Yes, it’s about time I talked about high fat cocoa vs low fat cocoa powder. Why…because I have had some of my readers ask this question a couple of times.
I know you like your cocoa powder for your home baking. Your cookies. Your cakes. Your desserts. I know you like the cocoa in your dairy. I also know you like to use cocoa to make some of your sauces and even use it to marinate some of your recipe ingredients.
I agree with you folks that this whole business of whether to consume high fat cocoa or the cocoa powder with lesser fat content can be confusing.
Taking that into consideration it becomes imperative that I share what the facts are regarding the two versions of cocoa powder i.e the high fat cocoa and the low fat cocoa.
I will also discuss which of them should represent the best cocoa powder for health ultimately.
Before going into the nitty gritty of which is better, it makes sense to get into the basics of the birth of the cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is made from the cocoa beans.
The cocoa bean is harvested from cocoa pods. The beans are fermented for variable length of time.
The cocoa beans are then dried following the fermentation process.
This is done to maximize the smooth but complex flavours the cocoa beans exude.
The next step is roasting the cocoa to form cocoa nibs.
Crushing the cocoa nibs through a milling process produces a cocoa liquor or cocoa paste.
It is important to realise that cocoa bean is actually 50% fat.
What’s next is important:
Separation techniques are employed to extract the cocoa butter fat from the rest of the cocoa liquor. Extracting the cocoa fat from the cocoa thick paste is achieved through a process of squeezing the cocoa paste or cocoa liquor between hydraulic plates.
What is left after extracting the cocoa butter are hard-cocoa cakes called cocoa presscakes.
These cocoa cakes are then blitzed industrially into the cocoa powder that you know and love.
That step of extracting the cocoa butter is very important to us here.
Why…because not all of the cocoa butter is extracted.
The degree to which the fat is extracted is what makes the difference between what constitutes high fat cocoa powder or low fat cocoa powder.
Aggressivefat extraction will result in a low fat cocoa powder. A less aggressive fat extraction leaves us with a high fat cocoa powder.
Food manufacturers are a crafty lot. They can alter the taste, the texture, the colour, the flavour of the cocoa powder to fit with the kind of product they have in mind.
They know what you like and they will go out of their way to give you what you want taste-wise and texture-wise.
What is low fat cocoa powder?
A low fat cocoa powder is one where a lot of the butter fat has been taken out of the chocolate liquor at the early stage of the cocoa processing.
I would like to think that it would be practically difficult to extract every ounce of fat from the cocoa paste. So, something like a fat-free cocoa powder claim may be a little stretch of the truth. I could be wrong.
However, a low fat cocoa powder will have a fat content of an average of 11%. Usually most low fat cocoa powder will have a fat load of between 10 – 12%.
What is high fat cocoa powder?
If you imagine that a cocoa bean has 50% fat, then it is easy to see why cocoa powder could be a high fat product even without trying.
Cocoa is a naturally fatty product. How measured the hydraulic process of cocoa fat extraction is, is what distinguishes high fat cocoa from a low fat cocoa product.
For the most part, some fat is always removed from the cocoa paste. If what is left is about 24% fat, then you have a high fat cocoa powder.
Generally speaking, high fat cocoa powder will have about 22 – 24% fat content left in it.
What’s the difference between Dutch Cocoa powder and Natural Cocoa powder?
The difference between Dutch cocoa powder and Natural cocoa powder lies with pH reference point in the product.
And the pH does influence the colour of the cocoa powder as you can see from the picture above. The one on the right of the photo is Dutch cocoa and the one one on the left is Natural cocoa.
Cocoa powder products have varying pHs. These products either belong to the acidic side of the pH scale or the alkaline side of it.
Natural cocoa powder belongs to the acidic spectrum on the pH scale. Cocoa in its natural state is acidic. When minimally processed to the point of the butter fat being separated from the cocoa liquor, it is still acidic.
Upon separation of the fat from the rest of the cocoa, what is left is cocoa cakes which of course gets pulverized to become the cocoa powder.
This cocoa powder at this stage still has all the natural acidity with a pH of between 5.2 and 5.9 on the pH scale.
Dutch cocoa powder on the other hand undergoes further processing which turns the product to a more alkaline one because alkaline is added to the natural cocoa powder. Dutch cocoa pH runs at 7.0 – 8.4.
When it comes to Dutch cocoa vs Natural cocoa powder, the choice is whether you want your cocoa powder to be acidic or whether you prefer it to be alkaline.
Indeed, that preference will have something to do what you intend to use the cocoa powder for.
For instance, have you ever had an incident where you added your Natural cocoa powder to your milk and you noticed some curdling in the cup or bowl? Well, that’s because of the acidity of the Natural cocoa.
Therefore, in that instance, a better bet will be the Dutch cocoa powder.
The distinguishing feature to bear in mind is; Natural cocoa powder is acidic whilst Dutch cocoa powder is alkaline.
The supermarket brands in America tend to be Natural cocoa. I’m talking about Nestle and the Hershey’s brands of cocoa powder that you find on your supermarket shelves.
Penzeys cocoa brand is also Natural, although they understand the market very well and have the Dutch cocoa variety as well to increase their bottom line.
What is Dutch cocoa powder and how is Dutch cocoa powder made?
Dutch cocoa is cocoa that has been processed further than the Natural variant. Minimal processing produces the Natural cocoa which at this point is acidic in pH.
Dutch processing takes things further by adding alkaline to reduce the pH of the cocoa thus making it more alkaline. Hence the pH of Dutch cocoa is between 7.0 – 8.4.
What is the effect of alkalinisation:
Adding alkaline to the cocoa powder changes the colour and the flavour. Dutch cocoa therefore is darker and the chocolate flavour is more mellow.
Dutch cocoa taste is less bitter, unlike Natural cocoa that has a bold chocolate in-your-face kind of flavour and taste.
The more alkalinized the cocoa is, the darker it gets. You could say, the more processed it is the darker it becomes.
Depending on what type of alkalinisation agent that is used (Potassium carbonate seems to be the popular alkalinising agent), the end product of Dutch cocoa could be anywhere between dark brown to red to black. See Picture below.
Oreos is a classic example of a well alkalinized cocoa. Oreos is very Dutch-cocoa, we could say.
Some people like to ask what unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa is. The unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa is one that hasn’t been further processed with more additives like sugar and milk.
Obviously, this automatically excludes the cocoa in cookies and cakes and some of the cocoa powder you may find in your store.
If the cocoa powder is tasting sweeter beyond the natural subtle sweet taste, then sugar or powdered milk has been added. That type of powder will not qualify as unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder.
Alkalinisation is not the same thing as sweetening, but food manufacturers do “magical” stuff. So watch out.
The pH of the cocoa affects its dissolvability as well. Alkaline cocoa (Dutch cocoa) dissolves more readily in liquid medium compared to Natural cocoa.
Any surprise then why pastry chefs tend to use Dutch cocoa? Makes life so much easier for them.
What is Natural Cocoa Powder?
Cocoa that is minimally processed is Natural cocoa. All cocoa powder has had to undergo some form of processing, otherwise you will be presented with original fermented cocoa seeds. Not what you want.
Minimal processing that involves making the cocoa paste or cocoa liquor followed by a process of hydraulic pressing results in cocoa cakes. These cocoa cakes are then grated into a fine powder and voilla, you have your Natural cocoa powder.
Natural cocoa is brown to beige in colour (See picture below) and has intense bitter taste. Seriously, you will be taken aback by the bitterness if it’s your first time of tasting a Natural cocoa powder. Be prepared!
That Natural cocoa powder is harder to dissolve in liquid medium. It requires a little more brute force to get it to dissolve. It does dissolve eventually.
How to tell if your cocoa powder is Dutch processed or Natural?
In the US, food manufacturers are supposed to put the type of cocoa powder on the food label displayed on the pack.
They should state whether it is Natural or Dutch processed cocoa on the pack by law. Labels like “Processed with alkali” means exactly the same thing as “Dutch-processed”.
In other countries especially in Europe, this is not a requirement by law, so how do you tell a Dutch-processed cocoa from a Natural cocoa powder in situations like that.
Well, you wouldn’t know until you get your cocoa powder home and you open the packet to see the actual cocoa powder.
You could then decide by tasting it, looking at the colour and see how quickly it dissolves in liquid.
I have already stated what Dutch cocoa and Natural cocoa should taste like, look like and dissolving capability above. No need repeating that here. You have to become a cocoa connoisseur overnight.
How to tell if cocoa powder is high fat or low fat cocoa?
In the same vein, the manufacturers are supposed to make clear the fat content on the label. They may not indicate “high fat cocoa” or “low fat cocoa” clearly as they like to be smart.
