Fat vs. Sugar
December 11, 2015 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Which is worse in my diet? I know there are volumes of material on this subject (that's part of the problem) and that managing both of these is important. But which should I pay most attention to? Does fat really not make you fat (as the low-carb people say) or are both horrible?

I'm trying to drop 30lbs. I had weight-loss surgery two years ago, and while I'm still 60 pounds lighter than my original weight, I've gained from my lowest from stomach stretching and eating crap.

I'm cutting out most sugar (except I do have one or two pieces of fruit every day) so that's going well. But I do like half & half in my coffee and I do like to eat pot roast and burgers on occasion. So am I screwed either way?
posted by tunewell to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Different bodies and metbolisms are gonna be different, but I dropped 30 pounds when I dropped simple carbs (bread, rice, potatoes, beer, most sugary things). I ate more protein, green veggies, and full-fat yogurt, cheese, and yes, bacon.
posted by rtha at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]

What you should pay attention to is calories.

The main contribution choosing food types makes is satiety vs calories. You want to feel full for the least calories. It's somewhat personal but I think it's pretty well borne out that you feel more full on a diet very high in protein, than a diet high in carbs, for the same calories. It's definitely true for me.

When I am trying to lose weight at least one meal a day is a shitload of chicken and vegetables. It's usually less than 500 or 600 calories and the idea of eating more food after that is impossible for hours. I have much better compliance when my snacks are all high protein (yogurt, beef jerky, cottage cheese, leftover chicken, etc)

If you eat a low calorie diet but are hungry all the time your compliance will be terrible and you won't lose weight.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]

tl;dr, neither fat or sugar is "bad for you"
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

So... none of the macro nutrients are "horrible". You need carbs, fat and protein to live (for sake of argument, lets not call a completely carb-less diet living). However...

It is very, very easy to drink and eat tons of food that will in no way satiate your hunger. Carbs via sugar are usually worse on this scale. You can drink a 300 calorie soda and it's done nothing for your hunger. Fat has higher calories per gram, but does tend to satiate. That's not a hard rule because potato chips exist. Good luck filling up on chips for under approximately twenty billion calories.

Fat does not make you fat inherently. That is debunked. If it did, keto diets wouldn't work. Something being "low fat" will not help you lose weight unless you're just consuming fewer calories. These foods often have higher sugars to compensate!

The book Salt, Sugar, Fat is both interesting and may help you understand what to look for in your foods and what to avoid like the plague.

If I had one piece of advice to give to people it's super simple and do-able. Stop drinking calories. That's it. I went from a soda fiend to drinking sparkling water like La Croix and regular water and I'm down about 20 lbs in under 2 months. I wasn't obese just sliding into dad body.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a question best addressed to either your primary care physician or possibly the bariatric specialist who performed your surgery. Different bariatric surgeries affect the ability of your body to absorb nutrition in different ways. And, as rtha notes, it is already true that different bodies and metabolisms are different any way. But in your case, having had the surgery, eating a diet appropriate for your body is most important.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I also dropped 30 lbs when I stopped eating (mostly drinking) sugar, and another 30 when I stopped eating (mostly drinking) carbs. I ate whatever protein and fat I wanted to during that time. I seriously lost weight so fast that it kind of worried me, but I stabilized at a "normal" BMI and didn't lose any more. Now that I drink beer again, I gained some of those second 30 back.

I've never cut out fat, so I don't know how that would affect me, but I think you're safe with the half and half and burgers.
posted by Huck500 at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've gained from my lowest from stomach stretching and eating crap.

The former will happen either way. My stepdad had this years ago and at this point is back to pretty indistinguishable from normal because he didn't keep up the original strict diet. In particular, while I don't personally think that carbs are all bad, he won't eat stuff like bread and rice anymore because he says it makes that worse; you'll probably want to talk to your doctor about that. The latter, well, if you're calling it crap you know it's crap. Don't eat crap. Neither fruit nor occasional pot roast is going to leave you "completely screwed". If you want to lose weight rapidly, you'll have to be more strict, but being more strict is also more fragile, so take that into account.
posted by Sequence at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2015

I would suggest you do this experiment:

- weigh yourself in the evening after dinner and then first thing in the morning
- track what you ate for dinner
- observe how the food you ate affected your weight over the course of two or three days

In my experience, the fat and protein I eat just go through my body whereas the carbs always stick. When I tried cutting my carbs down dramatically while eating full-fat products my excess weight melted off and I wasn't hungry because the fat kept me full.

As a general rule I don't like to eat foods that have been tampered with - 'reduced fat' is a red flag to me. I stick with whatever I can find in the outer perimeter of the supermarket, skipping any reduced anything, and I watch my portions.
posted by Dragonness at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Weight fluctuations experienced over the course of a few days have no real bearing to actual weight loss.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2015 [12 favorites]

>Weight fluctuations experienced over the course of a few days have no real bearing to actual weight loss.

