Why you Should be Wary of Processed Sugar. Do They Make One Fat?

Tina Ruggiero
Is sugar bad?

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me this question, and it’s a good one. Let’s discuss processed sugar first.

What are Processed Foods?

People shopping for food at a market.

Processed foods are those which have been altered in some way through a series of production steps. This includes the addition of preservatives, flavorings, coloring, and other ingredients to increase their shelf life and enhance their taste. Processed foods also typically require minimal preparation and cooking time, making them convenient for busy lifestyles.

Examples of Processed Foods

The most common examples of processed foods are processed meats, canned soups and vegetables, breakfast cereals, processed cheeses, processed snack foods, and soft drinks. Processed meats contain nitrates or nitrites to preserve their color and flavor. Canned soups and vegetables have often been cooked or canned in salt or other preservatives to extend their shelf life. Breakfast cereals can be processed with added sugars, salts, and sweeteners. Processed cheeses contain emulsifiers and preservatives to help them keep their shape and texture. In most instances, processed snack foods are often loaded with fats, sugar, and sodium to produce that irresistibly crunchy texture. Soft drinks are processed with high levels of sugar for sweetness.

Does Eating Processed Foods Make One Fat?

Since most of the population is trying to lose weight while the rest of the populous is trying to maintain a healthy weight and fight disease, the desire to eliminate processed or refined sugar from the diet is well-intended. However, replacing processed sugar with “natural” sugar sources such as raw sugar, agave nectar, honey, brown rice syrup, and cane juice, doesn’t equate with weight loss or better health.

All sugars are high in caloric density, so if you switch from refined sugar to natural sugar and you’re still consuming more calories than your body needs (We call this being in a calorie surplus), you’ll still gain body fat. Bottom line? You can have your pancakes (with syrup) and eat them too—without gaining weight—as long as you’re in a calorie deficit. Now, I’m not advocating for sugar consumption, but whether the sugar you eat is raw, organic, refined, etc., it should be limited, so there’s room in your diet for nutrient-rich foods.

Are there Good Fats?

Hear me out.

Here’s a real-world example: On Sunday, I treated myself to a chocolate croissant for breakfast, and I enjoyed it with a cup of tea while reading the paper. The pastry was clearly not low-sugar, but I can’t recall the last time I ate one, and on Sunday evening, I brought the day to a close with a 30-mile, high-intensity bicycle ride.  Perhaps, that breakfast displaced some fruit and whole grains that I’d ordinarily consume, but I eat natural, wholesome food about 90% of the time, and I resumed my healthy eating habits at the following meal, so no harm was done.

A pile of chocolate cupcakes

In terms of fat, I’ve written about my perspectives before, and my feeling is still the same. “Good fats” can:

  • Help regulate blood pressure and your heart rate
  • Make the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K possible
  • Strengthen cell linings
  • Add flavor to recipes
  • Stabilize spikes in blood sugar
  • Help maintain healthy hair and skin
  • Reduce cravings for snacks
  • Provide satiety and can aid in weight loss
  • Supply your body with energy

Contrary to popular belief, fats don’t make you fat. Fat doesn’t give you cellulite; fat is not the sole reason for heart disease or the obesity crisis in America.

So, moderate, don’t eliminate. This applies to sugar and fat. Keep fats to less than 30% of your diet, and if you’re eating natural foods, this shouldn’t be an issue. For “beneficial” sources of fat, include small amounts of fish, nuts, olives, sunflower, safflower, olive, and canola oils in your diet, and you’ll reap all the positive aspects of the nutrient. 

In the same breath, here are some reasons why processed foods should be consumed moderately rather than en masse.

Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods are a major contributor to unhealthy diets and have been linked to numerous health problems. They’re convenient, but processed foods should be avoided as much as possible for several key reasons.

  1. Usually contain high levels of sodium and unhealthy fats such as trans fat. Eating too much-processed food can raise blood pressure, increase your risk of stroke and heart disease, and worsen conditions such as diabetes.
  2. Typically low in important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This leads to nutrient deficiencies that can cause a variety of health issues over time.
  3. Some have unhealthy chemicals and preservatives. If unchecked, it can increase your exposure to these toxins, which may contribute to inflammation, cancer risk, and other diseases.
  4. Finally, processed foods often have added sugar or artificial sweeteners that can cause weight gain and other health problems. Excessive processed food can lead to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.
A can of CocaCola beside white bread.

It’s important to limit processed foods whenever possible and instead focus on eating fresh, whole foods that are nutrient-dense and free of unhealthy additives. Eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats is the best way to stay healthy and avoid processed foods.

More questions? Just ask!

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