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Understanding Food Labels; Part 4, Fats

The most energy dense of the macronutrients weighing in at a whopping 9kcal for every gram, fat is often seen as the evil lord of the macronutrients often getting bad press in the media compared to its more glamorous counterparts protein and carbohydrate. So is fat inherently bad and should you eliminate it from your diet altogether ? Unfortunately fat is also one of the most misleading of the macronutrients when it comes to food labels with so many confusing and often contradictory terms used by manufacturers to mask their less than ‘healthy’ claims.

How much should I have? Well again per 100g (3.5 ounces) of your food here are some guidelines;

A lot = 20g of fat / 100g or 5g of saturated fat / 100g

A little = 3g of fat / 100g or 1g of saturated fat / 100g

Saturated fats are found in animal fats and palm oil or palm kernel oil and serve very little benefit to the body aiding only to raise LDL cholesterol and ultimately risk of heart disease. However cutting out saturated fat entirely is impractical and doing so will eliminate the absorption of many essential fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E) associated with animal meats.  Hydrogenated or Trans Fatty acids are the real evil fats. Formed as a result of a hardening of vegetable liquid or vegetable oils these fats found in many biscuits, cakes, desserts or processed foods have a debilitating effect on cholesterol levels, lowering the good HDL and raising the bad LDL levels. In the UK and US manufacturers are starting to move away from the use of these Trans Fats (often labelled Hydrogenated fat) due to their strong link to coronary heart disease.

Monounsaturated fats are a healthy source of fat, having a lowering effect on the bad LDL cholesterol. Foods such as olive oil, avocados, soya oil, peanuts, cashews, almonds and sesame seeds are all great sources of monounsaturated fats.  Polyunsaturated fats also have beneficial effects for lowering risk of heart disease; According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “The most effective replacement for saturated fatty acids in terms of coronary heart disease outcome are polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid (omega 3)”. Foods containing polyunsaturated fats include nuts (especially walnuts) and seeds, sunflower oil, corn oil and safflower oils.

Omega 3 fats are commonly referred to in the media and advertising as the healthiest source of fat. Omega 3 oils are essential for brain development, nervous system function, maintaining a healthy immune system, and keeping a healthy heart and circulation. Omega 3 oils can be found in oily fish, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds and oils, flax seeds and oils and rapeseeds and oils. 

Research suggests that Omega 3 may well have a beneficial role in fat metabolism, especially during exercise. It is thought that Omega 3 may stimulate the enzymes that are responsible for transport of fat to exercising muscles. So paradoxically enjoying a diet including fat (omega 3) may well help you burn some fat off. Omega 3 is such a widely researched area at the moment and for every journal reporting benefits of the oil many also return little or no health benefit.  

Certainly if healthy living or weight loss is your goal then go easy on the saturated fats, choosing foods that are beneath the limits set out above is a good place to start in the aisles. As a rule of thumb any processed / convenience food will be high in saturated fat. Incorporating seeds and nuts (which also contain protein and fibre),  fresh fish and plenty of vegetables and fruit into your diet will almost certainly help you feel better, look better, work better and probably smell better (well possibly?)



Caffeine for fat loss; the great debate ?

The great caffeine debate. Well i’m not sure there is even a debate but there is certainly loads of contradictory information flying around with respect to caffeine consumption and weight loss. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant found in coffee (around 40-160mg per cup), tea (10-60mg per cup), cola (43-65mg per cup) and chocolate (up to 50mg per average bar) which acts to alter mood, alertness, concentration and general cognitive function. Coffee is probably the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world with many people habitually consuming several cups a day in the belief that it will give them a mental or physical boost!

Caffeine also has a possible role to play in weight management and especially fat loss. Studies have indicated that caffeine encourages increased fat metabolism by releasing more fatty acids into the bloodstream resulting in a sparing of glycogen which means you will be able to exercise for longer. In fact consumption of caffeine prior to exercise may also have a masking effect, tricking the central nervous system into ignoring initial signals of fatigue, which means that you can exercise for longer. Brilliant !

So how much exactly ?

Well estimations are that consuming around 5-6 cups of coffee per day will result in you burning 100kcal extra a day, equivalent to 10 and a half pounds (5kg) per year.

Is that safe ?

There is a conception that caffeine acts as a diuretic causing dehydration, this however does not seem to be entirely true with everyone. Caffeine like any other drink (including water) if consumed in large quantities will act as a diuretic.

However consuming moderate amounts (4-5 cups of instant coffee per day, up to 300mg) seems safe.

Some people however may be hyper sensitive to the effects of caffeine and some will not, it is important to remember everyone reacts differently. It may be that caffeine has no effect at all on you or conversely it may have a huge effect.

There are some caveats though when considering upping the consumption of caffeine. Pregnant women may be at more risk to giving birth to an underweight baby or miscarriage with excessive consumption and caffeine may result in caffeine-induced hypertension in those hyper-sensitive types. If in doubt always consult your GP.

