Sugar vs fats – which is worse for us?

A new BBC Horizon documentary starring twins on different diets aired in January 2014. For one month, one twin went on a high-fat diet, while the other ate high-sugar meals with little to no fat. The idea was to find out if one food group can be held responsible for the obesity epidemic. Who would emerge healthier, have more energy and lose more weight?

bbc sugar vs fat

Both of the twins were British but one lived in the UK while the other had moved to the US. They noted that in the US, sugar was regarded as the main cause of obesity, whereas in the UK, fats were the culprit. When I thought about it, I realised that low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, were popularised in America first. I was in the UK recently and I checked out Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. There were very few low-carb items but there were a plenty of low-fat food for sale. 

A nutritionist was called in to monitor their food intake and laid on the table what the brothers could eat. The main concern was the macronutrient rather than choosing healthy food. So the high-sugar brother was allowed to eat lots of junk food, sweets and cereal, along with whole foods such as vegetables and fruits. The high-fat brother was given lots of meat, eggs and cream.

As a paleo advocate, my first thought was “Surely the guy on the high-fat diet will emerge healthier and win the weight-loss battle.”

It turned out that both of them lost weight, with the brother on the high-fat diet losing 3.5 kg and the other one losing 1 kg. The brother on the high-fat diet felt full from eating but was less successful in performing aerobic exercises in his carbohydrate-deprived state. The carb-loaded brother was constantly hungry from not eating fats and consumed a lot more calories. Both brothers lost muscle mass.

Other tests performed included blood glucose tests and glucose tolerance tests. It was a bit confusing for me due to my lack of medical knowledge but Zoe Harcombe here has a very good article describing the documentary in detail.

What was the most interesting for me was the conclusion of the documentary and it was a shame that they only spent the last fifteen minutes on it.

One of the brothers (I can’t tell them apart) took out a bowl of sugar and a bowl of double cream in his kitchen. He took a spoonful of both of them and declared that while they were tasty, the sugar and double cream were also too much in greater quantities. He could not eat either sugar or fat alone. However, if he mixed the sugar and cream together in equal quantity, the mixture was delicious and he didn’t feel sickened by it. He then opened his fridge to reveal a bowl of ice-cream and said that real food in nature did not include any sugar/fat mix. Only fake food created by people, like ice-cream, contained this addictive mix.

And it was precisely this equal mix of sugar and fat that both humans and laboratory rats cannot resist. Give rats pure sugar or pure fat and they don’t overeat. But give them a cheesecake (which contains this seductive 50-50 formula) and watch them balloon. This is why if we eat real, whole foods and stay away from processed garbage, it is unlikely that we will get fat.

Here is a quick experiment to see if you also prefer the 50-50 sugar/fat mix to other combinations. If you were given a choice of three donuts, which one would you pick to eat? You can’t eat more than one and you can’t say no.

krispy kremeIn the documentary, the twins gave out free donuts in London and New York to see which people would pick.

If you picked the original glazed, you were among the majority who went for the 50-50 sugar/fat combination.

If you picked the one with sprinkles, you have a sweet tooth, with the sugar levels more than 50% of the total donut.

If you picked the donut with cream filling, you have a preference for fat over sugar.

When I watched the programme, I picked the original glazed and it turned out that people in New York and London also overwhelmingly preferred this.

What was your choice?

8 thoughts on “Sugar vs fats – which is worse for us?”

  1. Dear Sir/Madam,
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    Singapore Run Club

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