The Hidden Essentials to Losing Weight
by Jenn Heibein, B.Sc.
Most doctors, nutritionists and even fitness professionals would have us believe that the secret to weight loss is a simple ratio of calories in vs. calories out. However, it is more complicated than this. Understanding what happens when food enters your body may help you understand how to lose weight effectively. It is the “type of calories” you take in that matter, more than the amount.
The “Break Down”
When you eat a piece of protein, such as chicken or fish, digestion begins in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid is secreted which pulls the protein apart to make it softer. It is then passed to the small intestine, where enzymes are secreted to further break down the protein into its building blocks – amino acids.
The amino acids are small enough to move through the intestinal wall into the blood stream, where they move around the body to where they are needed. Most people believe that proteins are only used to build muscle, but you need protein for several reasons – glucose to fuel the body, tissue repair and maintenance, general cell function and to produce hormones.
Fats found in meats, butter or cooking oils are highly concentrated sources of energy for the body. They are difficult to digest and take longer than proteins or carbohydrates. They move slowly through the stomach and are hardly touched by the HCl that is used to break down other foods. Once fat enters the small intestine, the pancreas secretes an enzyme called lipase, which helps break down the fat and the gallbladder releases bile, a substance used to emulsify fat.
Once the fat is in smaller pieces called fatty acids, they are absorbed through the intestinal wall into the blood and travel around the body. They are then used either by the muscles as energy or are stored in adipose tissue for use at a later date.
Carbohydrates come in different forms and depending on their complexity, it may take longer for the body to break them down. Monosaccharides are the simplest form (i.e. fructose in fruit), and are digested almost instantaneously. Disaccharides (i.e. table sugar) need to be broken down into monosaccharides to be digested. This is a fairly rapid process. Polysaccharides (starches such as rice, corn or sweet potatoes) contain several sugars and can take up to 1.5 hours to digest.
Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth. An enzyme called amylase is secreted in the saliva. In the small intestine, enzymes are released to break complex carbs into their simplest form. These are then converted to glucose, absorbed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and taken to the liver to be stored or used based on activity level.
A Vicious Cycle
Digestion also plays a huge part in how calories are used. The majority of the population has a faulty digestive system brought on by poor habits such as not chewing food thoroughly, overeating, or eating too much of one type of food source. When your digestion is poor, your body does not absorb the nutrients it requires to function properly and it craves more food to compensate for those nutrients. This turns into a vicious cycle, causing poor metabolic function.
To help fix digestion you can supplement with Digestive Enzymes. Your body requires specific enzymes to break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates. If you eat too much of one type of food, you may become deficient in one or more of the enzymes needed for proper digestion.
The Good, the Bad, and the…
Another way to aid in proper digestion is the use of probiotics. They help to digest and process food, promote regularity, absorb vitamins and minerals and fight off any foreign or invading bugs that may come into our bodies. We are considered “in balance” if we have 85% “good” bacteria and no more than 15% “bad” bacteria. There are several factors that can cause an imbalance of our intestinal flora – poor digestion, poor diet high in fats and sugars, antibiotics and tap water.
Supplementing with probiotics is a great way to reintroduce what has been lost. However, they have to make the journey to your gut in order to work. There are 2 ways to ensure this. You can either take an enteric coated probiotic or, take your probiotics with food.
Is All Fat Bad?
It is a general misnomer that all fat is bad and that all fat leads to heart attacks and obesity. Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are required for proper health and function. The body cannot manufacture them, so they must be introduced through food and/or supplements.
There are 2 main categories of essential fatty acids – Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. These should be taken in a specific ratio of [4:1] Omega -6 to Omega-3in order for the body to process and use them properly. The North American diet tends to be a ratio of [20:1], since Omega-6 fats are used in most processed foods to maintain shelf life, which often leads to a deficiency in Omega-3’s.
EFA’s can play a large part in weight loss. Our cell membranes are made up of fats. If the cell membrane does not get the fat it needs to stay moist and supple, then it will shrivel and become hard, causing less nutrient absorption, less toxins being discarded and improper metabolic functioning of the cell in general. When our metabolism is not working, then we are not burning fuel and we either can’t lose weight or, even worse, may gain weight.
There are a few other things that EFA’s do for the body that will also contribute to weight loss. They help to increase energy levels, lubricate joints and stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels which decreases cravings for “bad” foods and can help curb your appetite
As you can now see, different forms of calories are broken down and used in different ways in the body. Hence the reason that the “type of calories” you eat makes a huge difference on how they are stored and used.
Jenn Heibein, B.Sc.
Born and raised in Ontario, Jenn earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Guelph. A student of holistic nutrition, Jenn has been the Quality Assurance Supervisor for an international plant breeding company, a planner for a major international agricultural corporation, and today she is the Education Coordinator and part of the Research and Development team for Sangster’s Health Centres.