Reducing Fat Percentage – diet v exercise

I’m slowly reading Ray Kurzweil’s live forever guide Transcend and trying to take action to address any points where I’m outside of his optimal ranges. My key ones are cholesterol and fat percentage which are no doubt related.

None of my friends would regard me as fat or even slightly overweight (they put me in the “lucky you can eat whatever you want” category) – but my body fat percentage is nearly 20%. Ray recommends 10-17% for men and 18-26% for women with the optimal figure at lower end of these ranges. I’m going to aim for middle of my range – 14% –  better to set something achievable and then improve on it rather than fail and get disheartened.

My initial thinking was to go on a lower fat diet as this should help with cholesterol levels too. If I take in less fat then my fat percentage would slowly reduce. It seemed logical. But it took me a little while to ask the basic question – if I reduce my fat percentage, what does that fat convert into? And the only real answer to that is energy – energy that needs to be burned with extra exercise.

How does the body process fat?

How Stuff Works has a nice introduction to how the body creates, stores and uses fat:

Just having a lower fat diet isn’t going to dilute my existing fat – it has to get turned into something else and apart from bones which don’t grow very fast, or clogging up my arteries, that fat will only get used up when the body demands more energy to operate its muscles. I could just burn up the fat but as I’d prefer not to be skinny I’m going to try to maintain my current weight so need to grow those muscles too.

Having said that, it takes about 25% of the energy in glucose to convert it into fat – that’s 10x more energy than storing ingested fat so it’s definitely better to be on a lower fat diet rather than just counting calories.

How long will it take?

Given a weight of about 74 kg that means I started off carrying 14.3 kg of pure fat. To have a fat percentage of 14% that needs to go down to 10.4 kg – i.e. to lose 3.9 kg. An average male eats around 2kg of food per day but just stopping eating for 2 days won’t shift that fat 🙁

Here’s a chart showing my progress to date. I started my low fat diet just before Christmas – not great timing as can be seen in peak fat percentage in the middle of the festive holiday week.

fat percentage diet 3 months

However the good news is that using an Excel trendline I can see I’ve been making steady progress over the last 3 months – that’s on a lower fat diet and 30 minutes of walking a day when I’m not running or at the gym. At that rate I should hit my target percentage in approximately 8 months (total) – not quick but for a body & life changing effect (and only limited self control!) that sounds reasonable.

After my recent revelation that fat can’t just convert into thin air, I’m going to step up my exercise too, so will report back in a couple of months time to see if the rate of fat loss has improved at all.

Top 5 Products at London Health Show 2016

I had a fun day yesterday at the London Health Show – seeking out new products, or at least ones I hadn’t come across before, to see what could help extend my life or at least increase my healthspan.

There were plenty more interesting products, lots of which I’m talking to regarding discounts for club members, but here are the top 5 products that caught my eye.

Camel’s Milk from Desert Farms

Walid Abdul-Wahad setup Desert Farms in California to bring the health benefits of camel’s milk to the wider world and is now setting up in the UK and Europe.

I’ll do some research into the claimed nutritional benefits and do a dedicated blog – but for now the main claims are easier to digest, high levels of GABA,  anti-bacterial properties and also being anti-inflammatory.

ColoDan Colostrum by Biodane Pharma

I’ve not come across colostrums before but it’s the first milk that is secreted by a cow and is packed with nutrients and immune stimulating substances because calves are born without an immune system.

I’ve got some sample packages so will try them out and report back.

LubrisynHa – Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronan (or Hyaluronic Acid) is a major component of the synovial fluid where its it acts as both a lubricant and a shock absorber. LubriSynHA is the only hyaluronan supplement available in liquid form allowing it to be readily absorbed by the body.

Synovial fluid can deteriote from age or exercise resulting in joint pain from bone-on-bone friction and inflammation.
According to the US charity Arthritis Foundation hyaluronic acid injections are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating osteoarthritis of the knee – so this might be an cheaper and more comfortable option.

