Archive for April 2013


Preventing fat storage from alcohol consumption

Let’s quickly review how nutrients are stored and burned after a mixed meal.

  • Carbs and protein suppress fat oxidation via an elevation in insulin. However, these macronutrients do not contribute to fat synthesis in any meaningful way by themselves.
  • Since fat oxidation is suppressed, dietary fat is stored in fat cells.
  • As the hours go by and insulin drops, fat is released from fat cells. Fat storage is an on-going process and fatty acids are constantly entering and exiting fat cells throughout the day. Net gain or loss is more or less dictated by calorie input and output.

If we throw alcohol into the mix, it gets immediate priority in the substrate hierarchy: alcohol puts the breaks on fat oxidation, but also suppresses carb and protein oxidation.

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This makes sense considering that the metabolic by-product of alcohol, acetate, is toxic. Metabolizing it takes precedence over everything else. This quote sums up the metabolic fate of alcohol nicely:

“Ethanol (alcohol) is converted in the liver to acetate; an unknown portion is then activated to acetyl-CoA, but only a small portion is converted to fatty acids.

Most of the acetate is released into the circulation, where it affects peripheral tissue metabolism; adipocyte release of non-esterified fatty acids is decreased and acetate replaces lipid in the fuel mixture.”- Hellerstein MK, et al (1999).

Acetate in itself is an extremely poor precursor for fat synthesis. There’s simply no metabolic pathway that can make fat out of alcohol with any meaningful efficiency. Studies on fat synthesis after substantial alcohol intakes are non-existent in humans, but Hellerstein (from quotation) estimated de novo lipogenesis (conversion of carbs to fat) after alcohol consumption to ~3%. Out of the 24 g alcohol consumed in this study, a measly 0.8 g fat was synthesized in the liver.

The effect of alcohol on fat storage is very similar to that of carbs: by suppressing fat oxidation, it enables dietary fats to be stored with ease. However, while de novo lipogenesis may occur once glycogen stores are saturated, DNL via alcohol consumption seems less likely.

How to lose fat or prevent fat gain when drinking
Now that you understand the effect of alcohol on substrate metabolism, it’s time for me to reveal how you can make alcohol work for fat loss. Alternatively, how you can drink on a regular basis without any fat gain, without having to count calories.

Apply this method exactly as I have laid it out. If you’ve paid attention, you’ll understand the rationale behind it. I’ve tested this on myself and it works pretty well.

The rules are as follows:
For drinking days, restrict your intake of dietary fat to 0.3 g/kg body weight (or as close to this figure as possible).

Limit carbs to 1.5 g/kg body weight. Get most carbs from fibrous veggies (e.g. asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens etc) and the carbs in some protein sources (e.g. beans, but NOT tinned baked beans). I would also recommend the less starchy root vegetables like squashes, celeriac and turnip. You’ll also want to limit carbohydrate-rich alcohol sources such as drinks made with fruit juices and beer. A 33 cl/12 fl oz of beer contains about 12 g carbs, while a regular Cosmopolitan is about 13 g.

Good choices of alcohol include dry wines (includes most reds), which are very low carb, clocking in at about 0.5-1 g per glass (4 fl oz/115ml). Sweet wines are much higher at 4 to 6 g per glass. Cognac, gin, rum, Scotch, tequila, vodka and whiskey are all basically zero carbs. Dry wines and spirits is what you should be drinking, ideally. Take them straight or mixed with diet soft drinks. No need to be super-neurotic about this stuff; drinks should be enjoyed after all. Just be aware that there are better and worse choices out there.

Eat as much protein as you want. Yes, that’s right. Due to the limit on dietary fat, you need to get your protein from lean sources. Protein sources such as low fat cottage cheese, protein powder (see one of my shake recipes below, which is taken from my new eBook The Fat Loss Puzzle), chicken, turkey, tuna, pork and egg whites are good sources of protein these drink days or any days really. I would go as far as advocating 2 eggs (organic free range) on drinking days, as one whole egg only has about 5g of fat. If using in shakes, use only the yolk (see recipe below). One egg yolk in shakes (for convenience if you don’t have time to cook on those days) would give you 5g of fat since the fat is in the yolk, with about 5g to15g to play with depending on your body weight. It’s not exact, so as long as you are close, it will pay dividends.

