Energy | FOOD is Fuel

| 29/02/2012 | 3 Comments More

To successfully manage your body weight and body composition, it is important to realise that food is fuel, and is what provides energy to propel our bodies and to perform chemical reactions.  Food when its ingested is turned into energy through a process called oxidation.  The amount of energy provided by food is measured in calories.

Food provides essential nutrients; carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water that are vital to maintaining optimal health.

Foods are broken down into more simple chemical forms so that they can be absorbed, through the essential walls and transported by the blood to cells. This process is accomplished through digestion, absorption and metabolism.  Digestion is a series of chemical changes by which foods are broken down for absorption from the intestinal tract into the blood stream.  Absorption is the process by which nutrients in the form of amino acids from proteins, glucose from carbohydrates and fatty acids from fats are taken into the blood stream to facilitate cellular metabolism.

Metabolism is the conversation of the digested nutrients into building material for active tissue or energy to meet the body’s requirements.  The secret of managing the intake of your fuel is knowing how much, what type and the best to be consumed.  The optimal intake is dependent on several variables such as age, gender, height, weight, body composition and activity level.

The body handles mismanagement of calories (over eating) and the composition of these calories by storing unused calories as body fat.


Carbohydrates are the major source of energy for muscular exertion and aid in the digestion and assimilation of all foods.  Carbohydrates when digested are broken down into blood sugar or glucose and combined with water from glycogen that is stored in muscle cells and the liver.  Excess glucose is stored in fat cells throughout the body as a reserve source of energy.  Glycogen is the primary fuel for muscle concentration.

Carbohydrates are present in foods in the forms of starches, sugars and cellulose.  Starches are complex carbohydrates that require prolonged digestive time to be broken down into glucose and assimilated.  Carbohydrates that convert to blood sugar slowly have what is known as a ‘Low Glycemic Index’ and are ideal for regulating normal blood sugar levels.  These include pulses, whole grains and cruciferous vegetables (to name but a few).  The less sweet the taste, the lower the glycemic index.

High glycemic index carbohydrates are digested rapidly causing blood sugars to soar.  The erratic blood sugar levels leads to inconsistent energy levels and much of the sugar is transported to the fat cells by the hormone insulin.  Cellulose is found in the skins of fruits and vegetables providing a natural source of fibre that is essential for optimal body functioning whilst also decreasing the glycemic index.  Carbohydrates provide 4calories per gram.

Carbohydrates should be consumed evenly throughout the day, in the presence of protein and unsaturated fat, with higher requirement within two hours after a workout.


Proteins are the second most abundant substance in the body and are the building blocks for all cells.  Proteins when digested are broken down into simpler units called amino acids and are synthesised by the body.  The body requires 22 amino acids and all but eight of them can be produced by the body.  These eight are known as essential amino acids and must be supplied by foods.

Most meat, fish and dairy products are complete protein foods, whilst most fruit and vegetables are incomplete protein foods.  The ultimate goal is to have sufficient amounts of amino acids creating a positive nitrogen balance.  This allows the body to be in an anabolic state that results in muscle repair and growth.  If inadequate amounts of protein are consumed, the body falls into a catabolic state that leads to a breakdown of the muscle tissue to supply energy.

One gram of protein provides four calories and can be used as a secondary source of energy; protein should be consumed at all meals to increase metabolism and aid in repair and development of all body tissues.  Protein feeds the muscles, if you don’t feed them, you lose them.  Most people cannot afford to lose muscle tissue; muscle is your best friend.  Muscle is an active tissue meaning that the muscle burns calories.  The more muscle you have the more efficient you are at burning calories and the faster your metabolism is.

Initially if you lose muscle, the weight loss is great according to the scales; however the long-term effect is that more unused calories will be stored as fat, and eventually the weight on scales will increase.


When it comes to watching the fat calories, there are people who do and people that don’t.  If you are one of those who do, it is tempting to feel smug.  But maybe you shouldn’t because in our efforts to follow a low-fat diet.  Some fats are not just harmless but essential for health and vitality.  In fact, recent research suggests that these essential fats may play a pivotal role in actually losing body fat, maintaining a healthy body weight and producing energy in the body, as well as protecting the body against degenerative diseases.

