Category Archives: Fatty acids
By: Travis Stork, M.D.
How did they do it? That’s the first question anyone asks when they see a friend or colleague who’s lost a lot of weight, or remade their body into a healthier, leaner version. How did they do it?
Well, it’s no mystery. In fact, one of the most important and intriguing studies ever conducted was put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back in 2006. This is our tax dollars at work, and I’d say we got our money’s worth.
The pages of the study—its catchy title is “Dietary and Physical Activity Behaviors Among Adults Successful at Weight Loss Maintenance”—take all the world’s weight-loss theories and compare them to what works for real people in the real world. It looked at people who won the fat war by losing at least 30 pounds and then keeping the weight off using strategies that will work for you, too.
Keep in mind: It wasn’t a 100 percent success story. The CDC studied 2,124 people, and only 587 of them actually lost the weight and kept it off. But those who succeeded used many of the same strategies, the strategies outlined here.
And for even more ways to revolutionize your diet and get lean for good, check out The Lean Belly Prescription by Dr. Travis Stork. It’s filled with simple strategies that will help you lose weight the same way you gained it: By making easy lifestyle choices that will transform your life—for the better.
Lean-Belly Strategy #1
Pay Attention to What You Eat
Mindless eating is excessive eating. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts discovered that people who watched TV while they ate consumed nearly 300 more calories than those who dined without an eye on the tube. You need to pay attention to the messages your stomach is sending to your brain; if the TV is blaring, you won’t see the “slow” and “stop” signs.
Lean-Belly Strategy #2
Fast eaters become fat people. If you consciously stop to take a breath between bites, you can cut your food (and calorie) intake by 10 percent, according to researchers at the University of Rhode Island. Special bonus: You can do this in social situations—Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Marge’s—and nobody will even notice. That is, until you show up next year minus 20 pounds of flab.
Lean-Belly Strategy #3
I Said Slow Down!
It takes 20 minutes for the news that you’ve had enough to eat to travel from your gut to your brain. The reason: Hormones that trigger the “I’m full—stop!” sensation are at the end of your digestive tract, and it takes a while for digested food to reach there. If your mouth is filled with conversation, it won’t be so full of food. Talk more between bites, and weigh less when the conversation/meal is over.
Lean-Belly Strategy #4
Beware the “Healthy” Menu
If you order the stuff that’s supposed to be good for you, you’re likely to underestimate a meal’s calorie total by more than a third, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The restaurants know that; now you do, too. So be especially aware when ordering “healthy,” and make sure you have a “to go” box handy to carry leftovers home.
Lean-Belly Strategy #5
Beware the Community Chest
Always serve snacks in a bowl or dish, and put away the packages. Never eat from the bag or container. That way you won’t ever eat an entire bag of something in a single sitting.
Lean-Belly Strategy #6
Beat Hunger with Your Mind
Have a craving even though you ate just an hour ago? Before you indulge your mystery hunger, here’s how to test whether your appetite is real or not: Imagine sitting down to a large, sizzling steak. If you’re truly hungry, the steak will sound good, and you should eat. If the steak isn’t appetizing, it means your body isn’t actually hungry. You might be bored, or thirsty, or just tempted by something you don’t need. Try a change of scenery: Researchers at Flanders University in Australia found that visual distractions can help curb cravings.
Lean-Belly Strategy #7
Redecorate, Repack, Remember
If you don’t have a countertop fruit bowl, buy one so you can grab a peach, banana, pear, or other piece of fruit on your way out the door in the morning, to munch on during your commute. (Plus, it’s fun to throw the core out the window.) Plan a 10 a.m. apple-a-day break. Toss an orange in your briefcase to help you past the mid-afternoon lull (otherwise known as Temptation Time). Make fruit part of your entourage, and it will beat up lesser foods.
Lean-Belly Strategy #8
If You Can’t Bear to Eat Vegetables, Drink Them Instead
That’s right, you could have had a V8—as long as it was the low-sodium variety. It has pureed tomatoes, beets, carrots, celery, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and watercress, and 8 ounces supplies two of your five recommended daily servings of vegetables. It also heats up nicely as a base for soups.
Lean-Belly Strategy #9
If You Can’t Bear to Eat Vegetables, Hide Them in Your Pasta Sauce
And no, neither you nor the kids will notice. Using a fine grater on your food processor, grate 2 cups total of onions, garlic, carrots, beets, and zucchini (or any combo thereof), then sauté the microscopic vegetable bits in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add 4 cups of basic marinara sauce and simmer to an anonymous tomato flavor.
