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Notes from April

April 8, 2009

Answers to questions like…does pasta make me fat?

Every time you turn around it seems like someone’s offering diet advice. From People Magazine to friends or family. Take it from someone who’s lost 40 pounds & kept it off (ME!) that there’s no quick, easy or magical way to lose weight. It takes exercise & burning more calories than you consume! (we’ll talk about the “mental” battle next time)

Following are some very simple answers to questions that come up quite frequently from WoW! Boot Campers….

Do carbohydrates make you overweight?
If you eat more calories than you expend in energy, then anything can be stored as fat – protein, fat, or carbohydrate.

Will eating fat make me overweight?
As with the myth that carbohydrates make you fat, the answer is the same. Calories ingested and absorbed above expenditure contribute to increasing fat stores. However, there is some evidence that would suggest it is easier to get fat when consuming a high-fat diet. It seems the human body has a difficult time regulating food intake on high-fat diets, making it is easier to accidentally eat excess calories. Also, because fat provides a lot of calories for a small volume (nine calories/g vs. four calories/g for protein and carbs) you may have a harder time feeling satisfied with the smaller food volume a high-fat diet would provide.

Will eating past 7 p.m., especially carbohydrates, result in weight gain?
The body does not have an enzyme with a watch that after 7 p.m. preferentially stores items, especially carbohydrate, as fat. All of us have a certain number of calories we can consume without gaining weight. If you happen to change your daily schedule and end up eating a final meal or snack later in the evening without changing your calories, you are in no danger of accumulating weight as a result of that minor alteration. Ideally, however, you would spread your allotted number of calories throughout the day to prevent hunger and wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can sap your energy levels.

What is insulin’s role in storing fat?
Humans, as periodic eaters, need insulin to survive. Following a meal, insulin is secreted, with its job being the storage of energy (glucose, amino acids) in the liver, muscle, and adipose tissue (fat). We will always eat more at a meal than can immediately be used for energy, making this storage necessary. As the hours after a meal go by, this stored energy is released to fuel the continuous needs and activity of the body.

The predominant fuel source for the human body during normal daily activities is fat. As insulin levels diminish after a meal (within an hour), another hormone, Glucagon, is secreted. It signals the body to begin releasing stored energy (glycogen from the liver and fatty acids from adipose tissue) into the blood stream to fuel the body’s energy needs, even though no new energy is coming in (from food). The cycle is repeated with every meal.

Whether you increase or decrease the size of your fat stores day to day depends upon the relationship of calories consumed and absorbed versus energy expended on metabolism and daily activity. If you were in a caloric deficit at the end of the day, then more fat would have come out for energy than went in for storage, so your fat stores would be decreased. However, if you were in caloric excess, then more would have gone in than went out, so your fat stores would increase. As you can see, insulin is only a mechanism for fat storage. It needs material to work with to cause fat stores to increase and stay that way. That material is the calories we eat.

Do protein drinks build muscle?
No. Appropriate exercise and adequate nutrition build muscle.

Should you cut all fat from your diet?
No. Dietary fat calories should never dip below 10 percent of total caloric intake. Dietary fat can add to palatability and satiety. Dietary fat carries our necessary fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.

So, dietary fat isn’t bad for you?
Some fats are actually good for you, in moderation. Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, found in some fish, can assist in lowering cholesterol as well as other positive physiological and psychological responses.

So, high-fat diets pose no peril?
Diets high in saturated fats generally raise cholesterol levels and leads to overeating. Total fat intake should not exceed 30 percent of the total caloric intake.

Can high-fat diets assist in weight loss?
Remember, you lose fat when you consume fewer calories than you burn, regardless of whether they are fat, protein, or carbohydrate calories. However, diets that contain more than 30 percent fat generally slow metabolism and lead to overeating.
A very small portion of the population appears to feel and function better on a higher-fat diet (above 25%) while pursuing weight loss. This is due to bio-individuality and the satiating power of fats for this group. Most people would not benefit from a high-fat diet.

Does fruit or fructose make you fat?
No, excess calories make you fat. Fructose is the sweetener of choice for fat loss because it does not elicit a strong insulin response. It is expensive, so most companies do not like to use it.

Does wheat make you fat?
No. Wheat does not make anyone fat, excess calories do. Wheat may cause bloating in a small percentage of people who are allergic to it.

Is it true that when attempting to lose fat, you shouldn’t eat fruit, wheat products, and/or dairy products?
No. Fruit and dairy products lack the substance or bulk of complex foods, so they don’t contribute to satiety when calories are extremely low. But calories are calories.

If insulin resistance causes weight gain, then is a high protein, low carbohydrate diet recommended?
No. Weight gain from high-fat diets usually leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to other health problems such as coronary artery disease. The scientific recommendation for almost all insulin-resistant individuals, genetic or acquired, is a low-fat diet, moderate amounts of protein, high in complex carbohydrates, and exercise. Insulin resistant individuals gain weight like anyone else – when they eat more calories than they burn. Insulin resistance may depress satiety signals, leading one to overeat.

Does pasta make you fat?
No, pasta is a carbohydrate. Excess calories make you fat.

Why does switching from a high-protein diet to a high-carbohydrate diet cause some people to feel bloated initially?
Each part of stored glucose (as glycogen) contains 2.7 parts water. With a high-protein diet, glycogen stores are consistently low and therefore water content is low, which decreases the cells’ efficiency. The bloated feeling will eventually normalize when the body recovers to a properly hydrated state. The gain is water in the muscle cells (good), not fat.

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