity to compromise immune function for the 4-6 hours following ingestion. Recent studies have shown that long-term daily ingestion of sugar raises the risk of developing cancer by as much as 60%.

2) Sugar consumption depletes minerals from the body tissues, skeleton, and teeth. Mineral depletion occurs from sugar consumption in several ways. Most obviously, sugar represents "empty" calories in the diet thereby reducing daily nutrient intake. In addition, sugar upsets absorption of nutrients that we do eat by compromising the integrity of our digestive tract. Finally, a high sugar diet promotes inflammation and oxidative stress that out body has to counteract by pulling neutralizing minerals out of our bony stores and teeth.

3) Sugar consumption leads to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Unless the fructose from sugar consumption is immediately used as fuel, the liver stores it as fat. Fat is transported away from the liver into peripheral fat stores by LDL and VLDL (types of cholesterol), raising the risk for cardiovascular disease. Oxidative stress from high blood-glucose compounds this problem by creating inflammation along the walls of the arteries.

4) Sugar is addictive. Sugar consumption stimulates the "reward" centers of the brain by initiating a surge of dopamine release. This effect is also seen with the ingestion of cocaine, opiates, alcohol, amphetamine, and nicotine. In addition, sugar promotes the release of endorphins, which create a sense of euphoria and increase the likelihood of addiction.

5) Sugar causes depression. Because the brain relies on a stable supply of glucose for normal functioning, rapidly rising and falling blood glucose significantly undermine its functioning. Depression, anxiety, aggression, and fatigue are all side effects of sugar consumption because the brain struggles to adapt to the highs and lows in blood sugar provoked by rapid absorption of glucose from the gut.

6) Sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance and can pave the way for gestational or type 2 diabetes. The accumulation of fat in the liver following excess sugar consumption is a trigger for the body to begin "ignoring" insulin, the hormone that drives sugar into our cells. As insulin resistance worsens over time, type 2 diabetes develops. Complications of diabetes are systemic and can include cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, poor wound healing, and neuropathy.

7) Sugar strongly interferes with digestive health by favoring the growth of intestinal yeast and slowing the passage of food through the intestine. Overgrowth of yeast leads to permeability of the gut wall and undigested proteins can "leak" into the blood stream. The immune system reacts to foreign protein in the blood, leading to food allergies and setting the stage for auto-immune diseases.

8) Sugar consumption by children is associated with learning disabilities, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, allergies, obesity, tooth decay and eczema.

9) Sugar consumption during pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes, toxemia, and premature labor. Children born to mothers who consumed high sugar diets during pregnancy are more likely to be obese and struggle with insulin resistance and diabetes during their life.

Because of its strongly addictive quality, sugar represents an increasingly prevalent portion of the American diet. Although sugar consumption has become mainstream, it is important to remember that sugar is a highly processed plant derivative that is challenging for the body to process on a daily basis.

Sugar consumption taxes every system in the body including the digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system, and skeletal system. Diets that are high in sugar have been associated with high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, allergies, attention deficit disorder, depression, and cancer.

For more info on sugar and what it does in the body:

The Good and the Bad

“Next to sugar, there is not a worse food to put in your mouth than vegetable oils. They look suspiciously similar to sugar because these oils are highly processed and highly refined. They are very unstable (think: create free-radicals), they turn into trans-fats, and when you consume these oils, they increase inflammation in your body.”

–Dr. Scott Olson, ND.

The difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats is extreme. Fat is essential to the body for several reasons. It stores energy. It insulates us. But most importantly, our cell membranes are made of phospholipids, glycolipids, and cholesterol.

The cell membrane is what protects the cell from its surroundings and decides what enters the cell and what doesn’t via selective permeability. Phospholipids are the largest component in the cell wall and they are essentially made up of saturated and unsaturated fats. Lipids allow for nutrient exchange. Cell health affects everything: brain function, heart health, joint mobility, to name a few. Simply put: eating good fat ensures that the cell membrane has integrity and is protected.

Furthermore the good fats in our diet are not the ones that make us overweight. Eating bad fat compromises all the cells of the body. Bad fat is what affects cholesterol levels, creates fat storage and clogs up the liver. And by “bad fat” I don’t mean saturated fat. I mean processed, human-made fat. Fat that offers the body nothing and replaces important building blocks with poor, unstable substitutes.

“’Bad’ fats, such as trans fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, and so forth. But good fats such as omega-3s have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.”

- Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal Ph.D.