If you are short of time or are going out straight after work, you could have another shake beforehand. If you want a food option then use any of the above listed foods with minimal fat e.g. you could have Cajun chicken breast, done in a dry pan for about two and a half minutes each side served with a load of spring greens wilted in a pan with just a small knob of butter or small teaspoon of virgin coconut oil (remember you need some fat for nutrient absorption), mainly the oil soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. You could have the chicken with the greens and some celeriac or squash or turnip mash (the less starchy carbs) with just a small amount of fat (even spot of milk and seasoning) for mashing.

You could have omelette or any type of frittata (low fat ones) remembering to use only a small knob of butter or other fat with any vegetables you like, including greens to accompany your meat, fish or poultry. Wild salmon or smoked mackerel frittata anyone? I have a great recipe in The Fat Loss Puzzle eBook.

Apply the protocol and you will avoid fat gain or even achieve fat loss on a weekly basis as long as your diet is on course for the rest of the week, sprinkled with some exercise and you are not guzzling wine every day. Even alternate days should still keep you at a steady weight, provided you follow the protocol and eat nutritious foods throughout the week. If you use your drinks mainly in place of other treats, this will also help.

Basically, the nutritional strategy I have outlined here is all about focusing on substrates that are least likely to cause net synthesis of fat during hypercaloric conditions. Alcohol and protein, your main macronutrients on drinking days, are extremely poor precursors for de novo lipogenesis (conversion of carbs into fat). Alcohol suppresses fat oxidation, but by depriving yourself of dietary fat during alcohol consumption, you won’t be storing anything. Nor will protein cause any measurable de novo lipogenesis. High protein intake will also compensate for the weak effect of alcohol on satiety (fullness) and make you less likely to blow your diet when you’re drinking.

By the way, a nice bonus after a night of drinking is that it effectively rids you of water retention; you may experience the “whoosh” effect. That in itself can be motivating for folks who’ve been experiencing a plateau in their weight loss.

Always eat before you drink
Research suggests it’s wise to factor in those drinks calories, but it’s actually more important to eat right than to eat less. Skimping on food in order to “make room” for drinks will only backfire and send you straight to the bottom of the nut bowl. Here’s why: most drinks are loaded with simple carbs, so during a night of drinking, people end up with soaring blood sugar, followed by a ‘crash’ that leaves them ravenous.

You can help counteract that effect by having foods as previously described that provide long-lasting energy before you go out. An added benefit of grabbing a bite beforehand is that the Merlot or Chardonnay or other drinks will be absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, minimising its diet-damaging effects.

In addition to revving your appetite, tippling also makes you lose your eating inhibitions (“I only live once so I’ll have a kebab!”). It temporarily impairs the prefrontal cortex (mimicking brain damage), the smarty-pants part of the brain that allows you to think clearly and rein in impulsivity. So after a certain amount of alcohol (and it’s different for everyone), you’re going to feel yourself not caring and letting it rip with food and probably drinks. A few glasses can also make you forgetful, as in, forgetting that the chocolate fudge cheesecake is not on your eating plan.

The trick is to have an easy-to-follow strategy in place before you take that first sip. Protein, some carbs, some fibre and a little bit of healthy fat to help control blood-sugar levels and improve nutrient absorption making you feel satisfied and less prone to fat storage and hunger pangs.

Know that some drinks make you hungrier than others
So if you’re going to drink, have something straight up and simple like wine or spirits. Wine lovers rejoice!

Beware of that starving feeling the next day
The morning after poses a new diet challenge. As if a hangover weren’t punishment enough, you’re fighting cravings for large amounts of cheesy, greasy fast food. Part of the problem is that you’re dehydrated (don’t forget, alcohol is a diuretic) and that can make you feel even hungrier. But that’s not the only thing at play. The body needs energy to resolve the effects of a big night of drinking, so it wants the richest source of energy it can find, which is fat especially greasy foods, which tend to settle the stomach a bit.

