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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?)



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!!


Welcome to my Blog

Hi Everyone and welcome to Fitstar Coaching’s Health and Fitness Blog ! My desire is that you will find loads of interesting and useful stuff in here that will help you achieve your health and fitness potential. Whether you are after advice for yourself or for Children you invest in then I sincerely hope that this blog can be of some use to you!!