In more recent years nutritional science has uncovered that many modern chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer are metabolic conditions related (at least in part) to our imbalanced diet.
Finally it seems that in mainstream circles diet is beginning to be seen as a primary intervention for treating these modern day diseases, evidenced by the amount of media it receives these days. To highlight an example, for my Australian readers, you may be aware that last Thursday on ABC’s Catalyst program they ran an episode titled; Low Carb Diet: Fact or Fiction.
I thought overall the Catalyst program did a good job of educating a mainstream audience on why are modern day diets are causing disease and gave compelling reason for why we need to utilise fat more to fuel our metabolism.
So for this weeks post then, I thought I’d firstly dissect the Catalyst program a little, highlight it’s important points and then summarise it into 4 Ways to improve your ability to burn fat.
Summary of Catalyst Program
Summarising in a couple of paragraphs; in the days when fats were out people replaced those calories with more refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sweets etc). On top of this our consumption of other high glycemic index (GI) foods like fruit and fruit juices and alcohol has meant that these foods/drink quickly flood our bloodstream with glucose (sugar) which causes our bodies to produce a high amounts of insulin to carry the nutrients into the cells. The problem though is over time a diet with disproportional amount of glucose, causes the body’s cells to eventually begin “resisting” insulin which unfortunately then creates a vicious cycle as the person then is constantly hungry and tries to solve the problem by eating more quick energy carbohydrates. Researchers now believe that insulin apart from regulating our blood sugars is in essence a “fat storing” hormone which harks back to our ancient ancestors who when food was in abundance needed a physiological mechanism to store fat. Insulin achieves this, which makes sense today because all chronic diseases (including obesity) indicate high blood insulin levels (“insulin resistance” aka “pre-diabetes”) so insulin is indeed the mechanism to store fat. Where it is especially obvious is with abdominal obesity (excess fat around the midline) that in more pronounced cases indicates that the person is has become intolerant (unable to process properly) high GI carbohydrates.
Eating fat does not raise insulin levels, so unlike high GI foods it doesn’t get stored as easily as fat. The ideal then is to get a good portion of your daily caloric intake from fats, because apart from not raising insulin (fat storing) levels, it is also a dense source of nutrients which keeps you full for longer. By satiating you longer, you end up needing to eat less of the high GI quick energy carbohydrates to keep your energy levels up. Your insulin sensitivity begins then to restore itself, and you become “fat adapted” as opposed to relying primarily on sugar to fuel metabolism. Other benefits are that you stop storing fat and actually burn stored fat when you need to between meals. Also, because you no longer have excess insulin circulating through the bloodstream, you lower cellular inflammation, meaning your blood vessels stop getting damaged (heart disease it turns out, is due far more to excess sugar / insulin in the bloodstream).
4 Ways to Improve Fat Burning
1. Improve your Fuel Mix
The first thing I’ll say here is there is no one diet for everyone, ( this is my first minor objection with the Catalyst program as it gave the impression that we all need to eats lots of fats). The key I believe is about balance, some constitutions (particularly those with fast metabolisms, do well on a higher fat and protein diet), whereas someone with a slower metabolism doesn’t need to be bogged down with too many fats and proteins and therefore does better with proportionally more “good” carbohydrates.
Remember too that even a person who does well on 40-50% of their caloric intake as fats, can still achieve this maintaining a healthy daily caloric intake (see below charts) . The problem I see with low carb diets is the tendency to think “fat and protein are good, so more must be better”.
*Sedentary – seated work with little or no strenuous leisure activity.
**Moderate – standing or walking work, or sedentary work with regular exercise of at least 30 minutes.
Source: Australian Healthy Food Guide
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Certainly all of us do better to limit high GI carbohydrates (for those with health issues arguably they avoid them altogether until they restore healthy metabolism). We still need lots of good carbohydrates (fibrous vegetables) though, but if you’re constantly hungry its a good sign that you need to increase your intake of “good” fats. This brings me to my 2nd mild objection with the Catalyst program, that they didn’t differentiate between good and bad fats. In fact they gave the impression that eating lots of saturated fats in animal foods was entirely fine. I’m not sure that is entirely true. Yes, I can see the insulin connection but the danger (as I mentioned above) is that people over consume animal fats which are much harder to break down and absorb than plant fats.