Lean-Belly Strategy #10
If You’re Not Yet Drinking Smoothies, Why Not?
Have you read the label of your fruit juice? Lots of sugar (however “natural” it is) and not much fiber, which means it’s a carb bomb when it hits your bloodstream. Not so with a blended smoothie, because ingredient number one is whole fruit, making the sugar content drop and the fiber climb.
Two tips: Use frozen fruit; buy it by the bag in your store’s freezer section. And buy a wand mixer and a small pitcher so you can mix your smoothie in the same container you drink it from; it’s much easier than washing out a blender. Almost any fruit-and-berry combo will do, but you can start with this recipe: 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 banana (peeled ones freeze well), 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons whey powder (it’s in the supplements aisle in the grocery store), 1 cup 2% milk, and 1 cup water.
Lean-Belly Strategy #11
Buy Smaller Dishes
According to the food scientists at Cornell University, people tend to eat as much food as will fit on their plates. That’s where “duh!” overlaps with dangerous. Over the past 100 years, our plates have grown, decade by decade. And we also know that the nation’s obesity rates have grown exponentially in that time as well. No, it’s not a coincidence. If you dine off of smaller plates, you’ll grow smaller, too. Shoot for 9 inches in diameter, and you’ll be on your way.
Lean-Belly Strategy #12
Drink out of Skinny Glasses
As have gone dinner plates, so have gone drinking glasses. And if you fill the newly cavernous ones with any kind of sweetened beverage, you’ll overindulge in calories. But here’s a smart tip: We tend to gauge our drink sizes by how tall, not how stout, our drinking glasses are. So if you buy tall, skinny ones, you’ll think you’re drinking more even though you’re drinking less.
Lean-Belly Strategy #13
Never Eat from the Box, Carton, or Bag
Those same clever food scientists at Cornell did an experiment in which they gave one set of moviegoers giant boxes of stale popcorn and another set smaller boxes of stale popcorn. The big-box people ate more than the small-box people. The theory: You gauge the amount that’s “reasonable” to eat by the size of the container it’s in. Put two cookies on a plate, put a scoop of ice cream in a bowl, or lay out a small handful of potato chips on your plate, then put the container away; you’ll eat far less of the treat.
Lean-Belly Strategy #14
Limit the Fried Stuff
Fun fact: Fast-food burgers and chicken from KFC and McDonald’s are the most frequently requested meals on death row. It kinda makes sense. The inmates won’t be around to suffer the aftermath. Fried foods are packed with calories and salt, and that crunchy, oily coating beats down any nutritional qualities that whatever is entombed inside might have.
That said, eating one piece of fried chicken won’t be, um, a death sentence, if it’s surrounded on the plate by generous helpings of vegetables and you follow with fruit—not more fat—for dessert. What’s more, the fat in the chicken will help you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the veggies.
Lean-Belly Strategy #15
Eat the Good Stuff
Make sure your diet is filled with healthy fats in the forms of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), fatty fruits (avocados), extra-virgin olive oil, eggs (among the healthiest foods known to humankind), and healthy-fat snacks (nuts are nutritional powerhouses and keep you feeling full). I even give bacon in moderation a green light; at only 70 calories per strip, it carries big flavor and belly-filling capabilities.
Lean-Belly Strategy #16
Wear Your Milk Mustache with Pride
Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheeses all contain slow-to-digest protein and healthy fat, so they can be excellent belly fillers. And studies have suggested that the calcium in dairy products may aid weight loss. Make them part of your diet and you’ll find the cow elbowing aside lesser members of the food kingdom.
Lean-Belly Strategy #17
Eliminate Sweetened Beverages
If you’re going to follow only one piece of advice in this article, make it this one. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Drinks with added sugar account for nearly 450 calories per day in the average American’s diet. That’s more than twice as much as we were drinking 30 years ago. If you’re looking for a way to cut unnecessary daily calories to help you lose a pound a week, wean yourself from the overload of sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages.
No, artificially sweetened sodas are not okay. Even if they have few calories or no calories, they maintain or increase your taste for highly sweetened foods, so you seek out the calorie payload elsewhere. Worse yet, they crowd out the healthy beverages. My prescription: Out with the bad, in with the great—in taste and nutrition.
