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.
You do recall my scary experience that I documented following an exercise regime. The experience was awful and indeed freaked out my Missus and my two sons.
My daughter was in University so was lucky to have escaped the drama that unfolded on the day. Lucky girl!
If you haven’t read about it, go here and satisfy that curiosity, otherwise this post won’t make much sense to you. Don’t worry, I won’t judge you.
No one is judging you on this website. See Part 1 of the story first and proceed back here.
Why am I sharing this post exercise sickness and dizziness experience with you?
Remember that acquainting yourself with my personal experience means if you ever hit a similar bump on your exercise routine, you won’t be too scared and will know what to do. It’s a learning exercise.
Now, I do just okay on the cardiac front. Not perfect but just okay. Even though I didn’t think the Part 1 of the drama was due to my heart complaining about the intensity of the exercise and reacting in a frightening way just to teach me a lesson, I still felt I needed to check things out.
The main reason is because I have and are trying to clear my cardiovascular risk factors out of my life. It might interest you know that I suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure), was overweight and also developed full blown metabolic syndrome. These are risk factors for heart attack.
It is the reason I embarked on a journey to change the way I live not by consuming more tablets, (Big Pharma would love that, won’t he) but by incorporating a lot of what you read about on this blog into my life.
Having those risk factors meant at the back of my mind, I needed to ensure I wasn’t making a potentially catastrophic assumption. I was also scarred from the event and had to scale back on the intensity of the exercise until I was doubly sure there was NOT a cardiac element to the Part 1 event.
So, what did I do next?
I went to see my Cardiologist. That’s what I did.
Told him what happened and straightaway he didn’t think the event was cardiac-related. We still needed to stress my heart to see if it was still coping well to workouts though.
I had to have a more recent ECG (EKG to my North American friends). Tick – It went fine.
Have an echocardiogram – Tick. Not perfect but hasn’t changed for the worse in the last 15 years. It was still exactly the same as it was 15 years ago.
I was glad about that actually. At my age, you’ve got to have some blemish, haven’t you? Mind you this is a body that has been battered with stress and it’s seen a couple of decades. So, can’t complain.
More importantly, I needed a more recent exercise-tolerance test which I did. Strapped to ECG (EKG) leads and a blood pressure cuff around my arm, off I went on to the treadmill.
Starts off gently and they gradually crank up the speed and the incline until you are out of puff. Kinda similar to what you do with High Intensity Interval Training workouts.
Secretly I think the folks who do the exercise-tolerance test actually enjoy what they do. It’s like being in charge of a “controlled torture chamber”.
“Think you are made of sterner stuff? Let’s crank it up and see how you cope then brother” is probably their mind-set every time someone steps on that treadmill wired up to their eyeballs.
Anyway, I coped well with the “torture” until I raised my hands up to signal fatigue and the treadmill was gradually brought to a halt. It so happened that my heart coped well.
> There were no unusual ECG (EKG) changes and my blood pressure response to exercise was good.Having said that, apparently my blood pressure does drop sharply after exercise and this important in grand scheme of things.
More about that later.
My exercise endurance was fine but a minute less than it was when I last did an exercise-capacity test 10 years earlier. Well, I am decade older now since that test and it is to be expected.
> All in all, it went great and I felt better reassured that the event was not cardiac in origin.
If it wasn’t cardiac what was it then…
What causes post exercise sickness, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness?
Here is the skinny.
Feeling of nausea or being actually sick after exercise or workout can be caused by 2 main physiological explanations.
1. Blood supply changes 2. Blood pressure changes
Blood supply changes
I did mention this in the other post. Exercise places a huge demand on the human body. Muscles are at work and your brain too is seriously at work (you just don’t know it but your brain is). Your brain is responsible for your muscle coordination, regulation of your heart rate, regulation of your blood pressure and also heightening up your risk awareness.
On this account, both the muscles involved in the workout and your brain will demand that your heart supplies them with more blood. So will your heart itself (it’s got some more work to do remember) and your lungs – more oxygen is needed.
Your heart, brain, lungs and muscles effectively increase their blood supply in response to exercise at the expense of organs that don’t really need much supply at that point in time.
> Organs such as your bowel, kidneys and skin (initially) need little supply.
I say skin initially because as exercise progresses, supply to your skin increases as part of thermo-regulation to facilitate heat loss through sweat. Otherwise your body will overheat which is just as dangerous.
