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Is sugar ruining your health? Is a high sugar diet worse for you than eating lot of saturated fat? Have we been blaming fat for problems caused by sugar? Find out in this podcast.
I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.
I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.
This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.
That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.
Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.
So, here’s what I’m doing:
Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .
- “High sugar intake is worse on your health than going over that magic threshold of 10% saturated fats. People seem to blame fat for what the sugar does.”
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
3:11 – What is the effect of sugar intake on health?
13:36 – My free quiz to answer all your diet questions: www.muscleforlife.show/dietquiz
14:25 – How does high sugar intake affect cardiovascular health?
21:02 – What is your sugar intake recommendation?
Mentioned on the Show:
Take this free quiz to get science-based answers to all of your diet questions: www.muscleforlife.show/dietquiz
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hey there, and welcome to a new episode of Muscle for Life. I am your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of my Saysyou series of episodes where I address things that people disagree with me on. So what I do is every couple of months or so I post on Instagram asking people to share.
In the comments, things that they disagree with me on, and then I pick ones that are interesting or topical or that I haven’t already addressed many, many times before, and I take them over here to the podcast and talk about them. And so today’s contention is regarding sugar intake. So Mark Shannon, 3 57, that’s his Instagram.
He said that high sugar intake is worse on your health than going over that magic threshold of 10% saturated fats. People seem to blame fat for what the sugar does, and the reason why that disagrees with me, or at least what I have said for a number of years now is my position has been that sugar of any kind, including sucrose.
Corn syrup and other highly processed forms of sugar or forms of sugar that are found in highly processed foods are not nearly as problematic as many people would have you believe, and that you have to consider the context of the entire diet, and you have to consider energy, balance, and activity level, and even genetics to some.
And that saturated fat, if eaten in two large amounts too often, can increase LDL levels of cholesterol, which can then increase your risk of heart disease. So Mark Shannon, 3 57 clearly disagrees with me on those things, and I appreciate him sharing that so I could record an episode of my podcast on it.
And so that’s what I will be talking. In today’s episode, I’m gonna be focusing on sugar intake because one of the last, if not the last says you, episode I did was on saturated fat. In particular, if I remember correctly, I was talking about saturated fat that occurs naturally, uh, in foods versus saturated fat that is added to foods that doesn’t occur naturally in it.
But the discussion was generally about sat. Fat and why My position still is that we should limit our saturated fat. We shouldn’t eat unlimited saturated fat, and I do still think that no more than 10% of daily calories, total daily calories is a reasonable recommendation. I think that that is a good guideline based on the current weight of the evidence on saturated fat and how eating too much of it can increase your risk of heart.
Okay, so in case you skipped the intro, I’m gonna be focusing today’s episode on sugar intake rather than saturated fat, because I already did a says you episode on saturated fat. If you wanna listen to that, go back and find it. It was published in the first week of January of this year. Okay, so let’s talk about sugar intake and health, because sugar is one of the biggest boogeymen dejo in the nutrition space.
You can find many experts who have written many books and written many studies and given many lectures on the many evils of sugar in all of its forms. Naturally occurring sugar, like what you find in fruit as well as added sugar, like what you find in cookies. And if we look at the scientific research on the matter, you can find quite a few observational studies as well as randomized controlled trials that show that eating a lot of sugar is bad for you.
Obesity is a. Part of this discussion, and a lot of research shows that eating a lot of sugar is associated with an increased risk of obesity. But is that a correlation or a direct causation meaning are there other factors in play that are driving the obesity aside from sugar, or is it really the sugar itself that is directly causing excessive fat?
Well, what research shows is that the risk of obesity remains the same when you substitute high sugar foods for low sugar foods, for other sources of carbs, so long as they contain the same number of calories. So in other words, what that body of evidence is showing is that there doesn’t appear to be anything inherently fattening.
Sugar. When people consistently consume more calories than they burn, regardless of where those calories come from, they gain weight, they get fatter. When they overeat sugar, they get fatter. When they overeat fruits and vegetables and whole grains. They get fatter. In fact, I was looking at a paper just a couple of days ago that showed that over a five year period, women who were consistently overeating by just about 10 calories per day, they were consistently eating about.
10 more calories than they burned every day. Over a five year period, they gained about a pound of fat, and that’s a very small amount of fat gain. Of course, you could lose that in a few days if you want to diet aggressively. Lose it in a week if you don’t want diet too aggressively. So it’s nothing to be concerned about, but it just goes to show.
