Fat-free vs Sugar-free

In your lifetime, you’ve probably seen the terms ‘fat-free’ and ‘sugar-free’ on products in your local supermarket. However, did you know they were once both involved in a nutritional turf war?

War of the words

During the 1970s, two well-known nutritionists were pushing for huge change in the food industry – but from opposite sides. In one corner was Dr John Yudkin, the British author of Pure, White and Deadly, a book about the long-term dangers of widespread sugar consumption. The other corner was occupied by the American Ancel Keys, who was pushing his opinion that fat and cholesterol were the real cause of the world’s perilous diets.

Governments around the world were perhaps not fond of the idea of banning sugar, because they widely took onboard the opinion of Keys instead. Soon, America and the UK were pulling out all the stops to trim the fat out of our food.

For many years, western food companies were manufacturing low-fat alternatives to popular cuisine: from margarine and yogurt, to ready meals and sauces. Eventually, the term ‘low-fat’ became synonymous with healthy eating. 

However, by the 1980’s, nutritionists were beginning to spot a problem – the rates for obesity, diabetes and heart disease were sky-rocketing, despite the introduction of reduced fat foods. How was this happening?

A matter of taste

The main issue with phasing out fat from our favourite foods was that much of the flavour went with it. As a result, companies were using additives to help improve the taste. The number one additive? Sugar! There are actually hundreds of different names for sugar used by the food industry, so this wasn’t always obvious.

As the years have passed, studies by nutritionists have increasingly shown that Yudkin had been right all along – sugar was the chief cause of the main diet-related health problems in the western world. This has resulted in huge changes in the regulation of sugar – such as the UK’s 2018 sugar levy.

Balancing act

Thankfully we’re now more privy to the dangers of sugar, and how to keep our diets well-balanced. The NHS recommends that adults should not exceed more than 30g of free sugars a day – the same limit applies to saturated fat too.

If you’re ever unsure, read the label, which is now required to list exact amounts of sugar and fat. Remember – low fat does not necessarily mean it’s healthy! 


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