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Nutrition:  Fat, Calories, and Weight Loss

--- excerpts from an interview with food industry expert

Diet and Nutrition: What is a calorie?
A calorie is the amount of heat that is required to raise one cubic centimeter of water one degree. It is actually an amount of energy.

What is a carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates are molecular linkages of sugar molecules. If you take a starch, which is a carbohydrate and you link those sugar molecules together. If you look at the ingredients they are always listed in the order of predominance. In that listing you will see an ingredient called maltodextrine. A maltodextrine is a hybrid ingredient that is neither a sugar nor a starch. You know a simple sugar can be like glucose and a starch is a long chain of glucose molecules. You link all those together and you finally get something called a starch. In between where you have the simple sugars and you have the complex substance starch you have these things called maltodextrine.

What about fat?
It comes back to the whole idea of how many units are in this molecular chain. If you break down a fat you break it down into something called a fatty acid. They can all be broken down into smaller units. In the case of starch it can be broken down into simple sugars or these maltodextrines, which can be broken down into simple sugars.

The point I am trying to make is any of these macronutrients can be broken down into smaller units. Just like starch is broken down into simple sugars, the fat is broken down into fatty acids and the proteins are broken down into peptides or amino acids.

Proteins and Amino Acids
Each one of those macronutrients can be subdivided. In the case of proteins, proteins are made up of amino acids. Not all proteins have all amino acids that are important because there are essential amino acids. If you are consuming proteins and the essential ones are missing you will suffer. You could end up with some disease because those are missing, in some cultures around the world where food isnít so plentiful and they arenít ingesting the right nutrients. You know one that I can think of is called Kwashiorkor. You will see often times where little kids will have the distended tummies. The rest of their bodies are fine and it just comes down to the fact that they have a nutritional deficiency.

Some proteins are absorbed extremely well and an example would be egg albumin, which is the white of an egg rather than the yolk. The egg white protein has an extremely high biological availability and all of the essential amino acids in the right balance. You can take a protein like gelatin and gelatin has the amino acids that it is made of you will find that it is deficient in an amino acid called triptophane and because it is lacking in that it isnít balanced. If it is combined with other sources of protein it is okay.

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The bottom line is if you are looking at fat or protein it is important to look at the composition of them. You can read the declarations of the food labels and especially in snack items the protein will be there but often times the manufacturer is looking for inexpensive ingredients they can find. Often times the protein is inefficient and they donít have the quality and are deficient in amino acids. It is important to know that all fat and proteins are made up of these building blocks and it is important to know to have a balance of all of these building blocks for the fat to be good for you and the protein to be good for you.

Can you eat more and lose weight by combining different foods?
No. People say that there are certain foods that take more calories to burn than they provide or that certain food items are going to cause more calories to be burned. It is a misconception. People donít want to put the time and the energy or the money into losing weight. It is a lot of work. People want to lose weight and they know that some of the food they eat is unhealthy and they donít want to put the time and energy into changing things.

It takes planning and time. Instead of visiting the fast food restaurant on the corner on the way home you go to the produce aisle in the grocery store. It might take you a little more time and cost you a little more money but itís worth it. You know the fast food restaurants super size everything. The artists and executives that design the ads know that our mentality is that the more food we can get for our buck then the better we are going to like it. It wasnít so long ago that you would go in and order a soft drink and you would get 8 oz or 12 oz and now itís not uncommon to get 24 or 36oz because they super size everything.

Are there any specific foods that burn fat?
I would say not. Basically, if you want to burn fat or lose or maintain your weight everything comes down to energy balance. It gets back to defining a calorie and if you look at the macronutrients the carbohydrates, proteins and fat are assigned a certain level of energy and for example protein - each gram of protein will contain four calories.

Should we be counting calories, carbohydrates or fat?
Let me just go on a little further and we will come back to that. If you look at carbohydrates it is the same scenario. Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 grams of fat. This is why fat is so important. It is almost twice that of protein and carbohydrates.

One gram of fat contains roughly 9 calories. So if you start talking about the Atkins diet, it depends on how you set up the study. You can get any variety of results you want. You know the Atkins diet is one of my favorites to pick on because the early studies showed that people lost more weight initially and overall the diet was more effective than other diets.

Well I believe that since then they have gone bankrupt. Somewhere along the line people were starting to figure out that itís not all itís cracked up to be. What seems to be the case now when you start looking at the numbers is when you have enough people on the diets it becomes statistically significant. What it seems to boil down to is Atkins restricts your intake to mainly fat and protein and by eliminating carbohydrates from the diet it takes away so many of the food choices that are available.

You know, even lovers of protein and fat what they find that restrictions your variety and choices are taken away and what you do is actually limiting your caloric intake. Just because you donít have the wide variety of choices you can make any more. So it works initially and that is one of the reasons why people are so attracted to it.

What about alcohol? Are one or two drinks okay?
Some studies show that a small amount of alcohol ingested on a daily basis may have some positives in reducing your risk for heart disease or may help to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Alcohol contains many calories
Red wine may be preferred because of the antioxidants that you get and the other chemicals that come along with the wine. Obviously there is something in the red wine as opposed to the white that makes it more beneficial. Alcohol is number one a source of calories and you know that it is quite high. The higher the level of alcohol in the beverage the higher the caloric intake is. I believe that one gram of alcohol would be five and a half calories. It isnít as high as fat but not as low as protein and carbohydrates.

There are other aspects of that to think about, if you are trying to lose weight you need to question whether you need the extra calories. There are many other beverages that would provide many more nutrients. If you are trying to lose weight you need to question whether or not you need those extra calories from something that basically has no nutritional value. I would tend to be more negative about consuming alcohol because people tend to get out of hand when consuming it and the damage it can do to families as well as the individual.

So I would never be one to advocate the drinking of alcohol because it has no nutritional value or health value. You know any benefit that alcohol might provide you can get from something else.

Next: Balanced Diet Essentials


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