Good Fats

Monounsaturated Fats

  • Avocados and Avocado Oil
  • Olives and Olive Oil
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Natural nut butter (containing just nuts and salt)

Polyunsaturated Fats

  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed and Flax Seed oil (keep refrigerated)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
  • Non-GMO soymilk and tofu

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Salmon (especially wild-caught king and sockeye)
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Oysters
  • Sardines
  • Pole and line-caught tuna
  • Lake trout
  • Algae such as seaweed (high in EPA and DHA)
  • Fish oil or algae supplements
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Parsley

Other Good Sources of Fat

  • Grass-fed beef, bison and pork
  • Grass-fed dairy (for those who tolerate dairy)
  • Free-range chicken
  • Free-range chicken eggs

The Importance of Grass-fed Meat

Grass-fed beef has up to five times more Omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. It has two to five times as much CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)- oddly enough one of the number one weight loss supplements in the world and associated with lowering cancer risk. When they do studies that say red meat can cause cancer and is unhealthy for the heart, they are talking about corn-fed, factory-farmed red meat, not grass fed red meat. It’s a whole different animal.

Grass fed animals live under humane conditions and have less of an impact on the environment, unlike factory farming, known to be as bad for the environment as driving. The close-quarters of factory-farmed cows require the use of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease. Those antibiotics are then transferred to our bodies when we eat the meat, affecting the delicate balance of our gut microbia. Growth hormone is used in factory farming to increase the size of the animals before they are slaughtered. This also transfers to the human body upon consumption.

It’s no wonder red meat has gotten a bad reputation! If studies are done using meat from animals that live in their own feces, are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, often never see the sunlight, can’t move they are packed in so tight and die in terror, it is no surprise to me that the results reflect negatively on the consumption of red meat.

And sadly, the only reason corn-fed, factory farmed meat is cheaper is that the government subsidizes corn, saving feedlot farmers billions a year and doing nothing for the environmentally aware, humane grass-fed meat farms.

For more on this issue:

Bad Fats

Artificial trans fats are really what you are looking to avoid. Anything with a shelf life. As in: most packaged foods. Human-made vegetable oils are fats that have been deformed during a process called “hydrogenation.” Vegetable oil is combined with hydrogen gas to create oil that will not spoil if it sits around on a grocery store shelf for 8 months. These partially hydrogenated oils (you may have heard that term before!) increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by raising the bad cholesterol, LDL, lowering the good cholesterol, HDL and creating inflammation in the body.

These fats can be found in:

  • Packaged snack foods
  • Margarine and processed vegetable oils: Safflower, Sunflower, Canola, Palm Kernel, Corn, Soybean, Cottonseed, Peanut, Grapeseed
  • Commercially produced cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and breads
  • All “partially hydrogenated” oils

For more on how to eliminate bad fats and incorporate good fats into your diet, see this informative article:


After Note:

Allow me a small tirade. Health should not be a trend. Access to healthy food should not be a luxury or a privilege. But it is. Most food as it originates in nature is healthy. It is through genetic modification, forced crop growth and harvest and processing that food becomes unhealthy.

What we are offered in boxes, bags and cans at the store has traveled so far and gone through so many steps to get to us. More often than not each of those steps detracts from its benefits to our body.

The simpler, the fresher and the less processed food is, the better it is for the body. Plants and humans evolved together, after all.

It is a major problem that the food industries responsible for a majority of our health problems are subsidized and supported by our government. It is a problem that small, organic farms struggle, and that simple food costs more money than processed food. Because our health affects every other thing in our lives, because the health of the American people is a current crisis, I cannot help but think we need a food revolution.

Healthy food should be a basic human right.

Posted on February 11, 2016 and filed under Nutrition.

Thriving through Seasonal Transition: Summer to Fall

The nights have become colder and if one is caught after dark without a coat, the chilly wind prevails. Collars are lifted, sweaters are wrapped tight. The cough drops are sold out at the local health food store. Thicker blankets are hauled out of the closet.

The heat is yet to be turned on in my drafty, old apartment building, but the nights are dropping down to the low fifties. And still, the high arc of the sun brings warmth to our backs, creates the illusion of an Indian summer. When the wind picks up there is the skittering sound of dried leaves.

I would recommend that when the weather turns you go home and make chicken soup with onions. Or stewed pears.

Nibble on some daikon radish. Wrap a scarf cozy around your neck. Get knitted hats and gloves out of the closet. Sip on ginger tea with honey. Because who wants to be one of the people at the co-op fighting over the last five dollar bag of cough drops just to get you through the day? Who wants to end the glory of summer with a cold?