The unforgiving nature of energy balance. If we consistently overeat even by a small amount, we are consistently getting fatter, even if we don’t see it, because of course, you are not going to notice a mere pound of fat gain over a five year period. Now, coming back to high sugar foods, they are uniquely suited to promoting obesity because.
They’re delicious. Many of them are very palatable. They’re not very filling. They’re very easy to overeat, which of course then contributes more, practically speaking, contributes more to weight gain than other foods, other carbs that are not nearly as delicious and not nearly as easy to overeat like fruits and vegetables.
And so that is why often people who eat a. Sugar also are overweight because they are not meticulously managing their energy balance. They are eating as much as they want whenever they want, within some boundaries of what they find reasonable, and because they’re eating a lot of these delicious foods.
That are not very filling. They tend to overeat more often than undereat, or the periods of overeating are more egregious than the periods of undereating. For example, research shows that many people tend to gain most of their weight over the weekends and over the holidays. And so what many people do is they actually undereat slightly throughout the week, so they are.
More consistently in a calorie deficit throughout the week and then overeat on the weekends. But the amount of overeating on the weekends is much more just in a caloric sense than the amount of undereating during the week. So they’re losing a little bit of fat. They’re getting a little bit leaner throughout the week, not enough to make a difference in the mirror.
Of course, maybe not even noticeable on the scale because weight just fluctuates day to day for various reasons. But they’re losing a little bit of fat throughout the week, and then they gain fat on the weekend. And what they gain on the weekends is greater than what they lose throughout the weeks. And so over time, they are getting fatter and fatter.
And then you have the spikes of fat gain that occur during the holidays that just aggravate the problem. Further. So what’s the practical takeaway here? Well, as far as your body composition goes, you don’t have to worry about your sugar intake. You could eat a very high sugar diet and have a great body composition.
You might not feel great, and you might not have great health. I’m gonna talk about those things. But as far as your body composition goes, you can look great on a poor. That contains a lot of sugar. If you understand energy balance and understanding a bit about macronutrient balance would help as well, at least making sure that you eat enough protein and you are probably going to have to be okay being hungry, uh, fairly often, or just be very resistant to hunger or have a naturally small appetite.
You know, some people, they just don’t get hungry very often. They don’t get hungry easily because with a high sugar, You are generally eating a smaller amount of food in absolute terms, like in volume, and volume of food is one of the primary drivers of satiety, of fullness. How much food you are putting in your stomach, like the cubic volume of that food is a big fact.
In how full you feel after eating a meal. So when you are eating these high sugar, calorically dense, smaller meals, those are not going to fill you up as much as larger meals, even if they contain fewer calories. That’s one of the reasons why eating a lot of relatively unprocessed foods is great when you are cutting, in particular, eating a lot of fruits, a lot of vegetables, a lot of whole grains.
That food fills you up a lot more than the types of foods that you might want to eat when you are lean bulking, especially when you are a couple of months into a lean bulk and you are sick of having to eat as much food as you’re having to eat. And if you were to try to eat, let’s say, 4,000 calories per day of the same foods that you eat when you are cutting you.
Throw up actually and then give up. And so that’s why many people who are good at this fitness thing will eat a bit less fruit and a bit less vegetables when they are lean bulking. I wouldn’t recommend going down to nothing because those are nutritious foods that support your health and wellbeing. But you might not be eating the three servings of fruit per day and six servings of vegetables.
You might go down to one serving of fruit per day or two, and you might go down to three or four servings of vegetables and start incorporating some food that contains a lot of calories and is easier to eat, like pasta or bread or certain types of grains that people can eat a lot. For example, I can eat a lot of oatmeal in one sitting for some reason, I think a lot more than the average person I can eat.
Let’s just think of overnight oats, right? Where you just have some oats, you put some milk, and you, what I do is I put some vanilla extract, I put some salt, I put some protein powder, some nuts, and I in one sitting can pretty easily. Two cups dry. Now, of course it’s not dry when I’m eating it because I prepare it the way I just explained.
But two cups dry, that’s 300 calories or so, you know, 55, 60 grams of carbs. And then you add in the calories of the milk, a couple of cups of whole milk. That’s another 300 ish, you know, 280 whatever it is, calories. You add in the nuts and you add in the protein powder. , that’s a pretty big meal. We’re pushing a thousand calories now, and I’m not even that full after eating all of that.
