September 10th, 2014
11:12 AM ET

Why sugar is worse than fat

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta about recent research on the risks of high sugar consumption. Watch the video for the full interview.

For 20 years, people have been assuming that fat was the enemy because it produced cholesterol, which was blocking arteries. That's not quite right.

I could talk about this all day long, because I think it highlights some very important things in terms of how we sometimes misinterpret science, or at least exaggerate it.

It was in the late '70s – in fact, there was a Senate commission, Senator McGovern, who actually looked at this issue and found that people who had very high levels of cholesterol tended to die early of heart disease. And there was also other studies that showed if you ate a diet high in fat, it raised your cholesterol. But those were two different studies. And they got really, really linked, not only by the Senate, but also in the scientific community and then by everybody else.

And what happened over the last 30 years, it got codified. It became the way that we eat low fat in this country. And nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. Cardiovascular disease remains the biggest killer of men and women. Diabetes rates are higher than ever before. Childhood obesity. So it didn't work. And I think that's what sort of prompted all this analysis.

I think there's two issues here. One is that fat doesn't get a free pass here. There's still some problems with it. It still raises cholesterol levels. That is associated with heart disease. The problem is that what we replaced fat with was sugar. And sugar may be more problematic, in some ways, for someone who's worried about heart disease than fat.

More from CNN: Our fear of fat is melting

If I put a double cheeseburger here and a big sugary drink and I asked anybody, which of these two things is worse for your heart, even a child would probably say the cheeseburger. And almost always they would be wrong. It's the sugary drink that gets converted into that bad cholesterol in our body.

But as you said, the crucial thing to understand is, it's not that fat is good for you, it's that if you replace fat with sugar, it's worse for you?

That's right.

Why is sugar so bad? Is there a simple way to explain that scientifically?

Here's a simple way – it’s that humans weren't designed to eat this much sugar. We used to get sugar once a year when fruit fell from the trees. Even honey was protected by the bees. How much food could you really eat? I mean you can't…10 oranges, that's enough. Now, we eat 140 pounds, roughly, a year, on average. Our bodies simply didn’t evolve to be able to handle that.

So it hits the liver, the liver says I don't know what to do with all this sugar, so it starts to metabolize it in unusual ways and it gets turned into what are known as low density lipoprotein particles. And that's the worst kind of cholesterol.

And for the body, a slice of white bread and a packet of sugar are essentially indistinguishable. The body receives them as the same. White bread – those kind of carbohydrates, for the body, are sugar?

It gets turned into sugar just the same way, and maybe a little bit of a time delay so to speak. But you can trace the sugar, whether it be in that bread or a packet of sugar, and you can find those same particles in those cholesterol particles later on.

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Topics: GPS Show • Health

soundoff (489 Responses)
  1. spruceman

    I wonder why humming birds and ants love sugar so much? And does sugar hurt them too?

    September 12, 2014 at 12:40 am | Reply
  2. Eatin it all

    These articles always "kill" me because they don't tell the full truth. Ever watch when they say " there's this much sugar in a can of soda" and the poor out processed can sugar. Most drinks are made with corn syrup. This syrup is fructose. Sugar is Sucrose (dextrose). There is lactose which humans don't digest, glucose, maltose, and other forms. Some are monosaccharides and disaccharides. I body does react to different sugars when processing. All fruits and veggies have some form of sugar and sugar is a carbohydrate. Then there is fat that we need and fat that we don't. To much meat and protien will kill you too. Humans can survive without meat but they can't survive without fruit and veggies. They should be telling what to eat. I could go on and on so in simple words eat and exercise. Don't over eat and lay around .

    September 12, 2014 at 2:03 am | Reply
  3. rupert

    Old hag list for Friday, September 12, 2014.
    1. Chrissy
    2. La Bella
    3. Todd
    4. Spruceman

    September 12, 2014 at 4:31 am | Reply
    • LaBella


      September 12, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • Philip

      @rupert , Old Hag™ is a registered Trademark of mine. Lmao

      September 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Reply
      • LaBella

        I have one for you. "Old Tosser™"

        September 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm |
  4. Zack's Mom

    ..."and there was also other studies"? "And what happened over the last 30 years, it got codified" = run-on sentence. Hard to attribute authority to someone who cannot write.

    September 12, 2014 at 6:33 am | Reply
    • LaBella

      They're speaking. It's an oral transcription.

      September 12, 2014 at 11:16 am | Reply
  5. Serge Storms

    The right kinds of sugars and fats are essential for good health. Too much of anything is bad, including water and oxygen. You will turn all kinds of food into body fat if calories in exceeds calories out. Humans need a balanced diet to be healthy, that includes carbohydrates (sugars), protein, and fat. The carbs should be coming from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, not a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew thirstbuster.

    September 12, 2014 at 6:55 am | Reply
  6. Serge Storms

    The right kinds of sugars and fats are essential for good health. Too much of anything is bad, including water and oxygen. You will turn all kinds of food into body fat if calories in exceeds calories out. Humans need a balanced diet to be healthy, that includes carbohydrates (sugars), protein, and fat. The carbs should be coming from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, not a bag of Doritos and a Circle C thirstbuster.

    September 12, 2014 at 6:58 am | Reply
  7. spruceman

    Serge storms. True. but really. U never have a cold beer and a bag of cool ranch doritos? Come on.

    September 12, 2014 at 6:59 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      What are doritos?
      You can get all of the carbs you need from escargots.