> The problem is that any slight demand on your bowels during or soon after the exercise can trigger a strong vasovagal response.
Symptoms of vasovagal response vary widely. I have culled the list of symptoms from this page for easy reference for you.
> “Episodes of vasovagal response are typically recurrent and usually occur when the predisposed person is exposed to a specific trigger. Prior to losing consciousness, the individual frequently experiences early signs or symptoms such as light-headedness, nausea, the feeling of being extremely hot or cold (accompanied by sweating), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), an uncomfortable feeling in the heart, fuzzy thoughts, confusion, a slight inability to speak/form words (sometimes combined with mild stuttering), weakness and visual disturbances such as lights seeming too bright, fuzzy or tunnel vision, black cloud-like spots in vision, and a feeling of nervousness can occur as well.The symptoms last for a few seconds before the loss of consciousness (if it is lost), which typically happens when the person is sitting up or standing.”
In my case I did not pass out or lose consciousness but felt lightheaded and dizzy. This is the result of the stimulation of the nerve we call, the Vagal Nerve. The vagal nerve exerts influence on the rate at which your heart beats amongst other functions.
When it is stimulated, the vagal nerve slows down your heart rate so much so you experience some of those symptoms mentioned above.
Here is a case reported in a Korean medical journal about a 39-year-old man who had a similar experience to mine. He was hypertensive and recently became diabetic. He was on medications similar to mine. In some respects, you would think we were twins only I am several years older. In his case though, he was actually fainting repeatedly.
The doctors in his case confirmed his diagnosis by giving him a very cold beverage. He experienced dizziness during the test after drinking the cold beverage.
With me, I had a very cold water soon after the exercise and that was the trigger for the vagal nerve stimulation moderated with the fact that my bowel blood supply was not optimal at the time. That’s one explanation.
Now the other:
Blood pressure changes during exercise, workouts or vigorous physical activity One thing that is certain is that exercise whether aerobic or resistance workouts will always result in blood pressure changes.
When you start a workout your blood pressure will rise and it will keep rising to varying degrees depending on the type of workout or exercise until it plateaus. Then blood pressure falls after the vigorous physical activity is over.
During exercise, there is an override of sympathetic activity on the heart. Sympathetic nervous system is what drives heart rate up and also increases the strength of the pumping heart muscle.
Sympathetic activity makes the heart go faster and harder unlike the opponent the para-sympathetic which slows it down and quietens it. It will interest you to know that the para-sympathetic nervous system is mediated by the vagus nerve I talked about earlier.
An increase in sympathetic activity is necessary because of the increased demand from the organs directly involved in the workout. Increased demand for nutrients and oxygen which has to be met by increased blood supply.
> Both sympathetic and para-sympathetic cannot fire themselves up at the same. One has to dominate depending on what your body is doing. So, when more blood is needed by the relevant workout organs as happens during vigorous physical activity, sympathetic system goes into over-drive and the para-sympathetic cools off until exercise is over.
When you are done with your workout the para-sympathetic takes over and that is when blood pressure can drop, sometimes drop low enough to cause the phenomenon of Post Exercise Hypotension or in lay man’s terms post exercise low blood pressure.
This is a normal physiology. It’s just that in some individuals this after-work out drop in blood pressure is somehow exaggerated leading to symptoms of the vasovagal I talked about earlier.
If you want to get really geeky about the phenomenon of post work out blood pressure changes, here is a very good review of the topic
Post exercise hypotension (low blood pressure) is something that occurs across genders, races, healthy people and the not-so-healthy people.
This study compared healthy volunteers with individuals who have Stage 2 or 3 chronic kidney disease. The healthy subjects were in the control group. Both the chronic kidney disease sufferers and the healthy volunteers were subjected to random exercises and rest periods.
They found the blood pressure to be lower in both groups after the aerobic exercises than after the rest periods even in those individuals with the chronic kidney disease who usually have high blood pressure in tow as part of the package for chronic kidney disease.
Some differences in the degree of fall in blood pressure after vigorous physical activity can be seen between races.
These researchers looked at the blood pressure patternsafter exercise between the Chinese race and the Caucasian race. They studied 62 individuals (30 Caucasians and 32 Chinese both sexes) assessing the blood pressure changes after 30 minutes and 60 minutes following an aerobic workout of 45 minutes.
The researchers found out the fall in blood pressure was lower in the Caucasians subjects than in the Chinese.
