Health Topics

Healthy Living

April 2011
Ishi Khosla
With the war on obesity, the search for weight loss methods is at an all time high, be it novel diets, exercise regimens or weight loss supplements. Fat has become somewhat a villain in our lives – right from ‘being fat’ to ‘eating fat’. Along with the ‘anti-fat movement’, the concept of ‘fat burners’ has emerged in a big way. There are fat burning workouts.

Exercise machines and heart rate monitors in the gym have fat burning options which tell you when you are in the fat burning zone. Then, there are fat burning nutrition supplements called fat burners.

What Are They?
What are fat burners - are they useful and more importantly, are they safe? There are more than 50 individual dietary supplements and more than 125 combination products available for weight loss, over the counter. Most of these supplements increase energy expenditure, modulate carbohydrate metabolism, increase satiety, block dietary fat absorption or enhance mood. Some common dietary supplements include – ephedra, bitter orange, guarana, caffeine (increase energy expenditure), chromium, ginseng (modulate carbohydrate metabolism), psyllium, guar gum (increase satiety), L-carnitine, hydroxycitric acid, catechins (present in green tea), vitamin B5, licorice, conjugated linoleic acid, pyruvate (increase fat oxidation/ reduce fat synthesis), chitosan (block dietary fat absorption), St. John’s wort (enhance mood) etc. They are attractively marketed and appeal to many.

There are several reasons, why people opt for such products, these include:
  • Social stigma of obesity
  • Health benefits of weight loss
  • Desire for ‘magic solution’ for weight loss
  • Less demanding than accepted lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet
  • Frustration with previous attempts at dieting and/or exercise
  • Easily available without a prescription
  • More easily accessible than a professional consultation with a physician, or nutritionist
  • Inflated advertising claims
  • Appeal of a ‘natural’ remedy
  • Perception that natural equals safe
The market for supplements is large, but not every fat loss supplement works. Even those touted as “miracle fat loss cures” lend no help to your fat loss efforts; rather, they may pose a health risk. More research is needed to validate their claims and role in weight management.

Nutrients to Burn That Fat
Research shows that several nutrients can be used in obesity management. These are discussed below:
Omega – 3 fatty acids: The possibility that these special polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, and herring), flaxseeds and walnuts influence body weight and satiety, has attracted research attention. Several clinical studies have reported that eating fish or other sources of such fats, aids weight loss and effectiveness of low calorie diets. Perhaps, the mechanisms involved include increased satiety and improved insulin sensitivity.

MUFA, the kind of fat in olive oil, mustard oil and most nuts; seems to help those on low calorie weight loss diets. MUFA rich diets have been found to improve insulin sensitivity and thereby, reduce central obesity (abdominal fat).

Medium Chain triglycerides: A number of research studies have investigated the use of MCTs – the kind of fat present in coconut – for weight loss. They appear to help by controlling food intake and energy expenditure. When MCTs were consumed during breakfast, the amount of food consumed at lunch was significantly less. Also, the insulin responses to the meals were lower. It is believed that energy expenditure is also greater following the consumption of a meal with MCTs. During a 12-week study, people lost significantly more body fat when they consumed MCTs on a daily basis. It must be noted that MCTs are really only effective when they replace other fats, not when they are added onto your current fat intake.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) a type of fat in dairy products and milk. They have been found to reduce fat deposition in obese mice, possibly through increased fat oxidation and decreased triglyceride uptake in adipose (fat) tissue. However, currently there is no human data to support the efficacy of CLA in weight loss.

Fibre is not digested by the digestive enzymes and provides no calories. It creates increased satiety and lowers caloric intake by delaying gastric emptying. Fibre also may improve control of diabetes, lower insulin levels and high blood lipid levels - common conditions found in obese patients. Examples include guar gum (derived from the Indian cluster bean), and the good old ‘Isabgol’or psyllium (derived from the seed husk of Plantago psyllium). Research has consistently shown that psyllium has a role in improving insulin resistance, blood sugar control and potentially improving diabetes outcome.

