In my last post “Against the Grain”, I spoke about the Paleolithic, Paleo, or Caveman Diet and why it makes sense to me. Essentially the Paleo diet is a clean eating approach that helps to remove guess-work on what you should or should not eat. In this post, I wanted to talk more about fat storage and loss in the body as well as how to read nutrition labels. I am passionate about educating on the food part of fitness because I feel it is the most important part to get right and there is so much confusion regarding what “right” is. Many of us want to know how to effectively lose weight, burn fat and have a six-pack…. but how do we accomplish that? There are so many diets, products, systems, etc that claim to be effective. However how many times have you seen ads and Infomercials full of testimonials of people successfully losing weight on a system only to be followed by small print “Results Not Typical”…?? What the heck?! lol I get it…. I have been there! I am not saying I have ALL the answers… but I think I have some useful information that might be beneficial and I’d like to share it with you.
Fat Storage & Fat Burning
In order to burn fat, I think it is important to understand or have an idea of how and why the body stores fat. Personally, I love science and I appreciate logical explanations for… everything. So lets just jump right in… Most will agree if you consume more calories than you burn then the result is fat storage and conversely, if you burn more calories than you consume then the result is fat loss. In theory this makes sense however, this does not tell us the entire story and leaves some unanswered questions. This theory does not explain those that are thin despite consuming more calories than they expend or those who calorie restrict and exercise regularly but have trouble losing weight. The latter was me when I began my journey. From Sept 2010 through March 2011 I knew I was burning more calories than I consumed… I had begun the Couch to 5K program and was in the gym anywhere from 1 to 3 times a week lifting weights– expending way more than I had been when I was sedentary. So, why didn’t the scale change at all? (I started at approx 34% body fat and 150 lbs). The issue with the calories in vs calories burned theory is the assumption that all calories are created equal and handled the same by the body. I think we all can agree that 100 calories of broccoli (roughly 4 cups) is different from 100 calories of chocolate/candy (approx. less than half of a snicker’s bar). I began doing some research and investigation. Here is what I discovered: The insulin hormone has a role in the fat storage process. When we eat carbohydrates, they’re broken down into sugar (glucose) and enter the bloodstream. When the body senses the spike in glucose levels, insulin is produced and acts as a traffic cop telling the body to remove the glucose from the blood and store it as fat. There are other factors to fat storage and insulin but in a nutshell, more carbs equals more fat stored. Fat is stored as triglycerides (compound of glycerol and 3 fatty acids). In order to burn fat for energy, triglycerides need to be broken down into free fatty acids. Think of a bundle of 3 balloons that are too large to pass through an opening– however if the bundle is broken down, the balloons can pass through the opening one by one. This breakdown of triglycerides is facilitated by an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). When we consume carbs–triggering the production of insulin and fat storage, the body is in a state where energy from stored fat is not needed so the HSL enzyme is not needed to breakdown the stored fat. So more carbs equal more stored fat and less breakdown of stored fat. The theory of more calories burned than consumed to burn fat is correct however if we do not send a message to our body to use stored fat as energy/fuel you likely will not see significant weight changes– you’re likely breaking even. We send the message to use fat as fuel by consuming fewer carbs– allowing HSL to do its job to breakdown fat. Got it?
WAIT! Let’s clarify “carbs”. Not all carbohydrates affect insulin levels the same. Simple carbohydrates (sugar) spike our blood sugar more than complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and vegetables. Fruits are simple carbohydrates but come with other vitamins and minerals so are fine to eat in moderation. When I say limit carbohydrate intake I am referring to simple carbohydrates. Strive to eat clean, nutrient dense foods such as unprocessed vegetables, fruits as well as animal protein as often as possible. Not to complicate things any more 🙂 but genetics also play a role in how our bodies handle glucose. Some individuals handle glucose spikes well… these individuals are typically naturally thin and can seemingly eat whatever they want and do not store excess fat. Others may have a harder time with the regulation of insulin levels and may be predisposed to obesity or other health related issues like diabetes. Regardless, I believe everyone can benefit from a clean and balanced diet. For more details about this I encourage you to watch this video of Gary Taubes explaining Why We Get Fat. He also has books and articles about this topic as well…. Google him!
It is important to read and understand the nutrition labels found on foods. Below is a overview of some things you should be paying attention to.