What you can do is look at the Nutritional information on the pack.
I have already mentioned that high fat cocoa has 22 – 24% fat in it, right? Use that as your guide. Now the percentage fat I am talking about there is how much fat is in the cocoa powder per 100 gm of it.
Sometimes the manufacturers either want to be smart or downright just want you to be confused, so they will give the nutritional information as per 5 gm serving.
If the values on the pack are given as per 5 gm serving, a high fat cocoa powder should be yielding a1 gm of total fat per 5 gm serving. Use that as your guide as it equates to the same thing.
Low fat cocoa on the other hand will have 11 gm of total fat per 100 gm on the pack. This will equate to 0.5 gm per 5 gm serving of the powder too.
Something I need to add here.
It might seem obvious but it is good for you to know that these cocoa powder products come in mix & matches.
What do I mean by that? It means you can have high fat Natural cocoa, low fat Natural cocoa; high fat Dutch cocoa powder as well as low fat Dutch cocoa powder.
Best Cocoa powder for health
When it concerns the issue of best cocoa powder for health, the argument is always about high fat cocoa vs low fat cocoa powder. Which should I use?
Another aspect of the argument regarding which cocoa powder is best for health is the issue of whether to use Natural cocoa powder or the Dutched cocoa competitor.
One thing good about cocoa is that it is very good for health. Cocoa is packed full of flavonols. Flavonols have anti-inflammatory effects. The flavonols help fight oxidative stress. Dealing with oxidative stress is good for longevity and heart health.
That flavanols in cocoa can have a positive influence on high blood pressure was proven with the Kuna islanders.
Researchers looked at the consumption of cocoa by the residents of Kuna island compared to similar Kuna residents who migrated to the mainland.
They found that the Kuna islanders who were still living in the island had a very low incidence of hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to Mainland Kunas. The difference was 5 cups of cocoa that the Kuna islanders drank every day.
There is a potentiating effect of the cocoa flavonols on Nitric oxide, which in turn is a good relaxer of blood vessel walls.
What’s even surprising is that the older you were the better your response was to the effects of flavonols in the cocoa. How nice!
Flavonols are a type of polyphenols. Cocoa is packed with flavonols. If you were to eat raw cocoa beans as they are, you couldn’t get a better source of flavonols anywhere else than you would with cocoa beans.
The problem though is the flavonoid content of the fresh cocoa bean is not quite the same as in a cocoa powder.
The difference…processing it is.
The more processed the cocoa beans are the more of the flavonols you lose. More processing equals less polyphenols in the cocoa powder.
Even the drying, the fermentation and roasting duration all have effects on the flavonoid concentration before the alkalinisation process does its own flavonol stripping.
So, the more bitter the cocoa powder is, the higher the polyphenols (flavonols) in it.
Which translates to: The more flavonols in the cocoa powder the healthier it is.
Here are a few tips to consider for the best cocoa for health:
Always go for the unsweetened cocoa powder. Cocoa powder could be sweetened or unsweetened. If eating for good health is your primary consideration, go for the unsweetened cocoa all the time.
2. Go for the Natural cocoa powder instead of the Dutch cocoa powder if you have to choose between the two. And it’s got to be the unsweetened one, remember. The reason is obvious as from above. The more processed it is (think Dutch), the less flavonols you have in the cocoa powder.
3. Consider using the low fat cocoa powder if eating for health is your primary consideration. Look at the food label on the pack. Not only will the total fat content be around about 11% (0.5 gm of fat per serving of 5 gm of the powder), the saturated fat content should be low as well.
I am not a big fan of saturated fat personally. Why, well that’s a matter for another day. Fortunately, you don’t have a big decision to make as a lot of the low fat cocoa powder have low saturated fat anyway.
You may lose a bit of flavour with the low fat cocoa powder as the high fat cocoa has richer chocolatey flavour but your overall health matters more.
Having said that, I like to be as practical as possible. If you have difficulty finding the low fat cocoa where you live, you can use the high fat one temporarily whilst you search for the low fat one.
One pack of high fat cocoa is not going to ruin your health unless you have pre-existing heart disease. It’s a long term consistent use of a high fat cocoa powder that may be of concern in the long run.
4. If you are one of those people on high fat diet or ketogenic diet, then the high fat cocoa will be your cocoa powder of choice. That type of cocoa powder corresponds to your current eating plan anyway, so nothing to worry about there.
5. Use the Cacao powder in place of cocoa powder if you want the best cocoa for health. See cacao vs cocoa explanation here. Cacao is better than cocoa in nutritional terms.
Those are the type of cocoa powder I would advise if good health is your primary consideration.
Hopefully, you have had some fun reading this. Go enjoy your cocoa (or should I say, cacao) and sleep easy.
Recently I went on a journey of personal development to India. The trip was planned just a few weeks in advance.
Whilst there, I met a remarkable guy with a strong grip on healthy living. This guy has kindly agreed to share some of his tips with you all. More on that in the 2nd half of this article.
Let’s talk generics first…
Visa obtained, tickets bought, accommodation and planned subsistence sorted out on the Indian side and boom I found myself in India 3 weeks later.
Never been to the Eastern Hemisphere of the globe before. So, this was an entirely new experience for me.
That I enjoyed the trip was an understatement. It was great and I’m glad I made the trip even though I was only there for 8 days.
My host was Dr Sudip Basu. He is the Medical Director and Consultant Gynaecologist of the Srishti Clinic. His clinic majors in infertility.
It was a nice idea to see how medical practice is undertaken in other places from where I normally work. I had known Dr Basu previously when he worked in South Wales, UK, where he did most of his postgraduate Obstetrics & Gynaecology training, subsequently subspecialising in fertility gynaecology.
His clinic currently based in Kolkata, in terms of size, does not compare with the monstrous corporate hospitals scattered all over India at the moment.
But don’t let that fool you.
Dr Basu has and is still achieving phenomenal success rates in Assisted Reproduction, in particular, IVF in his small practice in Kolkata, India. I was amazed at what he was achieving despite the size of his clinic currently.
Dr Basu plans to expand his practice shortly obviously because, his IVF success rates are so good, he is attracting clients not only from within India, but also from neighbouring Bangladesh.
And this is happening through mainly word of mouth advertisement of prior patents recommending him.
What also struck me was the fact that he introduced transparency into his practice. Something that most doctors certainly in the field of assisted reproduction do shy away from.
He records the process of egg retrieval and embryo transfer on a disc which he hands over to the woman and her husband after each procedure.
This way, they can actually see the entire process for themselves whether it was successful or not. No hidden agenda. No funny games. No surprises. It’s all there, laid bare.
You as a patient know what happened, how it happened and indeed what to expect in the coming months. That’s why his patient retention rate is super high.
Not a surprise therefore why his practice is growing phenomenally in such a short time. Dr Basu has stuck with UK standards in an environment where cutting corners to cut costs is rife, amongst other things.
He does turn down couples whom he thinks the chances of IVF conception is too low to be worth the couple’s time, effort, money and emotional investment, advising them to seek other alternatives.
Below is a picture of Dr Basu and his clinic staff after close of business on the weekend of festival of colours in India.
I should stress that this piece is not advertisement for Dr Basu, but a short report of what I genuinely observed whilst over there in Kolkata.
I do however encourage any couple in and around India with fertility issues to at least pay him a visit and have a consultation with him. It won’t hurt your chances!
Hopefully what I have said here will be vindicated. I sure do think it will.
I saw this sign in one of the loos (bathroom to my American friends) and it made me smile being a man and I thought it might put a smile on your face too. Why? Because men notoriously over-estimate length, don’t they?
Now on to other things on my trip.
Dr Basu wanted me to have an all-round experience of coming to India. He arranged for a friend to take me places in Kolkata.
The friend’s name is Partha Mukherjee. He is now a mutual friend of ours.
Partha works as a journalist. He is a true West Bengal folk who grew up in the countryside of West Bengal. Partha’s dad used to work as a Senior Administrator in the Forestry Department of India.
As you would expect by the nature of the job Partha’s dad did, he spent all of his childhood in the countryside which in the 70s was far from developed.
Growing up with nature all around him, Partha still loves the great outdoors.
The smell of the meadow, the smell of the flowers, the aroma of the woods, the rustling noise of the wind, the early morning tweets of the birds, the morning dew dropping off the leaves, the gentle noise of the running stream or rivers…all of that still gives Partha a huge dose of satisfaction and pleasure today, he tells me.
So, even though he now works in the city, his feet still remain firmly planted in the countryside and he does not apologise for it. Neither should he in any case.
My conversation with Partha when he took me around Kolkata was breath-taking. We talked about a lot of stuff. From politics to history to culture to food to geography and the environment. It was fascinating and I learnt a lot in the time we spent together.
