Tuesday, July 25, 2006

By Wouter Liekens
Executive Chef of the acclaimed restaurant Le Paysage

Continuing this exciting story from its gripping first episode about how I overcame my weight gain in my mid-30s, let me explain a couple of things, such as: what is cholesterol, what are blood fats, and what really are the different fats a person can put inside his or her body?
Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a number you get when you divide your actual weight (best measured in the morning, after going to the toilet) by the square of your height.

number of kilos you weigh
BMI= -----------------------------------
your height in meters square (m²)

For me, that used to be a heavy-ish 93kg divided by 3.09 = 30.09. I hasten to add that it is now 78.5kg divided by 3.09 = 25.4. According to charts you can easily find on the Internet, my current BMI would be just about right, (lets not look at the other one from my darker past…). Between 20 and 25 is considered ideal.
BMI varies between people, however, and also depends on the composition of the body. A person with more fat and less muscle can have the same BMI as an athlete with lots of muscle and no fat.
If in doubt, your physician can calculate for you exactly how much fat you have in your body as a percentage to the total weight, and this will tell you if you have too much fat or not.
But anyway, BMI is a good household rule to start with.
Now, all this science apart, most people have been a little or more overweight, but they just don’t see it like that, until…until something happens. Or until they calculate their BMI. A good point to start then.
But what is it that makes us fat? Well, fat of course. But which fats then? There are so many of them. Let’s start with cholesterol. Cholesterol is not always as bad as we believe. Actually the body needs cholesterol in order to sustain its functions. The body really does needs fat to live.
But don't head for the hamburger stand yet, for there are two kinds of cholesterol: the bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
HDL and LDL have opposing functions in the blood. LDL brings the fatty acids towards the cells, whereas HDL removes used-up fatty acids back to the intestines, even removing an overflow of LDL if need be.
They should be balanced against each other, not higher then a 4 (LDL) to 1 (HDL) ratio. They are too high when HDL goes below 0.9 mmol/l and LDL rises beyond 3.37 mmol/l. Total cholesterol is too high when it goes above mmol/l 5.2. My values were: total 5.8; HDL 1.37; and LDL 3.75. At the age of 33, they were dramatic.
Thing is, too many people of my age are finding they have cholesterol readings that are too high. Where does it come from? Are there other influences, besides fats, that can make us fatter?
Indeed there are. Sugar for one, and carbohydrates. The very simple system can be explained easily. When the blood sugar level goes above a certain point, the body releases a hormone called insulin that makes the body capable of reducing the sugars in the blood back to normal levels.
But the overflow of sugar does not disappear out of our bodies. It is stored via the liver function in the body as, yes, fat! Our bodies are capable of producing fat themselves.
That's why we find fat in animals: they make most of it themselves. We can do the same if we're not careful.
Part III of this series on food and diet appears in the September issue.

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