Your Weight Is A Burning Issue
Official figures show that the number of obese people has more than doubled in a decade and is very much on the increase. More than 15% of the UK population are obese and the health consequences of obesity, which include a 77 times increased risk of diabetes, are a major burden on the health services. According to Professor Philip James Obesity constitutes one of the most important medical and public health problems.
Is it politically incorrect to tell people to lose weight? Why has controlling obesity been dropped as a target in the Government’s Healthier Nation programme? The fact remains that the growth in Western countries in obesity is accelerating rapidly. The US, who lead the field, spend $99 billion treating the health problems associated with obesity and link obesity to 300,000 premature deaths per year. Already more than half the adult population in the US is overweight with one in four women classified as clinically obese. On current trends the UK will have the same level of obesity within a decade.
The conventional calorie theory says that what you eat, in terms of calories, less what you burn off from exercise, ends up as the wadge of fat around your middle. Consequently, the epidemic of obesity has been blamed on fat and lack of exercise, but the figures simply don’t add up. Not only are we eating fewer calories than in the past, but the percentage of calories that come from fat is steadily decreasing. That means, in real terms, we are eating much less fat. While we do burn off less calories from exercise, principally due to technological changes that have led to a much more sedentary life, driving to work, sitting at work, watching television at home in a push-button world of conveniences that require little physical activity, this alone cannot explain the rapid rise in rates of obesity.
THE MISSING LINK
The missing link in the calorie equation is metabolism - how the body turns food into fat - and the key to this is maintaining an even blood sugar level. According to Professor Gerald Reaven from Stanford University in California, one in four people in the western world now have dysglycaemia, the technical term for an inability to keep their blood sugar level even. Put simply, if you can’t keep your blood sugar level even, the excess sugar is turned to fat. So strong is the link between obesity and blood sugar levels, that the chances of an obese person developing diabetes is 77 times higher than a person who is the right weight. One of the key measures of dysglycaemia is ‘insulin resistance’. Whenever blood sugar levels rise the body produces the hormone insulin, which takes the sugar out of the blood into cells, converting the excess to fat. So insulin effectively helps the body dump sugar as fat. The more often blood sugar rises the more insulin is produced. The more insulin is produced the more sugar is dumped as fat. Over time the body cells becomes less responsive to insulin so even more is produced. Eventually cells become so non-responsive that diabetes results. For these people even the slightest indulgence means extra weight gain, while a person whose sugar metabolism is working properly can adapt by burning off extra calories.
THE MODERN APPROACH TO FAT BURNING
The trick to losing weight is therefore to eat a diet that keeps your blood sugar level even, to eat less of the wrong fats and to exercise more. While this all sounds very familiar there have been some important scientific developments that, in combination, provide a much more effective way to lose weight and regain weight control. In practical terms this boils down to five key steps.
1. Eat the right kind of carbohydrates to achieve a better blood sugar balance
This approach, discussed fully in the last issue of this magazine, involves selecting foods that have little effect on raising blood sugar levels and therefore a low ‘glyceamic index’ effect. This greatly favours a diet rich in fresh vegetables, certain fruits, beans, lentils, wholegrains and fish and low in sugar, refined foods, fruit juices and other sweet foods, as well as high saturated fat foods such as red meat and processed meats.
2. Combine slow-release carbohydrates with protein-rich foods to stop hunger and reduce your tendency to store fat
Contrary to Dr Hay’s food combining, it is a scientific fact that eating protein together with carbohydrate stabilises the increase in blood glucose levels even further. This means eating fish with rice, or tofu with vegetables or beans with pasta. First popularised in the book Enter The Zone in which author Barry Sears extolled the virtues of upping protein intake to 30 per cent of calories, eating relatively more protein does help to correct dysglyceamia and insulin resistance. However, there are problems with long-term high protein consumption, not least of which is increased risk of osteoporosis.
3. Increase the amount of essential fats you eat - they help you burn fat.
But keep down your saturated fat intake. One of the greatest myths in conventional weight control is that ‘a calorie is a calorie’. This is patently untrue. A calorie of saturated fat has a very different outcome to a calorie of essential fats that are used by the brain, immune system, skin, endocrine system and cardiovascular system in preference to being stored as fat. But what is most important is that the omega-3 essential fats, principally from fish and flax seeds, actually counteract some of the negative effects of insulin resistance and dysglycaemia. Therefore dieting strategies that incorporate significant amounts of omega-3 fats help to promote weight loss. In practical terms this means eating fish and flax seeds, while avoiding cream, high fat cheese and meat.
4. Reduce stimulants such as tea, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol
Sugar and refined carbohydrates aren’t the only substances that disturb blood sugar control. So too do stimulants and alcohol. These have a profound effect on stress hormones and blood sugar stability, affecting both energy and weight control. This means minimising alcohol and switching to caffeine-free alternatives.
