Let’s chew the fat about metabolism and foods that fuel versus foods that fatten.
Eating right and maintaining optimal body weight doesn’t have to be complicated. Understanding how your body assimilates carbohydrates, protein and fat will take the mystery out of weight control.
When it comes to fat-burning and foods, it helps to know who’s doing the burning, and how certain foods can help.
Here are a few simple facts about food and fat that will help you get back to the basics.
Mind Blowing Fact #1 - Calories Aren't the Enemy
Calories aren’t villains to be avoided. Actually, your body gets its energy from calories.
Technically speaking, a calorie is a unit of energy. In scientific terms one calorie is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius. When it comes to your food, calories refer to the amount of potential energy the food contains.
In other words, calories quantify how much fuel is available to you.
The amount of water, fat and fiber in foods determines their energy density. Your body stores unused calories in fat cells. Fat, being more dense, contains more calories and takes more energy than carbohydrates and proteins to consume.
So, when you look on your food labels, don’t count calories, count on them for your energy and use your energy wisely.
Mind Blowing Fact #2 - Whole Foods Beat Empty Calories Every Time
Not all calories are the same. It also depends on what nutrients are in the food. Solid fats and added sugars supply calories but they are empty of vitamins and minerals.
Whole, fiber-rich and raw foods
are said to require more energy to break down than do processed foods which require less digestion.
Vitamins and minerals are plentiful in whole foods. They sustain your energy level over longer periods of time, giving you more time to burn fat rather than store it.
That means, if you choose between two foods that require the same number of calories, say, one bag of baked carrot and kale chips or one cup of raw carrots and kale, the raw veggies will require more energy and burn more efficiently than the processed bag of chips.
"More efficiently" means a thorough, clean burn with little to no byproduct.
And, knowing which calories are coming from fat, carbohydrates or protein helps you determine the duration and intensity of your activity or exercise you’ll want after eating.
It’s like the difference between putting a dry, dense log of wood on a fire (the raw carrot) and throwing a bunch of soft, wet grass (the bag of chips) on the flame.
With the log, the fire will burn the log slower, but consume the entire log leaving nothing but ash. The wet grass will be hard to light at first, then only partially burn. The material left behind (calories) sits around as long as you sit around, stored as fat. That unspent fuel would require more fire (exercise) to dispose of it completely.
Next time you go on a hike, long walk or swim, replace your sugary, refined carbohydrate “energy bar” with raw veggies or proteins such as almonds, raw pumpkin seeds or fresh fruit.
Over a short period of time you can may see a big difference in how you burn off fat.
Mind Blowing Fact #3 - Hot Peppers Cool Inflammation
Thermogenic or spicy foods, such as red peppers, can raise your metabolism by triggering your immune response.
Peppers contain capsaicin, an immunity building compound and nutrient that reduces inflammation, keeps your joints healthy and helps you burn off fat faster.
There are many varieties of peppers, from mildly spicy to five-alarm hot, depending on the amount of capsaicin they contain. Capsaicin is used as a spice, an analgesic and even a euphoriant. The burning sensation that some pepper varieties cause triggers the body’s pain receptors and releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone.
Studies have shown capsaicin to be a potent anti-inflammatory
which helps promote healthy joints, skin and bones. Research has also shown that eating foods that contain capsaicin or applying a topical cream that contains capsaicin can suppress arthritis and joint pain.
Capsaicin can help burn body fat, not just belly fat, through thermogenesis or heat production. Your body’s energy usage depends on the level of heat it produces, just like turning up your thermostat raises your heating bill.
Thermogenesis usually occurs in your body’s response to cold, burning fat to increase your body temperature. But, capsaicin binds with your nerve ending’s heat receptors, tricking your body into turning its furnace up high.
So, it’s a bit of a contradiction to say hot is cold and cold is hot. But it is not so different from the Water Up, Fire Down
principle which says that bringing cooling water down from the head actually stokes the burning fires rising up from the belly.
Like a beautiful infinity sign, it’s all in the balance.
Mind Blowing Fact #4 - Fat and Sugar are Your Friends
Just like calories, it’s not that sugar or fat are inherently bad. It’s the type of fat and sugar you’re eating that can turn friendly foods into foes.
While there is much controversy about what makes a “bad” fat, it is still wise to go light on hydrogenated, saturated and trans fats. These types of fat, found in most processed foods such as margarine, processed cheese and fast foods, are much harder for your body to digest.
Processed sugar, found in most snack foods, cakes, cookies and refined wheat products, such as bread and pasta, are also culprits. They can add pounds, cause blood sugar levels to spike and disrupt proper nutrient absorption and digestion.
But your body needs both fat and sugar to survive. Fatty acids are an important source of energy. It’s part of the fuel we burn (think of an oil lamp) in physical activity. Sugar or glucose is another essential ingredient. Without glucose in our blood, our bodies would shut down and our brains would die.
Fats you needn’t fear include fish oil and vegetable oils that contain Omega-3 and alpha-linolenic acids such as salmon, olive and coconut. Your body uses these types of fat to synthesize protein and provide energy.
And, when sifting through the sugar aisle, it’s best to use natural sweeteners such as raw honey, beet juice and applesauce. But, if you must use cane sugar, look for unrefined, unbleached products such as turbinado or demerara which are minimally processed.
The most important thing is, don't be afraid of your food. These fun facts about fat and calories can help you be more empowered in your food choices and give you new inspiration to change your energy.
Metabolism and body types are highly individual, but eating foods that provide better, cleaner fuel for your body give everyone a head start on health and happiness.