Agreed. But you can learn how your body processes specific foods by watching what happens as you digest your meals.

I track my weight by daily weigh-ins which I log using an app called TrueWeight. It averages out my numbers for the prior seven days (I believe it's seven) and that's the number I use as my weight.
posted by Dragonness at 10:59 AM on December 11, 2015

Seconding RustyBrooks that calories are the important thing, speaking solely from my own personal experience.

The thing is, both fats (and fat-laden foods) and sugar (and carby and sugar-laden foods) have a lot of calories.

If you cut out one and load up on the other, you're not actually reducing your calories, which for many people is the shortest way to weight loss.

Here's what worked for me, personally: I spent a few weeks really finding out how many calories are in the things I eat all the time, and then I (a) focused on eating as many leafy greens as I could (because they're good for you, and generally very low in calories, and focusing on eating MORE of something helped reverse the sense of deprivation you can get when you change your eating habits), (b) made sure I got some decent protein at most meals (because lack of protein makes me feel weird), and (c) reduced my portions of a lot of other things.

I still eat pizza; just 1 slice less than I used to.

I still eat peanut butter sandwiches; but now I have them open-face so it's one slice of bread instead of two.

If you can get a real, realistic sense of how many calories you're currently eating a day, and then look for relatively painless ways to reduce portions, you may find - as I did - that you can eat the same stuff, still feel full, and lose some weight.

Good luck!
posted by kristi at 11:00 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Agreed. But you can learn how your body processes specific foods by watching what happens as you digest your meals.

I completely disagree. There are definitely some things I eat that temporarily cause my weight to go up for a few days. This doesn't mean that they intrinsically cause me to "gain weight" in any meaningful sense. If I ate them every day, my weight would probably go up a pound or two and stay a pound or two higher as long as I was eating a lot of them, but it wouldn't change the overal delta of my weight gain over time.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't consider either to be "bad," but for me personally, if I eat something high in fat I feel satisfied. If I eat something sugary but low fat, I am unsatisfied and tend to eat more, taking in more overall calories even though sugar is less calorie-dense than fat.
posted by Kriesa at 11:14 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

The main problem with sugar and other simple carbs is how they fuck with your hunger drive. In my experience, if you ate the same amount of calories in fat vs. in sugar, you would feel like you needed to eat again much sooner after eating the sugar.

So cutting out sugar and other simple carbs and getting your calories from fats, proteins, and complex carbs instead can make it much easier to stick to a diet.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The diet that worked for me, especially in terms of health but I did also lose weight, was one focused on eating a lot of vegetables. They've shown that one of the best shortcuts to a healthy heart is eating a high fiber diet, so that can be a good rule of thumb. I was aiming for 2c leafy greens, 1/2 C legumes, 1 handful nuts (or more, nuts are great) and 2c+ additional fruit or veg every day, supplemented with whole grains and with no significant sugar or refined flour, and very little meat or dairy. Because the more of those things I was eating, the less veggies I was eating. And my body will tell me I'm hungry for bread when it won't be hungry for an apple (I.e. not really hungry).
posted by Lady Li at 11:25 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A high carb meal will store glycogen in your system. Each gram of glycogen requires 3-4 grams of water stored. You will be puffy and weigh more the day after you eat a lot of carbs. That's just science.

You can read more about glycogen stores here or here.

This also explains the rapid weight loss initially experienced by a low carbohydrate diet. Without the glycogen storage, you lose all that water stored to hydrate it.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:26 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A quick and dirty guideline - not scientifically airtight, but good enough for the layperson - is not to think of it as fat vs. sugar, but added fats and sugars vs. naturally occuring ones. The sugar in an apple is fine; sugar in a cookie not so much. Same with the fat in avocados versus the oil you fry a chicken nugget in.

If you avoid processed foods and eat fresh things that are as close to their natural, live state as possible, you naturally cut out a lot of sugar and fat. It's really hard to overeat fresh fruit or raw almonds.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:34 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

My personal experience (35 pounds lost in 6 months using calorie counting and moderate exercise) is that it's calories that matter. It's not that some calories make you instantly fat and some calories make you instantly thin, but some calories are in the form of foods that do not keep you satiated and some calories are in the form of filling, satisfying foods. So you wind up consuming less calories overall if you stick to the foods that keep you satisfied and not wanting to snack all day. You could, in fact, lose weight by eating 3 Twinkies a day, but except for the 30 minutes after each Twinkie, you'd be starving and miserable.