I see animal fats as “ok fats” (to consume moderately), “bad fats” are man-made ones (margarine, hydrogenated oils, trans fats etc). “Good fats” are your raw plant fats (olives, avocado, coconut products, nuts, seeds etc). Then “very good” fats are your omega-3’s from plant and marine source (flax, chia, walnuts, fatty fish i.e. tuna, salmon, mackerel etc). Omega-3 fats are not only a great source of high density fuel, they also lower cellular inflammation (thereby improving insulin sensitivity) and improve our ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL).
In getting the fuel mix right, I don’t recommend that you necessarily eat more protein. The average Australian is consuming about 92 grams of protein a day, which is considerably above the needed amount. The consensus from a lot of the research is that even for an active person about 0.8gms per kilogram of body weight is needed daily. You can only utilise this amount of protein in a day, the rest just adds extra fuel to your bloodstream which then raises your insulin levels. Related to this (and my third mild objection with the Catalyst program) was when Professor Noakes stated that protein intake gives a “moderate” spike in insulin levels. Actually some proteins do, but as this landmark study shows, some like beef, fish and yogurt actually have pretty high insulin index because they are dense foods that end up needing a lot of insulin.
Calorie restriction forces the body to use it’s stores of energy (glycogen and then fat) to continue fuelling metabolism. Water, juice, smoothie fasts do this in a more condensed, dramatic fashion which can be a really good way to shift the body into fat burning mode ( ketosis).
Intermittent Fasting is another form of fasting which can shift the body to being “fat adapted” (and is arguably better as it is diet method that can be adopted day to day, all the time). To explain how it works; you finish dinner at 7pm, it then takes up to 8 hours to digest (~2am), thereafter your body uses glycogen stores in muscle which takes about 2-3 hours to use up so that by 5am or 6am your body is forced to shift to burning fat stores. If you are very much a “sugar burner” you’ll do this less efficiently and therefore wake up very hungry. If you decide though to skip “break-fast” and go through to lunch time without eating you’ll add another 6-8 hours to the time when your body is in the fasted (fat burning) state. Doing this over time, improves your insulin sensitivity and restores your ability to effectively burn stored fat.
If you’re interested in Fasting, you might like to check out our supported fasting® programs.
3. Exercise in the morning before Eating.
Following on from the last point, in the morning your body has used up all of it’s blood sugar and glycogen stores so it begins to access fat stores. Exercising at this time then is ideal if you want to burn off excess fat. Remember too that your body stores toxins in fat and the body in it wisdom burns off it’s most toxic fat first (which is around the midline – fat that has been deposited deeply around the visceral organs).
4. Consuming Foods, Herbs and Mineral that Promote Fat Burning.
There are host of foods and supplements that either have a thermogenic effect (increase heat/energy production to burn fat), and or lower insulin resistance (to better allow us to access fat burning).
Here is a few examples;
Cayenne Pepper – promote thermogenesis, Cinnamon – lowers blood sugars, Ginger – metabolic activator (by as much as 20%), Vitamin C – higher levels promote fat burning, Garlic – promotes thermogenesis / lowers blood sugars, Bitter Melon – lowers insulin/leptin levels, Gymnema Sylvestre (“sugar destroyer) and Chromium both remove sugar from the blood so promote fat burning.
Of course most of these above can be accessed by eating the foods themselves, otherwise in supplement form. We sell our own version of a fat burning / blood sugar & insulin lowering supplement called Fasting Support. It contains most of the above mentioned (along with other greater fat burners), it is part of the reason why our supported fasting® are not only easier but also more effective.
So there it is how to burn fat 101 ( sorry that this post was so long – I don’t normally write this much but it’s a passionate topic not only for me, but for others too). Hope you find it useful!
The floor is Now Yours.
Diets are always a hot topic, often lots of passionate disagreements – some of what I’ve written may not gel with you. Please go ahead and let me know what they are and what your experience has been – what has worked, what hasn’t. Also any questions you have, I’m always happy to do my best to answer them.
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Aaron Travers is author of “The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”. Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” programs. Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, fill in below form to subscribe.
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