Sugar v. Fat: Which One Do You Target?

The new year has started and with it, resolutions to change health patterns, lose weight, get moving or exercising again. Though there is nothing magical about making a commitment now, we at Urban Strategies get excited when we hear that someone has chosen to make changes towards well-being. This article will help you in the process of setting up at least one goal in your journey toward wellness and wellbeing—that of figuring out what to eat.

In this debate, there are many that may still believe one way of thinking about eating well based on outdated research or education received over time. For example, some key questions that have emerged over the years are the following:

  • Butter vs. margarine
  • Sugar vs. artificial sweeteners
  • Carbohydrates vs. whole grains

Research can sound conflicting stating one thing today, and changing positions tomorrow. And now, there is even evidence that research has been influenced by the food industry. So what do you eat?

Whole foods and meals that are prepared as natural as possible.

Eating whole foods in their most natural state, unprocessed and/or unrefined, and do not include additional substances and additives, are your best bet in losing weight and finding better health. This means no longer eating foods that are highly processed, have added refined sugar and artificial fats, and instead eating from the following food groups:

  • Whole Grains (or complex carbohydrates): brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, popcorn, whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers.
  • Lots of fruits, vegetables, potatoes and beans in their natural form (meaning they are not fried, canned, or prepared with additional sugar)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Naturally raised protein (fish, pork, chicken and beef) that is prepared with good fats – olive oil, coconut oil, or baked
  • Dairy products that are organic, whole (meaning with fat), without additional sweeteners (watch out for those flavored yogurts) and pasture-raised
  • Natural sweeteners including honey and pure maple syrup (in moderation)

You may be surprised to find several items on this list—such as natural sweeteners and fats like dairy. Therefore, let us further explain the SUGAR vs. FAT controversies that are continually debated in our culture today.


When raw sugar goes through a chemical process that removes impurities but also nutrients, it results in what we know as refined sugar. This can come in many forms—from granulated to powdered—which is what researchers are targeting and explaining to be of concern these days.

“Some sugar, especially the type called refined, cause a rapid rise in blood sugar that could raise your risk of diabetes and other chronic problems. A large number of the foods we eat contain refined sugar, which could pose as large a health problem as dietary fats and cholesterol.”[1]


Foods high in refined sugar include drinks (from soda, juice drinks, to coffee drinks), processed foods (including crackers, pasta sauces, condiments like BBQ sauce, ketchup, etc.), and of course all sweets.

Be careful though in trying to switch from refined sugars to “Sugar-Free” products that contain artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. These are just as problematic as revealed by an article published by the Harvard Medical School called Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost? The article names several problems that result from using artificial sweeteners such as the following:

  • They encourage you to switch healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods with more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.
  • They make you addicted to sweets – In studies of rats who were exposed to cocaine, then given a choice between cocaine and the artificial sweetener saccharine, most chose saccharin.
  • They increase your risk for type 2 diabetes – Daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Though there are some advocates who state that all sugars should be eliminated including those from fruit and whole grains, we believe that may not be the healthiest choice. Your body needs the nutrients from fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains as they provide much needed fiber and energy to your body. Choosemyplate.govprovides a simple plate guideline regarding how much of these foods to eat during each meal.


Eating fat is a necessary nutrient for good health. Let me say that again. Eating fat is a necessary nutrient for good health. I repeat myself because we have been told for years that fat is bad when in fact, not all fat is bad.

The American Heart Association states that

“Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too. Your body definitely needs fat.”[2]


The question becomes which fats. Research agrees that the following fats are good for you:

  • Unsaturated fats – typically comes from plant sources such as olives, avocados, nuts, or seeds but also fish in what is called Omega 3.
  • Natural saturated fats – include foods such as butter, meats, and coconut oil. These may surprise you as science has stated for years that these were bad for our bodies. New studies reveal a different story and cause for heart disease reversing what we have been told regarding saturated fats.

What are bad fats then? Artificial trans fats. Like refined sugars, artificial trans fats are created by an industrial process and are found primarily in processed foods. You must check the ingredient list (not just the nutritional label) to ensure that no artificial trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils are included as well as added sugars.[3]

Why? Because “Low-Fat” products often replace fat with partially hydrogenated oils and added sugar.


To review, you should be eating whole foods—naturally occurring fruits, vegetables and grains as well as naturally occurring fats in olives, avocados, coconut, nuts, fish, and protein in meats and dairy.

For additional guidance on food planning and preparation of meals, you may want to reference Urban Strategies’ Healthy Con Sabor booklet. This resource provides helpful goal setting tools, tips and information related to healthy eating. Use these guidelines and tools in the new year and you will be well on your way to achieving a life of wellness!

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