Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eating Energy for Weight Loss: Fats

Believe it or not, your body does need you to consume fats.  The distinction you should make as a consumer is which kind and how much. 

Fats, also known as lipids, are important in the body.  At the cellular level, they are involved with cellular membrane function and structure and regulation of nutrients in the cells.  They surround and protect internal organs, keeping them in place.  Your brain also uses fat for fuel.  They insulate the body from external temperature changes, as well as signal when you are full after eating.

There are three categories of lipids we consume in our diet: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Fats are linked to cholesterol levels, which can be good or bad depending upon the type of fat at issue.

As I’m sure you have heard the two unsaturated fats are considered to be “good fats.”  In case you were wondering the difference between mono and poly-unsaturated fats have to do with the chemical composition of the fatty acid: mono has one carbon bond while poly has two or more.  They help to boost your “good” cholesterol (HDL) and may also help with heart disease and blood pressure.  Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive and canola oils as well as nuts and avocados.  These are naturally cholesterol free, since they are plant based, making them a winner all the way around.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids are the fantastic sources of omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish such as salmon.  They are also considered “essential” fatty acids, as the body does not produce them naturally and must be provided by the diet.

Saturated fatty acids are another story.  They are an increased risk for heart disease and tend to raise your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.  It’s found in meat, egg yolks and butter.  It is generally recommended to keep these to a minimum.

A word about trans-fatty acids: avoid them.  They are typically found in processed foods.  Trans-fatty acids are the result of hydrogenation (adding hydrogen to unsaturated fatty acids), increasing the shelf life of the food (think preservatives).  They have the same negative effects as saturated fats.

Integrating the appropriate fatty acids into your diet will help your body function like a smooth machine.

See you at the gym!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eating Energy for Weight Loss: Carbohydrates

OK, we should all know it by now: your diet is the key to your weight loss.  Along with exercising, it is a tried and true way to achieve these types of goals.  Carbohydrates are kind of a big deal, even though they sometimes get a bad rap.  They do wonders for your body, and finding the right carbohydrates and steering away from the not so good ones will help you go in the right direction.

Your body needs energy to work, anything from performing daily functions like pumping blood, digesting food, moving around to meeting the demands you place on it during exercise.  The role carbs play in this production include providing nutrition that protein and fats cannot, keeping you feeling full, maintaining cellular fluid balance and spare protein breakdown for building muscle.  Carbs are the first nutrient the body uses for energy, and prefers to use it as much as it can.  They point fat and protein into use in the body, and even help to burn excess fat away.

So what makes a “good” carb?  Many have weighed in on this subject, and I’ll do the same.  Keep in mind that these points are for the general population, any special circumstances should be discussed with your medical provider or a registered dietitian.  A “good” carb should be complex in nature, or should have more than one benefit.  Whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables provide fiber as well, so those are on the good list for sure.  Yep, that’s right, vegetables are good sources of carbs.  As with all foods, the less processed foods tend to be better. Whole grain brown rice trumps white bread, and fresh apples beat canned fruit.

What about not-so-good “carbs?”  Processed foods like those I just mentioned are better than, say, a piece of cake, but still consider the value of what you’re eating.  I like to tell my clients that junk in equals junk out.  You will notice a difference in your energy levels if you have oatmeal with fruit for breakfast versus a blueberry muffin.  The muffin will be processed by the body quickly (think sugar rush) and if you haven’t used that energy, it will store it as fat just in case you don’t eat ever again.  Then you’ll be hungry again soon, adding insult to injury.

A quick word about high fructose corn syrup: it’s bad. And it’s everywhere.  Not only is it in sodas, but you can also find it in some yogurts (yes, yogurts), condiments like ketchup, store bought bread and some snacks.  The problem is that the body doesn’t recognize it as sugar, so it doesn’t release insulin to process it.  It just hangs out and basically gets turned to, you guessed it, fat.

Moral of this story is that carbohydrates are necessary and good for your body, so eat them, especially in the form of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.  Get that weight loss engine started!