Lean-Belly Strategy #19
Reduce Your Intake of Food Prepared Away From Home
When you let somebody else prepare your food—especially if it’s a teenager in a paper hat—you lose control over what you eat. And the fast-food companies, being what they are, encourage all of your worst eating habits by stuffing their products with crave-inducing ingredients like unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. If you can stay out of the drive-thru, you can shrink your calorie intake every day.
Lean-Belly Strategy #20
Keep a Food Diary
Clearly, this weight-loss technique isn’t for everybody. It’s a hassle to write down every little thing you eat, day after day. But it’s strikingly effective for those who do it. My advice: Try it for a week so you can get a handle on how many sodas you drink and under what circumstances, when you’re most likely to veg out with a bowl of chips in front of the TV, and when your dessert cravings strike. That will help you identify your dietary danger zones and lead you to strategies that save pounds.
But it wasn’t just dietary changes that helped all those folks lose all that weight. Becoming active was another enormous factor in leading the successful losers into the promised land of the lean (but not hungry): exercising for 30 or more minutes per day, and adding physical activity to daily routines. Clearly, these are Lean Belly Prescription kind of people. And that provides a great segue to talking about the activities that these “successful losers” used to shed fat and keep it off .
Here’s why it’s so important to keep both healthy eating and exercise going as your one-two punch against belly fat. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reported that when people chose healthier foods and combined that benefi t with exercise, they torched 98 percent of their weight directly from their fat stores. People who changed their diets alone were much more likely to break down muscle for fuel, and that’s a big problem. Muscle is one of your prime metabolism boosters, so it will help you burn fat for up to 24 hours after a workout. So let’s tackle the activity list, and give you strategies to make the most of it.
Lean-Belly Strategy #21
Walk for Exercise
I consider that great news. Is there a simpler exercise than walking? Is there a better way to incorporate talking with friends and loved ones into your fitness plan? Is there anything else that gets you out among your neighbors at a pace that lets you say hello? And is there anything that makes your dog happier than your saying the magic word walk?
A study from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada (a lovely place for a walk, mind you) found that largely sedentary people who wore a pedometer for 12 weeks increased their total steps by 3,451 a day, to about 10,500. By walking more, they also lowered their resting heart rates, BMIs, and waist measurements. Once you start paying attention to footsteps, you’ll find ways to bank the extra strides. Thirty here, 300 there, 1,000 after dinner, and suddenly you’re walking away from your old weight. Why not start right now? The closer you pay attention, the more you’ll walk. And the more you walk, the greater the temptation will be to mix in an even bigger calorie burner: running.
Lean-Belly Strategy #22
I suspect that for 81 percent of you, the picture that just flashed in your mind was of a no-neck Bulgarian weight lifter straining as he hoisted a steel beam over his head in the last Olympics. I know that isn’t you.
But you should still be taking advantage of the weight lifter’s advantage: Muscle is the all-night convenience store of fat burning—it never shuts down. Not only do you burn a ton of calories while you’re actually exercising, but there’s also a big afterburn effect that kicks in. Your body has to expend energy to cool you down and repair the small tears in muscle fibers that happen when you lift. (Don’t freak out. If you lift reasonable-size weights, you won’t tear muscles, you’ll just push the muscle fibers hard enough to make them grow.)
Lean-Belly Strategy #23
Believe it or not, “none of the above” is a legitimate option when it comes to physical activity, because there’s nothing magical about running or weight lifting or even walking. They’re just the most common activities people choose in order to add more activity to their days. The only one that’s important to you is one that a) you enjoy, b) fits into your life well enough that you can do it most days, and c) allows you to up your energy expenditure.
You can do that by adding three 15-minute walks to your day or by scheduling 2-hour bike rides on weekends. Or simply by walking more, standing more, lifting more, and sitting less.
Just look at your whole day as an opportunity to make the smart choices that will help you lose weight and feel better. Achieve that, and where might you be next month? Or next year? Some place far better than where you are today!
Fatty acids are awesome.
Muscle heads love protein and amino acids because they’re the bricks that build their biceps. Fatty acids function in your body in so many more ways, activating nuclear receptors, modifying the fat cell maturation process, increasing the pliability of your heart’s electrochemical system…you get the point — they literally rule your body.
Unfortunately, much of the information surrounding fats is either dumbed down, misleading, or just plain wrong. In this article, we’re going to look at the different kinds of fats, what you need, and why every rep-chasing lifter should care.
Before we get into the details of the different types of fats, I want to first set a nutritional framework for fats in your diet.