To avoid this, when you’re out, drink a big glass of water for every drink you have. Then, before going to bed, have some more, along with a snack that is mainly protein and/or veggies or if you can’t be bothered take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. You’ll get important nutrients into the body that were lost during alcohol consumption.

Apply this with good judgement and don’t go to extremes. Remember, it doesn’t give you a license to binge every day of the week, but this is as good as it gets if you want to be able to drink freely without significantly impacting fat loss progress or causing unwanted fat gain.

Other considerations
For some other killer strategies to prevent fat storage either in general or with alcohol, read The Fat Loss Puzzle eBook.

Pure Protein Shake (Serves 1)

100ml of full fat organic milk or unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp of plain full fat, organic Greek bio yogurt (leave out!) or use regular
25g scoop of plain whey protein, unsweetened
½ medium banana
½ tsp of cinnamon
1 organic free range (FRO) raw egg yolk (optional)
Splash of full fat coconut milk (leave out!)
1 tsp of nut or seed butter (e.g. almond, sunflower, tahini), optional (leave out!)

Throw everything in a blender and blend for 20 seconds until everything is blended.

NB Raw egg yolks have a lovely vanilla taste albeit subtle and they are also the most nutritious in the raw state. Also we only use the yolk because raw egg white binds to the B vitamin, Biotin preventing its absorption. This shake is a real hunger killer throughout the day. The cinnamon also regulates blood sugar, allowing a slower insulin response.

To keep our fat to the recommended amounts when drinking alcohol, we need to leave out the nut or seed butter, leave out the Greek yogurt or use regular yogurt (e.g. Yeo Valley organic 4.5g of fat per 100g) and leave out the coconut milk. Add some extra liquid (water) if you like.

Moroccan Spiced Lamb Burgers

Serves 4


800g grass fed lamb shoulder, minced

4 soft rolls, halved

4 heaped tablespoons full fat organic Greek yogurt

1 heaped tablespoon harissa paste

Juice of 1 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

Large bag of mixed leaves or lettuce (e.g. Romaine)

4 large vine tomatoes, chopped

Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 pomegranate or chopped olives (optional)

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For the rub

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp fine sea salt

1 tbsp ground cardamom

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp Cayenne pepper


For the dry rub, combine all the rub ingredients in a bowl. NB if you prefer, you could leave the rub out and just season the mince with sea salt and black pepper. The rub will last for future use in a sealed tin or container.

Divide the minced lamb into 4 pieces. Pat each piece into a ball then squash into a burger, about 1.5cm thick. Pat some of the rub all over the burgers then drizzle over a tiny bit of olive oil. Cook on your barbecue or in a griddle pan for 6 to 7 minutes each side, or until done to your liking. Don’t worry if you think they look burnt, that’s just a combination of the spices, the caramelising lamb fat and the smoke. When the burgers are nearly ready, toast the buns on the side of the barbecue or griddle.

Spoon the yogurt into a bowl and dollop the harissa on top. Squeeze over a little lemon juice to loosen, then ripple the harissa through the yogurt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

To serve, spread some harissa yogurt on the toasted buns, top with the burgers and squash them into the buns. Add some more yogurt, then squeeze the remaining lemon juice over a few mint leaves and place on top.

For the salad, place the lettuce leaves, mint and tomato, dress with a squeeze of lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and lightly season with sea salt and black pepper. If using, tap over the pomegranate seeds to add little capsules of sweetness. You could use chopped olives instead of pomegranate if you like.

Serve the burgers with the salad on the side.


NB for a super healthy burger, leave out the bun. You could also make some quinoa mixed with chopped tomato, chopped mint, chopped olives and seasoning to accompany your bun-less burger for another healthy option. Also 200g per burger will give you a nice size dinner size burger; you could adjust the size to suit.

The Truth on Fat Burners

Everywhere we go, we are being inundated with ads promising us that taking a few pills a day will burn fat. Turn on the television and you hear doctors recommending the latest and greatest fat burner. Here’s a little secret; most doctors take only one class in nutrition during their education, and thus know very little about nutrition and metabolism.

