Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Big Fat Question

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Selection of healthy fat sources. Rustic background. Horizontal permission. Top view. Copy space.

What is a good fat?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question… well, I would still probably have student-loans to pay off.

Nevertheless, this is a question I have been asked time after time for as long as I have been in the health and performance industry.

It’s a question many people want to know the answer to because, though it’s far better than it used to be, people seemingly have this pre-conceived notion that fats are bad.

Well, contrary to whatever your current belief is, fats, indeed do not make you fat.  Rather, they are quite an essential part of our diets regardless of what our health and performance goals may be.

So, before I answer that question that is on the minds of everyone who hasn’t already exited out of this link, let’s discuss the importance of dietary fats.

 

Roles of Dietary Fat

 So what roles, exactly, does dietary fat play within our bodies?

Well, there are numerous. But just to name a few…

 

  1. Energy

Fats, not carbohydrates, are truly our bodies’ preferred energy source.  They serve as our largest source of energy, providing for over half of the body’s energy needs.  They help our bodies function both at rest and during low to moderate intensity exercise.

 

  1. Brain Function

Believe it or not, 60% of your brain is made up of fat.  So, as you might expect, fat intake is essential for it to function properly.  Essential Fatty Acids, or fats that can only be obtained through food, play critical roles within the brain, accounting for functions including learning, memory, and mood.

 

  1. Control of inflammation

In my article covering Omega-3 fats, I discussed the many benefits provided by Omega-3 fats.  Among these benefits is ability to fight chronic inflammation which has nasty effects on the body.

 

  1. Vitamin Absorption

Dietary fat is also required for the absorption of certain vitamins within the body, namely, vitamins A, D, E, and K.  A lack of dietary fat will result in deficiency of these vitamins which leads to some undesirable effects.  We will cover those shortly.

 

What happens when we consume too little fat?

So, if fat does all of that stuff, what happens when we don’t eat enough?

I’m glad you asked…

 

  1. Vitamin Deficiencies

As we covered earlier, a lack of fat in the diet can leave the body unable to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  Deficiencies of these vitamins can lead to dry skin, slow bone growth, inability of the blood to clot, amongst other negative side-effects.

 

  1. Excessive Appetite

Studies have shown that moderate fat-consumers have fewer hunger pangs and cravings than lower fat consumers.  In addition, those with low fat consumption, consume lower amounts of protein, while consuming far higher amounts of starch.  Lower consumption in both fat and protein may lead to decreased satiety, which in turn can lead to overeating and excessive appetite.

 

  1. Mood Problems

Dietary fats play an important role in the production and balance of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.  A diet lacking in omega-3 fats can lead to depression, mood swings, and an inability to concentrate.

 

So, hopefully it’s obvious that dietary fat is essential for our bodies to function properly.  However, that doesn’t mean you need to go HAM (we’ll go ahead and translate that as “overboard”) with eating fats.  As with most things, balance and moderation are key.

 

Now, not to keep your waiting any longer, let’s get to that burning question.  Let’s discuss what good fats are and how you should incorporate them into your diet.

 

Good vs. Bad

To be completely honest, the answer to our big fat question is quite simple: keep it real.

Seriously, it’s that easy.  If it’s a natural fat, it’s a healthy fat.

Now, before you’re all like, “well that was anti-climactic,” understand that the task of identifying a natural fat from an unnatural fat may be a little harder than one would think due to all of the processing many of our foods go through.  So let’s break it down.

 

Natural Fats

 When we talk about natural fats, we’re speaking of fats found in their natural state within whole, unprocessed foods.   They fall into one of the three categories below:

 

Saturated Fats:

Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap.  For years we have been told that saturated fat causes heart disease.  However, not only is there a complete lack of support to this claim, study after study shows it to be blatantly untrue.

The truth is that saturated fats, in the appropriate amounts, are important for our diet.  They are involved in immune function and hormone regulation, and recent studies have shown they may play a role in cancer prevention by stopping the formation of cancer cells.

Good sources of saturated fats include palm oil, coconut oil, and animal fats from dairy, meat, and eggs.

 

Monounsaturated Fats:

Including monounsaturated fats in your diet can help reduced LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.  These fats also play a role in the maintenance of the body’s cells.

Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, avocados and most nuts.

 

Polyunsaturated Fats:

Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can help reduce LDL cholesterol.  These fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats and are found in peanuts, walnuts, and most oils.

 

Unnatural Fats

Unnatural fats are fats that have been denatured, usually through either chemical or heat processing.  Unnatural fats include the following:

 

Hydrogenated:

Hydrogenated fats are chemically processed saturated fats.  The chemically altered structure of these fats makes them hard for the body to process or metabolize.  These fats work not only to increase LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, but also are shown to lower HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels.