I’ve found that dietary advice is best kept as simple as possible while still having the biggest impact on your goals. For example, if you get the same results eating 2.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight versus following my advice to just eat a bunch of protein every time you eat something — the better advice is to eat a bunch of protein because it’s simpler, and people will consistently do simple stuff.
This approach also translates to your fat intake. There are two levels of fat intake that you should focus on.
The reason you want 60% of your calories from fat if you’re dieting ketogenic style is because fat is going to be your body’s primary fuel source. Many times I see people overdo protein on ketogenic diets. Big mistake. You want fat to be your primary fuel source, not protein.
30% of total calories from fat is the sweet spot for all other times because it allows you to get in enough of the fats you need, while at the same time getting the protein and carbs you need as well.
Nutrition is a zero sum game. When you talk percentage of calories, it all needs to add up to 100%. By consuming lots of one type of food you’re preventing yourself from consuming a different type of food (see John Berardi’s Testosterone classic Dietary Displacement for more on this).
I’ll get into more specifics on the different types of fats later on, but from a total diet perspective you want to get a variety: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Getting 10% of your calories from each will provide you with the best results. Testosterone is about extreme muscle growth and fat loss, but to get the extreme results you need a balance of fats.
Next, a little T-controversy…
I’ve written about saturated fat previously here on Testosterone. The cliff notes version of the article is as follows:
Most of you know that, and while it’s obvious I’m not in the saturated-fat hater camp, lately there’s been a trend towards overemphasizing saturated fats in spite of recent food intakes data showing that we eat plenty of it.
Pro-saturated fat or not, you won’t see me recommending that you go hog-wild with bacon because it isn’t going to help your health or performance and, as stated, I’m about simplicity first. The truth is, too much emphasis on saturated fat only encourages you to eat less polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which research shows unequivocally to be really good for you.
Instead of continuing to rehash the tired old saturated fat/debate, I wanted to look at an interesting saturated fat story that’s often overhyped — coconuts, medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), and weight loss.
MCTs are saturated fats that, as the name says, are medium in length. Coconut is the most common food source of MCTs and is where coconut derives its weight loss fame. Yet the interesting thing about coconuts is that I’ve yet to see a study where people are actually given coconut oil to eat and it results in weight loss!
One study from Italy looked at the metabolic effects of replacing corn oil in a meal with MCTs. The researchers found that by switching to MCTs, the total energy expenditure of the subjects increased by ~50%. While this might sound amazing, the actual increase in calories burned was a paltry 25 calories; hardly significant if you consider that to get as many MCTs as was used in this study you’d need to ingest 3 tablespoons of coconut oil.
Looking at this data from a best case scenario implies that when you eat pure MCT oil, you burn an extra 3 grams of fat per tablespoon, compared to if you ate another kind of oil (olive, corn, canola, etc.).
But here’s the rub: If you’re trying to get your MCTs from coconut oil exclusively, you wouldn’t get these ‘free’ 3 grams of fat because coconut oil is not 100% MCTs. In reality, you’d need to eat 21 grams of fat from coconut oil — instead of 14 grams of fat from MCTs.
I love coconut flakes with cottage cheese and chocolate Metabolic Drive, but if you’re eating coconut for the calorie burning effects of their MCTs, the math just doesn’t add up.
But before we dismiss MCTs, we should note that MCTs, in animal studies, have been shown to increase adiponectin levels. Adiponectin is a little-talked about hormone released from your fat cells that’s also known as an adipokine (the mostpopular adipokine is leptin).
Adiponectin levels are low in overweight and obese people; adiponectin is also negatively correlated with abdominal fat (less adiponectin floating around in your blood means you most likely have more abdominal fat). More importantly, increases in adiponectin are related to improvements in insulin sensitivity in muscle. So finding ways to increase adiponectin secretions from your fat cells is always good.
Could this be an undiscovered benefit to MCTs?
Polyunsaturated fats can be confusing because they can be further broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which can act completely different in your body. I’ve written before about the role of omega-3 fats like EPA and DHA (the two omega-3 fats found in fish oil) in health and fat loss here. More recently, I also looked at theomega-6 fat — inflammation connection and how it sounds like a better story than it really is. Check the articles for more information regarding these specific topics.
