Have you noticed lately that “sugar, salt and fat,” or “fat, salt and sugar” (in any order) are the new trio of “bad boys” of the dietary Dictocrats? Maybe this linkage has been around longer, and I’ve just been unconsciously suppressing the message, especially the “deadly duo” of salt and “solid” (saturated) fat. The salt myth was exploded by Gary Taubes in his 1998 Science piece here, but fat has been demonized for half a century, starting with Ancel Keys association of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol with heart disease in his infamous “Diet/Heart Hypothesis.” See The Nutrition Debate #3 here.
Mary Enig (see #23 here) has been trumpeting the dangers of artificial trans fats since the McGovern Select Committee hearings (1977). In that, of course, she was “spot on,” and the government finally acknowledged in 2003. But, not without wrongly linking the danger of artificial trans fats (made from corn and other vegetable oils) to saturated fats from animals. They also conveniently ignored the natural trans fat (conjugated linoleic acid or CLA) that is found in animal fats and is very good for our health. Chemically these two fats are very different. Natural: very good. Artificial: very bad. Just avoid them!
Further differentiation among fats has occurred more recently: our government has declared that SOLID FATS (lumping together both the naturally occurring saturated fats and the artificial trans fats) are “bad,” but VEGETABLE OILS, which are processed from seeds and grains, are “good.” Given the extreme heat and hexane bath required to make it edible, it is impossible to consider vegetable oil as “good” – or even “real food.” And try to ignore that the United States Department of Agriculture is the federal agency responsible for both promoting corn and soy, the mainstays of the U. S. agricultural and food manufacturing industries, and protecting the public health, in that order. It’s pretty scary, if you think about it.
Anyway, sugar has now been added to this nefarious grouping and with good cause –sugar is indeed a “bad boy.” Note, however, that sugar is not identified as a carbohydrate. It is, in fact, a simple carbohydrate. By definition, a sugar is either a monosaccharide or a disaccharide. There are three monosaccharides: glucose, fructose and galactose. Glucose is the most common and the most useful. It is easily used for energy. The body “prefers” to burn glucose and to conserve fat in storage for the coming famine. Don’t we all know this? If we become “sugar burners” by grazing on carbs all day, we (our body, through the action of insulin) will not burn any of our stored body fat. As long as there’s sugar aplenty, it will pile more fat on to prepare for the “lean times” ahead. Winter is always coming, and foods become richer in sugar in the autumn. That’s the way the body is built! And that’s the way plants mature. It’s nature!
Fructose, in large amounts, is a “bad boy.” A chronic toxin, it isn’t burned like glucose. It is shunted to the liver to be detoxified. If the liver can’t handle the load, it converts it to fat by lipogenesis and we get NAFLD – nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In 2008, 75% of all chronic liver disease was NAFLD (see here). How do you overload the liver with fructose? Drink sugary beverages, including fruit drinks. Sucrose, the common table (cane) sugar, is 50% fructose. Beet sugar is also 50% fructose. The sweetener used in American soft drinks, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is cheaper to make than cane sugar, is 55% fructose, a prescription for NAFLD. And it’s not just beverages. See “Fructose in Foods” (The Nutrition Debate # 97 here) and then check your pantry against www.sugarstacks.com. For my more biologically informed readers (nurses, CDEs, etc.), this PubMed abstract has great epidemiological statistics, including the prevalence of NAFLD among males.
So what’s wrong with the new triumvirate the government has created? If you believe that salt and solid fats are bad for you, then I suppose nothing. The government has invested billions in vilifying salt and fat; lumping sugar (sorry) together with salt and fat condemns it by association. The problem is that salt and solid fats are not bad for you, but excessive simple sugars are. And if you’re a type 2 diabetic, as I have been for 27 years, then anything that will become glucose in the blood (simple or complex carbohydrate or even protein) has to be eaten in limited quantities. But that’s my problem. For most of us, it’s enough to just eat reasonable amounts, and be aware of the effect they have on your overall health and wellbeing.
Again, from my perspective, I hew to the injunction first articulated for me by Kurt Harris, MD, in his Archevore Diet: avoid as much as possible the “NADs (Neolithic Agents of Disease): wheat, excess fructose and excess linoleic acids.” The latter are “the grain and seed derived oils (cooking oils): Eat or fry with ghee, pastured butter, animal fats, or coconut oil. Avoid temperate plant oils like corn, soy, canola, flax, walnut, etc. Go easy on the nuts, especially soy and peanuts.” For me, this generally translates to a different triumvirate: Wheat, corn and soy. And legumes, except young green beans. Harris adds:
Eat “whole foods from animals. Favor grass-fed ruminants like beef and lamb for your red meat. Animal fats are an excellent dietary fuel and come with lots of fat soluble vitamins. It can work very well to simply replace your sugar and wheat calories with animal fats. If you are not diabetic, you can eat more starch and less animal fat. A low carb diet can rely more on ruminant fat and pastured butter.”
And I add salt to most things I eat. An argument in favor of this practice is made by Michael Eades, MD, here, and Volek and Phinney in their excellent book, “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Eating.” See the Nutrition Debate #74 here.My bottom line: By all means, avoid sugar, but not salt and saturated fat. Both are good and necessary for your health.