Fall Energetics

Chinese Medical theory explains how harmonizing our habits with the seasonal transitions can help us enjoy a healthy, contented autumn and winter.

With the weather changes comes an adjustment time for the body. The outward energetic becomes inward. The skin that celebrated sunshine must now protect from wind and cold. It takes the body a moment to understand that everything has changed. In that time we are vulnerable to “the wind that carries a thousand diseases.”

This is the concept in Chinese medicine that wind has the power to bring illness into the body if the body is not protected. A “cold” in Chinese medical vocabulary is called a wind cold. The most susceptible places on the body to wind cold- the neck and the upper back- are the same places that love to catch a last ray of summer sunshine.

The good news is that we evolved on this planet alongside many of the natural cures to keep us healthy. The foods that are abundant in the fall seasons-

  • root vegetables
  • squash
  • members of the alum family (garlic and onions)
  • pears and apples
  • nuts and seeds
  • pungent herbs and spices

These are the things that can keep us healthy through the seasonal transition. In the summer we tend to crave cold foods and beverages. These are fine when the temperatures around and inside us are high, but as the shift into cooler, shorter days comes upon us, it is important to also shift our eating habits.

Too many cold, raw foods in the fall and winter seasons build up dampness and mucus in the system. We are given a list of “healthy” foods and eating habits by food trend culture that does not seem to take into account our location, season, body constitutional type, or our current health problems and illnesses. There is no one healthy way of eating that fits all people through all seasons. The natural world knows this, and so do our bodies, if we choose to listen to them.

The Season of Metal

In Chinese medicine and philosophy, the Fall season is associated with the metal element and the organ systems of the Lungs and the Colon. These are a yin yang organ pair that share some fundamental energetics.

The Lungs are responsible for drawing in pure air, exhaling impurities and descending and disseminating the pure qi that has its origin in the inhalation throughout the body.

Disorders of the Lung include any breathing disorders, allergies, immune deficiencies, autoimmune disease, and skin problems, as well as emotional issues of inappropriate grief and boundary setting. The Lungs are known in Chinese Medicine as the organ that loathes cold and dryness.

A happy Lung is a warm, moist Lung, flexible enough to expand, deflate, and circulate qi. Foods that benefit the Lungs tend to have warm and moistening energetics.

Preparing for the seasonal change from summer to fall can help you avoid the common cold or flu, and if you live in a place that becomes cold, dark and gray in the fall, it can also help combat the emotional impact of seasonal affective disorder or mild depression.

Transitioning one’s social activities from beach time, bar-b-ques and sports to dinner parties, craft nights and fall hikes with a thermos of tea can prevent a feeling of isolation.

The Colon, or Large Intestine, is responsible for appropriate letting go, in every sense of the term.

Any intestinal disorders including diarrhea, constipation, leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease, hemorrhoids, and fatigue are in the realm of the Colon. Even issues of emotional letting go- living in the past, holding on to relationships and ideas that are no longer healthy- can be related to a Large Intestine imbalance.

Many people experience these Lung and Large Intestine symptoms more intensely in the fall season. Paying attention to your body and eating the foods that grow abundantly through the fall season in your climate can reduce these symptoms.

In the summer I live on fruit and cold salads, grilled meat and fish, and I hardly think about food.

I know the season is transitioning into fall without even checking the temperature, because suddenly I crave soup and lasagna, baked squash and steamed leafy greens. The burners are going, the cookbooks are out and full of bookmarks, the grocery bags are full, there’s bone broth with scallions and ginger for breakfast and root vegetable bake for dinner. It is a cozy time for warm, cooked food and quiet activities, gatherings around a fire or over a steaming pot.

Ten Food-Based Medicinals to Promote Autumn Health

1. Bone Broth If you haven’t been turned on to this simple, super nutrient-rich food, now is your time to get familiar. Full of protein, minerals and amino acids, bone broth has been shown to improve digestion, immunity, joint strength, sleep, energy and even enriches the collagen in your skin. I recommend using grass fed animal bones (chose your favorite) because they have more nutrient density than conventionally raised meats and are raised without antibiotics and hormones. The good news is that you can use the bones multiple times, to make literally gallons of bone broth (recipe to follow).

