Diabetes Self-Management Blog

I don’t know about you, but I find the science behind fat to be rather fascinating. Fat seems to be both friend and foe, so having a better understanding of how it behaves in the body, and why some fat is good and some is not so good, can help us (hopefully) be healthier all around. So continuing from last week, it’s back to more “fat facts.”

Fat Fact #5: Fat burns calories, but not as much as muscle.
Last week I wrote that fat is “metabolically active,” meaning that it sends out chemical messengers to make things happen in the body (and some of those things can cause problems in the body, like fat infiltrating the liver and piling up around internal organs). But fat uses energy, just like other cells and tissues in the body. A pound of fat burns about 2 to 3 calories a day when at rest. A pound of muscle burns 7 to 10 calories a day when at rest. Obviously, muscle has an edge over fat, but that’s what it’s supposed to do. Still, fat deserves a little bit of credit…

Fat Fact #6: You can’t “burn off” fat from a particular area of your body.
In other words, if you have, say, a “muffin top” or jiggly thighs, exercises targeted to those particular areas of the body won’t melt off the fat. Spot reducing exercises, as they’re sometimes called, don’t get rid of fat in a specific area. What helps reduce body fat are exercises that focus on burning overall body fat. These are aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, dancing, and bicycling. You also have to shave calories from your eating plan. However, exercises that target specific areas of the body, like the thighs or the abdomen, will help tone the muscles in those areas, so be sure to include them in your physical activity plan as well.

Fat Fact #7: You’ll always have the same number of fat cells.
The fact is, the number of fat cells that we all have is initially determined during the third trimester of our mother’s pregnancy. We’re born with about 10 billion fat cells. Most people accumulate more fat cells during puberty. And someone who gains a tremendous amount of weight and becomes obese can have up to 100 billion fat cells! After that, we’re pretty much stuck with what we have. We can’t get rid of them (unless we get liposuction). However, the size of fat cells can change. If you gain weight, your fat cells will expand. Likewise, if you lose weight, they’ll shrink.

Fat Fact #8: Insulin is needed to store fat in the body.
Insulin is generally thought of as a hormone that moves glucose from the bloodstream into cells where it’s used for energy. But insulin, which is a storage hormone, is also needed to help the body use amino acids (from protein) and fatty acids (from fat). Thanks to insulin, fatty acids are taken up by cells and stored as fat. By the way, excess glucose and amino acids can be stored as fat, too. So eating too many calories from any food can also lead to weight gain.

Fat Fact #9: Some foods are natural “fat burners.”
Physical activity is a key factor in helping you burn body fat if you have too much. And cutting back on your food intake obviously helps, too. But if your goal is to shed a few pounds of fat, you might focus on choosing some of these foods:

Spicy foods: If you like hot, spicy foods, you’re in luck. Chili powder and cayenne pepper may bump up metabolism by 23%.

Eggs, chicken, lean meat: High-protein foods are harder for the body to break down, so the body burns more calories in the process. And eating protein foods can help you feel more full, so you may eat less.

Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, tuna, flaxseed, and walnuts are sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that this healthy fat boosts the hormone leptin, which, in turn, signals the body that it’s full and should stop eating.

Fat Fact #10: Dietary fats are not created equally.
You likely already know this. But it’s worth mentioning again because some people believe that dietary or food fat is a four-letter word. We obviously need fat for good health. Without it, we’d have a hard time absorbing certain vitamins, keeping our immune system in good form, cushioning our organs, and staying warm. Unsaturated (heart-healthy) fats help keep LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in check and omega-3 fatty acids can keep triglyceride (blood fat) levels under control. Saturated and trans fats are the troublemakers in the fat world, so limiting (not avoiding) fatty red meat, butter, fast foods, and other processed foods is a good thing to do. We still have a lot to learn about fat, too, like whether coconut oil and dairy fat are perhaps not as bad as we once thought. So stay tuned!

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