We’re going to take an evidence-based approach, and see what the actual scientific research says about these popular fat burners.

Let’s actually break down the marketing claims when it comes to the most popular fat burners.

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Green Coffee Bean Extract
The Claim:
A “miracle” fat burner. It’s a source of chlorogenic acid, which gets lost when coffee beans are roasted. Chlorogenic acid is supposed to slow down your body’s absorption of glucose, which promotes weight loss.

The Reality:
Green coffee bean was found to have a slight effect in obese people. For people who are merely overweight, it is unlikely to have any effect. Furthermore, the positive research was industry funded, so take that research with a grain of salt.

The Claim:
5-HTP is converted to serotonin in the brain, which is supposed to suppress hunger.

The Reality:
It does suppress hunger – by making you nauseous! That is the “magic” – taking 5-HTP makes you feel nauseous, and you end up eating slightly less. It should be noted that the oft-recommended dosage of 200mg/day is well below the dosage you need before you notice it.

Garcinia Cambogia
The Claim:
Superlatives used to describe this fruit-based supplement include: “breakthrough,” “magic,” “holy grail” and “body-fat buster.” Gambooge is supposed to burn fat because it is a great source of hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is supposed to decrease your appetite. The supplement you buy is usually the HCA extracted from the fruit.

The Reality:
Gambooge has research on it dating back to 15 years ago. A recent systematic review (in which researchers look at all relevant research to make a general recommendation) of over 700 participants concluded that gambooge has an irrelevant effect on your bodyweight.

Gambooge is a great example of the rats vs humans issue. While it was very promising in rats, human studies found none of those benefits.

Raspberry Ketones
The Claim:
Of all the “doctor-recommended” fat burners, this is the most popular one. Extracted from raspberries, this compound is meant to promote lipolytic activity. In simpler terms, it’s supposed to cause fat breakdown.

The Reality:
Raspberry ketones were found effective in rat studies, at a very high dosage. That’s it. There is literally zero legitimate research done in humans. Extrapolating from some rat studies and applying them wholesale to humans is disingenuous.

Even the results in the rat studies were pathetic! It was as effective as taking a car from 42 MPG to 42.1 MPG.

Green Tea/EGCG
The Claim:
There are four main polyphenols (a kind of compound commonly found in nature) in green tea. The most potent of them is EGCG, which is supposed to promote fat burning. The four polyphenols interact with each other in a health-boosting manner.

The Reality:
For once, a fat-burning supplement (kind of) delivers! There are human studies that shows consuming green tea/EGCG helps burn more fat and decrease your overall fat mass. While it’s not by a lot, there is at least evidence that it works!

The catch? It seems to only work on those who don’t regularly consume caffeine. If you regularly drink coffee or tea, the fat-burning effects of green tea/EGCG are heavily compromised.

The other interesting note is how healthy green tea is for you! It has positive effects throughout your body such as low-grade anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties paired with a reduction in cancer risk. I drink green tea regularly (even though I think it tastes horrible) just for its health benefits.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
The Claim:
CLA is supposed to interact with the peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPAR) system in your body, which is related to fat metabolism inside your body.

The Reality:
A common theme emerges – what works in rats does not work in humans. CLA barely interacts with the PPAR system, rendering it unreliable. The end result? No fat burning.

The Claim:
Caffeine is supposed to increase your metabolism. This lets your body use your fat reserves for energy, which means less fat stored.

The Reality:
Caffeine is a potent stimulant, and does indeed increase your metabolism.

But just like green tea, caffeine only works if you are not used to it. As you become a regular user, its stimulant effects wear off, and so does the boost to your metabolism. For caffeine to be effective, you need to cycle its usage.

It should be noted that potent is relative – yes caffeine burns fat, but the bulk of your fat loss will be through your diet. Since you become used to caffeine, it is not an effective everyday fat burner. It can help, but it’s not something you can rely on every day.

7-keto, related to DHEA
The Claim:
Stimulates your thyroid to increase your body’s metabolism. This means less fat is stored.