      September 12, 2014 at 10:18 am | Reply
      • spruceman

        Joey. Doritos are those corn chips in a bag that you enjoy occasionally

        September 12, 2014 at 10:51 pm |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    A wonderful source of carbohydrates is beer.
    In Germany, beer is considered food. It is especially beneficial in nutrition because its alcoholic content induces relaxation and lowered metabolism, encouraging the storage of calories in the tissues of the body as God intendeded.
    We are rendered more pleasant and nonthreatening in appearance by adequate consumption of beer, therefore socializing more easily and stimulating our economy.

    September 12, 2014 at 11:01 am | Reply
    • Philip

      Alcohol also reduces fear, Joey. And is why we old drillers drank. Even being limited to 3 shots of imported Jack Daniel's imported whiskey per day while drilling in Bavaria during Oktoberfest. (during breakfast)

      September 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Reply
      • LaBella

        So you are an alcoholic? Hypocrite.

        September 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ LaBella:
        Three shots of whiskey a day is just medicinal, you know.
        Alcohol is known to benefit heart function, body-mass index, dental hygiene, gait, and halitosis.

        September 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm |
      • LaBella

        It also causes zero damage to the liver. Joey for the win.

        September 14, 2014 at 11:53 am |
  9. chri§§y

    Well that you rudetard for making me number one! But you forgot yourself on your consider yourself that unforgetable? Lol

    September 12, 2014 at 11:34 am | Reply
  10. Thomas

    The hedge fund Starboard Value says Olive Garden restaurants lack training and discipline and that servers bring too many breadsticks to tables at a time.

    The same guys who said take out a few toilets on the jet and put in more seats , just because you can make a profit on corporate prison's doesn't give you the right to make bad Italian food !

    Did Mitt Romney say that ?

    September 12, 2014 at 11:34 am | Reply
  11. chri§§y

    "Thank" you i meant

    September 12, 2014 at 11:36 am | Reply
  12. chri§§y

    Eat in moderation and try to not eat processed foods! The fresher the better. Doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure that out! And the Food Industry does NOT have the publics health at heart. Their main goal is REVENUE!

    September 12, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  13. Jahfe

    Who knew! |-\

    September 12, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  14. chri§§y

    So @ Joey...your main goal is revenue? No matter who you harm or kill to get it? Thats nice to know!

    September 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  15. Nelson

    I lost over 30 lbs. using a kind of Atkins diet. I watched my carbs like a hawk, especially simple carbs. I could never lose weight with the calorie counting or low-fat diets, but with low-carb, the weight came off so fast I worried I was somehow sick. But I hadn't felt as good since high school. Kept the weight off now for three years.

    September 13, 2014 at 1:13 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      In this forum, writers are often moved to teach others about The Truth.
      @ Nelson has discovered The Truth about nutrition and the weight of human bodies.
      For nutritionists. The Truth must accommodate the reality of Liability, Lawsuits, USA Government Guidelines, Court Decisions, and Mandated Carbohydrates.
      My diet Truth is sixty (60) grams of carbs a day, Maximum.

      September 13, 2014 at 7:13 am | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Sixty grams of carbs are contained in one baked potato of medium size, without butter or chocolate fudge on top.

        September 13, 2014 at 7:19 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        If you have to choose between butter, chocolate fudge, and bacon to flavor your 60-carb-gram baked Idaho potato, forego the fudge.

        September 13, 2014 at 7:25 am |
  16. Philip

    While excess fat/obesity is responsible for over 40% of all healthcare costs, it is lack of tears/empathy that is behind hardened hearts...not sugar. Tears carry away toxins that build-up in our hearts just as perspiration does for our bodies.
    DANGER: Acetaminophen found in most pharmacy products inhibit tears from forming. And in most Rx prescription painkillers and antidepressants not only inhibit tears but also cause weight gain and brain damage.

    September 13, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      I an looking at the list of ingredients of my facial wash, and I cannot find Acetaminophen listed at all. Nor can I find it listed in my toothpaste. My pharmacy products must be lying to me.

      September 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  17. Philip

    Let's see...sugar is a natural substance. Pharmacy drugs are petrochemicals laced with addictive substances. It's a no-brainer.

    September 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  18. Philip

    Odd that only humans of the animal species are drug addicts/avid pharmacy goers.
    One would think quite the opposite since humans are so much more "evolved" than the "weaker" species.

    September 13, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Reply
    • LaBella

      Odd that you self-medicate by alcohol but make fun of others for doing the same thing with different substances.

      September 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Pharmacies are on your nyet list, also? Where will I purchase my Q-tips?

      Avid pharmacy goers. Lol.

      September 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  19. cay

    Holy gods of the gupta!!
    the two indian snake charmers of the CNN meet to discuss fat and sugar!

    September 18, 2014 at 10:05 am | Reply
  20. Abiel

    This is huge misinformation the fat was not replaced with sugar whitch need i remind everyone is not bad for you in fact it's a carb which is necessary for your body and comes in complex and simple forms whitch give loads of energy and are actually good for you. What they did replace the fat with was sodium to maintain flavor whitch is also necessary but easilly used in eccess whitch is why people got worse when all the diet products came out, they were getting too much sodium but carbs should take up at least 70% of your intake and that's pushing it to the least. This is because our bodies are highly dependant on carbohydrates for energy consumption we are designed to consume sugars and starch for the majority of our diets.

    February 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  21. Junita Paoletto

    "Great post, thanks for the_ information!"

    June 12, 2018 at 5:47 am | Reply
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