You may remember the “Atkins” phenomenon that swept the nation back in the late 90s. At the time it was made out to be a revolutionary way of dieting that promised weight loss whilst eating large amounts of fat, the catch being that you could not eat carbohydrates. The truth however was that the diet was not the brainchild of Dr. Atkins, but was instead first described over a century earlier.
At the time people attacked The Atkins Diet, claiming that it must be unhealthy as it contained so much fat and cholesterol, but research since then has surprisingly shown quite the opposite. Scientists have long suspected that sugar is in fact the real enemy, and recently they have finally begun to prove it.
But surely it is fat that makes us fat?
This has been a common misconception for decades. Although it is increases in fat stores that cause us to gain weight, it is not simply eating too much fat that leads to this. Once you start to understand what makes us store fat in our bodies, you start to realize why sugar is the real enemy.
In humans, fat is the primary energy storage mechanism. It yields twice as many calories as both carbohydrate and protein for the same weight, so is the most efficient way of storing energy. Where people really went wrong was in assuming that it was eating fat that led to increases in fat stores.
The human body has an incredible ability to burn fat for energy. In fact the body prefers to burn fat most of the time, and only really needs sugar for explosive activities and for a few specific organs such as the brain. So if we are so good at burning fat, why do we tend to store so much of it?
The problem arises when we add sugar (carbohydrates) into the mix. The moment we eat sugar, we release hormones such as insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is a very important hormone, but one of its effects is to signal the fuel furnaces in the body to stop burning fat and instead switch to sugar. If that wasn’t bad enough, it then goes to all the fat cells in the body and tells them to increase the storing of fat!
So if you eat fat rich foods (with protein, as this doesn’t really impact on things), the body burns the fat you eat and doesn’t tend to store it. If you however add some carbohydrate to the meal, the whole dynamic changes and the body burns only the carbohydrate you eat and diverts all the fat you eat to storage and you are far more likely to gain weight.
And the story doesn’t end there. If you eat sugar, the body gets used to burning it and becomes very inefficient at burning fat. The brain also falls foul to sugar and begins to crave it. The more you eat the more your body wants. This leads to a situation where your body constantly wants sugar because it has forgotten how to burn fat and has also developed an addiction.
The result is a vicious circle where the more sugar you eat, the more fat you store, the more sugar you want so the more sugar you eat and so on, and the only result is weight gain.
Some of you may be thinking that maybe you could just eat diet of all sugar and no fat as then there would be no fat to store. Sadly this is not the case. The body can actually turn sugar into fat, so you would simply burn the sugar you need and store the rest as fat.
So hopefully you now understand why fat is not the real enemy as well as realize the dangers of sugar. If you want to achieve and maintain a healthy bodyweight as well as fend off illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, maybe you should consider a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.
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This article is written by Murtaza Ahmed, MD