There is no magical list of fat burning foods. What you have to do to help your body start burning fat is first of all to balance your blood sugar. If you can do this your pancreas will secrete more glucagon than insulin. This is the key to the whole mystery, as insulin promotes fat storage whereas glucagon promotes fat burning.
Let's start with the basics:
The body can only use glucose as a fuel to burn and produce energy, so everything we eat or drink must be changed into glucose. If we eat a large and easily digested meal, the level of glucose in the blood will rise sharply. The pancreas is then stimulated to produce a lot of insulin to move the glucose out of the blood. If there is an excess of glucose for the energy needs of the body, this excess will be turned into fat.
Moreover, high glucose levels and the production of a lot of insulin, will soon result in plummeting glucose levels which will leave you craving for something sweet. The production of high levels of insulin can also lead to insulin-resistance, which means that the body must produce even more insulin to lower blood glucose peaks. You become insensitive to the insulin you produce, and it becomes less effective at lowering blood sugars. Insulin resistance can also lead to metabolic syndrome with its characteristic central obesity.
However, if we eat small amounts of food, consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein and fibre, the level of glucose will rise only slightly and stay raised for a longer period, leaving you feeling satisfied. The pancreas will release small amounts of insulin to deal with the glucose, and large amounts of glucagon to break down fat and burn it for energy. If this is done consistently over a period of time, you can boost your metabolism and change your body from a fat-storing one to a fat-burning one.
Clinical studies have proven that greater weight loss occurs if three small meals are eaten. These should be spread over the course of the day, with two additional snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. All should contain protein, fat, fibre and carbohydrate. Let's look at each type of food group:
Protein consists of chains of amino acids, which are needed in the human body for growth and maintenance. Protein foods must be digested in the stomach to produce the amino acids necessary for the forming of hormones and enzymes; these help to regulate metabolism, support the immune system and other body functions. The liver can convert the amino acids to glucose to be burned for energy, but protein tends to trigger a small and equal release of both insulin and glucagons.
We satisfy our need for protein mostly by eating meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. Beans, lentils and quinoa provide wonderful alternative protein, and should be incorporated in your diet. The king of beans is the soy bean, which contains more protein than meat does. Added advantages of these foods are that they have soluble fibre which keeps the blood sugar low, and that they tend to lower the harmful cholesterol in your blood. However, bear in mind that they do not contain all the necessary amino acids of protein, so they must be combined with foods like brown rice and whole wheat which contain the balance of the amino acids.
Animal fat (saturated fat) deposits cholesterol in our arteries and too much of it is harmful. Any visible fat should be trimmed off before cooking, because the meat itself contains fat. Fish and turkey contain the least fat, so you should eat more of them and cut back on red meat. Dairy products also contain saturated fat.
Some kinds of fats actually promote fat burning. These are the essential fatty acids (EFAs) which are used by the brain and nerves. They boost immunity, balance hormones, reduce inflammation and promote healthy skin. Only if there is any left will the body use them for energy or to store as fat.
The omega-3 EFAs help control weight in a number of ways: they make hormone-like substances called 'prostaglandins' which help to control metabolism and fatburning; they also help to control and limit the potential damage of insulin resistence, by reducing the inflammatory effects of high glucose levels in the blood. They are found in flax (linseed) and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and in oily coldwater fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon and tuna.
The omega-6 EFAs have similar benefits, and are especially good for the skin and maintaining hormone balance. They are found in sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Omega-9 fat helps to stabilise blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance. This is found in olive oil, as well as walnuts and almonds.
However, the worst fat on the scenario is hydrogenated fat. This occurs when polyunsaturated fat (the good essential fatty acids) is processed, fried or damaged. The molecules of the polyunsaturated fat are altered through processing or frying, so that they are no longer of benefit to the body and are called trans-fats. They become rancid or oxidised, so they can set off a chain reaction of oxidation in the body and damage body cells.
Foods containing trans-fats include French fries and all deep-fried food; chocolate, chips or crisps, mayonnaise and most salad dressings. When buying food, check the labels for ingredients. If hydrogenated fat is mentioned, don't buy it. If you want to fry eggs, use butter (not margarine) or pork/beef fat.
'Fibre' means all the parts of plants that digestive enzymes cannot break down. The good news for fat burning is that the fibre in food helps to slow down the the release of sugar into the blood, and makes the food more filling. There are two main kinds of fibre in food: soluble and insoluble, although many foods contain both.
Insoluble fibre provides the bulk which can sweep out the gut and prevent constipation. It makes you feel full immediately after eating. This is found in whole cereal grains but not in the ground fibre of wholemeal bread.
Soluble fibre dissolves in the gut and slows down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. It can reduce appetite in the long term. The soluble fibre found in beans, lentils and especially oats, slows down the digestion of food and thus the release of glucose into the blood.
We have seen that protein, fat and fibre cannot be responsible for overloads of glucose in the blood, and therefore carbohydrates must be the culprit. Although fibre is a carbohydrate, it is indigestible and therefore does not release glucose.
The discovery that quite similar foods can have quite different effects on bloodsugar, led to the classification of foods as slow- or fast-releasing carbohydrates. Because glucose does not need to be digested, it is the fastest releasing carbohydrate. It was given the glycemic index (GI) of 100 and other carbohydrates have a score expressed as a percentage of glucose. Therefore, just knowing the GI score of a certain food, is a good index of which foods to eat and which to avoid.