Even time of day does have an influence on exercise drop in blood pressure. One research did show that falls in blood pressure after a workout occurs at a bigger magnitude in the morning than in the evenings.
> Anyway, the point is blood pressure does fall after vigorous physical activity to varying degrees between individuals, between races, times of day, and state of one’s health too.It’s just that the drop can be dramatic enough in some individuals to cause symptoms like fainting, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea etc.
So how do you prevent post exercise symptoms like sickness, fainting, dizziness, light-headedness?
I should say this upfront. These tips are not for everyone. Most people do their aerobic and resistance training without any problems.
So the tips below may not apply to you if are not troubled by post workout nausea, fainting, dizziness, diarrhoea, light-headedness etc.
Just carry on as normal but if you belong to this unfortunate club, you may find the tips handy.
>> Ensure adequate hydration before starting a workout. Preferably at least 30 minutes before because if you hydrate too close to the beginning of the exercise, it can trigger a vagal response.
>> Delay drinking after your workout until your body has cooled off completely. I know you are thirsty but hold off for at least 15 minutes after your work out before drinking.
>> Do not eat too close to your workout sessions. Eating gives your bowels work to do when your body has other more pressing needs. A full stomach is an unnecessary demand on your heart when you have a workout around the corner.
>> When you drink, you may want to have isotonic drinks (drinks formulated with electrolytes and some sports drinks) as your main fluid for rehydration. These drinks are designed to help stabilize your blood pressure such that swings towards very low readings are avoided. Very low drops will lead to those symptoms.
>> Of course, you don’t have to invest in expensive sports drinks. Good ol’ plain water is just as good. However, avoid extremes of temperature. Don’t have very cold water or hot drink so soon after the workout especially if it was an exercise of high intensity. Learn from my experience. Not pleasant.
Room temperature water is fine. You can drink icy cold water later on say a good 30 minutes later after your exercise.
This tip will apply to those who experience symptoms after high intensity training exercise. High intensity workouts can be very demanding on your body.
> This means the blood pressure changes may be very dramatic. To prevent any undesirable side effects, you should not stop your exercise abruptly. Ease off gently to allow your body time to carefully adjust itself. This step prevents huge shock to your circulatory system and makes for an easier, gentler cooling off.
If you feel dizzy, faint, lightheaded, and you are in the upright position, quickly lower yourself onto the floor. The idea is to encourage blood flow to your brain plus being in the prone position also helps with stabilizing the blood pressure too.
If your heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to your brain because you are standing up, you may faint and become unconscious and probably have a seizure too. Best avoided.
After all said and done, if you have any doubts about how you feel following exercise, see your doctor for reassurance tests.
Cacao and cocoa do sound similar but if you listen carefully, you might just tell that there is a difference between cocoa and cacao.
The difference in the way cocoa vs cacao roll of the tongue may be subtle but there is a distinction in their make-up and constitution.
First, let’s learn a thing or two about how cacao is sourced before we talk about the cacao vs cocoa difference.
Cacao and cocoa come from the same parent plant. The scientific name of the plant from which cocoa or cacao beans come from is Theobroma Cacao.
This Theobroma cacao is the source of all the chocolate and chocolate-related products that you love so much. You need to be grateful for its existence.
The parent plant is a cacao fruit tree. This cacao fruit tree grows usually in tropical parts of the world. The cacao plant and cacao fruit yield is affected by ambient temperature as well as flooding events per growing season.
Cacao is a major foreign exchange earner for a lot of these 3rd world countries in the field of commodity trading.
Tropical countries in West Africa and South America are thankful to the Western world for the increased demand for cacao products which of course includes chocolate. This increase in demand has been on-going since 2006. Increased demand means an evergreen market translating to good business for these poor farmers in these countries.
When you eat chocolate (within reason that is), you are in fact helping one or two farmers in those countries.
What is Cacao?
Cacao is any derivative product that originates from the cacao bean. The cacao bean is harvested from the inside of the cacao fruit. Each cacao fruit is a pod and each cacao pod can contain between 20 to 60 cacao beans.
In answering the question on how many cacao beans in a pod, the answer would be an average of 50 cacao beans based on the above observation.
A 400-gm cacao pod (the average weight of the pod) is capable of yielding about 40 gm of dried cacao beans and this will in turn yield a 2-ounce bar of 70% dark chocolate.