Understanding Food Labels; Part 3, Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide the most readily available energy source for your body and contribute to the largest proportion of your daily energy intake. Carbohydrates can be classified as either simple carbohydrates (sugars) or complex carbohydrates (starch).  Simple carbohydrates are foods such as fruit, biscuits, and fizzy drinks where as complex carbohydrates are typically grains, pastas, rice and potatoes.  Some of the simple carbohydrates are naturally occurring such as the sugars in fruit which contain many great vitamins and minerals. However the added sugars found in fizzy drinks and sweets are not the same and contain little if no nutritional value at all.

The carbohydrate food you eat will at some point end up as glucose and will either be used as energy or will be stored in the muscles or liver. The speed at which this process happens depends upon the food, with some being converted rapidly whilst others more steadily. The Glycemic Index is a measure of the rise of glucose levels in your blood after consuming a carbohydrate food. Carbohydrate foods are scored on a scale of 1-100 with pure glucose obtaining the top score of 100. Foods are then ranked or given a score in comparison to the standard of pure glucose. For example kidney beans appear very low (23) and white bread very high (70).  

Research to date suggests that low GI carbohydrate foods may have beneficial effects on health compared to a typical ‘western diet’ comprising high GI, convenience foods. It appears that low GI foods are more satiating, resulting in delayed hunger and a subsequent decrease in food consumption. In other words the low GI foods keep you fuller for longer. This has a knock on effect in that those consuming a low GI diet are less susceptible to weight gain and result in greater fat loss compared to high GI.

As being overweight or obese increases the risk factor for many chronic diseases eating low GI to prevent weight gain becomes even more important. In fact a low GI diet is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes where as a high GI diet may increased risk. Furthermore the GI may also have a role to play in reducing the risk for some cancers. Chronic insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia brought on by a high GI diet seem to encourage insulin like growth factors (IGF) which have been associated in the pathology of colon, breast, prostate and ovarian cancer. Although this points to a possible role for low GI dietary intervention, studies thus far have been mixed with some reporting little or no association between risk factors and GI.

So in the aisles reach for wholesome foods, try grained bread instead of white bread. Go for basmati or wholegrain versions rather than white rice. How about eating whole fruit or pure fruit juice (nothing other than fruit in it) than fizzy drinks ? Porridge, muesli or a bran cereal in place of a sugary branded variety. Remember adding protein or fat to a carbohydrate meal will also lower its overal GI. So having chicken or fish with rice and vegetables will lower the GI even more!!


Understanding Food Labels; Part 2, Protein

As one of the macronutrients protein is regarded as the building block essential for growth and repair. All protein is made up of Amino Acids of which there are 21. Unfortunately your body can only produce 12 of these, the rest known as Essential Amino Acids must come from the diet.  Some food sources known as complete proteins contain all 9 of these Essential Amino Acids whereas others may only contain a few. These are referred to as incomplete Amino Acids.  By adding incomplete protein foods together such as beans on toast or cheese and pasta the result is a meal containing all the essential amino acids!

Complete Proteins; milk and dairy, poultry, fish, meat, tofu and soy milk

Incomplete Proteins; rice, grains, nuts, beans, pasta, lentils, fruit and vegetables

So how much do you need? Well if you are pretty active around 1.4 – 1.8g / kg body weight should be ample. That means if you weigh 100kg (220lbs) then you will need 140 – 180g (5-7 ounces) per day, considering a 100g of tuna (3 ounces) will give you 27g (1 ounce) of protein and a tin of beans will give you around 17g it soon adds up. If you are training then protein is essential, without it in your diet you may as well kiss the possibility of you getting any stronger goodbye !!

Digressing a little experts recommend eating a meal rich in protein and carbohydrate soon after a workout, suggesting that there is a  ‘Window of opportunity’ whereby protein synthesis is greater in the period immediately after exercise. A protein shake, chicken or tuna sandwich, pasta with vegetables and lean meat or beans on toast will all help your post exercise recovery.

Understanding Food Labels: Part 1, Energy

Understanding food labels can at the best of times be confusing, with ambiguous terms and information often baffling the potential consumer. For the next few weeks we are going to cut to the core of food labels and break down some of the terminology commonly used by manufacturers giving you the necessary information to make correct choices for your health in the aisles.

When making comparisons between foods it is usually a good idea to start with the values per 100g or 100ml, this way you can easily compare and contrast the nutritional content of different products.

To start off with we’re going to get to grips with energy. This is one of the key ingredients to a food label and as such should be easily accessible.The figure displayed is the amount of energy in your food, expressed either as calories (kcal) or joules (kJ).  One kJ is equal to 4.18 Kcal. A calorie (kcal) is actually a scientific measurement of heat and is the amount of energy required to heat 1g of water by 1 degree celcius!

Energy is required for all bodily functions and is essential to maintain a healthy body. Consume more than you expend and your body will store excess energy as fat, consume less than you expend and your body will lose weight, either body fat or lean tissue mass (muscle). Beware though as a rapid weight loss (in excess of 2lb / week) may result in a depletion of lean muscle mass and a sparing of fat tissue. A safe and sustainable weight loss is between 1 and 2 lbs per week. When you consider that every pound is a whopping 3500kcal then you will appreciate that even losing 1lb in a week is a great achievement and something you should be proud of!!

