Study: Saturated Fat as Bad as Sugar!

By on June 20, 2014

That headline is an attention grabber right !?! Well that is exactly what David L. Katz, MD, MPH wanted when he published his article with that title. I came across it on LinkedIn and it ticked me off, which is kinda what Katz wanted, to grab our attention (Study: Saturated Fat as Bad as Sugar! | LinkedIn).

He goes on and redeems himself from the provocative title, to state something I have been saying for 20 years…It’s a STUPID argument! While all the different “experts” argue about which macronutrient is worst, society keeps getting fatter and fatter and more and more obese!

Ok lets settle this once and for all! When you have a topic this BIG (that’s foreshadowing, hat tip Nina) It is easy to get lost in the details which ends up in petty arguments between “experts” that disagree leaving people confused about something critical to their health. So let’s back up for a second and take a look at the bigger picture.

First lets start with the emotional redress: Nutrition is not politics nor religion (even though people act that way by getting sooo emotional about what you should put into YOUR own body). On this topic I came across a very astute refreshing post by a 21 year old trainer Brittany Lesser titled Your Way isn’t the only Way.

Everyone you come across will boast about how their exercise routine is THE BEST EVER. Or that the way they eat is THE BEST WAY TO EAT. Um, yeah, it’s the best way for you, but it’s not the only way. …

No matter what you are doing – how you exercise, or how you eat – is great as long as it makes YOU feel your best, and is benefiting you and your life.

Simple maybe, but true all the same and trust me that is what I have been dealing with for 30 years as a trainer. Too many times I have said that we all have different dreams, goals and desires and different types of diets and exercises are needed for our varying lifestyles and genetics.

But without being “published” or having my own book, somehow what I was saying wasn’t valid? Thank you digital age and online/social media….It’s a whole new world (now) baby! So let’s just say this is a good starting point (getting emotional beliefs and persona agendas out of the way) so let’s take an intelligent look at what science and common sense tells us about what we should be eating.

New-Nina-Book-CoverI found myself defending Author Nina Teicholz the other day in the middle of a twitter war with some “high carb” morons (sorry for the indelicate language, don’t twitter gulag me…oh you can’t this is my blog haha). Two things, first of all, its not like Nina was saying “go out and eat all the fattening foods you want” she was just finally stating that in all the years of her research that “fat” wasn’t the EVIL that the weight loss and nutrition industry had been portraying it to be for the past 30 to 40 years!

Her book is awesome you should read/buy it (or at least read my post on the exhaustive review by Dr. Eades of Nina’s NYT best selling book)

The real problem is that this argument is going on between people of different mindsets and goals. The High Carb’ers are generally coaches, athletes, ex-athletes, trainers who all live in a different world than the average person who just wants to be healthy. I wrote a post on just this problem entitled Health Fitness vs Athletic Fitness.

For active people high carbs are a must to meet the excessive demands they are giving their bodies on a daily basis. A perfect example is the Zone diet which was based off of research of two sports teams as test subjects, the Philadelphia Eagles pro football team and the Stanford swim team. I personally, along with many of my fellow trainers, did great on that diet when it first came out but most of our clients did not fare as well (go figure).

The High Carb crowd and the High Protein crowd generally hang in the same circles because with all that hard working out, you need lots of energy (carbs) and plenty of protein on hand to be absorbed into muscles post-workout. So who is this “straw man” advocating High Fat diets? Certainly not Nina Teicholz nor myself, and so we have come full circle to Katz’s article entitled Study: Saturated Fat as Bad as Sugar! | LinkedIn, the most grotesque part was the intro to the article…

A recent meta-analysis by an accomplished, international team of researchers, published in a prestigious medical journal, shows that high intake of saturated fat is exactly as bad for health as a high intake of sugar and refined starch.

Notice the difference from that statement to the Headline? Into statement says “high intake of saturated fat is exactly as bad for health as a high intake of sugar and refined starch”. Two problems…First of all who ever says “high” amounts of either are good for you? Secondly the headline states that fats and sugars are equally bad, yet study actually combines sugars AND refined starch (carbs) together against fats, so it’s not really an accurate statement is it?

Anyway Katz goes on to deciminate the study and brings his readers to his real agenda for the article which is what echoes my thoughts on this and many other fitness topics and prompted this post from me.

