Is Sugar Making you Fat and Should you Eat Clean?

Over the holiday period I made the mistake of picking up a newspaper and reading it! I'm not usually in the habit of doing this, but one was there and I had a flick through. Two seperate articles in two different newspapers over two days annoyed me enough to write this post and produce some short videos online.

Below I will outline the jist of both articles with my response to both.

Article 1: The article outlined why only one diet was sure to work for you this year: Ditching sugar. The columnist went on to explain that we should stop worrying about the number of calories we are consuming because the calories in vs calories out (CICO) approach doesn't work. Instead our focus should be on eliminating all sugars from our diet.

What I Agree With: There are lots of added sugars in processed foods and the elimination of these types of food (let's call this food "junk food") is definitely going to benefit both your health and waistline. 

What I Disagree With: I fundamentally disagree with the journalists assertion that the CICO approach doesn't work. What the journalist is failing to realise is that by eliminating sugars from your diet, you are cutting out the following foods and inevitably reducing overall calorie intake: -

  • Soft drinks
  • Cocktails
  • Chocolate Milk
  • Fruit Juice
  • Smoothies
  • Sports drinks
  • Flavoured coffee
  • Iced tea
  • Cereal bars
  • Added sugar in tea/coffee
  • Sauces and condiments
  • Jam/Marmalade, honey, nutella etc.
  • Lollies/sweets
  • Chocolate
  • Donuts
  • Pastries
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Fruit
  • Syrup
  • Yoghurt
  • Cereal
  • Granola
  • Ice Cream
  • Muffins
  • Frozen Desserts

Every weight loss/fat loss diet in existence is trying to reduce your overall calorie intake, whether they articulate this or not. This can be achieved by fasting for periods of time (such as the alternate day fasting protocol or the 5:2 diet), restrict eating times (such as 'Leangains'), or eliminating foods (such as sugar, or gluten, or carbs, or fat etc). The end result is still the same: calorie reduction. 

Now, inevitably cutting out all of those foods listed above would lead to weight loss because you will more than likely consume less overall calories. Eliminating sugar eliminates basically all junk food in existence. But there is nothing magical about sugar that leads to weight gain.... any imbalance in CICO will lead to weight gain. The fixation and demonisation on one thing (sugar in this instance) misses the point entirely.

What I Recommend: -

  • Those people with higher body fat levels (men higher than 15%, females higher than 23%) and fairly sedentary lives with the goal of losing body fat should minimise intake of sugar wherever possible. However, it doesn't need to be completely eliminated and provided you are sticking to a set number of calories, can be incorporated into your diet in small amounts.
  • Those people who can be considered more lean (males under 15% body fat; females below 23%) can eat sugar in their diets without worrying too much about the implications. This, again, is under the proviso that calories are accounted for.
Sugar, the devil incarnate!

Sugar, the devil incarnate!

Article 2: This article was lamenting the label 'clean eating', stating that the term would be 'out in 2017'.

What I Agree With: I do believe that having a binary distinction of 'clean' food and 'dirty' food to be unhelpful. As with all things in life there are many grey areas and everything exists on a continuum. 

What I Don't Agree With: The label of 'clean eating' can be useful because it is simple and easy for people to understand. This is why we like to bunch things together and label them. Rather than say to someone: 

"I want you to eat a diet of lean meat, fish, pulses, nuts, seeds, wholegrain, fruits and vegetables"

you could just say:

"I want you to focus on eating cleaner than your current diet is"

Secondly, the notion that anyone can be successful in the long-term with a fat loss diet without the majority of their diet coming from clean foods is ludicrous. Quite simply the majority of your diet needs to be made up of these single ingredient, whole foods. The provide protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, they satiate (keep us feeling full), provide fibre, vitamins. minerals etc. So to suggest that 'clean eating' is a thing of the past strikes me as bizarre to say the least. This is how we should be eating most of the time. 

What I Recommend: -

  • As a general rule of thumb 80% of your calories should come from 'Clean foods' on a consistent basis. Fat loss will be a lot more difficult without the majority of your foods coming from these sources. 
Clean Food?

Clean Food?

To conclude - when reading magazine and newspaper articles, take them with a large grain of salt. Make sure it is pink, himalayan rock salt for all you clean eaters!