2. Ginger In the world of Chinese medicinals, ginger is essential to treating a wind-cold attack. Ginger releases the exterior, where wind attacks first begin, flushing out the pathogen before it reaches the interior of the body. It warms and settles the stomach for ease in digestion, it transforms phlegm and mucus and resolves toxicities in the body. Ginger is also considered analgesic, antibacterial, anti-infammatory, antiparasitic and hepatoprotective (prevents damage to the liver) to name a few of its benefits. Boil it for 10-15 minutes in water for tea, throw it into soup stock, grate it into stir-frys and sauces. Ginger is considered a longevity root.

3. Onions/Garlic/Scallions The alum family has much to contribute in the way of warding off cold and protecting the body’s immune system. Alums have a place in every medicinal tradition. From a Chinese Medical perspective, they release the exterior and induce sweating (to push pathogens out) and clear nasal congestion. They boost the immune system and protect the heart. Not everyone tolerates Alums. Notice if you have a digestive reaction.

4. Daikon Radish Daikon has the pungent flavor and white color associated with the metal element and the Lung and Colon. It is known to address food stagnation and ease breathing by clearing phlegm from the Lungs.

5. Miso A Chinese medicinal formula to treat the early onset of a wind-cold from the 3rd century medicinal handbook Emergency Formulas to Keep Up One’s Sleeve is simply made from fermented soybeans and the whites of scallions. If you’ve been underdressed in a windstorm, stressed, or hanging out with a sick person, a steaming bowl of miso soup with scallions could keep you healthy. Miso is full of probiotics that boost the immune system living in your intestines.

Delicious miso soup with vegetables.

Delicious miso soup with vegetables.

6. Honey nourishes the lung and resolves phlegm. It moistens the throat and helps resolve cough.

7. Pears stewed pears are also considered moistening to the throat and Lungs.

8. Peppermint and Eucalyptus Essential Oil Both of these essential oils are known to protect the body from wind invasions. They can be sniffed right out of the bottle daily, before or after being around sick people, or when flying on an airplane to prevent illness. One-three drops can be added to a cup of boiling water and the steam can be inhaled, or the oils can be added to salts in a bath.

9. Cinnamon Another super herb of the Chinese Medical world, cinnamon has a long list of benefits including boosting the protective qi of the body, warming the channels and dispersing cold for aches and pains associated with cold. It is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective.

10. Vitamin D Research is showing that Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system. Most research suggests that the best way to get Vitamin D is from limited sun exposure: 15 minutes-2 hours a day depending on your skin pigmentation and location. For times when sun is scarce and bare skin may be even more scarce, 4000-6000IUs of Vitamin D drops can help boost the immune system and the mood, something many of us need in the colder, darker months. If you suspect you may be low in Vitamin D, consult your naturopath or doctor.


Bone Broth

A highly nourishing, protein and mineral rich food, excellent for intestinal health and rebuilding of the gut lining. A great item to have in the fridge and freezer for easy reheating. You can sip on the broth by itself or add veggies (and meat) to make a quick soup. You can use the broth instead of water for steaming and boiling other foods (adds great flavor and nutrient value). Soup bones can be purchased from most butcheries and grocery stores. The joints and marrow-bones are best, where the bone has been cut so you have access to the inside of the bone.

Any bones will work. Suggestions are: buffalo, beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork. You can crack poultry bones with a hammer before boiling to get to the marrow. A left over chicken or turkey carcass is perfect.

  1. Put bones and joints (they can contain meat as well) into a large pot or slow cooker. Fill with water and add salt to taste.
  2. Cook covered on low for 3-24 hours. The longer you cook the bones, the more they will yield. Adding a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the water and soaking the bones for 30 minutes before turning on the heat will help extract minerals. Add peppercorns to the broth if you wish.
  3. Keep adding water as it boils down to get the most out of your bones and use them several times each!

Root Vegetable Bake

A simple and delicious way to cook any of the abundant fall root vegetables now showing up farmers markets and grocery stores.

  1. Pick your favorite root vegetables in an array of colors and flavors. Peel and chop into 1-inch cubes. Add chopped onion and whole garlic cloves. Add chopped rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme or any other herb you like.
  2. Toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat all the root cubes. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Bake on 350, first covered to allow the roots to cook in their own juices and then uncover to brown the last 10 minutes.  Roots typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes to become soft.

What's Your Favorite Fall Comfort?

Comment below with your favorite fall foods, vegetables, or self-care that helps you transition into the shorter autumn days and cooler autumn nights.

Looking for help? Whether it be the tingle of a cold coming on or help thriving in this new season, schedule an appointment »


Posted on October 14, 2015 .