Fructo-oligosaccharides: These indigestible carbohydrates, also called prebiotics, may play a helpful role in obesity management. Although more research is needed, they appear to improve glucose tolerance and glucose-induced insulin secretion, and reduce inflammatory effects. FOS can be found in foods like asparagus, artichoke, leeks, onions, soybeans, bananas and chicory.

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin has been seen to ameliorate obesity. A recent study showed that consumption of calcium and vitamin D during a weight-loss intervention enhanced the beneficial effect of weight loss on lipid profiles in obese women with low daily calcium intake. More research is needed to demonstrate its role in obesity management.

Calcium: A study published in the International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders found that a diet comprising high-calcium foods caused an average weight loss of 11.2 kg in 16 weeks. That’s greater than the average weight loss in a year caused by taking weight loss drugs. In fact, increasing calcium intake could reduce the risk of obesity substantially, perhaps by as much as 70 per cent. Studies suggest that a 300 mg increment in daily calcium intake is associated with approximately one kg less body fat in children and 2.5 to 3 kg lower body weight in adults. This also explains why an increase in low fat dairy consumption has been associated with lower BMIs in several studies.

Chromium is thought to play a role in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, potentially influencing weight and body composition. Chromium deficiency is associated with hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), hyperinsulinemia (increased insulin), hyper-triglyceridemia (increased triglycerides), and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Although chromium is a popular weight loss supplement, its efficacy and long-term safety are uncertain. Natural sources of chromium include whole grains, nuts, pulses and seeds.

Phytochemicals are plant chemicals which are present in fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. They have been found to aid weight loss significantly through several proposed mechanisms. They have potential for inducing apoptosis (cell death), inhibiting adipogenesis (increased formation of fat cells) and stimulating lipolysis (breakdown of fat) in adipocytes (fat cells).
Some of these phytochemicals are describes below:
  • Catechin flavonoids, a specific category of phytochemicals present in Green Tea is associated with fat loss. It has been seen to increase fat oxidation and thermo-genesis (burning of calories in the body) by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down catecholamines.
  • Capsaicin is a plant chemical present in capsicum and red peppers. A series of studies performed suggested that when people had red peppers in their appetizers, they ate considerably less food at the next meal; furthermore, they experienced an increase in energy metabolism and fat oxidation. However, these may need more investigations before conclusions can be drawn.
  • Phytoestrogens or Plant Estrogens: Evidence is emerging that dietary phytoestrogens in soy, flaxseeds and beans play a beneficial role in obesity and diabetes. Nutritional intervention studies performed in animals and humans suggest that the ingestion of soy protein (with isoflavones) and flaxseed (rich in lignans) improve glucose control and insulin resistance and are thereby useful in weight management.
Manage Your Sweet Tooth
Most of us do enjoy sweets and desserts to varying degrees. Some have compulsive sweet tooth while others have occasional needs or cravings. However, sugar can get addictive, and lead to multiple health issues.
  • Remember that your diet should give you adequate proteins and coloured and green vegetables, good fats from nuts and seeds to minimise sugar cravings effectively.
  • Limit refined carbohydrates – Carbohydrate rich foods like white breads, pastas, and so forth might not taste sweet, but they are forms of sugar. Choose healthy carbohydrates instead, like whole grains rich in fibre.
  • Nourish your body adequately. Sugar cravings can often result as a consequence of missing nutrients. These include proteins, good fats, B-vitamins, magnesium, chromium and zinc
  • Make fresh fruit or dry fruits like raisins, apricots, figs, dates based sweets.
  • ‘Sugar free’ fixes include mouth fresheners like fennel, cardamom, tea, coffee and sugar free gums.
Nutrients Sources
Proteins Pulses, soybean, tofu, egg, chicken and fish and lean cuts of meat are desirable. Proteins can also be obtained through nuts and seeds.
Essential Fats Cold pressed oils, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and seafood
B - vitamins Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, pulses
Zinc Seafood, meat, poultry, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Ishi Khosla is a Clinical Nutritionist and Director - Whole Foods India
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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