Maybe his countryside upbringing is what spurred him into developing a passion for Bengalese Heritage. Like I said previously, he works as a journalist but in his spare time, he writes a blog about Bengalese heritage and the physical structures that shaped the heritage.
In the course of our conversation, I had to ask him a question when we went for dinner at the Sheraz restaurant of Kolkata to round up the tour.
What prompted my question was the physical shape he was in. Partha was sporting a slim body and a flat belly and he was middle aged. Something that is rare for most middle-aged men unless they were health-conscious.
Partha had to be. He learnt a hard lesson from what happened unfortunately to his dad on the health front. Details of that would be spared here.
Staying slim, looking trim and healthy in middle age does not happen by accident. You have to adopt certain habits for that to happen especially as you get older.
This achievement was even more extraordinary given the fact that Partha works as a journalist where being on the road for the most part means healthy eating habits can be quite challenging.
And the Bengal part of India in particular is known for their sweet tooth. That again adds another layer of kudos for anyone in the region who manages to maintain a healthy BMI.
Seriously, West Bengal is awash with sweet confectionaries and the diet has lots of refined carbs. Let’s not mention the fact that West Bengal and probably the whole of India has also been invaded by Western Fast Food outlets. That’s a given.
Obesity rates and type 2 diabetes rates are on the up in India, just like China and it’s not hard to see why.
I should also mention for the sake of balance, that the Indian diet and in particular West Bengal diet also has a good chunk of low glycaemic foods too and they consume lots of fruits and vegetables, which I highly recommend.
> I sampled a lot of the Indian foods on offer, the names of many I cannot remember. I do however remember Iddly, Roti, Chapatti, Luchi, Bhapaa Aloo, Baigun Bhajja, Chor Chori, Momu. Those of us in the West are already familiar with Biryani, Masala, Tandoori, Bhuna etc.
I enjoyed a lot of the culinary experience. It’s nice to visit the homeland and eat the real Indian food and compare with what is served back in the UK.
In the light of the multitude of refined and unrefined carbs on offer along with the oily culinaries, I wanted to know how Partha, my friend, has managed to keep his weight down all these years.
> “My weight has only changed just a little since my high school days and my friends and work colleagues always wonder how I stayed slim after all these years”
Now something like that is always music to my ears. This blog is about healthy living and his strategies for weight maintenance certainly made my ears to perk up.
As he started talking, he was ticking a lot of excellent boxes for healthy living for me.
I could paraphrase him but I felt, he being a journalist, should put in print on this page, how he does it.
So, I asked him if he doesn’t mind sharing his weight management ideas with my readers and he kindly agreed.
…and here he is.
Over to you, Partha. Tell the world and in particular, your Indian folks, how you have remained slim for over 2 decades…
How Partha Stayed Slim for over 2 decades
Well, I am 44 years of age at the time of writing. My height is 5 feet 8 inches and I am around 62 Kgs. I can recall, 20 years back when we were stepping into the new millennium, when I weighed less. Yes, had an absolutely flat tummy in those days, I can clearly recall.
Nowadays, my tummy is still relatively flat compared to many folks of similar age to mine. I envy myself actually. I have not gained much weight in the last 20 years.
I do not have a pot belly like most of my friends and colleagues. How?
Well, I love eating but I do not eat much.
I have also been fortunate not have high blood sugar, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems or any other major illness. Perhaps I am lucky enough as I do not have a family history of diabetes.
Not my parents, not my grandparents and as far as I know, not my maternal grandparents. Perhaps genes do play a role in the genesis of these diseases. I should mention though that my father died at a relatively young age from a disease caused by lifestyle.
How have I maintained my weight and stayed slim after all these years?
>> I do follow a sensible routine for food.
>> I avoid red meat (do not eat Beef, only Mutton twice or thrice in a year). I like Chicken but only two or three days a month.
>> Love eating Fish (especially sweet water fish as very common and popular in my State of West Bengal) just like most Bengalese in lunch and dinner four/ five days in a week.
>> I eat Eggonce in a week either in lunch or dinner and we try to add some veg meals in our diet too.
>> I eat plain boiled rice in my lunch and dinner with Daal (lentil etc) and one locally available seasonal vegetable curry, sometimes one piece of fried Brinjal and fish curry/ Chicken curry/ Egg curry.
>> Typically, I avoid desserts at the end of the lunch/ dinner.
> On the weekdays, I prefer to have a heavy breakfast early at around 8.30 am to 9.30 am in the morning.
>> For breakfast, I eat boiled rice with a spoonful of butter, a boiled Egg/ fish curry. It helped me to keep nice and energetic till 3.30 pm/ 4.00 pm in the afternoon.
>> For lunch, I do take one of two piece of Roti/ Chapatti/ Puri with a vegetable curry sometimes at around 4 pm in the hectic weekdays.
>> For dinner, I eat much less than lunch.
>> I avoid potatoes and vegetables that grow below the earth like Potatoes, Carrots, Beetroots etc at night. The reason is their high carbohydrate and thus sugar content. So, I only have them occasionally for dinner.
>> Love eating Chicken Biryanis and Kebabs & Tandoors but I restrict myself to consume all these not more than once in a month.
>> After taking Biryanis for the next couple of days I take a full glass of sweet lime juice/ orange juices/ Pineapple juices. Got a good result!! Yes, it helps me to reduce the fat.
>> I love eating seasonal fruits. I eat one Orange on almost every day throughout the winter. I like Bananas but restrict myself to have it one/ two in a week as it does have a carbohydrate content.
>> I love eating ripe and juicy fruits in the summer months. Love eating nice sweet ripe Mangoes, love Watermelons, Pineapples and Guavas. Apples are little expensive here but will eat apples when I can afford it.
> Bengalese do have a sweet tooth and I am no exception. Yes, I love sweet especially dairy products. Bengal is well known for its exotic locally made dairy products. I love eating these but not much.
>> I used to eat one sweet potato every day, but have recently changed this habit and limited my sweet potato consumption. By limiting Potatoes, I restrict my carb consumption.
>> I do not smoke and I do not drink. Do not love having Tea or Coffee either. Do not consume soft drinks like Coke, Pepsi etc.
>> Rather I prefer to have freshly crushed fruit juices or Coconut water which is available throughout the year in India (other than the hill stations obviously).
Dr Joe’s Footnotes
As you can tell, Partha does live a fairly disciplined lifestyle. I know some of you might say what he does is somewhat restrictive but the tips he is sharing here are not prescriptive.
I am not saying you have to do everything he says here.
> What you can do however is pick one or two things he does and incorporate that into your own lifestyle.
For instance, you will notice that, Partha has a heavy breakfast, a lighter lunch and an even lighter dinner.
One way of achieving this is to add a bit of fat to your breakfast. Partha uses butter.
The fat ensures you don’t feel hungry by midday and can keep you going till 4pm. Even then, you don’t feel hungry enough at 4pm to “eat a horse”. Your hunger level will be such that a small amount of lunch will be satisfying enough.
> Partha is subscribing to the tenet of having “Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Queen and Dinner like a Pauper”.
Doing this works like a charm. You gradually taper your calorie consumption by reducing your meal portions as the day wears on. A very good strategy and it works!
In particular, eating less heavy carbs in the evenings. Most people do the exact opposite and that’s why we are getting fatter as we age.
> Consume more calories when you are very active during the day and consume even fewer calories at night when you are least active. Makes sense?
It also goes without saying that avoiding refined carbs and empty calories is another strategy that Partha has incorporated into his life. Staying away from sweet drinks like Coca cola and Pepsi.
Yes, he eats sweet fruits like Mango, Pineapple, Watermelon, Apples and these fruits have natural sugars too, but that’s okay.
I actually encourage fruit consumption and in the grand scheme of things where Partha has a grip on his overall calorie intake daily, the calorie he gets from the fruits means nothing really, especially as he is quite active.
Besides, fruits provide much more than calories. Fruits have phytonutrients, micronutrients which our bodies need. So, you get a whole lot more when you consume fruits.
One more thing, Partha, just like most Bengalese does admit to having a sweet tooth, but he does not over-indulge. He manages to control it by limiting how often he eats these sweet confectionaries.
Yes, I know we are supposed to enjoy life with these sweet treats, but you can reduce the frequency to once or twice a week. That way you are having your cake and eating it. How cool is that!
Liked this article, please share it with friends and families…and don’t forget to leave a comment below.
I signed up for a 60-mile walking challenge. Yes, I am certainly losing my marbles. My daughter thinks I am having a midlife crisis. I probably am.
My daughter has straightaway reached the conclusion that I won’t be able to do it. Therein lies another level of the challenge. I need to prove her wrong whilst actually proving it to myself that I can.
