How we get fat and why it matters
Simple, you are thinking. We just eat too much! Well, yes, that could factor in. However, as I conveyed in the Lose Weight and Keep it Off series, the actual stuff we are eating matters the most.
Body fat is not the enemy. It has purpose and we are supposed to have it. But the amount can matter. And how it is produced may well surprise you.
Every animal, insect, bird, etc. makes fat for energy storage in order to accommodate periodic food shortage – otherwise known as starvation. Examples would be bears preparing for a winter’s hibernation, hummingbirds preparing for long migration flights, and humans preparing (whether we know it or not) for famine. Most creatures have survived through millions of years of climate change due to this capability.
The expectation in this design cycle is that the fat will be stored at the appropriate time and then used at the appropriate time. When the expectation is not met there will be problems.
The genetic design of each creature is instinctive. The bear doesn’t just think to himself, “It’s going to be winter soon so I better put on some fat.” His body just kicks into gear at the right time and he looks for the food that will build up that fat.
The only creatures who think are humans. Thus we are able to overcome natural instincts, thinking our way into diets that are preparing us for the starvation that isn’t likely to come. Dogs and cats that happen to be pets of humans also have an instinct, an instinct that can be waylaid by the diet they are fed by their thinking owners.
In his book The Fat Switch Dr. Rick Johnson (kidney doctor and researcher) describes what happens to bears preparing for hibernation.
During summer and fall they increase their weight by up to 50% by the time they are ready to go to sleep. They develop insulin resistance which keeps glucose (sugar) energy from arriving in their cells. Consequently their bodies gear down their metabolism to match the energy available. That means it takes less food to accomplish fat gain.
By the way, reduced metabolism is what happens with yoyo diets.
And they develop a thing called leptin resistance. Leptin is supposed to signal the body that it isn’t hungry. But the bears just keep eating because that signal isn’t getting through.
So what happens? Some serious gains in body fat happen. Sometime in the late fall, the bears initiate hibernation by dropping their metabolic rate further and by quitting eating. They will live on that fat all winter.
What happens during the fat accumulation?
Behind that accumulation (for the bear and for you) are some important things.
- Uric acid is produced big time. Anyone who has ever had gout has probably heard of uric acid. Uric acid stimulates fat accumulation and creates low grade inflammation.
- More and more of the energy being eaten is converted to fructose to go along with any fructose in the diet. The liver turns that fructose into fat and delivers it to the fat cells.
- During hibernation uric acid falls to very low levels, stimulating the burning of body fat. The inflammation passes.
You know about fructose in fruit and honey, foods that many creatures eat in enormous quantities to build fat. Maybe you’ve heard of high fructose corn syrup, a product created and used in manufactured food as a substitute for sugar. Did you know that regular old table sugar is half fructose and half glucose?
In other words, sugar is the culprit in excess fructose production, the cause of excess weight.
What happens when hibernation never comes?
If that bear didn’t go into hibernation he would just keep gaining and reach the maximum fat his fat cells could hold. This is true for you as well. The need to keep storing would result in fat in and around his organs, creating the bear version of fatty liver and metabolic syndrome.
Perpetually high levels of uric acid would increase his blood pressure, might even cause gout, and reduce his insulin making capability by damaging his pancreatic beta cells. Diabetics know what happens when the insulin supply is low. In other words, all of the conditions reflective of diabetes, kidney and liver disease in humans would be evident.
What to pay attention to
Normally eating fruit is not important. First, there is actually a limited amount of sugar in a whole fruit. A whole fruit has to be broken down in digestion, slowing the absorption of the sugar. Plus a portion of the fructose is retained in the intestine. Eat an orange and you are good to go.
Drinking orange juice, on the other hand, is a problem. There might be 3 or 4 oranges – plus high concentration that is usually guzzled. No digestion is required and the amount of sugar is quickly absorbed. This same problem applies to any liquid, like soft drinks, containing sugar.
Conversion of glucose to fructose is a central issue for diabetics and per-diabetics with high blood sugar. Blood sugar being resisted by the cells becomes a candidate for fructose conversion. There is a reason why 80% of diabetics are obese – more than 20% over their ideal weight.
What to do?
Therefore what should we do if we are overweight, diabetic, or have fatty liver (or want to avoid those conditions)? Dr. Johnson suggests the following:
- Do not drink anything with sugar/fructose in it. Avoid fruit juices, sport drinks, soft drinks etc.
- Avoid commercially manufactured food or pay really close attention to carbohydrates listed on the label. Carbohydrates are sugar. About 70% of commercially packaged foods contain sugar (half glucose and half fructose) and/or fructose in some other form. Commercial “foods” are effectively predigested which increases the absorption rate in the intestine and concentration of fructose in the liver. Same problem as fruit juice. The liver makes the fat.
- If you have any of the symptoms described in this document, avoid starches that persistently raise blood sugar. Cakes, cookies, bread, chips and crackers. Potatoes are not an inherently bad vegetable if you have a healthy metabolism. But anyone with the symptoms described in this article will convert ANY FOOD that spikes blood sugar to fructose.
We all have an opportunity to avoid the consequences of excess fat production. Monitor your blood sugar. In today’s world if you don’t have a blood glucose meter you surely have a friend who does. Next time you eat a meal let your friend help you use the meter and strips to see what happens to your blood sugar. Just for frame of reference, normal blood sugar even after a meal would be between 70 and 110. There are no special tricks. The measurement will tell you the story.
My book, It’s All about the Food, will tell you what you are looking for.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and president of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; phone number is 870-490-1836; visit her website at allaboutthefood.org