Prime Fifty – nutrition for over 50s

I had a very interesting chat with the founder Max Gowland who has developed a range of supplements specifically for over 50s. He was the Global R&D Director for Reckitt Benckiser so a man who knows a thing or two about nutrition – including a PhD in amino acid chemistry.

He’s absolutely passionate about muscle wastage in over 50s and explained how we lose around 1% muscle mass each year. Many studies have shown how mobility is close indicator of morbidity.

Reg’Activ Cholesterol from VF Bioscience

High cholesterol is a key risk indicator of heart disease with is one of the big killers so anything that aims to reduce it is worth a look. Some of the scientific research that back up their claims have shown reduced LDL-cholesterol and increased HDL-cholesterol after just 2 weeks.

I’ve got a sample pack which I’m looking forward to trying – but am currently monitoring my cholesterol changes due to a lower fat diet – once its stabilised I’ll be seeing if I can improve it even more with this product

Not yet available in the UK but is available in Europe.

Increasing HDL cholesterol level without increasing body fat percentage

I’ve reviewed a blood test my GP ordered recently – as far as she is concerned it’s fine because as a GP she’s only looking for diseases to treat, and the NHS doesn’t consider aging a disease.

However I’ve had a look at the detailed results and the one that stands out to me is my HDL ratio – high-density lipoprotein is the good cholesterol that removes excessive LDL. My total cholesterol level is way below the recommended 5 mmol/L (193 mg/DL) at 3.1 but total/HDL ratio is 2.95. Transcend’s target is a ratio of less than 2.5, and as my total cholesterol is already pretty low, my only option is to try to increase my HDL.

The standard recommended approaches for increasing HDL are:

  1. Regular physical activity
  2. Lose extra weight
  3. Choose better fats
  4. Alcohol in moderation
  5. Stop smoking

Points 3, 4 and 5 I already do – my diet includes plenty of nuts and seeds and olive oil. Could I eat more? Probably not without worsening an already border line body fat percentage. I’m currently around 19% which is over Transcend’s maximum of 17%. My waist to hip ratio is also only average and if I want to live forever that needs to improve.

So I want to attack both low HDL and high body fat at the same time, therefore increasing good oils isn’t an option – but I’ll definitely be being more careful on bad oils and modify my diet to be lower in fat overall. This is a good reminder that health tips aren’t a “one size fits all” solution – you really need to be monitoring your own health indicators so that you can help yourself to target your personal needs.

As for fitness, I’m active but maybe I have reduced the number of runs and gym visits over the last few years. And looking back over my blood test results spanning 5 years my HDL ratio has increased 2.55 to 2.95 – but even when I was really fit it still wasn’t in the optimal range. Which makes me think that as well as 2-3 high intensity sessions a week I need to make sure I’m doing the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate activity most days of the week. This will hopefully help compensate for my sedentary lifestyle – I’m desk bound so apart from making cups of green tea I don’t move around as much as I should do.

Plan of Action

Here’s a summary of how I plan to increase HDL cholesterol levels at the same time as reducing body fat percentage.
1. Exercise – get back to 2-3 proper vigorous exercise sessions a week, plus making sure I do 30 minutes moderate exercise on the other days.
2. Diet – I’ve not worried how much olive oil I’ve used up to now, so will reduce that a little bit and try to fry food less. I’ll also reduce the number of treats I have – I’ve never been able to resist biscuits but not only are these high in fat it’s also probably the dreaded hydrogenated fat.
3. Supplements – most supplements are designed to reduce overall cholesterol levels so not appropriate for me, but phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a candidate as it also helps the cell membrane. However, I’d like to do more research before popping pills so for now I’ll start eating soya beans (which contain 0.7% PC) instead. FYI edamame beans are young soya beans (USA = soy beans).

I’ll get another blood test in 3-6 months time and report back as to how effective this approach was.

NOTE: Transcend recommendations are references to tips in Ray Kurzweil’s book Transcend – Nine Steps to Living Well Forever