Why some calories turn on your fat – gaining hormones.
In his Newsweek article about the obesity epidemic, Gary Taubes from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, supports the theory that not all calories are treated the same by the body. It seems that certain types of foods stimulate the body’s production of insulin, a hormone that stimulates fat storage. High fructose corn syrup, an ingredient found in many processed foods and sugar are especially powerful in stimulating the fat gaining effect.
Calories from simple carbohydrate food sources seem especially potent in making people gain weight. The body simply does not treat all calories in an equal manner. Over the years, our diet has tended to include more of these fat gaining types of calories. Two individuals could eat the same number of calories; one would eat the fat gaining calories while the other eats “skinny” calories. The person eating the hormone stimulating calories would be more inclined to gain weight than the person eating skinny calories even if the total amount of calories were exactly the same. This is one of the primary reasons why counting calories is usually insufficient in controlling body weight.
In addition to the hormone stimulating effect of some calories, there is the cost of digestion for calories as well. The foods consisting of high fructose corn syrup or simple carbs, would not only stimulate the fat gaining hormones but would also be very efficiently absorbed into the body. There is almost no cost to break down and digest these foods. 100 calories of simple carb food on your plate turns into 100 calories of fat on your hips. Compare that to a food such as celery which is very demanding to break down and digest. 100 calories on your plate turns into less than 70 calories in your body due to the expense of digestion that this food commands.
So, as you walk down the aisles and continue reading labels, focus not only on the calories but also on the source of those calories. A good habit to develop in controlling body weight would be to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and minimize high sugar food intake in general. After all, you do need to save a little space for chocolate now and then.
Lately, much attention has been directed at the “glycemic index” in an attempt to help decide which foods are most likely to cause weight gain. A “high” glycemic food is one that causes a sudden spike in blood sugar. The sugar spike is followed by an insulin spike as your brain attempts to control the sugar level in your blood. Insulin lowers blood sugar by drawing it into the cells, but it also acts as a “growth hormone” for fat cells. That sandwich, or bagel, or potato, will create a sugar – insulin spike that will cause a burst of fat growth. As if that were not bad enough, the fast burn of high glycemic carbs disappears quickly, while the insulin lingers. The residual elevated insulin levels can now cause a sudden drop in blood glucose levels since the carbohydrates that were providing the sugar spike are gone. The result of a rapid drop in sugar stimulates hunger and sets us up for more fat-gaining rounds of eating.
Think of high glycemic foods like dry balsa wood in a campfire on a cold night (in this analogy the cold represents your hunger). The wood burns fast and bright, warming us but disappearing quickly, leaving us searching for more wood as the cold closes in. Now think of the same campfire fed with seasoned oak. It will burn long and even, hold off the cold. That is roughly how “low glycemic” foods tend to work. They cause a slower, and lower, rise in insulin and are less stimulating to fat growth. Eat low glycemic foods and lose weight? Alas, it is not so simple. It turns out that volume (i.e. total calories) also matter. This concept is referred to as the “glycemic load”. Yes, you can gain weight even if you are eating all the “right” things, if the volume (glycemic load) is too great.
I had a patient who hit a plateau after losing 70 pounds. “I don’t understand it.” he lamented, “all I have for lunch is a salad.” Finally, at one of our appointments I had him bring in a picture of his lunch taken on his cell phone with a fork in the frame for perspective. The bowl containing the salad was big enough to take a bath in! While calories are not the sole target, volume matters. So, first direct your choices toward low glycemic foods, then focus on volume.
Dr. Stephen Petteruti is board-certified in medical weight loss and family practice. He runs a Functional Medicine Center and has been practicing Medical Weight Loss for over 15 years. For more information about his center and weight loss program, please visit: https://www.im-120.com/Intellectual Medicine 120 is in Warwick, RI.
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