Sugar Free v. Fat Free
Currently writing this post as I'm on my way back from Denver to Tulsa. After spending my summer in Colorado interning with Red Rocks Church, I'm heading back to finish my senior year of college (amen, hallelujah, all is well). With a 9 hour drive with my family, I've got a little bit of time to write! I've been pretty MIA for the past several weeks because I spent every waking moment studying for my NASM CPT exam. The average pass rate is only SIXTY FOUR PERCENT, and it's a VERY expensive test. I knew I had been studying for four months, and I have been into fitness for years before that, but I was still so nervous that I was going to fail! There was tons of information to memorize and I didn't want to risk wasting all of this time and money if I didn't pass, so I took a step back from the blog and media posts to focus my efforts on getting my personal trainer certification. Well... I passed! I was so happy and excited and proud of myself for working so hard in the midst of being a student, intern, having a job, training people, having a blog, and everything else I've been juggling for the last few months. I was waiting until I got my CPT to take on official clients. With that being said, I would love to work with you on getting you fitness plans and customized nutrition goals. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, go to the training tab, or message me on social media @kenziemfitness to get started! I work with several clients and have helped them all get closer to a better, healthier mind and body, and I would love to do the same for you!
I had a really great friend tell me that, as she was shopping for coffee creamers, she was debating between buying sugar-free or fat-free and wasn't sure which one was "better" or "healthier", and mentioned that a post on the differences between fat-free and sugar-free foods would be a great idea and huge help to some people! (So, shout out to my girl for the topic of this post. I'm giving Jerrica the credit on this one). I'm sure we've all been in the grocery aisle shopping for a certain food that has a million different varieties that included fat-free or sugar-free. Ever wondered if one was truly better than the other? Ever wondered which one was healthier? I know I have. I wanna talk through each of their pros and cons so you can have a better understanding of which, if any, is better for you!
Let's talk about sugar-free foods. First of all, I want to clarify that sugar-free does not mean unsweetened. In fact, if something is labeled sugar-free, it almost always means that some other non-sugar substance (otherwise known as an artificial sweetener) is being used in its place. Common sugar substitutes found in food labels include: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, stevia, saccharin, sucralose, and sugar alcohols. The common names for these are things like splenda, sweet n' low, xylitol, truvia, equal, sweet one, and etc. When a food is sugar free, it will have one or more of these in the place of sugar. The benefits in eating sugar-free are that, first and foremost, there is no sugar. We hear about the side effects of sugar like headaches, cravings, withdrawal symptoms when you eat too much and then take it away, and more. Eliminating sugar can sometimes eliminate some of these. Second, sugar -free often means that there are less carbs. Sugar is a carbohydrate, so when you eliminate it from your foods, you may also eliminate some carb counts as well. Foods that use artificial sweeteners also have their downsides. Because the sweeteners are artificial, these foods are often times more foreign to our bodies. They have been created artificially to take the place of natural sugars, which means our bodies have a hard time processing these sweeteners because they were never meant to occur naturally for our bodies to consume and use. For example, when I eat foods with xylitol (sugar alcohol), I instantly get extremely bloated because my body doesn't know what to do with it. There are a lot of protein bars and "nice creams" that use sugar alcohols in place of sugar. Another drawback is that they have the same effects on your insulin levels as regular sugar. This means that they still cause insulin spikes and drops after consumption. There are also many other studies that indicate that eating artificial sweeteners or diet sodas statistically causes more weight gain over time than if you just consumed regular sugar. This is a GREAT article by CNN on the effects of artificial sweeteners if you want to educate yourself further.
Now what about the foods labeled as fat-free? Are these actually any better for us? The nice thing about fat-free foods is that, well, there's no fat (surprise surprise!). However, studies have shown that when people choose a fat-free food over the regular version, they often eat MORE than they would if they were eating the full-fat food and may even gain more weight. This is because they believe themselves to be eating something of lower fat and lower calorie, so they eat more. Thus, they consume more calories leading to weight gain. Also, low-fat foods can often be higher in carbs and sugar, so you may be trading off fat for carbs and sugar when you elect a fat-free or reduced-fat snack. However, most fat-free or reduced-fat foods don't have the additives that are found in sugar-free foods. Though they are more processed than their higher-fat counterparts due to the process that takes place to remove the fat from the food, different artificial substances are not added in the place of the removed fat. Fat-free may be healthier in the sense that it is not artificial like an artificial sweetener, but it still has its risks. Eating too low of a fat diet can cause serious health issues. If you're not getting enough, you run the risk of hindered vitamin and mineral transport, low energy, low insulation of vital organs, minimal feelings satiety after meals, and more. If you want to read more about fats, I talk about the importance of them in this article on macronutrients.
After reading this, you may be saying, "Okay, Kenz that's great, but which one is BETTER?" Well, I'm going to first ask you what your goals are, and then we can go from there. If you are watching your carb intake and eating a low-carb diet, sugar-free foods are low-carb because of the absence of sugar. If you're on a low-fat diet, fat free foods are more applicable. The healthier one? I'm not sure that I can say that one is healthier than the other. However, sugar-free foods have more additives, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners that our bodies are not necessarily used to. Personally, I try to stay away from most artificial sweeteners except for stevia (since it's a natural sweetener from the stevia plant), but this is because my body has negative reactions to other sweeteners. Fat-free foods do not have these artificial additives. In today's day and age, "healthy" is often subjective. I'm not here to tell you which one is better for you, but to explain the differences between them so you can make better judgments about your own eating habits. Check your goals and plan accordingly! If you're not trying to watch your diet, stick to normal foods. They'll most likely be less processed and have less additives. If you are tracking what you eat, use this information to make more educated decisions. Find what works best for you!