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Examining The Science Of Weight Loss [Part 2]

weightlossIn my previous column, we examined the science of weight loss. While conventional wisdom states that eating too many calories will cause us to gain weight, the science supporting this idea doesn’t always hold up.

As we continue to investigate, we find that the current obesity epidemic is a complicated problem, with multiple causes and individual differences in susceptibility. In other words: What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

However, there are a few simple principles of health and nutrition that may be true for the majority of people seeking to lose weight.

The first and most important step a person can take is to begin by eating natural, real foods. This would include foods found on the periphery of the grocery store – vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean proteins – and not the packaged and canned foods down the aisles.

Packaged foods contain high amounts of sugar, salt and hydrogenated fats, all of which have been shown to contribute to the obesity epidemic by stimulating pleasure centres in the brain.

In his book, “Salt, Sugar and Fat,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Moss investigated the practice of the packaged food industry to chemically engineer addictive food products.

The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the “bliss point.” Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon,” he said.

Avoiding foods that are chemically engineered to make us eat more of them would be a good starting point.

The second most important factor, when it comes to weight loss, is understanding that the problem goes beyond food. Frequent movement and exercise may be just as important as what we eat.

For example, a recent study of 800,000 people found that sitting and inactivity increased the incidence of diabetes, heart disease and all-cause mortality. The interesting thing about these results is that they were independent of any exercise session. In other words: An hour of exercise a few days a week, was not as effective as shorter duration movements throughout the day.

Considering the fact that only 15% of all Canadians meet the required amount of daily exercise, it is clear there are other factors at play in the obesity epidemic.

Take time for 15-minute fitness breaks throughout the day. Exercise does not have to be difficult or painful. It could be as simple as a walk around the block, playing with your kids, taking the stairs instead or playing sports. The key is to move frequently.

Finally, a discussion of weight loss would be incomplete without acknowledging the role that stress and sleep deprivation play in weight gain.

The fact is, most Canadians are stressed and sleep deprived. The average person gets only 6.9 hours of sleep a night. This is simply not enough for proper rest and recovery from a stressful day.

Chronic sleep deprivation changes affect how hormones like leptin, ghrelin, cortisol and insulin store fat. Fortunately, getting eight hours of sleep, proper nutrition and exercise can reset these hormones over time.

Weight loss fads may come and go over the years, but basic principles of health and wellness such as proper nutrition, exercise and sleep, will always withstand the test of time.

Remember that healthy weight loss should always be a product of a healthy lifestyle and not necessarily the main objective.

Examining The Science of Weight Loss [Part 1]

Weight lossMost Canadians, approximately 61%, are considered overweight or obese. Weight loss is a billion-dollar industry consisting of how-to books, fat-burning supplements and surgical procedures designed to curb appetite and shed pounds.

While there are many diets and programs that claim to help you lose weight, very few of them have stood up to scientific scrutiny and have withstood the test of time.

Early weight-loss diets focused mainly on caloric intake. Researchers thought that weight gain was exclusively due to eating too many calories.

Simply put: We were consuming too much energy from food and not expending the same amount of energy through daily activity. Consequently, the leftover calories were then stored as fat.

While this model appeared to be correct at the extreme ends of the spectrum, restricting calories without paying attention to food quality proved to not be the healthiest approach.

By the 1970s, researchers believed that over-consumption of saturated fat was the reason people became overweight. Partially based on the work of Dr. Ansel Keys, saturated fat became Public Enemy No. 1 for the next 40 years.

Canadians were encouraged to do away with traditional cooking oils, such as lard and butter, and replace them with vegetable oils and margarine. Unfortunately, obesity and heart disease rates skyrocketed during this period of fat phobia, especially among children.

There has recently been renewed interest in low-carbohydrate diets. The first recorded use of a low-carbohydrate diet to treat obesity was in 1863 and was the standard of care up until the 1940s. Today, many people who have incorporated a low-carbohydrate diet have already experienced incredible results.

This is because the “Standard Canadian Diet” consists of a large refined carbohydrate intake from bread, rice, pasta, sugars, sodas and juices. The Canada Food Guide even recommends that the majority of our calories come from refined carbohydrates.

Unfortunately, excess carbohydrates (sugars) are quickly stored as fat. Also. many new studies have shown that excessive carbohydrate intake leads to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers.

It would seem that replacing refined carbohydrates with healthy proteins, vegetables, some fruits, nuts and good fats could dramatically improve overall health and keep the weight off.

However, this is only one piece of the obesity puzzle.

Newer studies point to certain packaged foods as a culprit in the obesity epidemic. They are cheap, readily available and these “foods” are now chemically engineered to stimulate pleasure sites in the brain.

