How Dietary Fat Helps You Lose Body Fat
Sunday, September 7, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Fat Loss, Lifestyle, Nutrition, PPaul Kriegler, body fat, diet advice, dietary fat, healthy fats, how to lose fat, nutritional research, unhealthy fats

Are you eating enough healthy fat? Losing body fat is a tricky dance that involves creating a slight but consistent energy deficit while achieving more adequate intake of nutrients to maintain or increase metabolic rate – all while controlling hunger and willpower in an unfriendly food world. It’s a choreography that many try but few truly master. If only they used more butter… Does it sound too good to be true? Let’s take apart what really happens when we incorporate more healthy fats into our diets and why it becomes easier to shed the body fat we want to lose.

First off, let’s note that dietary fat and body fat are two very different substances. Eating the former does not automatically cause the latter to accumulate. To be clear, eating dietary fat does not determine your fatness. In fact, restricting dietary fat often doesn’t produce as much weight loss as diets that allow more liberal amounts of fat. Maybe you’ve figured that out in your own transformation experience.

If you’re eating a low fat diet, you’re probably more hungry and more sluggish than you should be.

We’ve been eating less fat in this country for almost 40 years now, and we’ve never seen such debilitating metabolic problems plague so many people. When fat is reduced or removed from our food, it’s often replaced with refined sugars, salt, or non-food substances to make it somewhat palatable. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, these alterations set in motion a host of hormonal shifts that negatively affect health and weight regulation.

Our bodies needs dietary fat to thrive. Without certain dietary fats, the brain will become a less powerful and less efficient operating system. Our learning capacity and ability to form new memories can be compromised. Without dietary fats, it’s nearly impossible to maintain sufficient sex hormone levels. Each and every cell in our bodies is covered by a membrane, which is supposed to allow nutrients into cells and waste products out – vital functions to overall metabolic health. The integrity and functionality of these membranes require (you guessed it) healthy fats.

Unfortunately, eating edible food-like substances pumped full of fat-replacing carbs and additives isn’t especially good for hunger control.

Sure, we can get plenty of energy (calories) for our bodies to burn (or store), but without fat we fail to trigger satiety signals and suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin.

You see, when we eat fat, our small intestine releases a hormone called cholesystokinin (CCK) which is supposed to stimulate gall-bladder emptying and suppress ghrelin. No or low fat means weaker hunger suppression, which leads to more frequent hunger/eating.

Some even suspect the weight loss benefits of higher fat, lower carbohydrate diets is directly a result of this hunger-dampening effect – a sort of intuitive calorie reduction leading to decreases in weight and body fat.

Eating more fat can help more than just hunger.

You know the saying, “You are what you eat”? It could also be, “You burn what you eat.” Our bodies really hate to burn protein but really like burning either fat or carbs (in the form of glucose). 

When we increase our fat intake (and correspondingly reduce sugar or total carb intake), internal fuel control switches get flipped in a way that makes it harder to store fat and easier to release it to be burned. We see a slower and lower rise in blood sugar compared to meals containing mostly carbohydrates, which results in steadier energy levels from meal to meal.

Mildly restricting carbohydrates and incorporating more fat (or protein) leads to lower insulin loads.

Lower insulin levels are an important step in allowing fat to be released from adipose tissue and taken up by working muscles or organs. Hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) is more easily activated, which signals our fat cells to break triglycerides into free fatty acids (FFA’s), which are then carried through the bloodstream and readily burned by the brain, heart, and muscles (especially during aerobic activity). In fact, shifting to a higher fat diet even shows promise for directly increasing the amount of fat burned during exercise!

You may be wondering how these higher fat diets affect cholesterol or cardiovascular disease risk. Well, it appears every time researchers pit low-carb (higher fat) diets against low-fat diets, nearly all health indicators appear better in the higher fat (lower carb) groups. To boot, the lower carb folks almost always lose more total weight, always maintain more muscle, and see more frequent blood pressure or diabetes medication reductions than those following standard lower or moderate fat recommendations.

Some medical professionals are more excited than ever at the prospect of using a liberalized fat, lower starch/sugar diet as a first-line therapy for those with diabetes and possibly for those at risk for developing diabetes (which, quite honestly, includes the majority of us).

Eating lower carb is not to be confused with no-carb, however. In fact, the metabolic benefits I’ve mentioned above can be seen even if relatively active people adopt Healthy Way of Eating habits 80% of the time.

As you increase the fat in your diet, it’s important to make sure you’re cutting out the high-glycemic, processed carbohydrates. (More on this in an upcoming post...) Additionally, take note of which fat sources are genuinely healthy fats. While there are benefits to every type of naturally occurring dietary fat (mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and saturated fats), processed fats (e.g. trans fats, interesterified fats, refined oils) or inappropriately heated or stored fats can be counterproductive to both your health and weight loss goals.

Finally, shifting dietary balance is a highly individualized process that should take into account several lifestyle, activity, and nutritional status factors. Everyone in the research studies I mentioned worked regularly with nutrition experts throughout their programs, and you should too!

If you’re considering a change or are trying to figure out your next nutritional move, talk to a Registered Dietitian or Nutrition Coach at your nearest Life Time. Thanks for reading.

Written by Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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