Cutting Down on Fat
Good Fat, Bad Fat
Being fat or obese or even overweight presents many apparent health problems besides the social stigma attached to it. There are many weight loss gadgets and pills that offer quick solutions, but do they work? Losing the excess fats in the body do require some hard work especially if you are born with fat genes. But don’t start blaming your parents as yet because studies had shown that the environment and what you eat have very much to do with your excess body fat.
According to the online US Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (June 2004), obesity is a chronic medical disease caused by imbalance of the calories ingested through eating as compared to the energy expended. When fat cells size or fat cells mass are increased, they bring on the clinical problems of obesity due to the increased secretion of inflammatory substances caused by toxins that had accumulated in the fat cells.
Inflammatory cytokines like C-reactive protein (CRP) and Interleukin-6 in turn, acts on body cells to cause inflammatory reaction throughout the body. CRP also sticks to the hormone leptin, a messenger that tells the brain to stop eating when full. The body then loses the ability to know when to shut down hunger.
The health problems often associated with obesity are:
- diabetes mellitus
- liver/gallbladder disease
- heart disease
- certain cancers
- sleep apnea
The Danger of Hidden Fats
However, a form of dangerous fats are those that are found deep in the internal organs of a person such as the stomach and liver. These are visceral fats or hidden fats and can be seen in the extra layer around the belly even in normal weight people. You have probably heard of the word ‘fatty liver’. Today, fatty liver disease is recognised as one of the cause of abnormal liver function tests in many countries. These hidden fats are commonly associated with the development of Syndrome X, such as insulin resistance, a risk factor to developing heart disease and diabetes. They are difficult to lose but not impossible.
Most simple-minded folks believe that fats in our body are the direct result of our dietary fats intake. This is not necessarily untrue. But most of the visible adipose fats found underneath the skin or circulating in the blood (as triglycerides) are due to excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates. These are the processed carbs like white rice, white bread, noodles and pasta that the body is unable to utilise for energy production or that have exceeded the capacity of the liver to store. If you love fats for its taste and texture, your excess calories can no doubt come from fatty foods too. Fats with their caloric content at nine calories per gram is double that of carbohydrates.
Dietary fats will always be a component in our diets. The saturated fats in animal meat contain the cholesterols part. But cholesterols are not alien to our body system; it’s the precursor to many important steroid hormones in the body. Our liver makes most of the cholesterols simply because the body needs it.
The notion that saturated fats are all bad that they cause your pressure to rise or your own body cholesterols to elevate thus leading to heart diseases had been debunked by some experts. Some saturated fats are also plant derived such as butter, coconut oil or palm oil. According to author Michael Eades M.D., taking more saturated fats like organic coconut oil can help promote weight loss, stronger bones and improved cardiovascular risk factors. You may have heard of the once popular Atkins Diet that recommended a higher intake of animal protein to lose weight. There is no denying that it did help many people in the late nineties to lose weight.
Essential Fatty Acids
The other component of dietary fats is the essential fatty acids. The body can’t make them therefore they have to come from our diets. The first is Omega 3 fatty acids; commonly referred to as eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. Rich sources of EPA and DHA are the fatty fish such as salmon, herring and sardines. Flaxseeds and walnuts too contain the precursor form of Omega 3 fatty acids that must be converted to EPA and DHA for use in the body. Our brain neurons and a host of body processes require these critical nutrients to function optimally. Being anti-inflammatory in nature, EPA/DHA helps to fight off the risks of chronic diseases developing including heart, arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
Next is Omega 6 fatty acid or linoleic acids (LA) found in soy, corn, sesame and sunflower oils. When taken into the body, LA is first converted to gamma form and then into arachidonic acid. The gamma forms called gamma linolenic acid are also anti-inflammatory in nature; good sources include evening primrose oil and borage oil. Excessive intake of Omega 6 fatty acids may be counterproductive and can contribute to obesity and inflammation.
Very often weight watchers are told to eat low- fats diet. In fact, taking some fats as part of a diet tend to reduce absorption rate and helps us feel full for a longer period of time. Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K need dietary fats to act as carriers. Beta carotene converts to Vitamin A in the presence of fats in the body.
On the other side of any balanced equation, there are the man-made artificial fats (trans fats) found in processed and commercially baked foods like chips, cookies or biscuits. Trans fats used in margarines and bread shortening are the worst fats that man had created. In recent years, we have seen clear connection between obesity and consumption of hydrogenated fats. The strong correlation between hydrogenated fats consumption and other serious health disorders such as vascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and immune dysfunction is another reason we should avoid them like a plague.
Does Low-fat Diet Help?
For those who still think that low-fat diets can help you to lose weight, think again. Researches carried out at Harvard (JAMA, 2006) demonstrated that the total fat amount in the diet has little linkage to a person’s weight or disease. The question was asked as to why cutting fat from the diet did not yield the desired results. Some studies even reported that low-fat diets have no impact in reducing heart disease risk. The 2006 Women Health Initiative eight-year study showed that low-fat diets didn’t even improve the heart health of the 49,000 middle aged women with heart disease who participated in the study.
The fact remains that there is more to just cutting the intake of fats alone. The majority of whole natural foods contain oils or fats. The key to eating fats being the third component in our diet (besides carbohydrates and protein) is balance with the ability to differentiate between the good fats and the bad fats. The good fats are what will keep your body healthy and slim. The bad fats will not only fatten you but also lead you to a host of lifestyle diseases.