As I pointed out last week, there's growing evidence that healthy fats — the ones found in plants, nuts and fish, known as polyunsaturated fats, are now considered a healthy — even necessary — addition to our daily diet. At the same time, while it's considered beneficial to reduce the amount of animal fats in our diet, it's no longer considered public enemy No. 1. It's not necessary to cut all saturated fat from your diet, but to merely keep track of it. The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. Some experts say as much as 10 percent is acceptable.
Keeping some saturated fat in your diet may be a piece of advice we should heed, because history shows that when people lower the amount of saturated fat they eat, they tend to replace it with carbohydrates and consumption of too many carbohydrates can quickly spell metabolic trouble. Calories your body doesn't need to use right away are converted into what are called "triglycerides," which are cells that are stored as fat. The more calories we lock away in fat tissue, the fewer there are circulating in the bloodstream to satisfy the body's requirements. And this is what leads me to my final word on fat — what is referred to as "deep," or visceral, fat.
I am not talking about the normal pounds that tend to park themselves around the midsection as we age — the kind you can pinch between your fingers. This is known as subcutaneous fat, which is relatively easily addressed with diet and exercise.
Visceral fat is of greater concern because it lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. It is a key player in a variety of health problems, from increased risk of kidney disease to osteoporosis; this type of fat wraps around the internal organs, including the liver, pancreas and intestines.
According to David Ludwig, an obesity expert and professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the primary driver of excessive weight gain and obesity today is not an excess of calories per se, or saturated fat, but an excess of foods like sugar, refined grains and other processed carbohydrates. A long-time favorite vessel for packing on the visceral fat is daily intake of sugary-beverages.
Exactly how sweet drinks get converted into visceral fat is unknown. A new study released by the Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute clearly demonstrates that individuals who consumed higher amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages gained more visceral fat over time than other participants in the study who drank them only occasionally or not at all.
The larger problem is the low fat, very high carbohydrate diet that we've been eating for the last 40 years, says Ludwig. This decades-long dietary approach causes levels of the hormone insulin and programs fat cells to go into what he calls "calorie storage overdrive." Ludwig, who is the author of the book, "Always Hungry?," has concluded that it is not overeating that makes us fat. The process of getting fat makes us overeat. He argues that weight gain begins when people eat the wrong types of food, which throws their hormones out of whack and sets off a cycle of cravings, hunger and bingeing.
As Ludwig recently explained to The New York Times' Anahad O'Connor, telling someone to cut calories just makes the situation worse. When we cut back on calories, our bodies respond by increasing hunger and slowing metabolism in an effort to save calories. This vicious cycle makes weight loss progressively difficult when following a standard low calorie diet.
There are many biological factors that affect the storage of calories in fat cells, including genetics, levels of physical activity, sleep and stress. But one has an indisputably dominant role: the hormone insulin. It is no secret that the rise in obesity in America has to do with food we eat. The increasing amount and processing of carbohydrates in the American diet is at the heart of increased insulin levels. Of everything we eat, highly refined and rapidly digestible carbohydrates produce the most insulin. The quickest way to remedy the situation and lower insulin is to cut back on processed carbohydrates and to get the right balance of protein and fat back into your diet. A high fat diet lowers insulin.
The thinking is, let's put biology on our side by eating the right way, and weight loss not only occurs more naturally, but is more likely to stay off.
No one should dispute that high consumption of refined carbohydrates — from chips, to crackers, to cakes, soft drinks, sugary breakfast cereals and even white rice and bread — clearly has played a major role in increased body weight throughout the population ... especially over the past 30 years.
Yet we can never forget that the most vulnerable population are children. Statistics show that American kids see, on average, three to five ads for fast food per day. Nearly 50 percent of all ads directed at children are for food.
If you were told that studies show that TV ads for junk food significantly increased the consumption of those products by children, but not adults, would you really be surprised?
They do, and I'll have more on this next week.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Katherine Lim