Sugar vs. Fat: The Heart Health Debate Rages on

Sunrise Senior Living  |  November 8, 2017

At Sunrise Senior Living communities, nutrition is an essential part of our commitment to helping older adults live their best life. Partnerships like the one we have with the USDA’s MyPlate program allow us to stay on top of the latest research on senior nutrition and share what we learn with the residents of our communities.

One topic we continue to explore is the comparison between sugar and fat as they relate to heart disease. Back in the 1980s, adults were encouraged to follow a low-fat diet. Fat made you fat, we were told. Experts believed eliminating the fat in your diet was the best way to keep your heart healthy. What was long overlooked, though, was how much sugar many low-fat foods contained.

In late 2016, an enlightening new study shed light on what the real danger to your heart might be. Surprisingly, fat wasn’t the only culprit.

The Sugar vs. Fat Debate Heats Up

In November of 2016, Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine. This shocking article revealed a dubious relationship between sugar industry officials and Harvard scientists in 1967.

According to this investigation, Harvard researchers were compensated to downplay just how much sugar contributed to poor heart health. Because the fading sugar industry was desperate to keep demand for their product high, they paid scientists to overlook the negative impact of sugar. It appears that over the last 50 years, we have been following the advice of bad science when it comes to incorporating sugar and fat in to our daily diet.

Thanks to the work of Cristin Kearns, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, and two of her colleagues, we now know differently. These three researchers spent many hours tracking the work of an organization called the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF).

What Kearns found was alarming. Her team discovered that the “study” conducted by SRF was actually nothing more than a research review that claimed to find evidence consuming too much fat would lead to heart disease. It overlooked the fact that sugar was equally as dangerous.

So where does science stand today in the sugar vs. fat debate?

While the evidence continues to evolve, what researchers have to say might surprise you.

Can Healthy Fat Help You Lose Weight?

Researchers say fat has more calories per gram than carbs or protein. But cutting back on fat often doesn’t translate to weight loss. According to the experts at the Cleveland Clinic, that’s because when we cut fat from our diet, we often replace it with foods high in sugar. That causes blood sugar to spike which fuels fat cells, especially in the belly.

Healthy fats, by contrast, can keep you feeling full longer. And, they help you avoid spikes in blood sugar. Avoiding those ups and downs can prevent binging on unhealthy comfort foods and treats.

Healthy fats to eat in moderation include:

  • Walnuts and almonds
  • Peanut butter
  • Wild salmon
  • Flax seed
  • Olive oil and canola oil
  • Avocados
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Coconut
  • Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate

Recipes from the Heart

If you need heart healthy recipes to spice up your menu planning, we can help. You can download our Recipes from the Heart cookbooks at no cost. Each one offers recipes that are popular with residents in the Sunrise Senior Living communities across the United States and Canada. 

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