Food & Diet

  • Garcinia Cambogia, truth or myth?

    There has been a lot of hype surrounding the use of garcinia cambogia for weight loss. People who rely heavily on reducing calorie intake to lose weight usually experience terrible success rates and even if the diet program was successful, they usually put the weight back on as soon as reverting back to a normal diet. Here comes garcinia cambogia, also known scientifically as garcinia gummi-gutta, a tropical plant naturally found in the jungles of South East Asia, India and Africa, which has been claimed to suppress appetite hence aid weight loss by a number of high profile healthcare professionals.

     

    So does garcinia cambogia really work? Well, let's be direct here, there are currently no definitive clinical proof to indicate that garcinia cambogia works for weight loss in humans. The active ingredient of garcinia cambogia is called hydroxycitric acid, which has been found to inhibited fat production and increase serotonin secretion, hence lead to decreased appetite and subsequently weight loss in rats. However, rats are not humans, the results in human studies were less encouraging. It has been shown that garcinia cambogia caused no decrease in appetite in women compared to the placebo, and a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that subjects taking garcinia cambogia actually lost less weight compared to the placebo, even though the result was not statistically significant. The limitation with the latter study, was that the test subjects were already on a high-fiber, low-calorie diet, therefore, the results only proved that nothing is better than a healthy good diet, even garcinia cambogia.

    Other scientific studies involving garcinia cambogia have showed mixed results, and even when a statistically significant influence on body weight was detected, the effect was still marginal. This, in a scientific context, rendered garcinia cambogia clinically ineffective for weight loss. A drug that only works less than 50% of the times with marginal results would not be deemed efficacious.

    However, one needs to understand that scientific studies usually, here I say usually, take the average results of the subjects tested, thus studies found that garcinia cambogia was ineffective for weight loss may be pverlooking those lucky few who might had lost weight by taking it. A search online showed mixed reviews of the product, with some claiming that it worked wonders on them while many others said it was ineffective and quite a few actually reported weight gain after the commencement of their garcinia cambogia regimes. These reviews, if credible, give a snapshot of the effectiveness of garcinia cambogia in real-life situations and it actually concured with the published studies. As stated previously, despite the global media frenzy, garcinia cambogia showed no consistent clinical benefit on weight loss as of the day this article was written. The best-proven method for natural weight loss is still through regular exercise combined with health eating, there is certainly no shortcut to get around that yet.

  • Yacon syrup for weight loss?

    Yacon syrup has recently been dubbed as the new miracle drink to aid weight loss. This sweet tasting juice is extracted from the sweet potato like roots of Yacon plants, which is thought to be one of the best sources of fructooligosaccharides, the indigestible sugar molecules that have the ability trick your brain into thinking you just had sugar. Yacon syrup is low in calories, and rich in prebiotics. It has shown to be able to reach the gut flora after ingestion, which can lead to a number of positive effects on health and metabolism. In short, even without the weight loss effect, Yacon syrup is a natural, healthier alternative of sugar and other synthetic sweeteners.

    But can Yacon syrup assist weight loss? To date, the weight loss effect of Yacon syrup in humans was only investigated in one study, which was published in the journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009. During the study, researchers observed the effects 2 daily doses of Yacon syrup on obese and slightly dyslipidemic pre-menopausal women during a 120-day period. The study found that 0.14g fructooligosaccharides/kg body weight/day of Yacon syrup equivalent, that is around 0.25g Yacon syrup/kg body weight/day is safe for human consumption and significantly reduced body weight, waist circumference, BMI, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol levels and fasting serum insulin levels of the test subjects compared to the placebo. In fact, the group consuming Yacon syrup lost 15kg on average in the 120-day period, which I would say is quite remarkable.

    The limitation of the study, other than the obvious gender bias, was the small number of subjects used. In addition, no further studies investigating the weight loss effect of Yacon syrup were found. Therefore, the results of the study should be taken with a grain of salt. One study does not mean it is scientifically proven. Nevertheless, Yacon syrup is natural and a good source of soluble fiber, take one or two teaspoons of the syrup 30 minutes to 1 hour before each meal may aid digestion, and may even aid weight loss in the long run. Remember, although safe, too much Yacon syrup can cause stomach discomfort, so reduce intake if you are experiencing any side effects.

  • Fruit juice makes you fat

    Juicing is becoming increasingly popular these days, walking around any shopping centre you will surely be confronted by long lines of people waiting in front of juice bars. Rich in fibre and nutrients, fruits are definitely healthy if consumed in appropriate quantities. However, such goodness isn't all directly transferable into your beloved fruit juice. The juicing process generally breaks down most fibre, coupled with the 100% pure and freshness that most people prefer, which means you can drink up to 4-5 apples in a single standard serve, what you have left is a relatively nutritional drink that is at least comparable to full strength Coke in terms of the contents of simple sugar and calories. One SMALL glass of fresh juice a day is really all you should drink.

