Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we bring you The Thriller in Vanilla, the long-awaited fight to crown the World Obesity Federation’s heavyweight champion. It’s the battle to decide, once and for all, which contender is most responsible for making us fat. In one corner, we have our long-reigning champion, The Heartbreak Hammer, Fat! In the other corner, we have the up-and-coming challenger everyone’s been talking about, The Soda Pop Kid, Sugar!
As the undisputed nutrient kings of our fast food world, this is the bout that everyone’s been waiting for. Fat has been the people’s champion for a long time. Sugar, on the other hand, has only been around as long as humans have been altering foods from natural sources. Lately, a lot of money and science have changed our challenger’s traditional fighting style, leading to a string of TKOs (technical knockouts) en route to its shot at the title. Going into tonight’s fight, however, the experts still favor The Champion by 2-to-1 odds.
The tale of the tape
Sugar—Weighing in at 4 calories per gram, the challenger is slight in stature compared to our champion and will look to speed to gain an advantage. Sugar is a carbohydrate, but the form we consume it in is much different than how we find it in nature, where’s it’s surrounded by a fruit, grain, or other plants. The Soda Pop Kid is synthetic crystalline sugar—the kind that goes into soda, candy, and many convenience foods. Its main weapon is the speed with which it rushes into your system.
Fat—At 9 calories per gram, Fat outweighs its challenger by more than double. Unlike Sugar, Fat is its own food group and an essential part of our diets, just like carbohydrates and protein. It’s easily found in nature in many forms and doesn’t need to be processed. This, of course, doesn’t mean we don’t process it when it’s convenient or cost-effective. As opposed to Sugar, Fat moves into your system slowly. Then it remains there for as long as it can. In abundance, it clogs things up. Its main weapon being bulk, its goal is to wear you down.
As you can see, we’ve got a classic tortoise-vs.-hare matchup between these two heavyweights.
A brief history
Sugar—Since all carbohydrates are broken down into sugars in our blood, it’s always been a part of our diets. However, when eaten as a complex carbohydrate or encased in fiber (as in fruit), it affects our bodies differently than it does as processed sugar. Bees were the first sugar producers, and humans have been eating honey for about as long as bees have been making it. However, it didn’t become a major part of our diets until thousands of years later. Westerners began the production of sugar around 1500 BC. Originally made from sugarcane and sugar beets, it’s now manufactured from other crops, like corn and wheat, which makes up the bulk of the sugar consumed in the U.S.
Modern technology has enabled us to tamper further with natural sugar. Traditional sugar, like honey, had a much lower glycemic index (GI) than many modern variations. Since the higher the GI number, the quicker the sugar rushes into your system, we are now essentially able to have sugars affect the body like a drug, creating exaggerated hormonal responses, particularly the hormone insulin. You may have heard of insulin because, when we have trouble producing it, we have a disease called diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the result of eating poorly. It’s also the fastest-growing disease in the world, which, in Sugar’s camp, means they think it’s time for a shot at the title.
Fat—Like we stated earlier, fat is dense—it has a lot of calories for its size. It’s also an essential nutrient and helps us feel satiated or full. Therefore, when we’re hungry, we tend to crave it. And since we don’t really need much of it, it’s very easy to overeat. When we eat more food than we can put to good use, our bodies store it in adipose tissue. We call this tissue fat, or fat tissue. But it’s not really fat, as in the kind we eat. It’s something else. Well, it’s adipose tissue, but we’ve always called it fat. Anyway, the point is that we call it fat whether we get it from eating too much fat, too much protein, too much sugar, or too many carbs, or by drinking too much alcohol. And because of this, Fat gets a worse rap than it deserves.
But make no mistake, fat is formidable. We like fat. We like it a lot. Many fat-laden foods are considered delicacies. And we like fat so much that we’ve found ways to consume just the bad parts of fat that serve little to no dietary purpose. Stuff like butter, margarine, lard, and trans fats are completely unnecessary for our survival. Yet, somehow, our culture has taught us to crave such things. And these cravings have led to heart disease becoming the planet’s most popular way to kill people. Fat has been the undisputed champion of the obesity world for a long, long time. It’s not going to relinquish this title easily.
So let’s get ready to rumble!
Round 1: Smaller but faster, Sugar comes out in a rush and pummels Fat mercilessly. Because of The Kid’s smaller stature, Sugar’s punches seem to have little effect on The Champ. But Fat hardly lands a punch himself and is looking old and slow. Could The Hammer’s reign be over?
Round 2: The Sugar rush comes to a quick crash. The Champ, in no rush himself, seizes control of the pace and takes the round.
Round 3: All of our sponsors are major lobbyists on the side of Sugar. The Kid replenishes with some Gatorade and responds in another flurry of activity. The Champ is back on his heels, waiting for The Kid’s next inevitable crash.
Round 4: The Kid jabs, moves, and controls the pace, but The Champ seems unfazed. Fat knows that Sugar is only an effective nutrient during and immediately after activity, when blood sugar is being used up. So Sugar must keep moving, otherwise it has no nutrient value. The Hammer, being experienced, is willing to bide his time and wait for an opening.