The Reality:
7-keto is one of three oxygenated metabolites of DHEA, a naturally occurring hormone in your body. Studies do seem to indicate that 7-keto can increase your metabolism, but the quality of research is extremely iffy (due to conflicts of interest). At this time no statement can be made as to whether 7-keto works or doesn’t.

White Kidney Bean Extract
The Claim:
Prevents the breakdown of carbs into simple sugars, so they are not absorbed by your body. As a result, complex carbs pass through your digestive system unabsorbed.

The Reality: White kidney bean extract does seem to reduce the absorption of carbohydrates, but its potency is so weak that it has little overall effect. It’s as effective as having a few less bites of food.

L-Carnitine aka ALCAR (Acetyl-L-Carnitine)
The Claim:
L-Carnitine helps shuttle fats into your mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of a cell), where they get burned off.

The Reality: Another supplement which works in theory, but does not work in reality. Supplementation only works in burning fat if you are deficient (which is common only in very elderly people); taking more carnitine than your body needs results in no extra fat burning. This is likely due to your body’s regulatory facilities.

At the end of the day, even though some fat burners do work, the amount of fat they actually burn is small. Unless you are working on the last few pounds, they won’t be noticeable. Want to know what burns fat?

Check out The Fat Loss Puzzle eBook.




Are they Psychological or Physiological?

A bit of both would be about the right answer. Psychological cravings usually originate from our childhood or even in the womb. Our childhood memories of apple crumble and custard for example are brought to the fore when we feel the need or urge to fill any void or issues we may have in our lives. When we experience these feelings, we turn to what gives us comfort, hence the term comfort foods.

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Physiological cravings generally originate from either foods that have opiate peptides sometimes referred to as exorphins (e.g. breads, dairy products) or when you are stressed or sleep deprived. Stress and sleep deprivation elevate cortisol levels, kicking off a cascade of hormonal events. High cortisol levels interfere with insulin’s ability to do its job of shuttling glucose to the muscles for energy. When this is disrupted, you have less energy, which in turn leads you to feel cravings and a higher propensity to overeat.

Women often experience cravings when menstruating due to hormonal fluctuations.

As oestrogen levels fluctuate, so do levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The body wants to keep these levels even, so it turns on the fight or flight response, causing us, the innocent bystanders of this whole thing, to crave carbohydrates and fat. Bring on the ice cream and crisps.

But there’s another culprit here; serotonin. Serotonin is that brain chemical that increases feelings of contentment. Foods can trigger serotonin, as can exercise and other lifestyle factors. If cortisol, the stress hormone is high, and serotonin is low, we’ll crave simple carbohydrates and fats, usually sugary treats like sweets and chocolate. This is because these simple carbs will up our serotonin fast. If cortisol is elevated, but serotonin is normal, we’ll crave carbs and fat, but not necessarily that sugary treat. You may find you crave croissants or bagels loaded with cream cheese. Now that those cravings make sense, we can adjust our eating habits to curb the craving without completely destroying out healthy diet plans.

There are steps you can take to avoid this act of nature sabotaging your weight loss aspirations.

The Fat Loss Puzzle deals with both the mental and physical induced urges and shows you how to keep your long term weight loss goals on track.

Exercise Improves Willpower

Exercise turns out to be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered. For starters, you will see the benefits of exercise are immediate; even small amounts of exercise reduce cravings with longer term benefits of relieving stress and depression more effective than Prozac. Exercising also enhances the biology of self-control by increasing baseline heart rate variability and training the brain. Physical exercise makes your brain better and faster and the prefrontal cortex shows the largest training effect. Anything above and beyond a sedentary lifestyle will improve your willpower reserve.

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In terms of casual exercise, green exercise gets you outdoors and in the presence of Mother Nature, which is effective even in small durations and low intensities. Here are some ideas for your own five minute green exercise willpower boost:

  • Get out of the office and head for the closest greenery
  • Line up a favourite song on your iPod and walk or jog around the block
  • Take your dog outside to play and chase the toy yourself
  • Do a bit in your garden
  • Step outside for some fresh air and do a few simple stretches
  • Challenge your kids to a race game

If you tell yourself that you are too tired or don’t have time to exercise, start thinking of exercise as something that restores, not drains your energy and willpower.