Essentially, food companies are now creating addictions in adults and children and some people can’t help but eat foods that are unhealthy.

As time goes on, we find that obesity is a more complicated issue than simply what and how much we eat. Additional studies have shown individual differences in weight loss due to vitamin D levels, stress, quality of sleep may also play a role.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to weight loss. However, there are some basic principles that hold true for (almost) everyone.

In my next column, we will review simple lifestyle changes you can make to for healthy weight loss.

Obesity Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

alzheimer'sAs obesity rates continue to climb among all age groups in Canada, we are now beginning to see an increase of chronic illness as a direct result this current obesity epidemic.

Studies have shown that increases in health markers typically associated with obesity (waist circumference, belly fat, high blood pressure and cholesterol) are now directly related to developing dementia and Alzheimer’s as we age.

Scientists have long reported that the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia increase directly with rising obesity rates. Now, new reports are surfacing that age-related decline in mental function and Alzheimer’s disease may also be related to obesity.

Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK states: “Obesity in midlife is a risk factor for dementia and these projections suggest that rising obesity in the UK could contribute to growing levels of dementia over the coming decades. Dementia already has an enormous impact on individuals, families and communities and it is concerning to see that this could become even greater than previously predicted.”

As it turns out, what used to be thought of as normal, age-related mental decline, might simply be a side-effect of weight gain and obesity during middle age.

While it is still unclear exactly how obesity affects the brain, one theory suggests that proteins released by fatty tissues can travel across the blood-brain barrier and damage susceptible brain cells. Some have even begun to label this effect as Type 3 Diabetes, however more research still needs to be done.

Fortunately, there are steps that one can take to control obesity and improve mental function as we age.

In the past few years, there have been a number of studies that have shown the positive effects of diet and weight control on Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There’s evidence that adopting a Paleo-Mediterranean style diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and lean meats such as fish, can reduce the incidence of age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s by as much as 60%.

Keep in mind that simply losing weight is not necessarily the solution. Adopting healthy lifestyle practices such as diet and exercise are the key to healthy weight loss and potentially reversing chronic illness.

FAT: Separating Fact From Fiction (Part 2)

fatIn part 1 of this series, we discussed how fat got its bad reputation. Experts have long touted low fat diets as the epitome of good nutrition, yet heart disease and obesity remain at an all-time high. Misinformation, politics and bad science seem to be the culprits in an ever increasing smear campaign against fat, particularly saturated fat.

In the past, health care providers and nutrition experts would rarely mention the benefits of fat intake or even make the distinction between good and bad fat. The party line was: All fat was bad. It clogs your arteries and makes you overweight. Period.

Let’s set the record straight: Fat is a basic building block of life. Every cell in your body has an outer layer made up of 50% fat. Fat is also the main component of hormones. Of particular importance in fat metabolism are the hormones ghrelin and leptin. These help your body burn or store fat as needed. In other words, the fat you eat fuels the hormones that help you metabolize fat.

Fat is the preferential fuel used to run many of your internal organs, like the kidneys and the liver. That is why our bodies store it for future use.

Fat is essential for a newborn’s survival. From day one, if you were breastfed as a baby, your diet consisted of around 80% saturated fat. Saturated doesn’t stop being an important nutrient as we age.

Saturated fat, particularly animal fat, is a great source of vitamins A, D and K2. These are heart healthy vitamins that have been shown to protect us against heart disease. Clearly our bodies are designed to thrive of this very important fuel.

If you chose to start adding more fat to your diet, it is important to be able to distinguish between good and bad fat.

Simply put: Good fat is from a natural plant or animal source that has not been over-processed or over-heated. Once you heat a fat beyond its “smoke point” it become rancid and can have negative effects on your health. Trans fats are a good example of heated, bad fats.

Good fats can be added to foods after cooking or used in the cooking process itself, provided they are not heated beyond their smoke points.

Good cooking fats include: coconut oil, palm oil, grapeseed oil, pastured butter, lard or rendered animal fat for higher heat applications. Olive oils and other cold pressed oils such as nut or avocado oils should not be used for cooking but should be drizzled on top of foods instead.

Beware of certain “heart healthy” seed oils that claim to be high in omega 3’s. These are heat extracted in their production and are rancid before ever being bottled and sold. Avoid consuming seed oils altogether for this reason.

Food sources of good fat include: wild caught, oily fish, grass-fed or pastured beef and bison, pastured dairy products (where available), omega-3 eggs, coconut and hemp products, to name a few.

You’ll find that adding good fat to your diet can be an essential part of a healthy nutrition plan at any age. As with any major changes to your diet, do your research, consult with experts and be open to new ideas. Always monitor your progress and make changes as appropriate.