So how much energy should you be eating? Well for every gram of carbohydrate and protein you eat you will get 4kcal. As for alcohol it’s a little higher at 7kcal for every gram (or ml), sorry!! And as for fat, well that’s even higher at 9kcal for every gram. As a general rule of thumb men should eat about 2500kcal and women around 2000kcal per day. As you can see a high fat diet will be kcal dense and as such you will be much more susceptible to consume more kcal than you require. Obviously the figures above can vary depending on your daily energy expenditure, so to find out more accurately your energy requirements calculate your BMR here.

Next week we will discuss carbohydrates. In the meantime “Happy shopping”.


Top Tips to keep your exercise routine, routine

As many of us have experienced we start off with good intentions to exercise more regularly only to be rudely interrupted by illness, holiday,  or even worse work commitments. So I hear you ask how can I continue exercising amid the demands of modern life? Well there are many ways you can do this, but today here’s a few tips that should help you overcome the desire to succumb to your exercise blip.  

Tip1) Expect the unexpected. This may be tough but inevitably things will happen to hamper your routine. Oh yes Work, family and life will happen and yes it is quite likely that your routine will become…..well anything but routine! So having an exercise plan that is flexible and adaptable will help you deal with life’s little curve balls.  So if you are a runner susceptible to joint trouble then it may be worth investing in other forms of low impact exercise or strength and conditioning to compliment your running. If your swimming pool has a gym then take your gym kit with you in case the swimming pool is closed. Always have your gym kit in your car that way you don’t have to go home after work and be tempted to have ‘ 5 minutes’ on the sofa. 

Tip 2) Listen to your body. Although ideally a long term periodised plan with progression, recovery and adaptation would give best results it is often not the most practical (see above). How do you know what you will feel like in 6 weeks or 12 weeks time? It may be good to have some rough idea of what you will be doing further down the line but this approach is perhaps not the most realistic. Alternatively listen to your body, surprising how your body will tell you all you need to know when it comes to training. Do you feel tired, lethargic or run-down? Is your sleep poor, are you picking up common colds with more regularity and are you failing to get the results your workout warrants? If so you may be over training and due a good break. As a rule of thumb gradually progress your training each week for 4 weeks then have a very light week, perhaps doing something different or relaxing completely. This is a great opportunity for the body to recovery and adapt to the training load. Then start up again where you left off on week 3, progressing a little each week for 4 weeks and so on. 

Tip 3) Record your success. It amazes me at how few people actually record their exercise results. This is fundamental to your success and without it you may become de-motivated and uninspired to continue. Would an accountant just guess his or her end of year figures ? I’m not sure their boss would tolerate “Well it feels like I got these figures right, I’m sure we have made some money!” Try writing down your results and keeping a diary. Personal bests, new exercises, results, what you liked about your routine, how great you felt afterwards, what you will achieve next and so on and so forth. 

Tip 4) Do what you enjoy. Yes, yes, yes! Do what you enjoy. It’s that simple. Why go to the gym if you don’t like it? Why force yourself to run if you hate it ? Sit yourself down and think about what it is you love about exercising? Maybe if there were no obstacles and nothing holding you back what would you love to do? Or perhaps there was something you did when you were younger that you could maybe do again? If you enjoy your exercise your motivation will be so much more higher as will be your chances of success.  





‘Fat Burning’ Zones explained

man-running.jpgSpeaking to friends and clients recently it has struck me at how much conflicting and downright misleading information there is out there when it comes to ‘Fat burning’. It is portrayed that this mythical training zone will cure all your fitness and weight issues, make you new friends and get you a pay rise. Well ok that’s maybe a little extreme, but are we expecting miracles from this training zone ?!
Achten et al (2002) found that the maximal fat oxidation, which they called FATMAX occured at around 64% O2 max or 74%Max HR ( /- 3%). Now this doesn’t mean that your body uses only fat at this intensity but it does mean that fat is the preferred fuel of choice. Work at a higher intensity and the fat burning benefits drop markedly!! The common misconseption people make is that they ONLY burn fat in this zone, this simply is not true. So how hard should I be working for weight loss ? Well the key is to mix up your intensities and modes of exercise. Try some long steady exercise of moderate intensity to encourage fat burning. Overall you will burn fewer calories but more will be fat. Marry this up with some short higher intensity interval training which will have a higher calorie yield (lower fat burning though) and you are on to a winner.

Higher intensities also increase your EPOC. That’s your Excess, Post Exercise energy consumption. It basically means your body still burns calories above its resting rate long after exercise has finished…brilliant! Throw in some strength training which will encourage more lean muscle mass and you will create a lean, calorie burning machine in no time.

SO there you go mix up your intensities the duration of exercise and ensure to include both cardiovascular and strength and you will have far more success than striving to stay in the ‘Fat burning Zone’ all the time.