These fats are found in many processed foods and are commonly used at restaurants.

 

Trans-fats:

Trans-fats are fats that have been denatured or chemically altered through heat processing.  As with hydrogenated fats, their chemically altered structure makes them hard for the body to break down.  In addition, they have been shown to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.

 

Omega-6 cooking oils:

Omega-6 cooking oils are polyunsaturated fats that have been denatured through chemical processing.  As previously discussed, these are pro-inflammatory fats. These would include many common vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil, and others.

 

Fats and Your Diet

So now that you are aware of the right fats to eat, you need to know how to incorporate them into your diet.

 

Keep it Balanced

When it comes to incorporating fats into your diet, you want a healthy balance of natural saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Ideally this balance would consist of one-third of each of these types of natural fat.  Maintaining a healthy balance of these fats is important for immune function, healthy inflammatory balance, and hormone regulation.

 

Keep it Simple

As important as a good balance is, above all else, keep it simple.  Start small by trying to stick to the examples of natural fats given.  From there make small adjustments, examining your fat intake and asking what you need more of and what you need less of.

Overall, if you commit to getting your fats from whole foods and stray away from processed fats, you’ll be on the right track.

 

 

The “C” Word

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Oh the dreaded C-word…

Those evil carbohydrates…

There’s so much information about carbohydrates out there it’s hard to keep straight.

First, the food pyramid told us to eat a lot of grains.  They were the foundation of our diet.   Then, a few years later, a diet started by some Dr. Atkins guy gained popularity.  He said no more grains, no more carbs.  Goodbye corn flakes, and hello sausage and eggs.

Somewhere in between the two came TV commercials about some points system for foods.  There was also some other program that got Kirstie Alley skinny again… and then again… and then, like, a few more times.

Shortly after that, some South Beach thing took-off.  Then there was all this talk of high-glycemic this, low-glycemic that.  Then everything was all about how gluten is evil.  Now, apparently, we are supposed to eat like cavemen.

It gets kind of confusing, right? My head is spinning just writing all of that.

Well, today I want you to forget all the pyramids, fad diets, and Kirstie Alley.  While many of these programs and diets have good qualities, they are still programs and diets.  No one can stick to them forever. Therefore, since we’re about lasting change, we want to develop habits for life.  So, let’s get into the basics of carbohydrates and how to incorporate them into your diet.

 

You’re in Danger!

The health of North Americans, as a whole, is in serious jeopardy.

This might not be earth-shattering news, but Type II diabetes has become an epidemic.  The American Diabetes Association estimates that in 2012 there were 29.1 million Americans living with diabetes.  They reported that another 80.6 million Americans, 20 years or older, qualified as prediabetic.  To make matters worse, these numbers are still trending the wrong way.

 

Why is this?

 

North Americans’ diets are absolutely packed with sugars and other refined carbohydrates.  In fact, the average North American (yes, that includes you, Greenland) consumes 136 grams of sugar every day. That’s over three times the USDA recommendation. It totals 550 calories from just sugar every freaking day! That’s ¾ of a cup!

Seriously, go to the kitchen, get your measuring cups, and see how much ¾ of a cup is.

 

I’ll wait…

 

So, where are we getting all this sugar?!?

It’s not just from soda and candy bars.  Big-time food manufacturers are adding sugar to seemingly everything.  Dressings, sauces, frozen fruits, breads. . .you name it, it’s probably packing more sugar than you realize.  Here are a few quick examples:

 

Snickers bar = 30 grams of sugar

1 cup (8 oz) orange juice = 30 grams of sugar

1 bagel = 20+ grams of sugar

2 slices of white bread = 12+ grams of sugar

 

Sugar and Your Health

I could extend that list for pages and pages, listing foods that are staples of the North American diet and contain far more sugar than you would expect.  When you take these unexpected sources of sugar and add them to the high amount of sugary drinks and snacks the average person consumes, it’s no wonder we have a widespread health crisis in North America.

Since high-sugar intake is such a widespread issue, it’s important to understand the basics of how sugar affects your body and your health.  So, let’s go back to physiology class for a moment.

Insulin is a hormone our body essentially uses as a key to allow sugars in the blood to enter muscle and fat cells.  When the body is functioning properly, it produces just the right amount of insulin.  However, when a person regularly consumes a high amount of sugar, it can reduce the body’s ability to efficiently handle carbohydrates, and it becomes insulin resistant.