OK- now that I presumably have your attention, I’ll tell you my real agenda, which has nothing to do with saturated fat, or sugar, and everything to do with stupidity. Because, folks- when it comes to food, and food for thought alike, it is mostly stupidity that is killing us. Stupidity is worse for us than either sugar or saturated fat.          …

Because this paper came out at a time when we are disgusted that decades of (allegedly) cutting fat have left us all fatter and sicker, we were looking for something else to throw under the bus.        …

One of our favorite scapegoats these days, although by no means the only one, is sugar. (So much so, in fact, that I just reviewed yet another submission to the Huffington Post yesterday, advising against fruit intake, since after all, fruit contains fructose- and despite the evidence that fruit intake can actually defend AGAINST diabetes.)          …

The study in question   ….     simply showed that the typical American diet has been identically bad for decades in more ways than one, with typically high rates of heart disease to show for it every step of the way. We had a whole lot of preventable heart disease both before and after we swapped out saturated fat for sugar. Conversely, we had a whole lot of preventable heart disease both after and before we swapped in sugar for saturated fat.           …

And folks, we are done for if we let this brand of stupidity persist. Stupidity is what’s killing us, far more surely than sugar or saturated fat. It really has to stop- because literal lives are at stake.

Now we move to our conclusion and I’ll let Katz lead us there with these next statements…

We do, in fact, know what dietary patterns are associated with optimal health outcomes. We know it based on vast, diverse, robust, and astonishingly consistent evidence.         …

We are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens. We really are not.

But eating well cannot be achieved by shifting from one scapegoat to the next; that merely invites new ways to eat badly. It can’t be done one nutrient at a time. If ever there was a case of fixating on a tree while the forest burns down, modern trends in nutrition exemplify it.

Now I find myself in Dr Katz’s mindset here:

Honestly, I am a bit tempted to surrender, because the name-calling does get tedious. But this is my job- it’s what I do. My training in Preventive Medicine, and my role in Lifestyle Medicine, define and obligate me. I simply have to keep trying to add years to life and life to years, because it is what I do, and who I am.

And this leads me to another supporting article entitled Fat vs Sugar: Game on! Which wraps up the conversation about not demonizing one nutrient vs another and starts us on an appropriate proactive approach to moving forward.

However, choosing to blame one nutrient over another is simplifying the issue and missing the point. The truth is that both saturated fat and added sugar will cause weight gain and are bad for your health if eaten in excess. The main reason we are eating these nutrients in excess is due to the over consumption of processed foods that contain large amounts of both added sugar and saturated fat.         ….

The 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey  (that is in australia, but i’m sure you will find similar if not worse stats in the US) found that just over one-third (35%) of total energy consumed was from ‘discretionary foods’, that’s food that is considered to be of little nutritional value and tends to be high in saturated fat, sugar and salt!        ….

So, instead of blaming just one nutrient for the rising rates of overweight and obesity, we think it’s smarter to focus on having a balanced overall diet. Avoiding one nutrient doesn’t mean you’re choosing healthy options.      …

By focusing more on what to include in your family’s diet rather than what to exclude, suddenly the supermarket shop is a lot more straightforward. We know our advice might not make great newspaper headlines or sell magazines but it works…and it leaves everyone a lot less confused.


I wrote this post and founded this blogsite to help clarify the confusion about Diet and Exercise, and here is where it starts. When nutrition experts (Doctors, PHD’s, authors) state their opinion then make a veiled reference to “should also incorporate exercise”…that vague, overused statement is where most of the answers lie in our global dietary related health problems (in privileged societies).

Yes we have too many processed foods and people eat too much, but more importantly we homosapians are not getting the 5 to 7 miles of movement that our bodies were designed to handle at a cellular level in a given day.

I discuss in Calorie In/Calorie Out that diet is only half of the weight loss mantra equation, which flies directly in the face of today’s still accepted 80/20 split accrediting eating with way more credit than it deserves. I also pose my own personal opinion that weight loss, Health and Wellness is achieved through a 3 part equation. I lay out this argument in three separate posts: Diet and Exercise Heal the Mind and Body  and to do that you need one part diet and two parts exercise.


About TheFitnessAnswerMan

The Fitness Answer Man is the online personality founded by Kevin Forrest CPT, FMS Pro Trainer and Master Fitness Trainer for the US Military. He has worked in the fitness industry for 30 years and was one of the first trainers to incorporate the physio ball into people's workouts and helped pioneer in the field of "Core" training. He specializes in movement rehabilitation and uses his experience to help clarify the confusion about diet and exercise that still exists within the fitness industry today.

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