So Which Is Worse For Your Health — Fat or Sugar?

POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd

"For years, we were told that fat was the mortal enemy," said Elissa Goodman, holistic nutritionist and lifestyle cleanse expert. And it's true. We've lived by this idea that eating fat would in turn make us fat. "That has changed over the past two decades as more research has been publicized about the detriment of sugar on our well-being."

Nutritionist Cara Clark agrees — "Live by the phrase, fat doesn't make you fat, sugar does!" All those years we've been demonizing fat? We've been ignoring a larger problem at hand: sugar.

Sugar can be dangerous for a number of reasons. According to Clark, it can be worse than some drugs, mostly because it's legal, available, and people in general are not as educated about the ramifications of sugar addiction. "There are many reasons I believe that sugar is worse for you than fat," she said. "It overstimulates the pleasure or reward center of the brain, which creates the addiction. Like other addictive substances, it creates withdrawal symptoms when trying to break the habit. Think headaches, nervousness, other cravings, mood changes."

Physiologically, sugar impacts many aspects of your health. We only need a certain amount of energy from glucose (sugar), and if we have too much, "then the excess is stored in our liver and turned into fat cells to use in the future," said Clark. So, the sugar literally becomes stored fat in your body. Clark said, "If we don't use those fat cells, we have the potential to continue storing and storing and storing — and that's what causes obesity, which can lead to hundreds of health issues!"

Unlike fat — which is an essential macronutrient our body actually needs, "Our body doesn't need any added sugar," says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE. "All quality carbohydrates (fresh fruit, whole grains, legumes, sweet potatoes, etc.) will eventually break down to sugar in our bloodstream; they also deliver essential nutrients to our body, which is the difference."

"Fat serves a purpose in the body," said Goodman, "whereas added and refined sugars do not. Healthy fats provide essential fatty acids that are important for balancing hormones, proper nervous system function, and healthy vessels and heart. Fat also helps us absorb (fat-soluble) vitamins." Think of that the next time you opt for a fat-free salad dressing! You actually need a little bit to help you get the nutrients from your veggies.

Additionally, Goodman told POPSUGAR "Healthy fats are essential to your health, they're needed to prevent illness and disease." Zanini seconded this, saying that good kinds of fat can help with weight loss and fight off life-threatening health risks. "Healthy fat keeps us feeling satisfied after meals, and research has shown improves insulin sensitivity and increased good HDL cholesterol, which lowers risk of heart disease."

But not all fat is good fat — and that's important to keep in mind. Zanini said, "When it comes to fat, it's all about the type of fat, not necessarily the amount," she said. Clark warned that "saturated fat should be limited, and trans fat should be avoided! These are the two that can cause high cholesterol." Goodman cited "avocado, coconut, ghee, olive oil, seeds, and nuts" as good sources of fat in her diet, and credits those foods for her weight maintenance, energy, strong immune system, and great thyroid health.

"You can avoid the whole fat or sugar debate by focusing on eating real, whole foods," said Goodman. "Whole foods provide the types of sugars and fats that your body can use and process naturally."