Fat Free vs. Sugar Free – Which One is Better?

san francisco bay

Yasssss. It’s finally starting to feel like spring!!

Actually, just wait. Next week the temperature will probably drop again…ahh well, at least it’s warm and sunny today.

Have you guys ever tried to cut back just a little to shed some winter padding? For me, it sometimes feels like this.

funny fat-free meme

source

Not gonna lie – it’s pretty terrible.

Even though many foods labeled “non-fat”, “non-sugar” or “low carb” can actually be healthier, how do you know which ones are worth the struggle? I say this because there are times when my willpower to eat healthy isn’t as strong as I’d like. Eating clean can sometimes feel like biting off more than I can chew.

Has this happened to anyone else?

If you want my honest opinion on WHY this happens, it’s because of two reasons.

  1. I started changing my habits too drastically, too quickly
  2. My motivation is missing a strong foundation

Sometimes when I start to cut, it end up substituting my usual foods with healthier ones too drastically and quickly. Instead of alternating foods or choosing 1-2 healthier options daily, I’ll jump in over my head and try to be 100% healthy 100% of the time (not realistic).

Additionally, my motivation to cut might be a little too “on the surface” or “shallow”. What I mean by this is that sometimes I’ll be motivated too much by looking a certain way instead of how I actually feel by eating healthy.

Are any of these motivators necessarily bad? You may ask. Not necessarily. However not having a sustainable and strong foundation for your motivation can set you up for only short-term success instead of long-term.

Read more of my thoughts on this is Why Being Fit Matters – It’s Not Just About the Looks

…Now for the Main Topic

So let’s jump into the main question of the day – is eating fat free or sugar free technically healthier?

First off, I don’t think that anyone should exclude ALL fats or ALL sugars from their diet. Even if they have been successful at gradually eating cleaner over a period of time, excluding certain foods altogether is not healthy in my opinion. If not so much for your physical health, but for your mental health instead.

Food was – and still is – meant for our sustenance and enjoyment. Finding a good balance has honestly been the best thing that’s kept me eating healthy for the past two years. It’s not necessarily something that you can sustain by jumping into overnight, however you can have HUGE success by taking small steps and building up.

…O.K. so let’s start off with eating predominantly fat-free foods. Check out the pros and cons.

Eating a Fat Free diet

greasy burger and fries

Pros
Cons
Improved weight management Eating strictly fat-free is impossible. You’d die or at the very least severely damage your internal organs.  
Minimal bloating Requires more will power to sustain
Less stomach aches Hormonal imbalances
Less constipation Vitamin deficiencies
Improved heart health Hair loss
Healthier cholesterol levels Skin and nail weakening

The first thing you may be thinking is…huh? How could eating predominantly fat-free foods hold so many pros and cons at the same time?

The reason is because our body needs fats to survive – but not just any fats though. According to self.com, the “healthy fats” that our bodies need are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This is because they help regulate your cholesterol, blood sugar and decrease your chance of getting diabetes.  

These types of fats are totally different than the trans and saturated fats you find in greasy burgers, fries, pizza or nachos. These fats are the kind that your body utilizes specifically for improving brain function and cell growth.

Just a few examples of these healthy fats are:
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Olives (including olive oil)
  • Salmon
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate

The fat content in these foods is what our body craves in order to function optimally. Also, as I mentioned earlier – finding balance is key. When you’re trying to eat healthier or cut back, don’t necessarily cut out taco night or half-price pizza Tuesday altogether. Instead, start incorporating more healthy fats and cutting back slightly on the others.

Even though this approach takes patience, I noticed a remarkable change in my ability to sustain this type of diet.

How Much “Healthy” Fat is Good?

avocado toast

The next question you might be wondering is how much fat should you actually be in-taking? This article did an excellent job of breaking down the daily recommended percentage.

This article stated that a healthy adult recommendation for dietary fat is 20-35% of your total daily calories. If you eat roughly 2,000 calories a day, your equation will look something like this.

2,000 calories multiplied by 0.20 (20%) = 400 calories
2,000 calories multiplied by 0.35 (35%) = 700 calories

So basically you should aim anywhere between 400-700 calories of fat per day. What does this look like in grams? Since there’s 9 calories in 1 gram of fat, your equation will look like this.