> Derivatives of the cacao bean will include cacao powder, cacao paste, cacao butter and cacao nibs.
Cacao is made from the cacao bean. Cacao is the raw form of the cacao bean that has been cold pressed to release the powder. This cold pressing process separates the powder from the outer layer of the cacao bean.
This outer layer of the bean is where the fat in cacao bean is stored. This outer layer is creamy in texture, whitish in colour and it is from this layer that cacao butter is made.
> Cold pressing the cacao bean preserves 100% of the nutritional value of the bean, hence if you were to have a choice of cacao vs cocoa, the obvious pick of the day would have to be cacao.
Cacao is untouched, unprocessed and natural with the nourishing elements intact.
What is Cocoa?
If you have been to your supermarket and picked up some powder from the cacao family, then it is likely you bought the cocoa powder. That said, these days some stores are now selling the original cacao powder in the organic form.
Cocoa powder is a derivative of cacao bean that has been processed. When you heat cacao powder to very high temperatures, the end product is cocoa powder.
The cacao powder develops a lighter colour and flavour through a process of roasting the cacao beans to make the cocoa powder.
How much moisture is retained, what temperature to roast the beans and the duration of roasting is determined by the type of end-product that is desired.
> This process of roasting does lead to changes in the constitution of the original cacao bean which means loss of some of the phytonutrients essential for optimal health.
Here is what we can deduct from this. As far as the cacao vs cocoa debate is concerned, Cacao is way more nutritionally superior to cocoa. Cacao is unprocessed whilst cocoa is processed. The processing is what makes the difference between cacao and cocoa.
Something to wary of is the type of cocoa powder you purchase from your local supermarket. You need to look at the nutritional information that is on the packet. As you probably know, any food that is processed usually means something else has been added.
That something else added may include sugars, preservatives, trans fat oils, dairy and saturated fat. Once you have any of those ingredients, it is no longer pure cocoa powder. The choice to proceed with the purchase would then depend on how health conscious you are.
What are cacao nibs?
Cacao nibs refer to the original cacao bean that has been split up into smaller chips. It is still cacao that is unprocessed and therefore has all the nutritional value of cacao including fiber and other phytonutrients.
If you bite on the cacao nibs, you will experience the regular bitter taste that unprocessed cacao powder possesses.
When cacao nibs are used in the making of cacao products, the nibs have to go through a process of alkalisation using potassium carbonate to intensify the depth of the flavour and colour.
What is Cacao butter?
As said earlier cold pressing of the cacao bean usually results in the production of cacao butter, although most people will unwittingly refer to this as cocoa butter. Strictly speaking, it is cacao butter.
> The cacao is first liquidized and subjected to cold pressing. This cold pressing separates the butter in the bean from the rest of the solid component called cacao presscake.
This is the stage where cocoa product manufacturers get a little crafty. Some manufacturers will press hard enough to remove all of the butter but some others will press a little bit less to retain some of the buttery fat in the cacao presscake.
If you taste the cacao butter, it tastes just like white chocolate and it is creamy both in taste and texture.
Hence you can eat the cacao butter by using it to cook or bake and you can also use it for your skin as a nice moisturiser. Talk about multi-use!
Cacao vs Cocoa and cacao powder vs cocoa powder ?
As stated earlier cacao powder made from cacao bean that is largely untouched and unprocessed unlike cocoa powder that has been processed by alkalisation, fermenting and heating.
That means cacao powder will still have all the natural calories and nutrients available when consumed compared to cocoa powder which in essence is a reduced form of cacao.
> You get all the nutrients in cacao powder – the carbs, the protein, the fat mainly unsaturated fat, the vitamins and the minerals. Cocoa powder will still have some of those nutrient but in significantly less amounts.
Which brings us nicely to the health benefits of cacao.
What are the Health benefits of cacao?
When it comes to the health benefits of cacao, it is very easy to get carried away by the potential advantages of using cacao.
Yes, it is true that cacao has some proven health benefits but it is important to point out that these studies quoted in your newspapers, magazines, health websites are studies of the unprocessed cacao products.
>> The regular cacao products you get in your local supermarket are not the foods used in these studies. So, there’s some extrapolation going on.
Why does this matter?
Well, let’s just say the “cacao products” on your supermarket shelf are actually processed products, so they are not the original cacao, if you get my drift. They are cocoa products not cacao.
The devil is in the detail!
