Saturday, 4 April 2009

Indulgent health food - sneaky fats

In an effort to improve my nutrition and give more focus to my training (one out of two isn't too bad is it?) I've been thinking a lot about fat. Fat, fat, fat, fat. I'll get to my thought on indulgent health food in a bit; but first some thoughts on calories and energy.

I like to think that I've got a pretty good nutritional foundation. I'm aware of food portions, the importance of variety and that cheese is evil of all fatty evils (for me anyway - I love cheese). But sometimes you have to spring clean; to take stock and get back on track, which is where I am now.

So let's start at the beginning with energy expenditure.

Energy expenditure is the amount of energy, measured in calories, that a person needs to perform activities - from basal metabolic functions like breathing, temperature regulation and maintaining circulation to walking around and participating in sports.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) refers to the number of calories your body needs just to keep you alive. This value decreases as you age, which is why you can't eat the same volume of food at 65 as you did at 18 and still expect to maintain a constant body weight - you will get fat. There are formulas and calculators, like this one at BMR Calculator, that give you an indication of your BMR calorific requirements.

Other lifestyle factors then increase your calorific requirements. Do you walk or drive to work? Do you sit behind a desk all day or does your job involve being on your feet or manual labour? And do you exercise regularly - with low, medium or high intensity - and for what duration? There are a number of online energy expenditure calculators (try a few). Alternatively the Harris-Benedict Equation is a simple and more general one-size-fits-all calculation where you multiply your BMR by an appropriate activity factor.

So once you know what your general calorific requirements are, you can then adjust accordingly to lose weight or gain weight. But this also means that you need to look at what you're currently eating so that you can first compare how your current intake compares with what you should be consuming. Even more than this how much of the three calorific macro nutrients - protein, carbohydrate and fat - you're consuming.

Looking at protein... intake factors depend on your lifestyle and gender. The general recommendation for runners is around 1.0g - 1.8g of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight. Read this article on Runner's World. My (female, sporty) recommended protein intake is 1.4-1.6g/kg of body weight (15% - 20% of total calorie intake).

The recommended fat intake percentage for runners is around 25%. This doesn't mean 25g. No, no, no. These percentage recommendations don't refer to GRAMS, they refer to PERCENTAGE of total calorie intake. As fat contributes a hefty 9kcal/g, this is only 62g of fat based on my calorific requirements. And it is way too easy to hit this target (see below).

And so the balance of 50-60% is awarded to carbohydrates, which are easy to consume; fruit, veg, starches. Carbohydrates, like proteins, contribute 4kcal/g.

Focus on fat
Fats are sneaky because they hang around in disguises - especially the sugar coated variety common to chocolate, ice cream and other such delicious treats.

And then there are the 'healthy' disguises like avos, heart healthy marg and olive oil. Time and time again I hear people saying how good olive oil is for you... sure, as an unsaturated fat it is better than a lump of lard, but when it comes to calories, fat is fat.

Let's see how fats sneak in to everything you eat with this basic example:

Breakfast: 2 eggs on toast and a glass (275ml) of 2% milk
Eggs are great for protein, with the white being the protein source (91% of the white is protein; around 9g per egg and it has little to no fat). The yolk is the wicked part as it contains the fat - around 10g per egg. It does contain many nutritents but fat is the weighty issue here. So, if you have two eggs, that's already 20g of fat. I'm assuming you're going to skip the marg/butter, but if you don't then you're looking at 4-10g of fat depending whether you have one slice or two and how heavy-handed you are with your spreading. And then your glass of 2% milk will clock in at 5.5g. So, that's easily 35g of fat for breakfast...

This makes you re-think your lunch of 4 slices of that lovely homestyle seeded bread (check the labels - easily 10g of fat, or more - per 100g; and 4 slices will weigh more than 100g) with cheese (around 25g fat/100g) and tomato. And then there's dinner... And if you had a chocolate during the day, you quota could have been blown by lunchtime.

Without becoming the fat police, it does help to be aware of how easy it is to exceed recommended values for fat intake. So yes, it does help switching to fat-free milk. if you eat your cereal with milk, and to fat-free cottage cheeses and yoghurts. But if you don't drink glasses of milk and you only use it in your one or two cups of tea or coffee a day, then using 2% is A-ok.

Indulgent health food - sneaky fats
A healthy food outlet promotes their smoothies (certain ones in their wide range) as 98% fat free. I usually order the 'original' size (it's the biggest one) of their yummy mango low-fat smoothie. This is a whopping 750ml of mango delight. So, at 98% fat free it means that there is 2% fat. Where water is approximately 1g : 1ml, smoothies are heavier, but for convenience I'm going to work on 1g : 1ml. 2% means 2g / 100ml so at 750ml... yeah, 15g in this smoothie! Almost a quarter of my daily allowance! And if I was being realistic, where 1ml of smoothie weighs more than 1g... a 'healthy' smoothie becomes even more of an indulgence.

Label reading is a good habit; you'll be surprised by how much fat you find in most 'healthy' products.

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