Since 90% of modern diets are low or deficient in essential fats, some scientists believe this is one of the greatest nutritional problems facing the western world today.  Researchers such as Dr Udo Erasmus and Dr Barry Sears are convinced that putting back these essential oils into our diets can bring untold health benefits to virtually everybody, but especially to those seeking to lose weight and boost their physical performance.

NICE fats – NEUTRAL fats – NASTY fats

The foods we eat contain many different types of fat, and the building blocks of these fats are known as fatty acid molecules are tiny, a drop of olive oil will contain at least a billion fatty acid molecules.  There are a large number of different types of fatty acid building blocks in the foods that we eat, but they all have the same basic shape, which is like a caterpillar.  This caterpillar has hydrogen and carbon backbone and a head containing an acid group.  The important thing though is that some of these fatty acids are absolutely essential for life and health, some are non-essential and some are positively harmful.  What makes one fatty acid healthy and another harmful is dictated by just four factors: The length of the chain, the number of carbon-carbon double bonds, where those double bonds are in the chain and weather those double bonds are ‘cis’ or ‘trans’. To simplify things, you can think of fatty acids in your diet as falling into three categories:

Essential of health-giving fats

Neutral fats with no real health benefits, but no great health drawbacks either

Harmful or killer fats, which lower energy, depress immune function and increase our susceptibility to degenerative disease.

Most people in the West eat far too much of the killer fats and not enough of essential fats.  And watching fat intakes is no solution either, while you may be cutting down on the harmful fats, it’s very likely that you’ll also be depriving yourself of the essential fats in the process.

EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids)

The benefits of consuming plenty of EFAs are impressive to say the least…  apart from better skin and hair condition, evidence is piling up for the EFAs major role in immune function, helping to keep infection and illness at bay and in the longer term may help reduce the risk of degenerative disease such as cancer.  EFAs are also crucial for brain development and health.  Your brain cells require large amounts of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils to stay healthy.

Studies have found that juvenile delinquents with severe behavioural problems respond well to an EFA rich diet.  Research by Dr Erasmus working with athletes found that supplementing EFAs especially the more commonly deficient Omega-3 increases not only energy outputs and stamina, but recovery too.  He believes that this is due to the ability of Omega-3 to attract oxygen into hard working muscle cells, a bit like a magnet.

Oxygen is electron hungry, and the almost ring shaped Omega-3 molecule with its three double bonds provides a very rich source of electrons for hungry oxygen molecules…  Giving Omega-3 to Diabetics tends to raise their blood sugar level, by attracting more oxygen into mitochondria, beta-oxidation or fat burning is enhanced, thus reducing the needs for energy coming from blood sugar.

Dr Erasmus also believes that EFAs can actually tilt the balance of energy production in the body so that more comes from fat and less comes from carbohydrates.  EFAs may achieve this by altering the expressions of gene involved in controlling energy pathways in cells.

Weight Loss: 

Not what you want to hear if you’ve been following a very low fat diet for years, but evidence is accumulating nevertheless, by increasing the transport and utilisation of oxygen in cells, more of our energy can come from fat burning, which requires plenty of oxygen.  More energy from fat not only means more body fat loss, but less food cravings as your blood sugar remains on a more even keel.  On top of that, EFAs may also elevate mood and lift depression, a major cause of problem eating and food cravings.  It seems that eating the right kind of fat can make you thin!

Reduce Inflammation:

EFAs also appear to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and speed wound healing.  Studies with athletes have shown dramatic benefits in recovery from injuries and soreness when given extra EFAs.

 Where to find EFAs:

You might think that it would be easy to ensure a healthy supply of these essential fats in the diet but you’d be wrong…  while many foods contain traces of these fats, modern food processing and refining means that there are very few really good unadulterated sources of EFAs.

Food Omega-3 (% by weight) Omega-6 (% by weight)



Hemp Seeds



Pumpkin Seeds






Rape Seed






Wheat Germ



Sunflower Seeds










The best sources come from nuts, seeds, fatty fish and unrefined whole grains.  However a glance at the table above shows that while Omega-6 fatty acid is quite abundant and Omega-3 is more difficult to obtain.  Unless your diet contains an abundant of seeds & whole grains, it’s likely you’ll be falling short of your optimum Omega-3 intake.  Using bottled oil such as soya, rape and walnut oils on salads and in cooking may not be the answer either.

