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There’s noth­ing cheap about tons of shim­mer when it has this much di­men­sion.

Never go dry Toss crumbly for­mu­las in favour of “a for­mula that is more liq­uid and eas­ily spread­able, to slip into the tight space,” rec­om­mends cos­metic chemist Randy Schueller. A more vel­vety ap­pli­ca­tion means less pok­ing at your eyes. Save glit­ter for shadow Sparkly liner means faster flak­ing – which is dou­bly painful if you wear con­tacts. Re­place of­ten Sure, any ex­tra­ne­ous par­ti­cles in your eye can up­set it, but the pres­ence of bac­te­ria can se­ri­ously junk up your vi­sion or lead to in­fec­tions. If you’ve had your liq­uid liner for longer than three months and your pen­cil for two years, it’s time to re­place them.

You’ve tried ev­ery diet and em­braced ev­ery fit­ness trend, but you’re still not los­ing weight. The only ex­pla­na­tion: your slow me­tab­o­lism. That friend who never ex­er­cises and loves Häa­gen-dazs? She must have a su­per-speedy one. Life’s so un­fair. Or is it? Is me­tab­o­lism re­ally a slid­ing scale of weight fate? Is our kilo­joule­burn­ing po­ten­tial pre­des­tined? Does me­tab­o­lism af­fect our risk of cer­tain dis­eases? And, come to think of it, what is me­tab­o­lism ex­actly?

“It’s con­fus­ing,” agrees Dr Michelle Harvie, a lead re­search di­eti­tian. “Sci­en­tists are con­stantly try­ing to un­der­stand more about me­tab­o­lism, so we can of­fer the right ad­vice – not just to help peo­ple stay a healthy weight, but to be­come health­ier over­all. And we’re dis­cov­er­ing new things all the time.”

So, we bring you a mas­ter­class in me­tab­o­lism: what it is, what it does, what you can (and can’t) do to af­fect it.

“It’s the bio­chem­i­cal pro­cesses that trans­form food we eat into en­ergy,” says Dr Jules Grif­fin, a lec­turer in hu­man me­tab­o­lism and nu­tri­tion. “It’s re­spon­si­ble for all the chem­i­cal pro­cesses in your body which re­quire en­ergy. It keeps you breath­ing and di­gest­ing. It keeps your ner­vous sys­tem and or­gans func­tion­ing nor­mally.” Ba­si­cally, it keeps you alive.

Metabolic re­ac­tions oc­cur con­stantly in your cells. Your pan­creas se­cretes in­sulin and glucagon to tell your or­gans how to func­tion. The thy­roid gland con­trols your rate of me­tab­o­lism by re­leas­ing the thy­rox­ine hor­mone. “If you don’t burn the kilo­joules you con­sume, your body stores them as fat,” says Dr Harvie. “It’s evo­lu­tion­ary sur­vival, so you’d still have en­ergy to draw on if food be­came scarce.” And our me­tab­o­lisms are still in cave­man mode. So if we eat too much and move too lit­tle, our bod­ies store more and more fat. Crash di­ets “Any diet that dras­ti­cally cuts your kilo­joule in­take can re­duce your BMR by forc­ing your body to start break­ing down your mus­cles for en­ergy, be­cause you’re not sup­ply­ing it with enough food,” ex­plains Dr Harvie. This un­healthy phe­nom­e­non is called ‘star­va­tion mode.’ A high-kilo­joule fat that con­tains medium-chain triglyc­erides. These are burnt off as fuel in the liver and raise the metabolic rate. Some stud­ies claim this makes it a good weight-loss food. Oth­ers ar­gue it’s still kilo­joule dense. Con­clu­sion? More ev­i­dence needed. “While there is ev­i­dence that your metabolic rate gets a small boost af­ter con­sum­ing cap­saicin (a com­pound in chilli pep­pers), this will not have a great im­pact on your weight if you change noth­ing else,” says Dr Harvie. Stud­ies have shown that drink­ing two to three cups of (non-de­caf) green tea will burn an ex­tra 330kj. It’s down to the com­pounds present in the tea called cat­e­chin, which are also heart-healthy. Of­ten, they’ll con­tain in­gre­di­ents that boost ther­mo­ge­n­e­sis, such as chilli, but in amounts un­likely to give any ob­vi­ous health change. “Very few phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal drugs are proven to help with weight loss, let alone over-the-counter reme­dies,” says Dr Harvie.

Yes, some peo­ple have a higher me­tab­o­lism than oth­ers. This means they burn fuel faster and more kilo­joules at rest. But although you may think larger peo­ple must have a slow me­tab­o­lism, the op­po­site is true. “Over­weight peo­ple tend to have a higher me­tab­o­lism,” re­veals Dr Grif­fin. “This re­flects the en­ergy re­quire­ments of a larger size. The leaner you are, the less en­ergy you need.”

Aside from lab test­ing, the best way to work it out is with a sim­ple cal­cu­la­tion. You can do it with an on­line cal­cu­la­tor, like bmi-cal­cu­la­­cu­la­tor. Or, for a more ac­cu­rate read­ing that takes into ac­count your mus­cle-to-fat ra­tio and not just your weight, in­vest in a pro­fes­sional scale, like the Tanita BC-731 In­ner Scan Body Com­po­si­tion Mon­i­tor Scale (isan­ R1 999).

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