That said, here are the health benefits of cacao.
Cacao slows down aging
Oxidative agents and free radicals accelerate the ageing process and if you can find something that attacks and neutralizes these free radicals, then you have yourself a recipe for slowing down or at least prevent premature aging.
Anti-oxidants perform this function very well and cacao has been analysed to contain more anti-oxidants than your green tea, your black tea and your red wine. This is confirmed by the analytical study here
Cacao is the boss when it comes to anti-oxidants.
Cacao Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Epicatechin and Cocoa phenolic extract were studied in this research activity to see if cacao will have an effect on glucose tolerance. Turns out cacao does promote insulin sensitivity.
Cacao performs its glucose metabolism effect at the level of the liver. Cacao activates the insulin signalling process in the liver cells by boosting the activity of the proteins that stop the unnecessary production of glucose in the liver.
> Stopping the unnecessary production of glucose by the liver cells is one of the pathways that regulates how much glucose is available in the blood circulation. The overall effect is low normal blood glucose.
This step is particularly important in the reversal of insulin resistance, prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
Cacao prevents heart attacks and reduces blood pressure
Aging hardens our arteries, hence the incidence of high blood pressure is higher in the older age group.
The flavonols in cacao have been studied in the past and have been shown to improve blood vessel elasticity in the high-risk group of patients.
Patients known to have high blood pressure, those who smoke and people who have had hardening of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle have been studied and cacao flavonols were proven to relax blood vessels in those group of individuals.
The question that hasn’t been answered in studies was whether cacao flavonols would help individuals in the low risk i.e more of the general population.
Well, this review showed a study that gave cacao-flavonol containing drinks to a younger age group < 35 years of age and an older age group (50-80 years old) and matched them with similar age group controls.
The control group were given flavonol-free drinks.
The study demonstrated that cacao flavonol was capable of relaxing the blood vessels in both the younger and older age groups. That’s pretty much the general population.
Relaxed blood vessels lead to better blood flow through our blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and in turn reduces yourrisk of having a heart attack.
Here is one study conclusion:
> “In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure (systolic by 4.4 mmHg, diastolic by 3.9 mmHg), and improved the blood cholesterol profile by decreasing total cholesterol (by 0.2 mmol/L), decreasing LDL cholesterol (by 0.17 mmol/L), and increasing HDL cholesterol (by 0.1 mmol/L)”
This view that cacao protects you against heart attacks by virtue of the flavonol content of cacao is also supported by this study.
Cacao prevents and lifts up low mood
It is not a myth when people say “Have a chocolate” when your mood is somewhat low. It is based on previous studies. This is a bit of a stretch of the truth though.
Why…because cacao is what is proven to prevent and lift up low mood, not chocolate. Remember, chocolate is a processed food – a processed form of cacao, not the real cacao.
However, the theory behind the saying is that cacao contains a compound called phenylethylamine. Phenylethylamine is very good for mood as it supports the production of dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter) in the brain.
More dopamine availability in the brain results in a happier disposition. Also, have you noticed that when you feel happy, you have more energy too? Talk about a double whammy!
Cacao may lower the risk of cancer, alzheimer, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions like arthritis
We have already established that cacao has lots of anti-oxidants like flavonoids. The use of oxygen which is necessary for our existence through the process of metabolism inevitably results in the production of oxidants called reactive oxygen species (ROS).
The Reactive Oxygen Species in low amounts is not usually a problem but in high amounts cause inflammatory reaction in the body. This is one mechanism how cancer, neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimers, parkinsons, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diseases like rhematoid arthritis come about.
Beta-amyloid is a destructive protein found in the brains of alzheimer patients and research has proven conclusively that oxidative stress does lead to the production of beta-amyloid. Mop up these oxidative free radicals and you will be protecting your brain. Not only that, you will reduce your risk of developing inflammatory conditions too.
Anti-oxidants like flavonols from cacao do a good job of mopping up these free radicals which ultimately reduces your risk of developing these disabling chronic diseases.
So, consuming cacao regularly puts you in the driving seat of keeping these chronic diseases off your door step.
Health enthusiasts are always keen to explore the question of how to increase insulin sensitivity and for good reason too.
Insulin has been implicated in the causation of a lot of chronic diseases. It therefore makes sense to keep insulin levels low.
We need insulin to survive by the way. Without insulin, our body will simply pack it all in.
