I do love coffee, and the question patient’s ask me is, “Dr. Simpson, will the sugar in my coffee make me fat?” The short answer is no.
What makes you fat? Is it sugar? Not really. Is it fat with sugar, not just sugar alone and not just fat alone. But what about all those thin people who put butter in their coffee? Well first, it is a waste of good tasting coffee and second, they have half of the argument right.
Anyone who has done Atkins has eliminated free sugar from their diet, eaten tons of fatty meats, butter, and eggs and lost weight. They are taught, that eating those sugars, simple carbohydrates, and starches will raise your body’s insulin level (this is true) and that sugar will turn into fat (this isn’t true). I was on Atkins for a while, and when I took a trip to Italy and saw how thin they were I wondered, “How can they eat all that pasta and stay thin?” Once the Italians move to the states, they get fat.
Does your body take the carbohydrates you eat and turn them into fat? No. So why if you eliminate those simple carbohydrates you lose weight? When you eat sugar, or highly processed carbohydrates – your blood sugar rises and your pancreas produces insulin. Its job is to quickly save that excess sugar. It grabs those molecules of sugar and stores them as – glycogen (not fat). But what does insulin do to fat?
Insulin stops your body’s fat from burning. Then any dietary fat that you consume is quickly stored as your body fat. Eat sugar and fat together – and you increase your insulin production that will stop any fat from burning and it will grab the fat that is in your diet and start storing it (for some of us it is in the belly, for others it is the butt).
So consider this:
China is having an obesity epidemic not because they are eating white rice, but because they are adding more meat to the rice bowl. What is in meat – a lot of saturated fat.
Italians who move to the states find their pasta bowl is filled with meatballs – where most pasta in Italy is rich with vegetables and little meat.
When people from Asia move to the US and retain their diet, the second generation becomes a bit heavier – retaining the American version of rice, that has a lot of meat with it.
Any science to this:
Funny you should ask. When people were deliberately overfed thousands of calories of carbohydrates only when their glycogen stores were filled did they begin to add some fat. (for like click here). What happens when you eat no fat and lots of carbohydrates? You tend to burn the dietary carbohydrates, and you will stop burning fat. But fat synthesis from carbohydrates is exceedingly small.
Walter Kempner was the founder of the Duke obesity program where he put his patients on a diet of rice and fruit, and sugar was fine. No meat, no fat. Some of these patients would eat thousands of calories and lose weight (his article about treating obesity is here).
Then there is the fat side.
Those who would put butter in their coffee. Those who avoid sugar at all costs, and eat lots and lots of fats. They also lose weight. Why? Because they don’t make a lot of insulin, and they use fat as a source of calories.
Take Spain. Ham is a part of their diet.
If you go to Spain you will find shops on every corner selling ham. You will find more shops selling hams than you will find selling coffee!
Those on the paleo diet, for four months, have been found to have lower levels of LDL, triglycerides, and increased HDL (link to study here).
So in the long-standing debates who is right? Vegans or Paleo? They both eliminate the highly processed foods – so no Doritos for you. The answer is both. But what is the most studied diet for health and longevity? It is still the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean isn’t low fat, but it is sustainable. It also has the largest studies done. To find out more, and how to improve your score check out our post The Mediterranean Diet Score: Part One. It is sustainable and easy.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.