Round 5: Sugar bobs and weaves, employing a psychological game that confounds The Champ. Complex carbohydrates and the simple carbs in fruit break down slowly and provide sustained energy during performance. This gives Sugar an advantage of public misconception because the junk food sugar can be lumped together with healthy carbohydrates. This underhanded attack is clearly something Fat hadn’t counted on. It seems to anger The Hammer.
Round 6: The Champ counters, big time. Two can play the public misconception card, and Fat uses its adipose tissue to absorb all of The Kid’s body blows. The statement that size matters seems to be holding true. In spite of nearly unending corporate support, Sugar seems to be tiring and its punches are growing less and less effective.
Round 7: Fat is now clearly in control of the bout and uses a cholesterol combo to further weaken The Kid. The Hammer’s corner men, Meat and Dairy, are loaded with it, and too much cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease. Could this spell the end for the gallant challenger?
Round 8: A savvy move saves The Kid, who notes that cholesterol is a necessary part of a healthy diet, and that with a proper ratio of fiber and complex carbs, it will have little negative effect. It’s a beautiful defensive move, but how long can it work? The Hammer just seems to be warming up his arsenal.
Round 9: Offended by The Kid’s trickery, Fat comes out smokin’ and unloads an entire 7-Eleven of chips, whipped cream, hot dogs, margarine, and even “vegetable” oils at The Kid. Since they all lead to heart disease, now the leading cause of death in the world, Sugar’s only defense is the rope-a-dope. He’s clearly in serious trouble.
Round 10: Down goes Sugar! The Champ plants a trans fat to the head and levels the challenger. This could be it, folks. The Kid staggers to his feet, but the referee has stepped in. He seems to be holding up a can of Crisco to see if Sugar can identify what hit him. If not, he’s going to stop it. Oh, but wait a minute! The Kid seems to be okay, and even looks to be smiling. The ref flashes a thumbs-up and the fight continues. Sugar dances away from a series of haymakers. The Hammer obviously wants to end the contest right now. But he can’t connect. The Kid survives! In his corner, he’s given a Coke.
Round 11: His face is bloodied, but The Kid is back at work. The Champ’s attack has been slowed with the news that the Food and Drug Administration has required that trans fat be listed on the side of every food label, while sugar, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and glucose syrups can be used with virtually no regulation. This tactic has clearly befuddled The Hammer, whose punches are beginning to miss more often than they connect.
Round 12: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a new fight! Left for dead just a few rounds ago, Sugar is now controlling the pace. Still a long way behind on points, the challenger is using an intriguing combination that’s hurting The Champion. But The Champ fights back. The Champ first points out that many fats—the type in nuts, olives, seeds, avocados, fish, and many other foods—are essential for optimal health and then notes that nothing in sugar is needed for human survival; he then combines that with the fact that a “no fat” label can be on a food containing 100 percent sugar. Then he uses the fact that sugar alters the body’s pH levels, a clear example that an all-sugar food is far worse than a no-fat food. That’s gotta hurt.
Round 13: The credit probably goes to The Hammer’s corner men, all major corporate CEOs, but Sugar has got to be one of the craftiest fighters in history. He comes after Fat with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and fibromyalgia, an offensive that clearly caught The Champ off guard. Apparently, they’re illnesses attributed in part to excessive sugar in one’s diet leading to insulin-resistance problems. The Hammer may have amassed enough points to win a decision but is now clearly on the defensive and reeling. Who knows what The Kid’s got up his sleeve at this point?
Round 14: With only one round to go, Sugar swings wildly with a combination of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and soda pop. This is one of the most lethal offensive combinations in the history of obesity! HFCS is the cheapest and lowest-quality sugar produced, and is now added to many items that aren’t even sweet—things like salad dressings and peanut butters, items once clearly in Fat’s corner. And soda, a substance with no nutritional value whatsoever, has become the singularly most consumed item on the planet. I don’t see how The Champ can survive this. He’s staggering around the ring, basically out on his feet! Somehow, and it must be experience, The Hammer avoids going down.
Round 15: It all comes down to this: one round to crown the World Champion of Obesity. Fat, the longtime champ, is clearly in trouble but still has enough points to win thanks to his mid-fight dominance. But Sugar has owned the latter rounds thanks to heavy lobbying, effective marketing, deregulation, and public misconception. The Champ was barely on his feet at the end of round 14, and his corner is working furiously to limit the damage. The question is, does Sugar’s corner have one last trick up its sleeve?
And here we go . . .: The Champ still manages to show some swagger, and comes out flashing heart disease as the number one killer, recently eclipsing lung disease and cigarettes—no slouch in the death department. But Sugar barely flinches and counters with type 2 diabetes, the fastest-growing illness in the world, that’s almost single-handedly controlled by Sugar. It’s like Ali’s “anchor punch” against Liston. And it sends The Champ sprawling. Down goes Fat! Down goes Fat!
And I don’t think the Champ will be rising from this one. Nope. Fat is out cold. The Hammer’s reign is over. There’s a new kid in town. Sugar is elated, dancing around the ring and pointing at the crowd, screaming, “I want YOU! I want YOU!” Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the NEW heavyweight champion of the obesity world: SUGAR!