The terrain involved has variable gradients. It’s not a walk-on-flat for 60 miles by any means. There are some slopes. Some of the slopes are quite steep.
But that is a good thing.
It is not a challenge if all you are going to do is walk-on-flat.
> It’s a challenge because you want to challenge your cardiovascular organs. Get the old heart pumping with vigour and more efficiently.
If you are up for a challenge like this, then your muscles are going to need extra nutrients and oxygen on the day. These would be needed for the inevitable increase in metabolism. Your heart and lungs would have to up their game to meet those aerobic needs, otherwise you hit a wall.
When people hear about a walking challenge, they tend to be quite dismissive. The popular view is that it is not a challenge because there is no running involved. Coupled with the fact we walk every day; a walking challenge is viewed as nothing extraordinary. Well, they are wrong!
> Long distance walking is an endurance test. To use the old cliché, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.
The point is this: even though you walk every day, you need to prepare for a walking challenge. Otherwise you would be in for a shock – can’t complete the task on the day.
Yes, it’s not the end of the world if you fail to complete but this “little misadventure” will go down as a personal failure on your part.
Little things like these can affect us psychologically. You don’t want to keep thinking: “I wish I trained a little bit more, I would have…”
In order to bring some method to the madness, I sort to do ta 30-mile challenge first. This is a nice forerunner to the 60-mile one. A kind of confidence booster, if you like.
It’s time to rise up to the challenge.
With that in mind, below is a 12-week walking plan that should ensure you succeed with this fitness challenge.
Weeks 1 & 2
Day of the Week
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
1 hour walking
1 hour walking
Weeks 3 & 4
Day of the Week
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
1 hour and Half walking
1 hour and Half walking
Weeks 5 & 6
Day of the Week
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
2 hours walking
2 hours walking
Weeks 7 & 8
Day of the Week
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
30 minutes walk & 15 minutes Resistance Training
2 hours and half walking
2 hours and half walking
Weeks 9 & 10
Day of the Week
60 minutes walk & 30 minutes Resistance Training
60 minutes walk & 30 minutes Resistance Training
2 hours and half walking
2 hours and half walking
Weeks 11 & 12
Day of the Week
60 minutes walk & 30 minutes Resistance Training
60 minutes walk & 30 minutes Resistance Training
3 hours walking
3 hours walking
Now you should be ready for any walking exercise challenge anyone throws at you.
30-mile challenge? 60-mile challenge? Bring it on…
> Your heart is ready, your lungs are ready and your muscles are ready. Heck, your mind is also ready
Walking Fitness Challenge Plan – Why is resistance training included?
It’s a good idea to include resistance training because it helps a great deal with endurance. Resistance training helps to tone and build muscle. If you don’t want to build muscle, that’s okay too. Simply tone them up.
Just toning up, keeping the muscle fibres in shape helps to preserve muscle mass. You are going to need some muscles, especially lower body muscles, during this fitness challenge.
And the muscles need to adjust their strength and endurance capability before the day.
The resistance training has been kept deliberately short. In truth, you don’t need more than that for this to work. It’s an aerobic challenge but as the challenge advances, there is inevitably going to be an anaerobic element to it.
Getting your body ready for that is important.
What do you need for resistance training?
Any of these will do. You only one, just the one. So, don’t freak out.
Free weights e.g dumbbells, kettlebells
Machine weights – unless you have a well equipped home gym, a proper gym will be needed if this is the route you want to go.
Resistance bands – like the type you have in wonder core machine. Rowing machine will fall into this category too.
Your own body weight – like pull-up bars, push-ups
I have kettle bells and that’s what I like using.
Walking Fitness Challenge Plan Extra tips:
Your chosen walking circuit should have some inclines on it. No point walking on the flat all the time. It’s fine but it’s not particularly challenging enough.
2. If you are working night shifts, try to do the walks before going to bed or set your alarm to wake you up a little earlier than you normally would and do the walk before going to work at night.
3. It’s good idea to have more than one practice circuit. The variety will help to keep things fresh which prevents boredom and mimics what’s likely to happen on the challenge day. Since I started my training program, I have discovered some other routes in my neighbourhood out of sheer desperation to vary my walking routes. This is great and indeed refreshing.
4. Even though the training program has been set up for alternate day walking, there is nothing wrong with you walking on some rest days to get your fitness up a gear. The more you do, the fitter you will become before D-day.
5. Pace is important. A faster walk challenges your heart and lungs more. Don’t just make it a leisurely stroll. Up the pace, swing your arms, take shorter strides on some walks and then your regular strides on others.
6. But vary the style. If you can maintain a pace where you are unable to complete a sentence especially when you are going up a slope, then you are indeed improving your fitness in readiness for the ultimate. Maintain that pace for at least 3 miles at a time.
7. This might be obvious, but don’t forget to drink plenty of water during this preparation phase. I prefer water as I tend to preach on this site but you may use isotonic fluids if you prefer.
8. The trekking training plan has been worked out in hours. However, it is a good idea to actually know how many miles you are walking. How do you do that? Take the car on your walking circuit if it is along a vehicular route and use your car’s mileometer to know exactly how many miles the route is.
On the other hand you can use any navigational device that tracks your mileage. This is important as you need to judge how you feel after trekking a certain mileage. It makes sense to start adjusting your fitness level as the training progresses.
As a guide a 5-mile walk would take about 1 hour 30 minutes. Therefore the 3-hour walk on the training schedule is actually going to be a 10-mile trek. You could do it under 3 hours if you pace yourself a little faster.
9. Whilst training for a long distance hike, it’s a good (great) idea to do two-thirds of the intended long distance before the day. For instance, whilst I was training for the 30-mile walk, I walked 21 miles as you can see from the screenshot off my walking app below.
Doing two-thirds of the distance prior to the day is a huge confidence booster especially when you are dealing with self-doubt issues. Most people who are preparing for a long distance trek for the first time will have moments of self-doubt unless they are already physically fit.
So, don’t worry, if you are having those wobbly moments when you question yourself if you will be able to hack it on the day. It’s normal.
But a great way to deal with it is to employ this strategy and voilla, your confidence will go through the roof.
10. Leave at least a 3-day break before the day of your challenge. You need to rest the muscles and allow your body to recover before the real thing. That way you will be fresh and ready to conquer.
11. If you are already at your ideal weight, you will need to up your calorie intake on your exercise days especially the weekends. Otherwise you will lose weight. The best way to do this is to increase your carb intake on your exercise days to enable your muscles meet their energy needs.
Obviously for those whom fat loss is their goal, you don’t need to increase your carb intake. Eat more vegetables and you will see your weight dropping over the 12-week training period and of course on the challenge day, you are definitely going to burn fat.
I will illustrate my point with a little dog story a friend related to me the other day. A friend of mine, Terry, is an unrelenting dog lover. He recently got a new puppy.
But the journey has not been plain-sailing. Terry and his wife have been through quite some teething problems with this new puppy in the last couple of weeks.
Duuun dun…duuun dun…dun dun…dun dun…dun dun…
Terry says that’s been the atmosphere in his household for the last one month or so. Terry and his wife bought this German Shepherd puppy a month ago, and they have been trying to put the dog through his paces.
Apparently, German Shepherds don’t just have teeth, they have razors. Worse still, these puppies can be very keen to use these razor-sharp teeth.
The German Shepherd puppies’ penchant for using their teeth has earned them label of German Shredders, Land Sharks, or Fuzzy Gators.
German Shepherd puppies are prepared to bite into anything in their view, in Terry’s experience. Terry and his wife aren’t spared in all of these biting adventures. In fact, he said they have got the band-aids and pinholes in their clothes to prove it.
Even the adult 7-year-old Golden Retriever isn’t exempted from this puppy’s ordeal either. The Golden Retriever has had a few bites too. But being the older dog, he has accepted it with equanimity.
Terry, having been through these puppy stages a couple of times over the years, knows that this stage is temporary and short-term, so long as you apply the right puppy training.
He did point out though, that you do go through frustrating times to get there. It would seem as though puppies don’t seem to be taking the hint. ”I am not a chew toy, buddy”.
Then one day it finally clicks into place. They get it. You don’t like being bitten! Eating electric wires isn’t a cool thing to do. Responding to calls is just as important as having a feed.
When they finally do, it may feel like an overnight success!
But it wasn’t. It’s the consistency of doing the necessary (a little at a time, I dare say) that gets them to behave as you want them to.
Reducing your weight is just about the same.
Slimming down requires some effort on your part but you don’t have to do the whole lot in one fell swoop.
Little bites (no pun intended) at a time is what will get you there.
You may choose to go fast or slow but the key is consistency.
So, here are a few tips that can help you reduce your weight at home. A lot of what I am going to talk about below aren’t ground-breaking by the way. They are simple common-sense stuff that anyone can institute today.