When a person becomes insulin resistant, the body is still producing insulin, but the insulin is not performing its job effectively.  Essentially, the muscle and fat cells become less responsive to insulin, and sugar begins to build up in the blood. When this happens, you can get a few undesirable results.

First, the body increases its insulin response to meals.  Since the muscle and fat cells cannot easily absorb insulin anymore, the body produces more insulin in an attempt to help the sugar enter those cells.  While the blood sugar levels may remain in a healthy range, insulin builds up in the blood.  High insulin levels cause excess body fat in the upper back and “love handle” areas, not to mention obesity, high blood pressure, and bad cholesterol.

When the body can no longer produce enough insulin to keep up with demand, sugar begins to build up in the blood.  This can ultimately lead to prediabetes, diabetes, and other serious health conditions.  One of these is glycation.

Glycation is a condition that results from chronically high blood sugar levels.  With glycation, sugars become bonded to proteins in the blood.  This can have many terrible effects, including premature aging, cancer, damaged vision, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and joint pain.

In short, if you maintain a high sugar intake, you’re going to have a bad time.

 

What to Watch For:

Now you know how sugar affects your body, so its time to take action!

Before we get into how your specific goals will affect your carbohydrate intake, let’s quickly review some of the commonly used synonyms for sugar that you need to avoid.

 

  1. The “-ose” words

Check those nutrition labels and stay away from words that end in “-ose.”  This includes glucose, fructose, maltose, and others.

  1. The sexy names

Beware of things like “organic agave nectar,” “pure cane sugar,” “turbinado,” or “sugar in the raw.”  Food manufacturers use these terms to trick you.  They are fancy names for sugar.  And yes, organic sugar is still sugar.

  1. Other forms of sugar that people think are better for some reason

This essentially falls in line with number two, but, just so it gets said…Honey.  Honey is pretty much entirely sugar.  It’s really not any better.  That goes for fruit nectar, too.

 

Carbohydrates and You:

I must clarify that this section presents general recommendations regarding carbohydrate intake, as is appropriate for either fat loss or muscle gain.  These recommendations are not entirely specific to any specific individual.

 

  1. Carbohydrate Intake for Fat Loss

If your goal is to lose fat, you will likely have the best success following a “carb-controlled diet.” This should not be confused with a low-carb diet.  While you’re carbohydrate intake may very well be reduced following these guidelines, it will not be lowered to that extreme.  Instead, the focus is placed on being more strategic with the type and timing of carbohydrate intake.

 

Carbohydrate Intake For Fat Loss
Simple Sugars/High-Processed Starches Minimally-Processed Starches Vegetables and Fruits
 

When:

Rarely or never

 

Examples:

Sports drinks, sodas, fruit juices, desserts, cereals, carb-rich snacks

 

 

 

When:

Within 2 hours after workout

 

Examples:

Whole-grain breads/pastas, potatoes, oats

 

 

 

When:

Vegetables with each meal

Eat only small amounts of fruit

 

Examples:

Spinach, broccoli, avocado, apples, berries

 

 

  1. Carbohydrate Intake for Muscle Gain and Competitive Athletes

For those looking to add muscle, or for those who are carbohydrate-dependent athletes, the carbohydrate intake and timing will differ considerably from the chart above.  This population will need to consume considerably more carbohydrates to effectively achieve their goal, or maximize their performance.

 

Carbohydrate Intake for Muscle Gain
Simple Sugars/High-Processed Starches Minimally-Processed Starches Vegetables and Fruits Recovery Beverages
 

When:

Immediately after exercise

 

Examples:

Sports drinks, sodas, fruit juices, desserts, cereals, carb-rich snacks

 

When:

Within 3 hours after exercise

 

Examples:

Whole-grain breads/pastas, potatoes, oats

 

 

When:

Vegetables with every meal

 

Examples:

Spinach, broccoli, avocado, apples, berries

 

 

 

When:

During and after exercise

 

Examples:

Sugary, high-protein drinks

 

 

 

 

 

The Take Home Point

I’ve thrown a lot of information at you this lesson, but don’t be overwhelmed.  We will have more specific guidelines down the road, however, for now try to just work on two things regarding your carbohydrate intake.

First, improve the types of carbohydrates in your diet.  Limit or eliminate refined, sugary carbohydrates, eat more vegetables, and select good starches when appropriate.

Second, work on the timing of your carbohydrate intake.  Select the chart that is most appropriate for your goals and follow the guidelines.

 

So, I’ll reiterate…

Don’t concern yourself with fad diets, pyramids, cavemen, or washed-up, overweight celebrities.  For now, just focus on following the two guidelines above.