Lean protein offers a very good bang for buck. Low calories, high satiety. Fat generally has a lot of calories but can also offer high satiety. Processed carbs and sugars are the worst: high calories, low satiety. If your goal is to consume overall fewer calories without being completely miserable and starving all the time, it's a good idea to stay away from them as much as you can. Whole unprocessed carbs are okay. Control your portions and eat them with plenty of vegetables and some lean protein and they can contribute to a really good level of satiety and energy.

If you count your calories, you learn what you can and can't get away with eating while remaining healthy and more or less happy and not wanting to eat your hand all the time. Keep a food diary or use an app and it becomes clear pretty quickly.

And remember: this has to be sustainable. If you can seriously see yourself cutting out an entire food group for months or years, knock yourself out but be honest with yourself. If you can't keep it up long term, you're setting yourself up for failure.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:55 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Calories > Macros > Micronutrients

Here is a good macro calculator.

I love eating according to Macros b/c I can have carbs! Every day! Or fruit! And literally it does not matter. If you are sensitive to sugars, then that's one thing, but as long as you are not, then macros is a really low key way to go about it.

I read somewhere, and honestly I can't find it now, but that if you cut too much fat out of your diet you start going a little nuts because your evolutionary biology kicks in and tells you are you starving. I know the term "rabbit starvation" was used in the article because it stuck with me -- essentially the situation of starving to death because your diet is too low in fat. So take that with .. a chunk of bacon, I guess.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:00 PM on December 11, 2015

I am two weeks into the keto diet. That's high fat, medium protein and low carbs (less than 20g per day, all from veggies). Also high water intake and some extra salt.

I feel bloody fantastic! Have lost 6lbs of weight and one inch all over my body. My mental fog has lifted, my moods are good and moderated, my skin and hair are glowing, and I am not hungry except when I am actually hungry. No cravings, no calorie counting, just carb counting. Oh, and my blood pressure is now that of a 20yr old.

Ketogenic nutrition, or keto for short, is not a diet, it is a way of eating for life. And it has taught me one vital thing: we humans do not need to eat carb laden food to survive. and finally, some doctors are coming around to undestand the truth that eating good saturated fat makes you healthy, not fat. There's lots of info out there. Take a look at, say, ketoevangalist.com for some interesting articles and discussions with medical professionals.
posted by Thella at 12:31 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am 18 months into the keto diet, and have found it sustainable - easily. I've lost 110 pounds; lots initially, then slow and steady. I've been stable for about 5 months now. A recent check of my cholesterol levels showed that to be just fine, even with daily consumption of heavy cream, cheeeeeeeese, bacon, and beef. For my body, the carbs were triggering a need to overconsume everything, leaving me feeling starving all the time. Off carbs I feel like a normal person. I still have the occasional sweet, but am satisfied with one small serving. Blood sugar crashes and the ensuing rages, followed by catatonia, are gone. That said, it does take planning and effort because most food you can get "out" or buy prepared isn't keto friendly.

I did make an attempt at low fat several years ago, and boy was that a miserable few months. Always hungry, always sad, no help for the blood sugar crashes. Regained the weight quickly.
posted by AliceBlue at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please don't think of healthful food only in terms of what will make you lose weight (and if you gain or lose a few pounds in the course of two or three days, that is water, not fat). You will lose weight on a high-fat ketogenic diet, but there is no long-term data on what that does to your heart. The only diet proven to reverse heart disease in peer-reviewed studies is a whole foods, very low-fat diet (whole foods meaning not Snackwells). A bariatric surgeon, Dr. Garth Davis, has recently written a book on this called "Proteinoholoic." Or watch the film "Forks Over Knives," available on Netflix. In addition, the book "The Blue Zones" looks at the diets of the longest lived people in the world. They tend to eat a lot of plants, little meat, and almost no processed foods (except for things like oil, pasta, and bread).
You could also try counting calories and/or writing down what you eat to see what your problem foods are. I avoid sugar because it makes me crave more sugar. And when I stopped eating sugar, my blood pressure normalized.
Ultimately, you will need to educate yourself. Diet in this country has become like a religion, with people falling into different camps, and I'm sure there are people reading this who will think I'm dead wrong. There are a few things that pretty much everyone agrees on though: eat a lot of fruits and vegetables; avoid sugar; eat food that is as close to its whole, natural state as possible.
posted by FencingGal at 5:08 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

See if you can get hold of the 2014 Horizon documentary "Sugar vs Fat".

They put identical twins on complimentary diets, one was very low in carbs/sugar, the other very low in fats.

The guy on the high fat/ low carb diet lost weight, but he actually lost more weight via lost muscle mass than lost fat.

Losing weight in itself is not necessarily a good thing - you need to be losing fat.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:51 PM on December 13, 2015

« Older Other snow   |   Picture me, in Buenos Aires... eating where? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.