They are simple rules that I live by and hopefully stuff that you can apply to your life as well.
I will encourage you not to dismiss them because they appear very basic. Basic works.
Basic lays the foundation for the more challenging routines, folks.
The truth is, you can take on the more challenging sexy stuff your guru may be spilling but forgetting these basics might mean you don’t get your desired results.
And then you wonder why. You are not making that progress because you are tackling the complex stuff and ignoring the basics. That’s why.
They are simple guidelines and guidelines can be customised to suit your needs.
Slimming at home and weight reduction tips:
Reduce your table sugar consumption
It is difficult to suggest cutting out table sugar altogether, because I know it is impossible to do just that. But you can reduce your consumption significantly.
People consume too much sugar in their diets. Now I am referring to table sugar (sugar) and high fructose syrup.
There was a US Study that estimated sugar consumption in the US to be in the region of 80 gm per day per person. That equates to about 20 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Now don’t forget, if you got yourself a cup of Starbucks coffee, you could be consuming those 20 teaspoons of sugar in one go. Yep, from one cup of coffee in the morning and you still have the rest of the day ahead of you.
My daughter sent me this you tube link below and I figured you should watch it as it does illustrate this sugar point:
Now what do you think of sugar consumption after watching that? Good? Bad? That is added table sugar, by the way. Do you really think that recipe needed such a huge dollop of sugar?
It really doesn’t matter whether it is white, yellow, red or brown sugar. That is one heck of sugar to add to a recipe. Of course, that meal is going to taste great, sorry very sweet. It’s got boat loads of sugar in it, hasn’t it?
There are literally tens of thousands of recipes like that both online and offline.
If you are expecting to reduce your weight if you consume that much added table sugar, then you will be pushing that boulder up the mountain metaphorically speaking.
You have absolute control when you cook your meals. Exercise that caution whilst you are it.
Add very little sugar if you have to.
I don’t want to ruin business for the young lady in that video but did I hear say “I have so many recipes in my cookbook with brown sugar in them”
If indeed that is true, that is one recipe book to avoid like a plague, if you want to reduce your weight that is.
I have some healthy sugar substitutes that I will suggest in a future article. Oh, I am not talking about Splenda and other artificial sweeteners. Those contain aspartame. Certainly, not recommended.
2. Reduce your consumption of sweetened beverages
Obviously, this is linked to the first tip above. Those sweetened beverages that are sold to you as healthy. I’m sorry to say, they are not.
This include sports drinks and fruit juices.
Natural is always preferred over processed any day. And that includes fruit juices.
Did you know that 1 apple fruit will furnish you with 10 gm of natural simple sugars compared to 1 cup of apple juice that will serve you with 27 gm of sugar. You will get 117 calories from the juice compared to 52 calories from the fruit.
Also the likely scenario is that you are probably going to drink more than one cup in one sitting and on more than one occasion each day. You may have one cup of the juice in the morning and probably 2 more cups with your dinner. It’s tasty after all.
You would think drinking apple juice is a sound substitute for having a several bites on an apple fruit. That is what the manufacturers want you to believe in their adverts. They say “It’s part of your 5-a-day”. No it isn’t.
Before I started my journey, I used to consume a pint of apple juice or pomegranate juice with my dinner in the vain hope that I was getting the “fruit benefits” from those fruit juices. Wrong!
All I did was provide my body with extra calories that I didn’t need, apart from the fact those fruit juices will most certainly spike your blood sugars like crazy, and very quickly too.
Preventing blood sugar spikes is one phenomenon that represents a corner stone of weight loss and optimal health.
Sport drinks are another kettle of fish altogether. Most of them are loaded with sugar and will spike you and ruin your weight reduction efforts.
Just to illustrate my point, I wandered into Tesco supermarket to take a peek at one or two juices/drinks. Below is what I found:
Green Tonic water
Oasis summer fruits
Volvic Touch of fruit
Innocent pomegranate magic
For reference purposes, a cup of Pepsi or Coca cola (250 mls) contains 28 gms of sugar. Those are the 2 drinks we consider as being the worst drinks on the planet, right?
As you can tell from the above, a lot of those regular “innocent” beverages aren’t that far off Pepsi or Coca Cola drinks, in terms of sugar content. You wouldn’t have realised that, would you?
Heck, even the flavoured water (Volvic touch of fruit) has nearly half the amount of sugar in Pepsi. Drinking Volvic you would think you are drinking water that is innocently flavoured. You are in fact consuming sugar that your body doesn’t need at that point in time, keeping your insulin levels up unnecessarily.
Solution: Drink more water, folks. Yes, drinking water isn’t sexy but it is healthy though.
Replace your beverages with water both at home and in the office. I can hear you screaming at your computer screen or phone screen blurting out “Joe, you cannot be serious, water is boring”.
Yes, it is. Water is safe though. It will rehydrate you and your body cells. What’s more, water has absolutely zero calories. You don’t have to sweat it (the decision that is) even though you can still sweat it later, if you get my drift.
I get really angry at the food industry as you can tell so far. They are culpable culprits contributing 80%, dare I say, to the obesity epidemic we have in the western hemisphere.
It can be revealing as to what damage sugar is doing to our body. If you do nothing else, just reduce your sugar consumption, guys. Your metabolic engine room will thank you for it.
Oh, I should add that a female colleague took this beverage advice on board and would you believe it. She lost 6 lbs of weight in the first 3 weeks of this year just by avoiding sugary beverages and drinking water instead. That’s all she did.
You see, I told you. Simple works.
It doesn’t have to be complex diet rules all the time. Yes, the complex stuff have their place but let’s do the simple first, shall we?
3. Do some Journaling
Okay, I will be the first to admit that this journaling business is boring…quite boring in fact. But there is a reason behind this suggestion.
If you are not familiar with what I mean by journaling, I am referring to keeping a food diary. At least for a short while anyway.
What’s the point of a food diary?
I tell you what is. A food diary is a tool that gives you a deep insight into what you are eating over a set period. Yes, it may look like you are trying to spreadsheet your life but far from it. Instead what you get is a wholesome picture of dietary habit over a specified time.
You get some control over your diet with food journaling because it will force you to make necessary changes when you review it periodically.
If I got a penny every time an overweight or obese complained about their weight saying these words “I really can’t understand why I can’t seem to lose any weight. I don’t eat much you know”, I’d be sipping pinna colada on a South American beach somewhere.
At the beginning of your weight reduction journey, keep a food diary of everything that passes through your lips. Solid food, semi-solid and beverages (alcohol, soft juices or soda, coffee, tea).
> Record everything you eat. Even the little bites you crunch on when you are cooking. Record the food, the quantity, the make-up of the food.
What’s in that BLT sandwich? Yes, record the bacon, the lettuce, the tomatoes and the bread in that BLT sandwich. What’s in that beans stew? What about that goulash, that casserole? Record all the constituents.
What about those snacks. Don’t overlook them. Yes, those snacks and nibbles that you ate when you did that 12-hour shift at work. Have you recorded them? You should. Write the date, time, place and quantities.
Do it for the first 14 – 21 days and review the diary. Prepare to be amazed at how much you are actually consuming.
It’s funny how revealing an honest and accurate journaling can be.
Upon review of the food diary, you can then make changes accordingly. Make changes such as quantity of food consumed, frequency of eating, cutting out those sugary stuffs, the unhealthy snacks etc.
It is difficult to give exact prescriptions because what you are looking at, will tell you where you are probably going wrong. Just follow basic nutritional advice just like the ones on this page and this blog overall to make changes to your dietary habits. That’s the whole idea behind food journaling.
> Get the overall picture and insight and make necessary changes!
Heck, you might find foods that tend to trigger hunger 1 or 2 hours after you have eaten them and the ones that may be responsible for some symptoms like heart burn.
If a particular food makes you become hungry within 2 hours of eating it or makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t you think, it will be a good idea to give that food a miss going forward?
That’s the kind of benefit a food diary can provide you with.
When I did mine, I was old fashioned. I used a good old pen and paper (small notebook). You may want to do it digitally. There are apps available. I haven’t used any, so really cannot recommend any.
I may in future. After all, our lives are guided by apps these days. Whatever happened to old reliable pen and paper. I will find one for you guys, never mind.
4. Reduce your processed food consumption
Here is the truth. The more processed a food or food product is, the less nutritious it becomes. Also, the more the potential to do damage to your health.
Eat as much natural foods as possible.
Natural foods are wholesome whilst processed foods are unwholesome, shall we say.
This meta-analysis looked at red meat – processed and unprocessed. In it all-cause mortality increased when processing came into the picture.