The problem is that we need just little insulin to survive. Any more than we need to drive forward our metabolic needs, the insulin becomes a problem in itself. The trick is getting that balance right.
Insulin is a polypeptide hormone which means it is made up of several amino acids joined together to form a huge molecule. Like I said previously, insulin drives a lot of our metabolic processes and that process starts with driving glucose from the blood circulation into the cells in particular, muscle cells.
> Seeing as muscle cells are responsible for 85% of the glucose uptake from the blood circulation, what happens inside our muscle cells is important to us. Insulin has a role with glucose metablosm in the liver as well.
What is insulin sensitivity?
Before diving into how to increase insulin sensitivity, let’s get back to the basics and know what insulin sensitivity actually is, first of all.
Eating leads to a breakdown of macronutrients to smaller units. Fat gets broken down to fatty acids. Protein gets broken down to amino acids and carbohydrates are broken down to glucose to greater extent and fructose to a smaller extent.
The smaller units in particular glucose needs to mopped off the circulation into the cells where it is needed by the mitochondria for energy production. The mitochondria is the part of the cell where energy is manufactured. Mitochondria is the energy factory, if you like.
To get the glucose from the blood into the cells, you need insulin as the driver. Without insulin, that glucose is not going anywhere soon. The glucose will just float around the blood making itself a real metabolic nuisance.
That’s why Type 1 diabetics can become very unwell if they keep skipping on their insulin injections, because Type 1 diabetics can’t make their own insulin. It’s got to be administered by way of injection.
Type 2 diabetic’s problem is a different proposition altogether and it’s kind of related to what I’m talking about here about insulin sensitivity.
Insulin sensitivity refers to how much insulin is needed to drive a unit gram of glucose into the cells from the blood circulation.
If I need a small amount of insulin release from my pancreas (let’s say 8 units of insulin) to clear 1 gram of glucose from my circulation as an example, then I am insulin sensitive.
If on the other hand, I need let’s say 16 or 24 units of insulin from my pancreas to clear 1 gram of glucose from my circulation, then I am insulin insensitive or put in another way, insulin resistant.
Insulin resistant individuals need more insulin to clear the same amount of glucose from their blood circulation than insulin sensitive individuals.
> Being insulin sensitive is a very good thing. We should all be striving to become very insulin sensitive mainly because too much insulin in circulation leads ultimately to metabolic syndrome or what some scientists now prefer to refer to as insulin resistance syndrome.
Also, because insulin is a fat preservation hormone, high insulin levels in circulation makes losing fat difficult. To make matters worse lots of body fat compounds insulin resistance problem ultimately leading to Type 2 diabetes.
It becomes a vicious circle!
So how can I increase my insulin sensitivity?
This is always a common question: how do you increase or improve your insulin sensitivity? I like to look at the answer from a broader point of view. That way it becomes easy and less of a challenge trying to understand how to improve or increase insulin sensitivity.
What do I mean by this? Here’s what I mean: Look at increasing your sensitivity on the following broad headings.
Anything you do to shed or reduce body fat, in particular visceral fat
Anything you do to reduce your blood glucose level
Anything you do to your improve your muscle performance and efficiency
That’s how you can increase insulin sensitivity in the broader sense. Before I get into specifics, I should point out that age is not a limiting factor when it comes to making you more insulin sensitive. You can boost your insulin sensitivity whether you are young or belong to the older age group.
Increase insulin sensitivity – How?
Here’s how. These 4 strategies below will boost your insulin sensitivity and optimize your health at the same time:
Start a Regular Resistance Training Program
There’s a guy who is a personal trainer. He loves taking on people who have difficulty improving their insulin sensitivity. The first question this guy will ask you when you consult him is: have you lifted weights progressively yet?
If your answer is, No, then he’s not interested in taking you on.
For this personal trainer, he believes insulin sensitivity improvement begins with resistance training of any sort. Anything else is secondary as far as he’s concerned.
He might be a little extreme in his view but there’s a huge element of truth in there.
> For a start, muscle soaks up 85% of the glucose in our circulation. The more muscle fibres you have and the bigger the fibres are, the more glucose the muscle cells soak up from the blood circulation.
It is thought that a 10% increase in muscle mass translates to an 11% increase in insulin sensitivity. Makes sense?
You don’t have to be a beef cake to make yourself more insulin sensitive though. Just toning up is good enough, so long as you do it on a regular basis.
