Fascinating Fat Facts and Findings (Part 2)

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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  • jim snell

    Very informative and helpfull.

    Do we need to retire the fat police?

  • Larry

    For years, fat has been a problem. People, friends and relatives say I am not fat. Their very generous to me, in that regard. But at 280lbs and only 5’8, I am in the morbidly obese category.

    Learning the differences between the good and bad fat has been a mystery and I know finding the soruce of each may be very helpful. I may begin wwatching much closely, what I eat.

  • Winnie Powell

    At the beginnig of my education regarding type two diabetes I learned women are allowed 19 grams of carbohydrates per meal. I see many recipes spposedly for diabetics, and they are well over 19 grams per serving. I have reduced my meat intake and have a more plant based diet. It has a good outcome as there has been a drop in weight, over forty pounds. This benefits my glucose levels. I find I am the only one to make sure my carb intake is correct by doing my own cooking and choosing well in restaurants. I no longer have a relationship with birthday cake.

  • Dan kashefska

    I have found that the good fats found in nuts and seeds are essential in helping regulate my blood sugars. Animal fats are not good for one and have a much lesser effect on blood sugar control in my case at least
    We use almonds and pure almond butter in our house along with seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, seseame to get the fats we need. We do eat a very small serving of meat but only extra lean such as pork loin, skinless chicken breasted, fresh organic ground round, and fresh caught Atlantic salmon. No oils except seseame and olive.

  • Bruce

    After reading about the rebound effect, I began studying the effects of snacking before bedtime, and I find that if I eat 4-6 oz. of ice cream (full fat) my fasting BG levels are 10-25 mg lower than if I eat nonfat yogurt, fruit or some other low-fat snack, or nothing at all (which gives the highest fasting numbers). I typically am at around 110-130 before dinner, and I almost always have high-protein, low fat meals at dinner. I have found that I can rarely get below 130-145 mg/dl fasting level without the high-fat snack. With the ice cream I can get down to 110-120mg/dl. I don’t understand this, and my doctor really thinks it’s bad to eat this type of snack before bed, but the numbers seem to bear this out.