A new study from Kyoto, Japan suggests that fish oil can change fat storage cells in our bodies into those that burn fat. This can result in less midlife weight gain and better results when you “diet.” Scientists have known for some time that “white” fat cells store fat and “brown” fat cells burn fat. We are born with many brown fat cells which produce energy when fat is burned helps newborn so infants can maintain a normal temperature. But unfortunately, our brown fat cells decline as we age.
These researchers found that there is another type of fat cell in mice and humans called “beige” fat cells. These “beige” fat cells act like just like “brown” fat cells (burn fat), but also decline with age. Observing that people who followed the Japanese and Mediterranean diets (which include oily fish) or those who consumed fish oil were healthier and lost weight, the study team tested how feeding fish oil to mice would affect their weight. They gave one group of mice food containing fish oil and other mice fatty food without fish oil. What did they find? The mice on fish oil gained five to 10% less weight and 15 – 25% less fat than those that did not consume fish oil. In addition, the researchers found that the fish oil mice had changes in the composition of their fat cells. The fish oil did something to change “white” fat cells into “beige” fat cells and that these cells metabolized fat!
These findings provide some insight into why the Japanese and Mediterranean diets are associated with health benefits and longevity.
So fat is healthy and doesn’t make us fat?
We need a balance of carbs, proteins and fats to keep us healthy. And yes, fat is important and not something to avoid. It is essential for normal growth and development for starters. Dietary fat also provides energy, protects and insulates our organs, maintains 600 trillion cell membranes in our bodies, and helps us absorb and process nutrients. But even better, fat helps the body burn fat. But not all fat is created equal. The foods we eat can mean the difference between a trim body and one plagued with obesity and disease. A diet of fatty foods like pizza, French fries and hamburgers can certainly contribute to weight gain and deterioration of health, but we are learning that the overall nutritional content of these foods, not their saturated fat, is what’s to blame.
Most of the fat that we eat, especially if you want to lose weight, should come from unsaturated sources, both monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA), like fish, seeds, nuts, leafy vegetables, and olive oil because they pack tons of nutrients. Besides removing LDL cholesterol from arteries and promoting a healthier heart, unsaturated fat can help you burn fat big time without cutting calories. A 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that study participants who consumed the most unsaturated fatty acids had lower body mass indexes and less abdominal fat than those who consumed the least because they folks ate higher-quality foods.
In the recent past, the low-fat or no-fat diet craze has become popular. Food manufacturers started to market low-fat or no-fat everything. We responded by eating it all. It’s healthy, right? Wrong. All wrong. It took away a much-needed nutrient from our bodies and increased obesity rates. Since fat makes food taste so good, it was replace by sugar so foods still tasted great.
So what fats should we eat or avoid?
- Unsaturated Fatty Acids – These are the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are important for health. MUFAs are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, and avocadoes, while PUFAs are found in vegetable oils, fish, and seafood. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are two PUFAs that can only be obtained through diet and are called “essential fatty acids.” You want the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 PUFAs to be close to 1:1. So adjust your diet accordingly.
- Saturated Fatty Acids – These are found primarily in foods from animal sources such as meat and dairy products, like butter and cheese. They are usually solid at room temperature. Some vegetable oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oil also contain saturated fat. Eat limited amounts as part of a healthy diet.
- Trans Fatty Acids – These are chemically processed vegetable oils that are semisolid at room temperature and are used in some margarines, fried foods, and processed foods to enhance flavor, texture, and shelf life. They are also called “partially hydrogenated” oils and should be avoided like the plague.
Fat Burns Fat
The body needs three classes of nutrients for energy: Carbohydrates, protein, and fat. A gram of fat packs more than twice the energy of a gram of the other two. If you don’t have any fat in your diet, you don’t have fuel to burn calories. The body requires energy to keep its metabolism properly functioning. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming fatty acids can boost metabolic health. In addition, a study from the Washington University in St. Louis showed that dietary fat helps break down existing fat through fat-burning pathways through the liver.
Fat keeps you full and happy
Fat is difficult to digest and stays in the digestive system for more time than many other nutrients. According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs may also help stabilize blood sugar levels, making you feel full longer. Diets with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of PUFA that the body can only acquire through food, create a greater sense of fullness both immediately following and two hours after dinner than do meals with low levels of the fatty acids, according to a 2008 study from University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. It’s no surprise that dieters who consume moderate levels of fat are more likely to stick with their eating plans than dieters who consume low levels of fat. And, foods containing fat taste good!
Fat makes food better for us
Many nutrients including vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble. This means they are not absorbed into our bodies without fat. If our bodies don’t absorb nutrients properly, this can lead to vitamin deficiencies (dry skin, blindness, brittle bones, muscle pains, and abnormal blood clotting). These vitamins are also key to maintaining energy, focus, and muscle health, all of which contribute to a healthy weight. Vitamin E, for example is a powerful antioxidant and helps maintain your metabolism, while the body’s levels of vitamin D predicts its ability to lose fat, especially in the abdominal region, according to a clinical trial from the University of Minnesota Medical School. So while you can pile your salad high with nutrient-rich spinach, tomatoes, and carrots, you really need to thank the olive oil for sending the salad’s vitamins your way.
What you need to know
If you talk to most doctors about weight loss, they will tell you what we learned in medical school – if you consume less calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. This is too simplistic as we now know that it’s the nutrient content of the foods we consume, not the caloric content, that will keep us healthy and allow us to maintain a normal weight. If you are interested in learning more about how to lose weight and “cure your lifestyle”, you can find more information at HealthyWeightForever.com.