Twelve teenagers were studied to see the effect of weight training on their insulin sensitivity. These teenagers were obese with an average body mass index of 35 and body fat percentage of 40%. They were made to exercise all muscle groups for 12 weeks for just two times a week for 1 hour.
There was no dietary intervention at all in this study. The objective was not weight loss but increase in lean body mass.
Indeed, the teen agers had an increase in lean body mass. Their visceral fat constitution was unchanged but liver insulin sensitivity increased by 24% and there was a slowing down of glucose production from the liver, even though they did not lose weight over the 12-week period.
Another study looked at what effect weight training intensity and volume would have on insulin sensitivity. There was a positive correlation between resistance training intensity and volume.
High intensity, multiple set weight training produced the greatest result in reducing fasting blood glucose whilst increasing insulin sensitivity in the subjects of this study who were insulin resistant individuals.
The authors of the study even went as far as suggesting high volume, high intensity resistance training as an effective treatment for acutely reversing insulin resistance.
2. Do Aerobic Exercises to improve your insulin sensitivity
Just as weight training is proven to increase sensitivity, the same principle applies to cardiovascular training i.e aerobics.
Aerobic exercises encourage the clearance of glucose from the circulation just as sedentary lifestyle promotes rise in blood glucose.
Insulin sensitivity appears to be greater in muscles that are regularly trained. The more trained the muscle is, the more sensitive that muscle will be to gulping up glucose from the circulation.
That’s why it is essential to keep up with your whatever aerobics you engage in on a regular basis as regular exercise equates to improvement in muscle insulin sensitivity.
This study looked at insulin sensitivity in both younger and older women over a 6-month period of 3-times-a-week aerobic training. Each time insulin sensitivity was measured 3 – 5 days after the last exercise regime.
There was a reduction in visceral fat (internal fat) in both groups but more reduction in subcutaneous fat in the older age group than the younger ones.
Insulin sensitivity was seen to be boosted more in the younger age group than the older age group. There was improvement in insulin sensitivity in the older age group too but the essential difference is sustainability. As far as that research is concerned, insulin sensitivity is sustained more in younger women than older ones.
What does that mean? It simply means the older you are, the more frequent your aerobic exercise routine needs to be for you to have persistent insulin sensitivity from aerobic training. If we go by that research finding where the exercise regime lasted only 25-60 minutes by the way
Another piece of research subjected 29 post-pubertal adolescents to 4-times-a-week 30-minute aerobic exercise regime for 12 weeks. Peripheral insulin sensitivity and liver insulin sensitivity were the outcome measures.
The subjects were recruited from 2 groups – one group was made up of lean adolescents and the other obese adolescents.
There was increase in peripheral insulin sensitivity as well as liver insulin sensitivity in both the lean adolescent group as well as the obese group. It’s just that the boost in insulin sensitivity was higher in the lean group compared to the obese group.
Something to remember is that these young individuals in the study were only doing the aerobic exercises for just 30 minutes and in fact, there was no weight loss. You can imagine what the results would be like if the exercise intensity was increased and there was actually weight loss.
How about the converse. Can you decrease insulin sensitivity by reducing physical activity?
Well, you can. This has been experimented in this study where 10 young men were made to reduce their physical activity for the purpose of this experiment. They were made to reduce their daily steps taken per day from over 10,000 to under 1,400 steps a day over a 2-week period.
This reduction in physical activity resulted in reduction of peripheral insulin sensitivity as well as a reduction in lean body mass worse in the leg muscles. There was a 7% reduction in cardiovascular fitness over the 2-week period.
> So being lazy decreases insulin sensitivity and raising your level of physical activity results in increase in insulin sensitivity.
Which brings me nicely to the next how to increase insulin sensitivity strategy.
3. Indulge in High Intensity Interval Training
We have seen how just 25 – 30 minutes’ normal intensity aerobic training exercise regimes in research experiments can boost insulin sensitivity.
What would happen if we turbo-charge the intensity of either resistance training or aerobic routines? Obviously, the benefit of reducing insulin resistance would get turbo-charged as well, won’t it?
If you think about it, you don’t need any research to prove that. Why? Because going back to the basics would provide a logical explanation for you.
When a muscle contracts, it needs energy to perform that function. The energy is provided by glucose. The muscle must use up the glycogen (the storage form of glucose) first. Once that glycogen is used up, the cell is hungry for more glucose if it is going to contract again.
