Wed, 23 Aug 2000

The best way of losing weight

By Clare E. Urwin

SURABAYA (JP): Today, losing weight is a thinking man and thinking woman's game. It's not some big secret, or a clever pill. The key to permanent weight loss is understanding how the body works when it uses up its fat stores.

Smart people can use that knowledge, put it into practice and, working with nature, reap success. Recently, words like metabolism, insulin, the glycemic index and galanin have been prominent in dietspeak. So what do they mean? Let's start with the basics.

Metabolism is the process by which your body turns food into energy, or into storage (as fat). A metabolic rate is the speed at which you burn this energy. Your metabolic rate is largely governed by the thyroid gland in your neck, but it's also affected by exercise and food.

In The Ultimate Diet and Exercise Plan, the idea is to keep your metabolic rate as high as possible, for as long as possible. In other words, you want to burn off calories quickly and efficiently.

Happily, both your metabolism and your metabolic rate can be changed. Crash diets and missing meals lower your metabolic rate to half speed, but exercise can increase it and leave it raised for several hours.

Most importantly, by regularly eating certain kinds and combinations of foods, you can actually reprogram your metabolic rate to burn off fat more quickly.

Insulin and the Glycemic Index are terms which need explaining next. Both are important components in weight loss. All food and drink contain calories in the form of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Carbohydrates, which can be of a quickly digested type or a slowly digested variety, are divided into starches and sugars. When we eat them, a rise in the sugar (glucose) level of our blood occurs.

As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas kicks into action and starts secreting the hormone, insulin. It rushes around the blood to take the excess sugar away and brings the levels back to normal. The more we eat of the quickly digested type of carbohydrates, the more insulin the body must release to deal with it.

Insulin is vital to our existence, but for weight loss, too much is bad news. Unfortunately, insulin is also super efficient at turning any excess calories into fat and dumping them in our fat cells. Especially around the abdominal area. So, the trick of avoiding excess insulin in our blood, is to eat the type of carbohydrates that take time to be digested.

GI Index

Recently, scientists have tested many carbohydrate foods to discover how they effect insulin release. The results have formed The Glycemic Index, (G.I. Index)

High G.I. foods, such as white bread, sugar-coated cereals, cookies, potatoes and white rice, must be kept to a minimum during weight reduction. Medium G.I. foods, such as brown or basmati rice, dried fruit, orange juice and spaghetti, can be eaten in moderation.

Low G.I. foods, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, beans and pulses, will help maintain blood sugar stability and help you lose weight, too. Most vegetables, with the exception of potatoes, can be eaten freely and most fresh fruit can be consumed in moderation.

Fibre is very important in weight reduction. It doesn't directly affect insulin levels, however, the more fibre there is in food, the more slowly sugars are released and the lower the G.I. index.

Therefore, unrefined foods, such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, are more satisfying, and much better for weight loss, than their refined counterparts.

Recent research indicates that foods rich in protein are high in satiety value. In other words, they are very good for switching off hunger signals and allow you to stop eating naturally.

So, by including a good amount of lean protein into meals and snacks, you can help your brain detect when you've eaten enough. Brainpower can take over from willpower!

Fats, however, are another story. The same research shows that our brains are actually fat junkies. They love it, can never get enough, and certainly won't help you stop eating the stuff.

Historically, this was probably a useful survival mechanism for our species. Now, its one of the main reasons for the epidemic of obesity in affluent societies.

But help is available. The more fat we eat, the more we want, because eating fat makes our body produce another hormone called galanin. Evidently, galanin makes us crave even more fat.

Conversely, if we eat less fat, we lower our galanin levels and so desire less fat. Back to brainpower again. Genuinely not craving fatty foods is being smart.

More confusion now though. While most fats are bad for your weight and health, others, known as essential fatty acids (EFAms), are positively beneficial.

These are the good guys. They limit the damaging effects of insulin, stimulate your metabolism, boost brain function and protect your heart. Furthermore, they help move stored fats out of adipose tissues.

For this reason, oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna, which are rich in EFAms, should be a major protein source in your Ultimate Diet.

Other sources include seeds such as linseeds, (flax) pumpkin, sunflower and sesame, and cold-pressed oil made from them. Olive oil may also be used in moderation.

In the Ultimate Diet there are three meals and three snacks per day. This keeps the metabolism running well, and along with the exercise plan scheduled for next week, will actually raise it, to a higher fat burning rate.

Ideally, each meal should be fibre rich, contain low or medium G.I. foods to keep your insulin levels stable and also contain enough protein to tell your brain to switch off its hunger signals. Each snack can be a combination of these, or a piece of fresh fruit.

Fatty, deep fried, highly processed, sugary and junk foods and drinks should be totally eliminated during your weight loss regime. Initially, while your enthusiasm and determination is high, be strict on yourself. This is the way to gain big results.

Avoid all the bad fats and confirm that reducing galanin works. Vegetables are nature's wonder foods. High in fibre and antioxidants. Eat a wide variety of raw, steamed or lightly stir- fried ones.

Calories still matter! If you eat more than you need, irrespective of whether they are fats, protein or carbohydrates, you will put on weight.

Please don't make the same mistake as many people did on previous diets. Even if a food is healthy, this doesn't give you a license to gorge! Use your common sense. Eat moderate portions, always.

Start thinking and be positive. Get smart with your diet, lose those extra kilos and make healthy eating a part of your life. Good luck.

Next week - Exercise.

-- This article is meant to be interactive. Readers are encouraged to ask questions about related subjects through, letters or direct to the writer -- a nutritionist and health advisor based in Surabaya -- through her e-mail address,