I am no marketing expert however I know these food companies want to make money. Things will be worded on the labels and packaging to appeal to you (the consumer) to accomplish that goal. As I mentioned in my previous post “Against the Grain”, Whenever you see the words fat-free or low-fat, think chemical sh*t storm. This is just the beginning. (Click Here for your super market guide.) Ideally the foods you want to eat most often are located along the perimeter of the store and not in the aisles. Recall, clean eating consists of a diet containing fruits, vegetables, nuts, animal protein and other whole unprocessed food items. Typically these foods do not have special packaging or labels with the exception of some meats and eggs. However, I do understand that sometimes the need arises to buy food items that are processed/packaged… this is when it becomes important to read and understand labels. The following is an overview of things you should be mindful of.
The information below is taken from the AHA website:
A lot of foods today come with nutrient content claims provided by the manufacturer. These claims are typically featured in ads for the foods or in the promotional copy on the food packages themselves. They are strictly defined by the FDA. The chart below provides some of the most commonly used nutrient content claims, along with a detailed description of what the claim means.
|If a food claims to be…||It means that one serving of the product contains…|
|Calorie free||Less than 5 calories|
|Sugar free||Less than 0.5 grams of sugar|
|Fat free||Less than 0.5 grams of fat|
|Low fat||3 grams of fat or less|
|Reduced fat or less fat||At least 25 percent less fat than the regular product|
|Low in saturated fat||1 gram of saturated fat or less, with not more than 15 percent of the calories coming from saturated fat|
|Lean||Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol|
|Extra lean||Less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol|
|Light (lite)||At least one-third fewer calories or no more than half the fat of the regular product, or no more than half the sodium of the regular product|
|Cholesterol free||Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat|
|Low cholesterol||20 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat|
|Reduced cholesterol||At least 25 percent less cholesterol than the regular product and 2 grams or less of saturated fat|
|Sodium free or no sodium||Less than 5 milligrams of sodium and no sodium chloride in ingredients|
|Very low sodium||35 milligrams or less of sodium|
|Low sodium||140 milligrams or less of sodium|
|Reduced or less sodium||At least 25 percent less sodium than the regular product|
|High fiber||5 grams or more of fiber|
|Good source of fiber||2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber|
If you can’t remember the definitions of all of the terms, don’t worry. You can use these general guidelines instead:
- “Free” means a food has the least possible amount of the specified nutrient.
- “Very Low” and “Low” means the food has a little more than foods labeled “Free.”
- “Reduced” or “Less” mean the food has 25 percent less of a specific nutrient than the regular version of the food.
Lets now take a glance at how to read the nutritional facts and ingredient list! When in doubt about what a food item claims to be, the nutritional facts and ingredient list on the package can help you determine exactly what it is. I created the following visual aid to help you.
This might be one of the most important variables on a nutrition label. All other measurements on the label are determined by this. For example, if an item’s suggested serving size is 2 crackers and I eat 4 crackers, I would need to multiply all of the values (Calories, Fats, Carbs, Sodium etc) by 2 since I doubled my serving.
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. A good calorie calculator can help you determine how many calories you should be ingesting for your goals (gaining, maintaining, losing). Here’s a good one: Calorie Calculator. Remember: the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually consume.
These nutrients we generally eat in adequate amounts, or at times too much. Too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.
If Dietary Fiber and Sugar Alcohols are listed under Carbohydrate, you can subtract their amounts from Total Carbs to obtain Net Carbs. Fiber and Sugar Alcohols do not have as much of an impact on insulin levels so sometimes they are subtracted. I suggest choosing complex carbs over simple carbs.
Many of us do not get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in our diets. Consuming enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.
% Daily Value
%DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If your caloric intake is more or less than this the % Daily Values will need to be adjusted accordingly.
The ingredient list on a food label is the listing of each ingredient in descending order of predominance by weight. In other words, the item listed first weighs more than the item listed last. If the first and/or second ingredient listed is a form of sugar… run away!!
Any of the following is a form of sugar:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Along with any other listing ending in “-ose” like Sucrose, Lactose, Maltose, Fructose, Glucose and Dextrose.
Personally, I like to find items with extremely short ingredient lists with easily recognizable items. Next time you are in the supermarket compare the ingredient lists of a few items. An example I offer frequently is regular/popular peanut butter vs organic peanut butter. Which do you think is the better option?
I know this was a lot of information, over 2000 words…sorry! I get excited about this stuff! I hope you find this helpful. Use this information as a guide but don’t forget to enjoy yourself and enjoy life; treat yourself every now and then! Don’t restrict yourself to the point where you are not happy… the goal is to find a happy balance! Feel free to ask me any questions you may have (comment on this post below or email me using the form on the contact me page).
Nikki (a science lover and personal trainer pursuing a sports nutrition certification)
Be consistent. One bad meal won’t make you fat just like one good meal won’t make you lean.
PS: HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!!!!