How to Control the Sugar/Fat Seesaw
by Joan Kent, PhD
Some people are still severely limiting the amount of fat they eat – both good and bad – to lose weight. That's likely to increase their consumption of carbohydrates – both good carbs and bad. Because "bad carbs" can bring on negative health consequences, it might pay to look at this.
Articles in science journals reference the sugar/fat seesaw – an inverse relation in dietary sugars and fats. Research hasn't really published an explanation for it – but I offered one in my doctoral dissertation.
To help with balancing nutrition, I explain it below.
When fat first enters the intestine, a hormone called CCK (cholecystokinin) is released. CCK is the most powerful satiety hormone in the body. Satiety is the feeling that we've had enough food and don't need to eat again for a while.
Fats activate substantial CCK and satiety. CCK in turn curbs the desire for carbs. So if fat is reduced too much – low-fat this, nonfat that – the desire for carbs may increase.
Both sugars and fats trigger the release of endorphins (beta-endorphin) – the brain chemical linked with the Runner's High. As everyone who enjoys exercise knows, you don't have to run to get that high. Any solid workout will do the trick, and the more intense the exercise, the greater the endorphin effect. But sugars and fats also trigger it.
There's evidence that the brain gets acclimated to its usual endorphin level. Reducing that level by strictly limiting fats can cause withdrawal. That in turn might increase the desire for sugar as compensation to boost endorphins.
Finally, Saturated Fats
Sat fats promote the release of insulin, as carbs do. Cutting fats severely could decrease saturated fat severely. From a health perspective, that's not so bad, but it could raise the desire for carbs, especially the ones that cause high insulin release.
Basically, it's linear: the more insulin we release, the more serotonin the brain makes. Serotonin is a brain chemical best known as an antidepressant, but it has other functions, as well.
For example, high serotonin is known to reduce carb consumption. The very low-carb Atkins Diet makes use of that fact. They push saturated fat to keep people away from carbs. Between the CCK and the insulin/serotonin from the sat fats, the desire for carbs drops.
But How Does This Affect Your Diet?
"Good" fats (unsaturated ones like omega-3s and omega-9s) have health benefits. The benefits include anti-inflammatory effects and reductions in heart disease, joint pain, diabetic complications, and lots more.
We don't want to eliminate those benefits along with the fats we might cut.
When someone tries a very low-fat diet – and I do see clients who still avoid fats big-time – major changes happen. CCK, endorphins, and serotonin go down, so the desire for carbs goes up.
The most appealing carbs are the ones that increase insulin the most because they increase serotonin more. Those are usually "bad" carbs, such as white flour and sugar.
If sugar is the chosen carb, endorphins are released, too. It's a temporary feel-good, but bad for health. High insulin is directly linked to some serious health conditions.
So What's the Solution?
The best solution is a balance that includes regular workouts and some healthful fat with each meal or snack.
Healthful fats include avocado, avocado oil, fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil, raw walnuts, almonds or other raw nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, and others. Eating good fat with each meal or snack will increase CCK and beta-endorphin, making sugars and junky carbs less appealing.
Another plus is that a little more fat in the diet can increase endurance. Studies on runners have shown this, but runners aren't the only ones who benefit. The rest of us can, too.
Now that you know all about the sugar/fat seesaw, I invite you to use that info for your own health, endurance and more. Just visit www.LastResortNutrition.com and request your free Empowered Eating Consult. Find out how just a few changes can bring big results.