The fat loss battle is fought on many fronts. The frequency and type of exercise(s) you perform (or the lack thereof), getting enough sleep, having the right mental attitude and of course, your eating habits are all critical factors in optimizing your fat loss. Each one plays a significant role in your overall health and well being as well. But perhaps the most important factor is what you choose NOT to eat.
Avoiding these four ‘food demons’ can not only help accelerate your fat loss, but put you in a prime position for optimal health and longevity.
Like many of you, I grew up on Wonder Bread and loved it. Pure white goodness – except that it really wasn’t. Of course my mom didn’t know any better thanks to terrific marketing and a terrific taste, Wonder Bread was as American as apple pie and the benefits of foods like ‘whole grain’ were unbeknownst to most.
Enter 2008…I wouldn’t feed my kids any type of white bread even if you paid me. The problem with refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, white sugar, non-wheat pasta and many other ‘white’ foods is that they’re made from grains that have had their nutrients processed out of them.
The benefit of eating grains is that they’re full of nutrients and they do a great job of making you feel full. You’re not going to get that from eating ‘white’ foods. In fact because refined carbohydrates like white bread are digested very quickly, you get a surge of blood sugar, which is then followed by a surge of energy which is of course followed by a down swing as the insulin stores the blood sugar; all resulting in your body craving more. Exactly what you don’t want when your trying to lose fat.
Of course, you can’t live without carbohydrates (regardless of what Atkins die-hards believe) because they provide the essential energy needed to feed your muscles and metabolism and contain tons of nutrients.
So drop the ‘whites’ and stick with whole grain foods as well as much fruits and vegetables as you can muster (I recommend at least 8 servings combined). In this case, the ‘good guy’ is definitely not wearing white!
Trans fats are artificially made fats that actually increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your body. Found in many oils and margarines, trans fats extend the shelf life of products but have been linked to clogged arteries, diabetes, increased risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions.
Trans fats are actually a chemist’s creation and like most things artificially created, can cause havoc to your internal systems. A combination of vegetable oil with hydrogen creates a partially hydrogenated oil, or trans fatty acid. Once the hydrogen is added, the liquid oil turns into a solid at room temperature.
The worse part is what happens when trans fats enter your body. Because these fats were once liquid, instead of dissolving inside of your body as they would in their natural state, they try to revert back to their solid state – inside of your arteries. Not exactly conducive to achieving optimal health let alone trying to lose fat.
Since trans fats are so inexpensive, versatile and seemingly have a long shelf life, the food industries love them. Because of this trans fats seems to get added to everything from baked goods, potato chips, fries and all sorts of supermarket shelf products.
What can we do about the seeming proliferation of trans fats everywhere? California recently became the first state to ban trans fats in food sold in restaurants.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, known for being health-conscious, signed the bill into law and by Jan. 1, 2010, California’s restaurants are required to use margarines, oils, and shortening that contain less than half a gram of trans fat per serving; deep-fried bakery products must also adopt the standard by Jan. 1, 2011.
Although we are seeing some progress in the war against trans fats, we have a long way to go. What can you do to protect yourself?
-Become a label detective: Read the labels on the foods you buy. Other names for trans fats are ‘shortening’, ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’. If you absolutely MUST consume a food with trans fat, make sure it is at the end of the ingredient list. When ingredients are listed at the beginning of a label, it means that they are contained in a larger quantity then the rest.
-Be an informed diner: Refuse to eat at restaurants or fast food establishments that haven’t yet banned trans fats. When you’re not sure, ask if the waiter is using olive oil (and not one of the other aforementioned names given to trans fats). You also want to try and avoid the bread which is often filled with trans fats (not to mention the margarine, also trans fat guilty). Sticking to soups and salads is your safest bet.
-Stick with high protein meals: I give this advice all the time as it is, but this is just another reason to do so. Turkey, chicken, eggs, bacon are all good choices. Follow this advice and in the long run, it could make a significant difference in your overall health and well being.
According to the American Heart Association, on average, Americans consume 4-5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diets. For example, if you eat 2,000 total calories a day, your daily limits should be less than 16 grams (less than 140 of those calories) from saturated fats. So in a sense, saturated fats are even more dangerous than trans fats. While both fats are more likely to be stored than burned, your body would rather store saturated fats around your midsection and use them for energy at a future time when food sources are in short supply.
The problem of course is that in most developed societies like ours, food is almost never in short supply. From ‘dollar meals’ to ‘buy one get one free’, our society is abundant with food, whether healthy or not. Unfortunately there are too many foods that are high in saturated fats (and quite often high in cholesterol as well). And because eating foods that contain saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, your risk of heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer also increase.
So how do you minimize the intake of saturated fats? The first step is to be able to identify them. Many saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. The majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products. Examples are fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard and cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk. These foods also contain dietary cholesterol.
In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant foods, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.
Once you’re able to identify which foods contain saturated fats, making the right choices become easier. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats you eat to less than 7 percent of total daily calories. That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 140 of them should come from saturated fats. That’s about 16 grams of saturated fats a day. I would even recommend striving for 5 percent or less.
Eating more fish is always a good idea (you should get smart on mercury levels though). Eating lean meats and even replacing some of the meat you eat with beans or legumes is also a good idea as is including some nuts in your diet.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Of all the items on this list, this is the one that I believe is the biggest culprit in the obesity epidemic today. HFCS began gaining popularity as a sweetener in the 1970’s because it was less expensive to produce than sucrose derived from sugar beets or sugar cane. Additionally, it is extremely soluble and mixes well in many foods. It is cheap to produce, sweet and easy to store. It’s used in everything from cereals, yogurt, bread to pasta sauces to bacon to beer as well as in ‘health products’ like protein bars and ‘natural’ sodas. You could see why it gained in popularity so quickly.
This artificial sweetener can be manipulated to contain equal amounts of fructose and glucose (or up to 80% fructose). So with almost twice the fructose, HFCS is a doubled danger compared to sugar.
As to why this is dangerous, fruit contains fiber which takes longer to digest and slows down the metabolism of fructose and other sugars, but the fructose in HFCS is absorbed very quickly. Additionally, it doesn’t stimulate insulin the way any type of normal carbohydrate would. You see, when you eat any type of carbohydrate, your body releases insulin to regulate your body weight. It pushes the carbohydrates calories into your muscles to either be used as energy or to be stored for later use. It then suppresses your appetite. In effect, the carbohydrates are a signal for you stop eating because you’re full.
But HFCS doesn’t do this. Your body doesn’t recognize it the way it recognizes simple white sugar, and thus it doesn’t stimulate insulin. The result? You chow down on high calorie foods containing HFCS and yet you’re still hungry because the insulin response isn’t there. So you keep eating even more HFCS laden foods and storing the fat as you go.
Because HFCS is found in so many foods, it’s difficult to eliminate it completely, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to at least minimize your consumption as much as possible.
As with trans fats, if HFCS is near the top of an ingredient list, kick it to the curb. Unfortunately, HFCS is lumped in with ‘sugars’ in the ingredient list, so be sure to check how many grams the product contains. If it’s more than two or three grams of ‘sugar’ and HFCS is near the top of the ingredient list, leave it alone and go pickup some of your favorite fruit instead. Your body will thank you for it later.