Don’t get me started on breakfast cereals. Those manufactured breakfast cereals are evil. They have no place in your kitchen cupboard. Not if you want to slim down anyway. Breakfast cereals are evil!
Bread is processed, remember. Pasta is too. The white versions are worse than the brown counterparts but in truth the difference ismarginal. Yes, white bread is worse than brown bread or the so-called wholemeal or whole wheat bread but the difference is marginal.
I have tested a lot of these foods and I can tell you from personal experience that whole-wheat bread isn’t that great when it comes to spiking your blood sugars.
Be careful with those potato crisps (chips to my American friends), candies, cookies and biscuits. They are processed and they will spike you. Guaranteed! Therefore, best avoided.
I know it is difficult (if not impossible) to avoid everything that is processed. If you must eat pasta (and you are only allowed a very small quantity by the way unless you are seriously body building), then it is probably easier to buy the pasta rather than make your own.
The main reason being, not very many have the necessary skill to make their own pasta. In those circumstances where avoidance is an issue, keep consumption to a bare minimum. There are healthier alternatives, by the way.
Any other reason why processed foods spell trouble. Yes, there is. In the short term, processed foods have a high glycaemic index which means their blood glucose load can be overwhelming to your body unless you are very insulin sensitive.
The process of ‘processing foods’ (that’s not good grammar, I know but that’s the only way to describe this), systematically strips off the nutritional value of the food.
In essence, the more processed a food is, the less natural nutrition, it has left within it. Minimally processed is always better than heavily processed.
In the longer term, persistent consumption of these foods lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and some other chronic diseases.
>Insulin resistance makes it very difficult for you lose any weight, even with your best efforts.
You may pump all the iron you like in the gym or do the most strenuous cardio exercises on the planet, you won’t shift a gram of weight from your body, unless you change the way you eat.
5. Have a chip on your shoulder, folks.
I realise this may sound weird but hear me out.
Have you noticed how when a lady wants to lose weight to get into her chosen wedding dress she always gets to her goal?
Brides and bridesmaids invariably without fail will reduce their weight to meet their target weight loss goal. They always do.
Have you also noticed when a lady wants to shed some weight to get into that bikini before that holiday of a lifetime, she always succeeds?
To balance these scenarios out, let’s talk about the guys.
Have you also noticed that if a guy wants to impress a girl he fancies, with fat loss and muscle building, he always succeeds in bulking up?
Everyone who is really determined to reduce their weight can. I don’t care what the circumstances are. All you need is a motivational factor. Everyone needs a motivational factor, otherwise it is very easy to lose momentum. Very easy.
> A “chip on the shoulder” drives you. It gets you angry and gives that “let’s go”, that “get up and go” attitude. It is that attitude that gets you to your slimming target.
Without the “chip on the shoulder” driving force and anger, the motivational tank will get empty pretty quickly and when that tank gets empty, it can be very difficult to fill it up again.
It’s one reason why people falter and the whole weight reduction project fades away…
…because there are a thousand and one reasons not to get to the finish line.
Just remember this:
> A good essay is 10% inspiration, 15% perspiration, and 75% desperation.
Finishing point: This is a marathon, not a sprint. I shall have the entire plan detailed out in a book format. Until then you have got to understand one thing.
Fixing your nutrition is the cornerstone to an efficient fat burning journey. Without this, the whole thing is a non-starter. Even exercise won’t get you very far without fixing your nutrition.
Talking about nutrition, Brad Pillon answers the question on ‘How to Avoid Complicated Diet Rules and Avoid Rebound Weight Gain’
I will tackle this question: do BCAAs break intermittent fasting head on, as it seems to bother quite a number people along with lots more questions like : Do BCAAs kick you out ketosis, on this page.
Intermittent fasting is great way to reduce body fat. Intermittent fasting is a fat loss tool and when used correctly can certainly accelerate fat loss.
If you are smart enough to add some serious workout with intermittent fasting, then you can reap some serious muscle gain benefits. And that’s where the BCAAs come into the picture.
Do BCAAs break intermittent fasting?
The answer is, Yes, they do. BCAAs do break a fast during intermittent fasting. I will explain this in a minute.
Branched-chain amino acids (bcaa) are one of the latest raves in the fitness industry. These are supplements designed to supply your body with essential amino acids because your body cannot make them.
BCAAs are designed to assist with your fitness efforts by preserving muscle mass. Branched-chained amino acids (bcaa) contain the 3 amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.
Why is the answer, Yes?
Well, BCAAs are amino acids and amino acids are macronutrients as amino acids make up what we call protein. So, by definition if you take BCAAs supplements either in the tablet form or in the powder form, you are technically “eating”.
By popping BCAA (branched chain amino acids) supplement you are ingesting “food” but a very small amount. Don’t forget that BCAAs have a calorific value.
That said, I do not want you to abandon your BCAA supplements because of what I have just said. You need to look at the bigger picture.
Continue reading to check out the sub-headline ‘The Bigger Picture‘ below on this page, where I put things into context.
Will BCAAs kick me out of Ketosis?
For a start, if you are on Ketogenic diet and are worried that BCAAs will kick you out of ketosis, stop worrying. They won’t. Let me reiterate. BCAAs won’t kick you out of ketosis.Why?
Mainly because BCAAs at the recommended doses of 5 – 10 gm have no significant effect of glucose metabolism.
Significant glucose release is necessary for you to be kicked out of ketosis. But that doesn’t happen unless you take a very high dose of BCAA.
BCAA Calorie Content
BCAAs are not dummy pills or powder either. In truth though, BCAAs have macronutrient value as well as calorific value which would make them technically “food”.
Just to confirm that you will be breaking your intermittent fasting when you take BCAAs, each gram of BCAA you take has a calorie content of 4 Calories.
1 gm of BCAA = 4 Cal
What this means is; if you take 20 gm of BCAA in the morning, you are indeed consuming 80 Calories without realising you have.
If you take 10 gm of BCAA supplement tablet or powder, you will be consuming 40 Calories.
What this means is BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplements represent food in their own right. Taking BCCA supplement means you are “eating”. That by extension means taking BCAA during intermittent fasting is ending your fast…technically speaking.
Do BCAAs have any effect on Insulin?
Well, they do. BCAAs or branched chain amino acids do trigger an insulin response just by virtue of the fact of being small units of proteins themselves.
Don’t forget that one of the objectives of intermittent fasting is to have very low levels of insulin during the fasting interval.
So, if you take a supplement like the BCAAs that has the potential to signal insulin release from the pancreas, you are also technically breaking your fast.
BCAAs by virtue of their potential to trigger insulin release means bcaas break your fast, in the metabolic sense too.
Don’t panic though. The insulin release stimulated by BCAAs is a shallow one. It’s NOT a spike.
This is similar to the metabolic events that occur when one consumes coffee during a fast. See answer to question the question: does coffee break a fast?
Now, let us look at the bigger picture next…
The Bigger Picture
Does the fact that you use BCAAs during your fast really matter in the end? Probably not, if you do things correctly and get clever too.
You have to remember why is it you are taking the BCAA supplement in the first place.
BCAAs protect you from having muscle loss. They actually help with muscle repair following intense workouts and will help you gain muscle too.
As I said earlier, there’s no need to worry about the following:
Insulin release triggered by BCAA.
BCAAs kicking you out ketosis.
Those 2 issues shouldn’t be a problem because they are dose-dependent. The amount of BCAAs you use during intermittent fasting is too small for those 2 events to be of any significance. Fat burning will still happen, if you do things right.
My Suggested Approach to using your BCAA
So, here is the work around for your Branched Chained Amino Acids use when fasting. Take your branched chain amino acids or bcaa supplement close to when you are about to break your fast.
That way you will be breaking your fast with the BCAA so close to your meal time that it wouldn’t really matter at all in the grand scheme of things.
Besides, the way I suggest you use your BCAA during intermittent fasting will actually mean the insulin release might be beneficial for your muscle repair and muscle growth, if you adopt my suggested regime.
I prefer a regime of having your workout in the last hour of your intermittent fasting interval. You then follow the workout with your first meal of the day.
Getting clever means you take your branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement just before the workout. I talk more about pre-workout bcaa here.
Here’s how you can use BCAA on the 16:8 IF Protocol
BCAA supplement ==> Workout (preferably Resistance Training) ==> First Meal of the Day
For clarification, see my suggested use of BCAA during intermittent fasting below.
10:45 AM -11 AM 15 minutes pre-workout. Take 10 gm BCAA supplement 11 AM – 12 Noon – Your Training hour 12 Noon – After-workout meal (could represent your largest meal of the day). 3 PM – 2nd meal of the day (Optional. Eating 2 meals is just as fine) 8 PM – Last meal of the day. Fasting begins hereon
With the above example your eating window is between 12 Noon and 8pm. You can have two meals if you like. However, that regime has 3 meals squeezed into the 8-hour eating window.
