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Fat vs Sugar

Posted by Aisling Murray on

Whelehans Pharmacy hosted a Diabetes Information Event last Thursday June 30th in the Greville Arms Hotel; one of the biggest questions on the night was, “which is worse, FATS or SUGARS?” I aim to answer this today!

Sugar and fat are the most talked about nutritional topics; they are always in the media and every scientist and professional has given their two cents on the sugar v fat conspiracy. Which is worse for you? How much of each can you have? These are questions I’m commonly so I in this article I want to break down both and identify what sugar and fat do to our bodies. 



Many of our favourite confectionary foods and snacks are laced with sugar including cereals, fruit drinks, smoothies, fruit yoghurts, biscuits, granola etc. Sugar is not always so obvious, reading a food label is very important to discovering what sugar is present in. Hidden sugar can be one of the biggest causes of over consumption.


Limiting sugar intake is important for all, not just those with diabetes. Sugar comes in many forms and if not used up by the body, is turned into fat. If you ingest a high sugar food, your body can only metabolise so much of the sugar and the rest of it is converted and stored. Unfortunately, other than energy, sugar offers very little to the body and this is why it is referred to as “empty calories”.


Sugar in the diet, no matter what form it’s in is broken down into glucose; this in turn raises our blood sugar levels. I have spoken a number of times before on the relationship between glucose and insulin (glycaemic index notes) and for this reason individuals with diabetes are advised to limit their daily intake of sugar. They are not the only exception to this rule, the WHO has recommended that men have no more 70g or sugar a day for women no more than 50g.


Cutting back on refined food is recommended as sugar is used as a preservative as it’s a cheap commodity. The worst sugar containing foods are ones that are processed rapidly in the body like Lucozade, coke, red bull, glucose tablets etc. Ingesting these types of products over a long period of time can wreak havoc.



Fat is always seen as the enemy in nutrition and the root of all dietary issues. In recent years, scientists are coming to the conclusion that fats are not as bad for us as we initially suspected and is no worse than carbohydrates. There are good dietary fats and bad dietary fats. The fats found in processed foods such as crisps, cakes, biscuits, tarts, buns are worst.

Unlike sugar, fat has little or no immediate effect on blood glucose level and for this reason fat offers no energy to the body. An individual eating no carbohydrates would eventually start breaking down muscle for energy production; this process is called catabolism and is very dangerous over a long period of time as muscle has many obvious functions and also protects the body; most importantly, the heart is a muscle. If excess fat is ingested it can lead to a higher calorie intake and eventually this can result in insulin resistance where muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin and thus cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream. As a result, the body needs higher levels of insulin to help glucose enter cells which then causes type two diabetes.

Part 2 

Low fat

Low fat products are very popular amongst consumers and claim to have fewer calories; however the gimmick of “low fat” is that fewer calories do not mean low in sugar or salt which is why reading labels is vital, low fat does not mean healthier. It is food companies trying to make us think their foods are healthy. Studies indicate that 10% of low fat foods contain as much if not more calories; this is because sugar  and other additives which are included to improve taste (due to lost fat) are highly calorific. Having a low fat nutritional label can encourage people to over eat as they give themselves a false self of achievement. 

Which is worse sugar or fat?

To conclude, both sugar and fat have their pros and cons in the body and are both needed in the correct quantities. The issue with sugar and fat occurs when they are combined in for example cheese cake or ice-cream. Our bodies (believe it or not) are not addicted to either sugar or fat; it’s the foods containing both that we crave so much like chocolate, doughnuts, buns, muffins, ice-cream etc. Studies have shown that we can consume huge quantities of these delicious treats as they trigger our reward system, our brain releases feel-good chemicals, such as the neurotransmitter dopamine and we interpret it as pleasure. The consumption of sugary, fatty foods rewards our bodies by feeling good; however it’s not good for our waste line.


Balance is the key

As always, I am going to revert to saying there is no replacement to a balanced diet. Between sugar and fat, neither one is worse for you; the biggest issue arises from the combination of both. Eating sugar in the form of fruit and fat in the form of good fats (eg. fish oils) can keep the balance just right. Try and keep treat food to a minimum and don’t avoid any food group unless you get help from a professional.


Whelehans Nutrition Service

Whelehans nutritional service is a private one to one advice service with our nutritionist Aisling Murray. Aisling’s areas of interest include weight loss management, nutrition education and food intolerance. Our nutrition service offers you the chance to change your life in a positive way by focusing on your overall wellbeing as well as the chance to follow up on your progress.


Aisling Murray has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and offers a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for an appointment. Aisling’s Nutriton Clinic costs only €10 per week.

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