That hunger for more glucose has to be satisfied by the circulating glucose, hence a contracting muscle soaks up more glucose because it needs it as a matter of necessity. Otherwise the muscle will fatigue out.
In the same vein, a muscle that contracts rapidly and frequently as happens in High Intensity Interval Training will use up its glycogen very quickly and will be hungry for even more glucose.
> You want to cash in on this physiological response to your muscles’ metabolic needs.
17 women with Type 2 diabetes were subjected to 2 days a week exercise for 16 weeks. They were randomised to either high intensity interval training (HIIT) or continuous moderate intensity exercise routine that lasted 40 minutes, cycling to be precise.
Both groups had reduction of total body fat and an increase in lean body mass at the end of the study. However, the reduction in abdominal fat and visceral fat was hugely significant in the high intensity interval training group.
This was accompanied by a reduction in HbA1C which is marker for improvement of glucose control over a 3-month period. HbA1C is a glucose monitoring tool used to manage type 2 diabetes in the long term
This finding is supported by this study which found glucose lowering capability on HIIT secondary to increase in fat cell and liver cell insulin sensitivity, although it should be mentioned that mice were the subject of this new study. What could be better than having your muscle cells, your fat cells and your liver cells become more insulin sensitive, courtesy of one strategy. You can’t beat that, can you?
If more proof is needed, then you can take a look at this meta-analysis that examined 50 well-designed studies involving high intensity interval training regimes and continuous moderate intensity regimes. Analysed them to see if there was consistency and significant proof that high intensity interval training (HIIT) does increase insulin sensitivity.
In the meta-analysis, there was consistent reduction of HbA1C and reduction in body weight. There was a reduction blood glucose in both groups but the difference in blood glucose lowering between the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and continuous exercise was not statistically significant.
However, individuals who were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, in other words those who are insulin resistant, experienced better reductions in fasting glucose in the high intensity interval training group compared to the continuous exercise group.
4. Avoid Refined Carbohydrates
One of the first things you must do to improve your insulin sensitivity or reduce insulin resistance is doing away with refined carbohydrates.
If you do nothing else, you must grab this strategy and run with it because it is so simple and it is very achievable.
Avoiding refined carbohydrates is all about habits. Changing life-long habits may be initially difficult but I can tell you once you start seeing refined carbs as metabolic health enemies, you would hardly go back to them.
Refined carbs tend to lead to quick elevation of blood glucose after eating. A rapid rise in blood glucose is a signal for high blood insulin release.
A rapid rise in blood glucose is fine, if you are very insulin sensitive, because the glucose will be quickly cleared from circulation by a small amount of insulin usually the first-phase insulin release.
But if you aren’t insulin sensitive or put in another way, if you are insulin resistant, then a refined carb meal will lead to more and more insulin being called up from the pancreas leading to hyperinsulinaemia (high insulin in circulation).
> Hyperinsulinaemia is the basis for a lot of the metabolic problems seen in metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance syndrome) which is best avoided.
To compound issues, a lot of processed refined carbs come loaded with refined sugar, trans fats and salt all of which are bad for insulin sensitivity. They actually promote insulin resistance. Not good!
One more thing I should mention here is the effect of some whole grains. Don’t always live in the hope that whole grains foods won’t spike your blood sugar. Some of them do.
> For instance, you will be surprised at how whole wheat bread will fire up your blood glucose levels even though the popular conception is that it is okay for you. Whole wheat bread doesn’t behave too radically different from white bread in terms of glycaemic index. The difference is only marginal.
Instead eat complex carbohydrates that are slow to digest because of their fiber content and will provide your gut with resistant starch. Resistant starch is a good probiotic for your gut bacteria which in turn is good for optimum health.
Insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity is one of my favourite topics and I could go and on about it with all the measures you can employ to increase your insulin sensitivity.
This piece about “what can I do to increase my insulin sensitivity” is long enough because I could continue to talk about other measures like the use of Resveratrol, L-Carnitine, Green Tea all of which would help you boost insulin sensitivity.
…but if you want more measures to sensitize your yourself to insulin, go here and go here too.
I should add that it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by all the strategies to increase insulin sensitivity or steps to reduce insulin resistance. However, you don’t have to do everything at once. Take 2 or 3 strategies and apply them to your everyday living and run with them. You can add some more as time goes.
The contents of the site are for informational, educational and entertainment purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website!