There are two factors which determine how slow- or fast-releasing a food is
i) How simple or complex the carbohydrate is. We've already looked at glucose. Sugar (sucrose) is slightly more complex in that it consists of a chain of two units, one of glucose and one of fructose. This chain must first be broken up before the glucose is free to enter the bloodstream. The fructose must be transported to the liver, where it is changed into glucose. Whole grains such as wheat and oats consist of long chains of units which must be broken down into single units before the glucose can be released. This process takes time and results in a slow and sustained release of glucose into the blood.
ii) Fibre. The more fibre a food contains, the slower is the breakdown of the carbohydrate. This is doubly true of the soluble fibre contained in pulses and whole grains such as oats. See the above section on 'fibre'.
A very brief overview of the GI of food:
Low GI scores (below 55).
Most fruits and vegetables, especially fruits such as cherries (22), grapefruit (25), pear and apple (38), plum (39), raspberries and strawberries (40), orange (42), grapes (46). Vegetables such as carrot (47), peas (48), sweetcorn (54).
All pulses, with baked beans being the highest (48) and soya beans the lowest (28).
Dairy products, especially whole milk (27), skimmed milk (32) and yoghurt (36).
Grains and grain produtcs such as barley (26), whole meal spaghetti (37), wholegrain wheat bread (46) and brown basmati rice (47).
Sugars: xylitol (8), fructose - fruit sugar (19) and lactose (46).
Medium GI scores (56-69).
Fruits such as pineapple (59), raisins (64) and melon (65).
Vegetables such as new boiled potato (57), sweet potato (61) and cooked beetroot (64).
Grains and grain products: wholegrain rye bread and basmati rice (58) and Ryvita (64).
Sugars: sucrose - sugar (68).
High GI scores (70 and above)
Fruit: Watermelon (72) and dates (103).
Vegetables: French fries (75), baked potato (85) and cooked parsnip (97).
Grains and grain products: white bread (70), wholemeal bread (71) and French baguette (95).
Sugars: Maltose (105).
Introducing the glycemic load (GL) of carbohydrates
The GI score of a food gives us a qualitative measure that tells us whether the carbohydrate it contains is 'fast' or 'slow' releasing. Carbohydrate points is a quantitative measure that tells us how much of the food is actually carbohydrate. Combining the two measures would then give us exactly how much carbohydrate the food contains, as well as how fast or slow releasing it is.
This is exactly what the GL of a food is: it is the quality times the quantity of its carbohydrate. This can give quite startling results. For example take watermelon with the high GI score of 72. As this food consists mostly of water, the carbohydrate content is very low. Thus a 120 g serving scores a low GL of 4.
By limiting your GL intake each day to 40, you will push your body's metabolism towards fatburning and away from fat-storing. And you will feel fuller and more energetic for longer with no craving for sweet things. This is easy if you stick to the low GL foods. As an illustration, lets compare the GL scores of a fatburner breakfast and a typical breakfast:
Fatburner breakfast: a bowl of porridge oats (30g) - 2, half a grated apple - 3, a small tub of yoghurt - 2, milk - 2. Total of 9 GL.
Typical breakfast: a bowl of cornflakes - 21, a banana - 12, milk - 2. Total of 35 GL.
By limiting each meal to 10GL and having two inbetween snacks of 5GL, your appetite will be satisfied and you will start burning fat. If you consider that one single date has the same GL score as a whole punnet of strawberries, you can eat well as long as you stay with the foods that have low GL scores.
A very brief overview of the GL of food
Serving sizes are given in square brackets.
Breakfast cereals [30g]: oats - 2, All-Bran - 6, gluten-free Muesli - 7. All the rest are over 10.
Breads [30g]: rye kernel - 6, sourdough rye - 6, wholemeal rye - 7, rice - 7, wholewheat - 9, white - 10.
Legumes [150g cooked]: soya beans - 1, peas - 2, pinto beans - 4, borlotti beans - 4, lentils - 5, butter beans - 6.
Dairy products [250g]: full-fat milk - 3, skimmed milk - 4, plain yoghurt [200g] - 3.
Fruit [120g]: all berries - 1, cherries and grapefruit - 3, pear, melon and watermelon - 4, peach, apricot, orange and plum - 5, apple and kiwifruit - 6, pineapple - 7.
Pasta [90g boiled]: ravioli - 7, virmicelli and wholemeal spaghetti - 8, white spaghetti - 9.
Snackfoods [50g]: olives and peanuts - 1, cashew nuts - 3, popcorn [20g] - 8.
Vegetables: kale and green beans [75g] - 1, avocado [190g] - 1, tomato [70g] - 2, broccoli [100g] - 2, onion [180g] - 2, asparagus [125g] - 2, carrot, green peas and pumpkin [80g] - 3, beetroot [80g] - 5, swede [150g] - 7, broad beans and sweetcorn [80g] - 9.
Finally, let's compare a one day menu of fatburner foods with an average daily menu:
Breakfast: See above - 9 GL
Morning snack: a punnet of strawberries - 5GL
Lunch: large tuna salad with 3 oatcakes - 10GL
Afternoon snack: pear and a handful of peanuts - 4GL
Dinner: tomato soup, salmon, sweetcorn and green beans - 12GL
Total: 40 GL
Average daily menu
Breakfast: See above - 35GL
Morning snack: Mars bar - 26GL
Lunch: Tuna salad baguette - 15GL
Afternoon snack: packet of chips/crisps - 11GL
Dinner: pizza with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce, and salad - 23GL
For more information, see Patrick Holford's book THE HOLFORD LOW-GL DIET
(Lose fat fast using the revolutionary fatburner system)
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