Fat is essential to life. The human brain compromises of 60% fat and therefore it needs fat to work correctly. Our central nervous system is made of fat. The vitamins held within help in cell regeneration, backs up the immune system, assist in correct muscle function and more.
This is why it is so easy to accumulate more fat and can be very difficult to shed. In short, the body needs it for survival and so won’t let go of it all that easily. Excessive levels of fat, however, are dangerous and can lead to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many cancers, stroke…
How is it stored?
Our food comprises of three main types, or ‘macro-nutrients’.
1. Carbohydrates, made up of various sugars, simple or complex
2. Fat, made up of various fatty acids
3. Protein, made up of a combination of 20 different amino acids
The body will react differently to each of these macro nutrients. The most significant with regards fat creation are Carbohydrates. All food that we eat has the potential to be converted to sugar, or glucose when inside the body, as that is the body’s preferred fuel source. Carbohydrates, being sugars to begin with, will convert very readily and rapidly. Simple carbs will convert to glucose and enter the bloodstream very quickly whereas complex carbs can take longer although they still will end up as glucose in the blood. It is this elevated blood glucose that begins the process of fat creation and storage.
An important point to note is that elevated blood sugar, known as hyperglycaemia, is a potentially dangerous situation. Fortunately, the body has a mechanism in place to deal with this excessive sugar in the blood. Inside the pancreas, a hormone called insulin is produced and secreted. The instant this happens, the body switches off all forms of fat burning as the new priority has become removing the sugar from the blood and not utilising stored energy. Insulin will then attach itself to the sugar molecules and make it available to body cells by acting like a key. Essentially it is unlocking the body cells to allow uptake of the sugar and therefore lowering the sugar levels in the blood. When the sugar is taken up by body cells it is known as glycogen. The liver will hold 20% of this stored glycogen and the muscles will hold 80%. As long as there is available storage space then the insulin will use it to dump the blood sugar. If there is still excess sugar in the blood when these ‘storage tanks’ have been filled there needs to be an alternative storage area. The sugar will be converted to fatty acids and stored as new body fat. When the blood sugar levels have stabilised, the pancreas stops producing insulin, fat storing is switched off, fat burning is switched on and everything has reset.
The problem that we have, however, is that from the first instant that insulin is released into the blood to the point where its job is done can be as much as 4 hours. In other words, from the moment you eat something there will be a period of up to 4 hours where the body is inhibited from burning fat and will store it instead, even if you are about to hit the gym! Unfortunately, in this modern era of readily available food and snacks, many people will eat again within that 4 hour period, simply resetting the ‘insulin clock’. It is therefore quite usual for a typical sedentary office worker to spend the entire day in an insulin environment and therefore spend the entire day in ‘fat storing’ mode.
So what can be done about this, we still need to eat!
In order to control our blood sugars and therefore insulin levels we need to reduce our sugar intake to as close to zero as possible. Added sugars are the easiest to target but many processed foods are laden with hidden sugars. Bread, pasta, rice, crackers may seem innocent but are high in simple and complex carbs and therefore sugar. Starchy foods such as potatoes are another innocent looking sugar bomb. The rate at which carbs are converted into blood sugar are laid out in a table called the Glycaemic Index. The higher the rating, the greater and quicker the sugar release and therefore the greater and longer lasting the insulin response. As well as high sugar foods causing a high insulin spike, they will also cause a crash of your blood sugar when it responds to the deluge of insulin in the blood. This has the effect of causing a hunger craving for sugary carbohydrates which simply repeats the cycle. Control the sugar, control the insulin and you control the hunger.
At meal times, keep the sugar out and allow the lower insulin levels to dampen down much quicker and then have a period of time in fat burning mode before the next meal. Increase protein and healthy fats to keep you satisfied for longer and prevent the urge to snack. Remember, every time you eat, even something ‘healthy’, there will be an insulin response. The higher the sugar content, the higher the insulin response.