I’m just satisfied. I probably could eat another round of that before I would really feel full. And by the way, in case you’re wondering if I am doing that right now, I am not because I’m not lean bulking, but I do eat half of that every day. I eat. At night, usually around eight 30 or nine. I like to have a snack before I go to bed.
I go to bed between 9 45 and 10 15 usually. And so what I’m eating is one cup of oatmeal, dry and then mixed with a cup of whole milk. And again, some vanilla extract, some salt. Some protein powder. I use my own, of course. I use my whey protein and my favorite flavor go, at least currently for this is salted caramel.
And if you wanna check out my whey protein, just go to buy legion.com, B Y L E G I n.com/whey. We have a lot of flavors, but again, my current favorite is, Caramel. So that’s what I’m eating. And there’s some nuts too. I’m putting walnuts and it’s basically a generous handful of walnuts that goes into this container with two cups of oatmeal, two cups of milk.
And so I’m eating half of it one night and then the other half the following night. And in case you’re wondering if that disrupts. Because some people have asked me if eating before bed or close to bedtime can mess up sleep. Yes, it can. Research shows that large meals before we go to bed, at least in the hour or two before we go to bed, can reduce the quality of our sleep, but a smaller meal does not have that effect.
And other research actually shows that eating some carbs, eating a portion of carbs, call it anywhere from 30 to 50 grams of carbs in the hour or two preceding bedtime, can improve sleep quality. How many calories should you eat to reach your fitness goals faster? What about your macros? What types of food should you eat and how many meals should you eat?
Well, I created a free 62nd diet quiz that’ll answer those questions for you and others, including how much alcohol you should drink, whether you should eat more fatty fish to get enough omega-3 fatty acids. What supplements are worth taking and why and more. To take the quiz and get your free personalized diet plan, go to Muscle For life.show/diet.
Quiz muscle f o r. Show slash diet quiz now answer the questions and learn what you need to do in the kitchen to lose fat, build muscle, and get healthy. Okay, so coming back to sugar intake, let’s talk a little bit about health. Let’s talk about heart health because there is animal research that links sugar intake with poor heart health, but we can’t simply extrapolate rat studies to humans, even though we do share a lot of D n A.
And animal research does have its place in the hierarchy of evidence, I guess you could say. And so you gotta look at human research. And if we look at the human research on the link between sugar intake and heart health, there are some studies that show. The consuming foods that are high in the glycemic index, which sugar is of course is associated with poor heart health.
But the best indication of how sugar intake can affect our cardiovascular health, I think comes from a 2017 systematic review in meta-analysis that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And what researchers found is that replacing the calories that people usually consume with sugar, with calories from other complex carbs, which tend to be more nutritious fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and so forth, that that does not appear to lower cardiovascular disease risk or blood lipid levels associated with cardiovascular.
Disease. And so what they found is that sugar doesn’t appear to hinder heart health so long as the calories you consume from the sugar are accounted for. So again, we’re coming back to body composition because being overweight, that increases your risk of heart disease. The evidence is clear, and if you are eating a lot of high sugar foods and that is contributing to weight gain or that is contributing to the maintenance of.
An unhealthy body composition, too much body fat. Then in an indirect way, in an individual eating sugar is contributing to heart disease, but not A to B. It’s going through this mechanism of body composition. Now, if we took that same person and we brought them into a healthy body composition, which to keep it simple in men, let’s say that is a body fat level.
Under 20%, uh, let’s just say between 10 and 20%. Cause if you get too low, if guys are too shredded, that’s unhealthy. So let’s say in men, a body fat level of 10 to 20% is a healthy range. And in women, 20 to 30% is a healthy range. Now that isn’t to say that 8% body fat in men is unhealthy, or that 18% in women is unhealthy.
But 10 to 20 in men and 20 to 30 in women are simple evidence-based rules of thumb for healthy body composition. So if we took somebody who’s overweight, who eats, let’s say 20 or 30% of their daily calories from sugar, that’s quite a bit. If you just do the math and we help them lose fat to be in that healthy body composition range, and especially if we get them to consistently exercise, eating 20 to 30% of the daily calories from sugar.