Commercial oils are inevitably refined processed and stored, which means that the essential fatty acid content will be partly degraded.  Even worse, the degradation can produce dangerously toxic fats such as trans-fatty acids, epoxides and peroxides.  If you use seed oils, you must make sure that they are fresh, cold pressed, have been packages in an oxygen-free container that is opaque to light and that the oil has been kept refrigerated since produced.

Fatty fish such as mackerel, herrings, sardines, trout and salmon are rich in two different kinds of Omega-3 Eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and decosahexxaenoic acid (DHA) which can help supplement the role of alpha linoleic acid in the body – Omega-6.

However, most trout and salmon are intensively farmed and worries are growing about the possible health effects on regular consumers of the toxic chemical residue of anti-parasitic and antibiotic agents present in the flesh.  Whenever possible choose organic salmon and trout.

Killer Fats:

It’s difficult enough to obtain enough of the essential fats, even if you eat really carefully.  But there is a more sinister enemy lurking to thwart your plans.  If you’re one of those who dutifully choose a polyunsaturated oil a low-fat spread or a high in polyunsaturated fat spread, then maybe you should think again???  The fragile nature of the essential fats means that as soon as you start to process foods containing them, they rapidly fall apart, producing nasty compounds that interfere with normal fat metabolism.

In a nutshell, processed EFAs may be far worse for you than the saturated fats that nutritionist have always told us to reduce!  In nature, sunflower seeds contain large amounts of linoleic acid, but it’s sealed away in the seeds, protected from the damaging effects of light and oxygen.  But crush them in a hot press, bleach, refine and process the oil and then store it in a clear bottle exposed to sunlight in warm conditions and things don’t look so good.

Use it for frying and things look even worse…  Yes there is plenty of linoleic acid, but now you have a cocktail of other compounds present.  These include trans-fatty acids, epoxides, peroxides and double bond shifted species.  Likewise, so-called healthy low-fat spreads may be low in fats, but contain high levels of adulterated and chemically altered fats that are harmful to the body.  Research has shown that our large intake of processed killer fats lies at the root of much degenerative disease, such as cancer, heart disease and immune diseases.

Many nutritionists and doctors believe that the more chemically stable saturated fats hated by most nutritionists, such as those in butter, cream and cheese are actually quite neutral in the body provided there is plentiful supply of unadulterated EFAs.


Vitamins are a necessary for cellular growth, cellular metabolism, cellular reproduction and digestion.  With a few exceptions, the body cannot synthesize vitamins; therefore they must be supplied by foods or food supplements.  Vitamins working in combination with enzymes ensure that the nutrients in foods are properly metabolised for cellular maintenance or energy.


Minerals act as catalysts for many biological reactions in the body such as muscular contraction, digestion, hormone development and cellular metabolism of nutrients from foods.  Minerals help to maintain the body’s water balance and keep it from being too alkaline in the formation of antibodies and hormones that maintain the body’s immune system.


Drink your water!!! The human body is two-thirds water and is an essential nutrient for all bodily functions.  Water is essential for transporting nutrients and waste products in and out of cells.  It is necessary for absorption, digestion, circulatory and excretory functions.  Water is essential for regulating and maintaining the body’s core temperature.

An individual who is over weight requires much more water than a person who is thinner because of their need to metabolise fat is greater.  When fat is oxidised and converted into energy, a waste product produced that must be flushed from the body to maintain proper health.  The average individual should consume eight to ten 8ounce glasses of water daily.  It is suggested that a person looking to decrease their percentage body fat should consume an additional 8ounce glass of water for each 20lbs of excess body fat.

Many people who retain excess body fluids are those who simply do not get enough water.  When the body does not receive the proper amount of water it needs to function properly, it responds by storing water in extra-cellular spaces, resulting in weight gain.

By Mike Buss.

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Category: Health News, Nutrition, Nutrition (weightloss)

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