5. Eat three meals a day - especially breakfast - and snack on fruit
Snacks are a big no-no on many diets, which try to curb people’s eating patterns to consume fewer calories. Yet, one of the most effective ways to stabilise blood sugar and control weight and appetite is to eat the right kind of foods little and often. The easiest way to put this into effect is to have three meals a day, never miss breakfast and have a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack every day.
So far we’ve only been talking about the big guys: fat, protein and carbohydrate. How the body uses these depends on hundreds of enzymes that, in turn, depend on the little guys - the micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. To tune up your metabolism for fat-burning it is essential to consume optimal amounts of these. For the body to make insulin, for example, you need zinc and vitamin B6. Insulin’s ability to control blood sugar levels is helped by the mineral chromium. To turn glucose into energy, rather than fat, you need B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C. To burn fat you need all these, plus the B vitamin biotin.
The important vitamins are the B complex vitamins, a family of eight different substances, every one essential for making energy. Glucose can’t be turned into pyruvic acid without BI and B3 (niacin). AcoA can’t be formed without B1, 82, B3, and most important of all, B5 (pantothenic acid). The Krebs cycle needs Bi, B2 and B3 to do its job properly. Fats and proteins can’t be used to make energy without B6, B12, folic acid or biotin.
The minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc are also vital for making energy. Calcium and magnesium are perhaps the most important because all muscle cells need an adequate supply of these to be able to contract and relax. A shortage of magnesium, so common in people who don’t eat much fruit or vegetables, often results in cramps, as muscles are unable to relax. Magnesium is involved in 75% of the enzymes in your body - and it is vital for the body to use carbohydrates.
Zinc, together with vitamin 86, is needed to make the enzymes that digest food. They are also essential in the production of the hormone insulin, which helps to control blood sugar levels. A lack of zinc also disturbs appetite control and causes a loss of sense of taste or smell, often leading to the over-consumption of meat, cheese and other strong tasting foods.
The older you are the less likely you are to be taking in enough chromium - an essential mineral that helps stabilise blood sugar levels and hence weight. The average daily intake is below 5omcg, while an optimal intake - certainly for those with weight and blood sugar problems - is around 200mcg. Chromium is found in wholefoods and is therefore higher in wholewheat flour, bread or pasta than refined products, as well as in beans, nuts and seeds. Asparagus and mushrooms are especially rich in chromium. Since it works with insulin to help stabilise your blood sugar level, appetite and weight, the more uneven your blood sugar level the more chromium you use up. Hence, a sugar and stimulant addict, eating refined foods, is most at risk of deficiency. Flour has 98% of its chromium removed in the refining process - another reason to stay away from refined foods.
Two studies carried out at Bemidji State University in Minnesota have shown that chromium supplementation helps to build muscle and burn fat’. In addition, chromium helps to lower cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar levels, so it is especially helpful for people at a high risk of developing diabetes2. Whether you can achieve an optimal intake of chromium from diet alone is debatable. It is therefore wise to take supplements of this fat-burning mineral as well as eating wholefoods. The best forms of chromium are either picolinate or polynicotinate.
Although not a vitamin, this substance found in the tamarind plant, could help you lose weight. Originally developed by Hoffman-LaRoche, the pharmaceutical giant, HCA has proven to slow down the production of fat and reduce appetite. HCA has no apparent toxicity or safety concerns. It is extracted from the dried rind of the tamarind (Garcinia cambogia) fruit, which has been used as a spice and preservative in the East for hundreds of years, and is thought to be the richest source of HCA.
HCA works by inhibiting the enzyme that converts sugar into fat. The carbohydrate in a meal is first used to provide fuel and short-term energy stores (glycogen.) Any excess is then converted to fat by the enzyme ATP-Citrate Lyase. HCA blocks this enzyme. Evidence of its fat-burning properties has been accumulating since 1965. For example, participants in one eight-week, double-blind trial reported an average weight loss of 11.1 lbs per person, compared to 4.2lbs on a placebo.
In addition, HCA reduces the synthesis of fat and cholesterol. Animal studies have confirmed this and it may be that HCA has a role to play in helping those with high triglyceride (fat) or blood cholesterol levels. There is also evidence that HCA may enhance the burning of calories and increase energy levels. According to John Sterling, whose company BioCare was among the first to introduce HCA to Britain, ‘People are reporting very positive results. HCA doesn’t help everybody, but it is helping about 50% of those who’ve tried it.’ HCA is likely to prove a useful addition to reduced calorie diets rich in slow-releasing carbohydrates and low in saturated fat. It is widely available as a supplement, often together with chromium.
I recommend you supplement your well-balanced diet with fatburning vitamins and minerals to ensure your metabolism is working at peak efficiency. The ideal intake is different for every individual and can be worked out individually for you by a nutrition consultant. However, the chart below gives a good approximation of the optimal supplement levels for an average person on top of a well balanced diet. In essence this means supplementing a high strength multivitamin and mineral, plus vitamin C and additional chromium plus HCA.
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Optimum Daily Intake
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B5 (pantothenate)
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B12 (cobalamine)
Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol)
Adapted from The 30 Day Fatburner Diet, Patrick Holford (Piatkus, 1999)
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