    Don't get me wrong, fruit juice can be healthy to some people when consumed moderately, but it's also fattening and high in sugar. The problem with juice is in the high sugar content and a lack of fibre. The sugar in fruits is bound within fibrous structures so that it's broken slowly during digestion. One glass of 100% juice contains more fruits than you should eat in one serving, without the fibre that makes eating real fruits healthy. The large amount of sugar gets absorbed very quickly and some can turn into fat. Even though fruit juice contains plenty of vitamins and antioxidants, the high sugar content renders it nutritionally poor calorie for calorie wise compares to real fruits. Scientists have found that eating 3 portions of fruit a day can reduce the chance of diabetes by 18%. However, drinking a glass full of fruit juice a day can actually increase the chance of type 2 diabetes by 18%. One study has found that sucrose consumption without the corresponding fibre, similar to the contents of a fruit juice, may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, liver injury and obesity. It was recommended that children should refrain from drinking fruit juice in favor of eating whole fruits in order to reduce the risk of obesity.

    Drinking 100% fruit juice is not an alternative to eating real fruits. It's fattening and can be unhealthy. If you really like your daily dose of juice in the morning, make sure to dilute it and only drink in moderation (a small cup). If you want to use juice as a form of meal replacement, forget it, it won't make you full and you might as well go and eat a real meal with an equivalent calorie content. If you need to freshen up after a work out, drinking water is your best bet. If you want to lose weight, avoid at all cost!

  • Is eating saturated fat making us fat?

    Saturated fat and trans fat have been publicly demonised as the "bad fats", which have turned many of us away from consuming traditional foods containing high levels saturated fat such as butter and bacon and opting for low-fat alternatives. While most people on the street would have trouble telling saturated fat and trans fat apart, they are actually very different. Saturated fat occurs naturally and is generally found in animal products such as red meat and full cream milk. Trans fat on the other hand, is mostly made by partial dehydrogenation of oils, a process that makes the fat easier to cook and harder to spoil than naturally occurring oils. Trans fat has been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, increase unhealthy cholesterol and can cause abdominal obesity. Saturated fat on the other hand, despite all the bad publicity from marketers, healthcare professionals and even government agencies, is not all that bad compared to many of the so called healthier alternatives.

    While saturated fat can increase both HDL and LDL cholesterols levels in the body, there is currently no concrete evidence associating saturated fat consumption with increased risk cardiovascular diseases (Siri-Tarino et al 2010, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Mente et al 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine). On the other hand, despite the findings in scientific studies showed that consuming saturated fat can make you gain weight, historic population figures painted a very different picture. In 1960, 45% of the calories came from fats and oils in an average American's diet, with 13% of the population considered obese and only fewer than 1% of the people had type 2 diabetes. Remember, that was before the invention of most of the low-fat alternatives so people were actually consuming a healthy dose of saturated fat each day. Today, Americans are eating a lot less fat, 12% less to be precise, however, 34% of the population is obese, that's 21% more than that of in 1960 and 11% of the people have diabetes. Correlation does not equal to causation, but these figures are staggering considering pretty much everyone blames the obesity epidemic on fat consumption.

    In my previous articles I mentioned that the current obesity epidemic is mainly caused by a lack of physical activities and a lack of sleep. Here may I add the third item to that list: too much carbs and sugar. That's right, many low fat alternatives contain high levels of carbohydrates and/or sugar. The increased consumption of carbohydrates and sugar will increase the risk of weight gain.

    I believe that if we all revert back to the fatty diet of the old days and perform regular exercise the current obesity epidemic would go away. The content of saturated fat in the food we eat is irrelevant as long as we eat natural, whole foods and have a good lifestyle. Replacing saturated fat with low-fat alternatives high in carbohydrates will probably make you fatter. Saturated fat consumption is not to blame for the ever-increasing waistline of the society.

  • Protein consumption, calorie intake and weight loss

    We have discussed in the past the effect of high carbohydrate intake on weight gain. Although high carbohydrate intake is considered as one of the main culprits for promoting weight gain and having a low-carb diet is one of the most effective ways for weight loss, it is unhealthy and unsustainable to live on a low-carb diet for a prolonged period of time. Rather than deliberately trying to avoid eating carbohydrates, incorporating extra protein into your diet can really help to reduce appetite and calorie intake, hence to achieve a similar outcome as having a low carbohydrate diet. Losing weight from eating more rather than eating less certainly makes dieting a lot simpler and much more entertaining. So what can incorporating extra protein into your diet actually do?

    Increasing protein intake can increase diet-induced thermogenesis by up to 2 fold compared to having a high carbohydrate diet, which can in turn increase energy expenditure and satiety (feeling full and satisfied). A high protein diet can create a negative fat-balance and a positive protein balance, and can increase fat oxidation, at least in the short term (Westerterp-Plantenga 2008, Regulatory Peptides). A high protein diet that makes up 30% of daily energy intake can significantly reduce appetite and hence reduces daily calorie intake by around 441kcal per day and decreases fat mass by 3.7kg over a 12-week period compared to that of people on a weight maintaining diet with 15% of the daily energy intake from protein (Weigle et al 2005, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

    Eating less carbohydrate will help to maintain body weight and assists weight loss. However, it is unhealthy to have no carb and on top of that, it's difficult to know the exact carbohydrate content of the food we eat, which makes carbohydrate reduction from our diet a real challenge. Eating more protein can reduce one's appetite for other food, increases energy expenditure and subsequently promotes weight loss. It's much easier to eat more than to eat less. Make protein at least 25 - 30% of your daily energy intake and the extra weight around your belly will go.

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