400 calories divided by 9 = approx 44 grams of fat
700 calories divided by 9 = approx 78 grams of fat

Voila! There you have it. Shooting for anywhere between 44-78 grams of healthy dietary fat per day is generally a good range. Of course each individual is different in what they need. Some people only require 40 grams of fat daily to stay healthy and satisfied. Others need much higher levels because of metabolism, gender, activity levels, etc.

The reason I include gender is because of the way men and women’s bodies differ. When it comes to the way we use energy, studies have shown that women rely more on fat to fuel their workouts when compared to carbohydrates. With men, it’s vise versa.

Is this bad? Of course not! It just shows that men and women function differently. Also, it shows the more you understand how your body works, the more you can optimize your body’s functional potential.

Check out Reasons Women Should Eat More Fat. Great article!

Eating a Sugar-free Diet

sugar cubes fat free diet

Alrighty! Now that We’ve discussed the pros and cons of eating a predominantly fat-free diet, let’s turn our focus to a predominantly sugar-free diet. Here’s my rundown of the pros and cons.

Pros
Cons
Improved weight management Figuring out which sugars to cut out can be tricky – you may cut out the good sugars accidentally!
Reduced cravings Your high-intensity workouts will suffer
More all-day energy Less personal satisfaction
Prevents insulin resistance Risk of depression
Improves mental health Leads to tooth decay and more cavities

Upon first glance, this list might seem to be slightly more sided toward the “pros” of going sugar-free. I want to caution you, though.

Truly going sugar-free is not easy, nor is it necessarily the healthiest thing for your body. In fact, I’ll be completely honest in that I’ve never fully cut sugar out of my diet.

Why?

Well for one thing, it takes a butt-load of willpower. Also, it takes a lot of joy out of eating in general. When you’re constantly scared of eating something for fear of how much sugar is in it, it makes you anxious. At least it did for me. 

Instead of completely cutting them out, I chose to limit my serving sizes. In all the pictures below, I’ve measured out a serving size of ice cream and chocolate for dessert. Gradually doing this more often has helped me still enjoy sugary desserts without going overboard.

Without even going into the details on why your body needs natural sugars (just like healthy fats), the evidence for keeping some in your diet is substantial. Research has shown that – just like fats – not all sugars are created equal.

The kind your body needs are natural sugars that come from fruits, honey and some dairy. By cutting these out, you are cutting out essential nutrients that protect your body from diseases and cancer.

A Sugar-free Diet’s Effect on Mental Health

woman with shirt covering face

Another thing many people don’t realize is that completely cutting out sugars can have negative effects on their mental health. Notice I said COMPLETELY cut out. I’m not talking about cutting out everything except all natural sugars from clean, unprocessed foods. This is actually good (but still difficult to do)!

Unfortunately, however, some people go to the extreme of thinking that all sugars are bad, when that’s definitely not the case!

I once knew a woman who thought this way. Initially, I admired her for maintaining such a seemingly healthy lifestyle. A few years later, however, I ran into her and was shocked. She looked much different than the woman I once knew. Her body fat percentage was dangerously low (borderline anorexic) and her hair and skin were dull and limp. She explained to me how often she thought about food and how she couldn’t eat so many things. To be honest, I felt sorry for her.

My point is that, despite what you normally eat or drink, FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE IS KEY. Learning to enjoy both the healthy and the unhealthy in a balanced diet is the secret to maintaining a fit lifestyle.

Active Lifestyles

surfer girl

Are you relatively active? This is another reason not to cut out sugars completely. Your body needs the energy from simple and complex carbs to fuel your workouts. Also for recovery.

I’m not saying that you should down an energy drink before every workout. I am, however, saying that including natural sugars into your pre and post-recovery meals are actually beneficial to muscle recovery and future performance.

Read Foods to Keep you Full Longer for more info on the benefits of chocolate milk.

Conclusion – Fat Free vs. Sugar Free

 

To wrap things up, I’d like to express my honest opinion when it comes to which diet is “better”. And what I mean by “better” is actually “less damaging overall”…

…it’s going sugar-free.

Even though your body can still function without sugar, your body would deteriorate much faster without any fats in your system.

Does this mean that I promote going totally fat-free or sugar-free though? Not at all. As you can probably tell from my reaction to being in the candy store, both of those options would be very difficult for me haha. 

What I do promote, instead, is a happy balanced life. Enjoy your favorite desserts or greasy burgers! Just not all the time.

What are your thoughts on going completely fat-free vs. sugar-free? I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and what you’ve found works for you!

 

Sincerely,

Sarah Gaddes Signature