Won’t necessarily be a problem. It may. Again, we have to now look more closely at the rest of their diet and how their body responds to that, but that elevated risk of cardiovascular disease has now come down or maybe disappeared altogether. Now, if we look at the link between sugar intake and type two diabetes, it’s more of the same.
Yes. Several studies have shown that sugar consumption, Is associated with an increased risk of type two diabetes. But that’s not to say that high sugar foods directly cause type two diabetes. If you are a healthy individual, you have a healthy body composition, you exercise regularly, you eat plenty of nutritious foods, and you eat a fair amount of.
High sugar foods, you are not necessarily increasing your risk of type two diabetes because again, we have to go back to the diet as a whole and how that affects body composition because what definitely does increase the risk of type two diabetes is getting too fat and eating too many high sugar foods, and definitely drinking too many high sugar beverages.
Is a very effective way for anyone to get fat, especially if they are not meticulously counting calories, which almost nobody does when they are also eating a lot of sugar and drinking a lot of sugar. And so then if we circle back to the beginning of this episode and what prompted this episode, the claim that high sugar intake is worse for?
Then high saturated fat, or specifically more than 10% of daily calories, and that a lot of people are blaming saturated fat for what sugar is doing. I would say that practically speaking, both of those options contribute to health problems. Maybe not perfectly equally, but both are a problem. Eating too much sugar is a problem because unless you are an.
Unless you are training intensely 10, 15 plus hours a week, you are simply not going to be burning enough energy to be able to eat a lot of sugar and eat a lot of nutritious foods. It’s gonna be one or the other. So in 99% of people I’ve come across over the years who are eating a lot of sugar, they are not.
Eating a healthy diet. They are not eating enough nutritious foods. They are often overeating. They are overweight and they are getting fatter as time goes on. That’s what happens practically when most people eat a high sugar diet, and similarly with. Saturated fat research shows that some people, partially due to just genetic factors, can eat a lot of saturated fat and see no change in their LDL cholesterol levels, and thus no change, no likely change in their risk of cardiovascular disease.
But in most people, that is not the case. And most people eating a lot of saturated fat is going to significantly increase LDL cholesterol levels. LDL levels get too high, the risk of cardiovascular disease goes up. Also, practically speaking, most people I’ve come across over the years who eat a lot of saturated fat are not super fit.
Carnivore dieters, they are kind of standard American diet dieters. They are eating a lot of fast food hamburgers and bacon maybe on the hamburgers and sausage and so on, and they’re also often overweight and. Very physically active. They don’t exercise regularly. And so to leave you with a very practical takeaway, recommendation for sugar intake, so long as you get most of your daily calories from relatively unprocessed, nutritious foods, those are gonna be foods that do not have sugar added to them ever.
Basically, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, lean protein, and so forth. So long as you. To just put an arbitrary number that works. Let’s just say 80% or so of your daily calories comes from that stuff. If you want to give over 20% of your daily calories or up to 20% of daily calories to high sugar foods, relatively non-nutritious foods, that is a healthy diet, scientifically speaking, that would qualify as a healthy diet, certainly healthy enough.
To not just survive, but to thrive. Especially if you do a few other things, right? Like you exercise regularly and you spend a lot of that time training your muscles, you regularly do strength training. It’s not just cardiovascular training and you get enough sleep and you drink enough water and you manage stress correctly.
And given the weight of the scientific evidence behind those recommendations and the real world workability of them. I really don’t see that paradigm being upended ever. I would be very surprised if we were to see a seismic shift in that paradigm. It’s going to change, of course, over time as scientists learn more and more about what.
May constitute the optimal human diet, which nobody knows by the way. Anybody who claims they know what the optimal human diet is, they are full of beans, my friend. But scientists are working on that and they may never know truly what is, cause. We’re talking now about perfection. What is the perfect, the absolute perfect human diet?
We may never know, but we can know what is closer to perfect. What is closer to 100% optimal maybe right now? What I just shared with you is only 75% optimal, and in 10 years we are going to be able to know what 80 or 85% optimal is. I expect that to happen. I expect the recommendations to change. But I’m gonna say at this point, based on my understanding of things, that it is impossible for the evidence of the optimal human diet to point in the direction of fewer plant foods or no plant foods.
Get rid of the fruit and vegetables and seeds and legumes and whole grains, or eat a lot less of that stuff and just eat more animal products. Eat more meat, eat more saturated fat. It’s not gonna. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.
And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you. And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share.
Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.