Nothing to eat from 8pm until 10.45am the following day, when technically you are breaking your fast with 10gm of BCAA supplement followed by a 1-hour workout session.
Your actual first meal of the day is at Noon which represents a 16 hour fast. The fact that you have the branched-chain amino acid supplement just before your exercise session is a middle ground designed to get you better results for your efforts.
Bcaa does facilitate protein synthesis and boosts metabolism. Nice trade-off.
If you do things this way, you will certainly not derail your fat loss and muscle gain efforts but instead, you will actually be boosting it.
Some BCAA supplement makers have been adding one or two additional ingredients to improve the effectiveness of their products.
A lot of people also want to know if they should take bcaa during intermittent fasting as a matter of necessity. The answer to that question of the need for bcaas in intermittent fasting is:
It depends on your objectives.
If you are undertaking intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight overall or simply for weight maintenance, then branched-chain amino acids (bcaa) supplements are not necessary. You can get by with intermittent fasting without having to use bcaa supplements and you can still lose weight.
However, if your intermittent fasting objective is to build muscle as well, then bcaa supplements won’t hurt your plan one bit. In fact, they are encouraged.
A couple of BCAA Benefits whilst fasting
Yes, you should take bcaa (branched-chain amino acids) supplements during intermittent fasting to maximize not only your muscle gain and but also to prevent muscle loss. My piece on the pros and cons of BCAAs explains more about the benefits of using BCAAs.
Don’t forget that the amino acids in bcaa supplements are essential amino acids which means your body doesn’t synthesize them. You have to get these amino acids through your diet or supplements, especially if your protein intake has gone off whack with the intermittent fasting.
Another important factor is that; intermittent fasting is a calorie-restriction diet as it were. Any form of dieting over time can unfortunately become subtly catabolic. One of the things that happens with the body’s catabolic process is muscle breakdown.
As you restrict yourself to less and less calories, your body will be looking for alternative sources of fuel which usually is fat. Fat burning is the reason you undertook intermittent fasting in the first place.
Problem is after a while, your body will try and recruit protein as source of fuel. Muscle is mainly protein, hence muscle becomes a target for fuel consumption unless you take steps to stop that from happening.
Taking bcaa supplements will help you avoid this unwanted side effect of dieting. Branched-chain amino acids (bcaa) supplements have been shown to help with protein synthesis and prevent protein breakdown.
The involvement of bcaas in protein synthesis and prevention of protein catabolism translates to muscle gain and muscle preservation which is what every bodybuilder wants.
There is also a suggestion that branched-chain amino acids compete with tryptophan to gain access into the brain cells.
This fierce competition with tryptophan which is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin is thought enhance your exercise endurance as the feeling of fatigue is blunted, so you do more for longer. You may want further discussion on bcaa and keto through that link.
So it makes sense to use bcaa supplements with intermittent fasting, if your primary goal is muscle building. Having said that, you can get the amino acids in bcaa from a high protein diet. BCAAs are just a short cut to get your essential amino acids.
If you are keen on using BCAAs or are already using these supplements, please do leave me a comment in the commenting section at the very bottom of this article.
I would like you to share your experience with others who visit this page. Nothing beats real-world experience from a variety of people spread across the world over.
If you are new to this, do come back to this page when you start using BCAAs. Bookmark this page and let me know what your experience with BCAAs was like.
How does intermittent fasting work?
Intermittent fasting works by tapping into your fat reserves and utilizing them for energy needs. Your body needs energy and it has to be supplied from glucose or glycogen, fat or protein.
The first source of fuel for the body is glucose that is available in circulation. If that glucose is used up, then glycogen which is the stored form of glucose is called upon. When glycogen stored in the liver and muscle cells is exhausted, then the body normally turns to fat.
That is where your fat cells which have been put away for use in times of starvation come in handy. Fat stores are like money put away in a bank vault only to be used up when we have run out of funds for everyday living.
When you run out of money in your current (checking) account, you will turn to your savings account, won’t you?
The same thing happens with intermittent fasting. During the period of fasting you are going to use up all the available glucose and glycogen, so your body will have no choice than to turn to the next ‘saviour’ – fat. That’s how intermittent fasting works.
Your body draws on the saved fat stores and starts breaking it up for your metabolic needs. That’s how you lose fat. Naturally the less you eat, the more your body will visit that “fat bank” to grab some more fat to use as a source of fuel.
So, with intermittent fasting you not only lose weight, you lose fat and this has been objectively proven in various research studies. It isn’t some sort of theory.
The Science of Intermittent fasting
Yes, there is science behind intermittent fasting.
Why don’t we start with this science behind intermittent fasting? Krista Varady has been one of the scientists who has done a lot of scientific work in this area.
Krista randomized 32 individuals, (some normal BMI and others overweight) into 2 groups to study the effect of alternate day fasting on body weight, body composition and cardiovascular risk.
Alternate day fasting group were made to eat only between 12 Noon and 2pm on fasting days and only consumed 25% of their normal daily calorie requirements. The next day they ate ad libitum i.e eat as you wish. They fasted on alternate days for 12 weeks.
The control group just ate as usual without any restrictions also for 12 weeks.
The participants in the alternate day fasting group dropped their weight by an average of 11 and half lbs over the 12-week period. This average weight loss represented an average of 6.5% of body weight.
Fat loss over the 12-week period was an average of 8 lbs.
Beyond burning your stored fat, intermittent fasting also works by stopping you laying down new fat. This is particularly important as intermittent fasting will help you maintain your weight once you have hit your target weight.
No new fat, no weight gain. Just work on muscle building, if you prefer.
How can intermittent fasting prevent cvd, cardiovascular disease?
One thing I like about intermittent fasting is the effect it has on cardiovascular disease (cvd) both directly and indirectly.
The direct effect of intermittent fasting on cvd is on the lipid profile.
A lot of the studies have pointed to a positive effect on the lipids that are good for us whilst reducing the lipids that are bad for us.
For instance, that Varady study I talked about about did show that after 12 weeks of alternate day fasting, the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and the triglycerides levels were much lower in the participants that fasted compared to the control groups that did not fast.
The only disappointment in that study was the HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) did not change.
Another study that randomized 54 individuals to intermittent fasting calorie restriction liquid-based and the other group food-based over a 10-week period using the same intermittent fasting protocol. The only difference was giving one group liquid and the other solid food.
There was consistent reduction of total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) in both the liquid food group and the solid food group. The only difference was that the liquid food group had a slightly better profile compared to the solid group.
Inflammatory agents like interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) decreased in theliquid based group. These inflammatory factors predispose an individual to heart attacks.
This review showed that Total cholesterol and the fat that causes a lot of damage (Triglycerides) were lowered by the act of fasting in men. It also supported the finding from the other study that High density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) gets elevated during fasting especially in women.
You can see from those studies that the claims being made in the sphere of intermittent fasting are backed by science, not just theory.
Effect of intermittent fasting on insulin
Indirectly, intermittent fasting does increase the sensitivity of tissues to glucose uptake from the circulation. This has been shown in many studies.
Individuals who undertake intermittent fasting can improve their insulin sensitivity by a mile.
Intermittent fasting also promotes a reduction in fasting insulin levels. The combination of lower blood glucose levels, lower insulin levels means obesity is kept at bay. Remember low insulin levels means fat storage is discouraged as insulin is a fat preserver.
Preventing obesity means eliminating one risk factor for cvd, cardiovascular disease.
If you put everything intermittent fasting does together i.e prevention of obesity, reversing insulin resistance, lowering total cholesterol levels and bad cholesterol levels (LDL), raising HDL (good cholesterol), lowering triglycerides levels, lowering inflammatory agents etc, all of which are risk factors for cvd, cardiovascular diseases, heart attack and stroke, you can now begin to see how intermittent fasting prevents or even reverses these killers.
What’s your experience with BCAAs like? I would like to know. Don’t forget to leave me a comment below. Thanks
Is fasting healthy? The short answer to that question is: Yes, fasting is quite healthy…
…when used as part of a structured, deliberate eating plan either in the short term or long term.
Now, let’s talk a little bit more about fasting as a concept and more…
Intermittent fasting is fast gaining a foothold as a lifestyle choice in the last 15 years or so. That is not say it is a new eating style. Intermittent fasting has been around for centuries, probably as old as humanity.
If you think about it our ancestors did not have abundant supply of food all year round.
There were no Walmarts, Acme markets, Safeways, Kmarts, Tescos, Waitroses, Publixes or SuperTargets grocery shops around at the time for our ancestors to access.
What does this mean?
