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Sugar v fat

Posted 2014-01-30

Yesterday, BBC 2 broadcast Sugar v Fat, a one-hour show about two identical twin doctors trying to figure out what is worse: eating a lot of sugar (well, carbohydrates in general) and almost no fat, or a lot of fat and almost no carbs.

They both ate as much as they wanted to, and they both lost weight. The fat doctor lost 3.5 kg: 1.5 kilos of fat and 2 kilos of muscle. The sugar doctor lost less, only 1 kg, with half of that being fat and the other half muscle. Interestingly, the sugar-eating doctor produced more insulin, but the fat-eating doctor actually had higher blood sugar. The sugar doctor also did a lot better with exercise.

Obviously a sample set of two doesn't prove much, but research on rats shows the same results: when given fat or sugar, the rats don't really gain weight. But if you give them a combination of fat and sugar, they do overeat and gain weight.

It works the same way for humans: nobody is interested in eating a stick of butter or a handful of sugar cubes, but put them together and you basically have ice cream. It looks like a combination of 50% carbohydrates and 50% fat is our kryptonite. A lot of hard-to-resist "bad" foods have this ratio, such as glazed donuts. But foods found in nature don't, maybe with the exception of some types of nuts.

This may be why the people who are against processed foods have a point. We humans can barely survive off of raw food; processing, also known as "cooking", allows us to eat a lot of food that we otherwise wouldn't be able to digest very well. But combining carbs and fats into chips, donuts, cheesecake, ice cream, chocolate and so on was probably not the best idea, health-wise.

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