Polyunsaturated fats are often unfairly accused of being easily oxidized and thus likely to wreak havoc on your system. While this makes sense to a biochemist (more on that in a minute), it doesn’t seem to hold true in the real world. I’ve yet to see any real evidence to show that people who eat more polyunsaturated fats have higher levels of oxidative stress. Fact is, the opposite is true; most research shows that the people who eat more polyunsaturated fats have better health.
Polyunsaturated fats are said to be more prone to oxidation because of their chemical structure. They have more double bonds than monounsaturated (which have one) or saturated fats (which have none). Double bonds in fats are like weak links in a chain; they’re easily broken and when they do break, oxidation occurs. The more double bonds a fat molecule has, the more weak links, and thus the greater likelihood of oxidation.
Oxidizing fats are like a chain of fireworks strung together, once one goes off, the rest go offer soon afterwards. For a visual image, check the illustration on the right.
The two major things causing the fats in your diet to be oxidized are time and heat.
Time — The longer food sits around, the greater likelihood of oxidation. This is why fish oil capsules and other unsaturated oils have vitamin E added to them. Companies add vitamin E, an antioxidant, to keep oxidation at bay. Most foods that naturally contain polyunsaturated fats also contain antioxidants as a built-in protection mechanism.
Heat — Increased heat can also increase the likelihood of oxidation. You may be wondering if this means that you should eat more of your food uncooked and cold. While the raw food movement is interesting, participation is not mandatory for two reasons.
The first is that when we eat foods, the structure and makeup of the foods helps protect polyunsaturated fats from oxidizing. Salmon is a great example of this. Salmon is loaded with the omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA — which means lots of susceptibility to oxidation. However, a 2001 study in Austria showed that steaming or pan frying salmon didn’t accelerate fat oxidation in the salmon.
Another good example of this is seen with canola oil. Canola oil is often demonized as being high in omega-6 fats that can cause increases in inflammation and is oxidized while cooking, which in turn can cause you more health problems.
Ironically, apart from flaxseed oil, canola oil has the second highest alpha linolenic acid (another omega-3 fat) content than any other oil in our diet. So while it may contain a lot of the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (see this for why omega-6 fats are good for you), it’s also a great source of omega-3 fats.
So is canola oil a bad oil to cook with due to oxidation? Nope. When heated to its smoke point (250 degrees Celsius) — a temperature at which you shouldn’t cook with any oil — and held for 5 minutes, only a small amount of oxidation occurred. When canola oil is heated to 195 degrees Celsius, which is most likely the temperature you stir-fry foods at, there’s no evidence of oxidation. In short, since you’re not smoking your oils, you have nothing to worry about in regard to oxidation.
Let’s move away from oxidation and polyunsaturated fats and move specifically to some new research on the two darlings of the fatty acid community, EPA and DHA.
A hot topic in the science world is aging. Lately, scientists have begun measuring the rate at which people age biologically. They do this through measuring telomere length.
The telomere is a clump of DNA that sits at the end of your chromosome (see pic on the right). It serves as the ‘cap’ to your chromosomes, preventing valuable parts of the chromosome from being degraded.
Due to the mechanics of chromosomal replication, each replication causes your telomeres to get smaller and smaller. When the telomeres eventually disappear, the actual chromosomes start to degrade and your cell dies. Other factors such as oxidative stress and inflammation can also accelerate telomere shortening and thus, aging.
A study published in January of this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over a five-year period, people with the lowest levels of EPA and DHA in their blood had the fastest rate of telomere shortening. So add ‘anti-aging’ to the list of amazing things these fatty acids do.
Monounsaturated fats are commonly seen as the epitome of heart-healthy fats and the key to the uber healthy Mediterranean diet. Popular food sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, red meat (which is about half monounsaturated fat), avocados, and macadamia nuts (which have more monounsaturated fat than any other nut).
For the longest time people were advised to replace fats in their diets with carbohydrates; yielding that awful low fat/high carbohydrate diet. The tide has finally turned (i.e. regular people are now doing what we lifters have been doing for a while) and recommendations are now being made not to replace fats with carbohydrates, but to eat more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Ironically, high monounsaturated fat diets had been used in the 1980’s for the treatment of diabetes (where glucose control is imperative). Too bad they didn’t keep it up. Eating more monounsaturated fats have also been show to be associated with a slowing of age related cognitive decline.
The world of dietary fats is complex. Your best bet is to take in a lot of fish oil and get a variety of fats from as many different sources as possible. Here’s a list to get you started:
Have all these on hand to make things easy, and remember, to get the extreme results you want, you need a balance of fats.