It means food was not available 24-7. Restricted availability of food would inevitably result in periods of starvation depending on the man’s hunting availability. Gotta go without for periods of time. That was the name of the game, although not out of choice for them unfortunately.
Fasting has been used as form of treatment for certain ailments as well. Dr Edward Dewey (below) was one of the protagonists of fasting as a treatment modality in the 19th century. He was a doctor who had a firm belief in intermittent fasting as a method of treatment. Dr Dewey graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1864. His belief in alternative medicine grew stronger the longer he practised.
> One of his proteges was a lady by name Linda Hazzard who started medical practice despite not being properly trained. She understudied Dr Dewey but took the concept of fasting just a little too far and was jailed for the death of a woman under “her care”. Any tool no matter how useful when abused can go badly wrong.
History has it that the Greeks saw some benefits in fasting and employed it as means to have mental focus when they needed it most. It worked for them.
I am not the most religious person you will come across and I don’t pretend to know the scriptures inside out. I seem to know though that the icons that represent 3 prominent religions on the planet i.e Jesus, Prophet Muhammed and Buddha recommend fasting as a way getting closer to our inner self.
If these 3 religious icons felt fasting was dangerous to their followers’ health, would they recommend it? Probably not. Religious fasting is one way by which followers deeply cleanse themselves both spiritually and physically.
> Fasting in religious terms gives you an opportunity to cleanse your mind and your body. You would have noticed your religious friends who embark on a fasting journey do so year after year. There is a reason they consistently do it and they have always survived it. Fasting cannot be a bad practice after all, if they engage with the practice annually.
The untold principle behind fasting You are probably familiar with the TV program called the Biggest Loser. It’s a program that is serialized in most 1st world countries.
A bunch of men and women go to a bootcamp. They are put on a restricted calorie diet and made to exercise like crazy. Do they lose weight? Of course, they do.
They are consuming less calories and burning a lot more than they are consuming, so the weight comes off. What happens when they leave camp? The weight gradually creeps in and they are back to where they were before they started the journey, right?
This is no news to you and I. It’s a similar thread to anyone who is looking to lose weight. They get serious and actually lose the weight. Get compliments from friends and 8 months down the line, the weight is gradually creeping back on. Back to square 1.
Someone once asked why the TV program, The Biggest Loser doesn’t do a reunion, say 2 years down the line after the initial shoot. Wanna know why? The answer is obvious. After all TV stations like to milk every program for all it’s worth.
Getting more mileage out of an old program is easy content they don’t have to work and pay for. But they wouldn’t do it for the Biggest Loser. Reason – Unsustainable results in the medium to long term, that’s why.
Is there missing piece in the weight loss puzzle that can be fixed?
> I suppose there are many pieces in the weight management puzzle but there is a basic element that seems to be missing – Insulin.
Something we (doctors, weight loss and fitness experts, nutritionists) have failed to realize is that, if we don’t fix the insulin issue, then whatever we do is just going to work only temporarily. Period!
Most individuals with weight problems have hyperinsulinaemia (high insulin levels). If you look at the graph below of a 24-hour insulin profile of normal weight participants and obese people, you will find that even at basal levels, obese individuals have higher insulin than normal weight folks.
Insulin secretion in that study was back to baseline in normal individuals after meals and the secretion of insulin in response to meals was uniformly the same throughout the day even though normal participants ate smaller breakfast portion compared to lunch and dinner.
Insulin secretion in the obese subjects in the study did not decline back to baseline after meals and the levels before meals were higher too in comparison to normal weight individuals.
When you look at the spikes following meals, obese people spike way more than normal people.
What does this confirm?
> It confirms the fact that obese people have higher blood insulin levels throughout the day. The response may be the same but the way insulin behaves in obese individuals is different.
The higher your blood insulin levels, the hungrier you get. The hungrier you get the more you are going to snack. There’s a good chance when you snack, you are going to go for the sweeties which will spike your insulin even more because you are already insulin resistant.
Not only are you insulin resistant when you are obese, you also become leptin resistant meaning there is decreased sensitivity to the leptin in circulation. Leptin usually participates in hunger regulation. Reduced sensitivity to leptin implies reduced response to satiety (feeling of fullness) all of these compounding your cravings and hunger pangs.
How does fasting fit into our fundamental insulin problem? Glad you asked. Well the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?
Okay, show me the proof that fasting can fix insulin resistance?
If you wanted to look at how fasting affects individuals who fast, well you couldn’t select any better set of subjects for your study than muslims who consistently fast for one month every year during Ramadan.
Healthy Male volunteers were recruited into a study to see the effect of fasting on glucose, insulin resistance, adiponectin (a protein that’s involved in the development of insulin resistance) as well as insulin resistance. These parameters were measured just before the fast began and 4 weeks later into the fast.
A = Blood Glucose B = Fasting Plasma Insulin C = Insulin Sensitivity D = Insulin Resistance
In the one month of Ramadan Fasting, it wasn’t surprising that the participants in the study dropped their body weight. In response to their weight loss, their adiponectin levels dropped and there was a correlation with the amount of weight lost.
More importantly, there was a consistent increase in insulin sensitivity and a reduction in insulin resistance as plasma insulin and blood glucose levels were lowered on account of the fast. The conclusion from that study being that intermittent fasting has a positive impact on metabolism.
Is fasting healthy – Need more proof?
Proving further that fasting is healthy, another study conducted to se the effects of Ramadan fasting on lipid profile also revealed very encouraging results.
> High density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) was elevated in these individuals, Low density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) was lowered as was Total cholesterol. In the same study just like the other one, there was a drop in body weight, total body fat and of course a drop in Body Mass Index (BMI). In this same study, the incidence of acute heart problems in individuals with pre-existing cardiac illnesses was no different in the fasting days and the non-fasting days prompting the authors to conclude that if you have a stable heart condition, you can fast without anticipating any problems.
More science that fasting is healthy can also be seen in the review which pooled a lot of studies together to do what scientists call meta-analysis.
The meta-analysis review showed that Total cholesterol and the fat that causes a lot of damage (Triglycerides) were lowered by the act of fasting in men. It also supported the finding from the other study that High density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) gets elevated during fasting especially in women.
Heck, the immune system is not negatively affected by fasting from that review and even kidney function is protected during fasting. The findings from this review and the other studies actually scientifically address some of the concerns or doubts regarding the safety and indeed whether fasting is healthy or not.
There’s a consensus of opinion that fasting can have dramatic effect on insulin levels throughout the day. This knowledge represents an opportunity for everyone with insulin-related weight or metabolic issues.
One of the reasons people lose weight when they actively try to, like in the TV program, The Biggest Loser, only to put the weight back on a couple of months down the line is that we fail to deal with the underlying insulin resistance issues. This is the missing piece in the puzzle.
> Intermittent fasting gives you an opportunity to fix that missing piece in the puzzle. Why, because if you can fix your insulin resistance and make yourself more insulin sensitive, then your blood insulin levels are lowered significantly. Lower insulin levels means you burn fat easily and also burn fat in the medium to long term.
With low blood insulin levels, you remove the roadblock or put in another way, you will have “access to the key to the vault” where both the subcutaneous fat and visceral fat are locked away for future use.
Two things happen when you lower your insulin levels.
First thing is; is you can raid the fat vault and draw on this reserved fat that is put away for use in times of starvation. In the absence of starvation, all the stored fat does is cause you all sorts of metabolic problems, some of which are life threatening in the medium to long term. Therefore, it is a good thing to get rid of the fat stores.
Second thing is; low insulin levels will stop you adding more fat to the bank because insulin is a storage hormone. When low insulin levels are low, fat preservation is discouraged. This is related to the first point. You cannot be raiding the fat bank and adding to the bank at the same time. It’s usually a one-way traffic.
The more you intermittently fast or the more seriously you undertake intermittent fasting, the more you raid your fat reserves, so total body fat including visceral fat stores diminish in response to exhaustion of the readily available carbohydrate stores. Exhaust the carb stores (glycogen), fat stores get raided next. Simple as that.
Incorporating intermittent fasting (the operative word there is intermittent), into your weight management profile would ensure that you keep raiding your fat reserves whilst ensuring you won’t be adding more at the same time.
The net result is that you can maintain your target body weight with intermittent fasting, using whatever weight loss mechanism you prefer whilst improving your metabolic profile at the same time. If only the contestants in The Biggest Loser could adopt intermittent fasting, they will surely keep the weight off in the long term and would be healthier for it.
If we all agree that fasting can help you reduce your insulin levels and make you more insulin sensitive and we also agree that high insulin levels has serious health problems like high blood pressure, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, polycystic ovaries in young women and even dementia, then we can conclude that fasting when done intermittently in a structured way is actually a healthy thing to do.
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