Samuel Whiskers

Processed Food: Sugar Is Out, Fat Is Back

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For a couple of decades, fat was banished from our diets. Food makers took out fat and compensated by adding sugar and other carbs to processed foods. Now sugar is out of fashion and fat is in. So big food is dutifully doing what the nutrition gurus say. A new, peer-reviewed USDA report finds that salt and sugar is coming out of processed food. More saturated fat is going in.

“No Added Sugar” Replaces “Fat-Free”

Nutrient Changes in Breakfast CerealsNot so long ago, we could hardly buy anything but fat-free or lowfat yogurt. No more. Now Cabot Creamery tells us their full fat yogurt makes a great topping with bacon mixed in. Dannon and others are rolling out more and more whole milk yogurt.

And the holy grail of the food industry’s “clean label” movement is a no-added-sugar claim.

The USDA analysis tells us that this trend has been building for a while. For example, saturated fat in breakfast cereals steadily increased between 2008 and 2012, while sugar went down.

The authors pointed out the problems with policies that focus on single nutrients:

These contradictory trends support the contention that policies focusing on reducing a single nutrient (such as sodium) may not lead to overall healthier products because companies may compensate for deterioration in taste by increasing levels of unhealthy nutrients (such as fat).

We expect that the flight from sugar to fat will only pick up speed as labeling for added sugars comes into effect over the next few years.

Declining Added Sugars in Australia

The food industry is a global enterprise. So it’s no surprise that a new report from Australia suggests that these trends are not limited to the U.S. The Australian Bureau of Statistics issued a new report this week on trends in added sugar consumption. Between 1995 and 2012, consumption of added sugars by Australians dropped. As a proportion of total calories, it went from 12.5% to 10.9%.

The biggest drop happened in Australian children. Their consumption of added sugars dropped by 23%, largely because of a drop in sugar sweetened beverages. Despite these drops, approximately 46% of Australians are consuming more added sugar than recommended by the World Health Organization.

Big Picture, Please

All this leaves us to wonder. Will nutrition policy crusaders ever tire of fixating on individual nutrients. The lowfat thing didn’t work out. Declining sugar consumption isn’t making a dent in obesity yet. In JAMA recently, John Ionnidis and John Trepanowski summed up the silliness single-nutrient policies:

Although the totality of an individual’s diet has important effects on health, most nutrients and foods individually have ambiguously tiny (or nonexistent) effects.

The time is coming when everyone will have to step off the sugar-is-poison train.

Click here for the USDA report, here and here for more perspective on it, here for the Australian report, and here for further perspective.

Samuel Whiskers, illustration by Beatrix Potter / WikiArt

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December 16, 2017

5 Responses to “Processed Food: Sugar Is Out, Fat Is Back”

  1. December 16, 2017 at 8:53 am, Al Lewis said:

    Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I feel like they might have gotten it right this time…

    • December 16, 2017 at 9:24 am, Ted said:

      It’s always possible . . .

      Also possible that we’re sipping on some really tasty Kool-Aid.

  2. December 16, 2017 at 1:21 pm, Stephen Phillips / American Association of Bariatric Counselors said:

    It might sound like a broken record but weight gain or loss still depends on energy in and energy out ….and not dependent on specific macro-nutrients (this relates to weight management and not optimal nutrition).
    What we have discovered is the stark differences in individual caloric needs..called Metabolic Factor..and how to measure it

  3. December 16, 2017 at 2:03 pm, David Stone said:

    Dunno if sugar will ever be de-sullied, but I suspect there’s one pretty safe prediction we can make regarding this swap of scapegoat nutrients: those who have been eating too many Calories to maintain a healthy weight will continue to eat too many Calories and the prevalence of overweight and obesity will not change. Well, it could increase if people go overboard with the fat-is-OK notion.

    On a positive note, perhaps the widespread use of statins will offset any bad effects of increased sat’d fat, esp. from tropical “oils”. I hope so.

  4. December 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm, David Stone said:

    Stephen, this is the first I have heard of “Metabolic Factor”, and perhaps I am missing something about it, but after watching the video, here’s what comes to mind:

    It has long been known that per pound, fat tissue uses far less energy than does lean tissue. That is because adipose tissue is a repository of fat (triglyceride), and triglyceride itself does not use energy. Thus it seems to me that your Metabolic Factor is merely an after-the-fat-is-gained reflection of this long-known fact. I don’t see anything biologically meaningful about it.

    Leaner people have less stored fat, so, with relatively more lean tissue per pound of body weight, they burn more energy per pound. No surprise.

    “Thick” people who are skinnied down to “thin” weight will, as expected from the arithmetic, have acquired a new Metabolic Factor which will closely resemble that of a normally-thin person of the same age/weight/height/sex and body composition (lean and fat).

    RMR varies between people, but not by much when lean-body-mass is held constant, and although major loss of weight is accompanied by a presumed compensatory modest reduction in RMR, the major effect on Metabolic Factor is the lost fat.

    So, for an individual, Metabolic Factor is largely dependent on body fat content, and varies with it. It won’t predict or explain fat gain; it merely reports that it has happened.