Part one: Low-fat foods not always best for those on diets

Anyone with a New Year’s resolution involving healthier eating is sure to be keeping a close eye on the fat content of foods they purchase.

But experts say that while eating too much fat is a problem, so is not getting enough.

“You don’t want a complete no-fat diet,” says dietitian Rebecca Frazer.

“Fatty acids are very important. They help you absorb your fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K.”

Additionally, says Frazer, replacements for fat can bring their own complications to diet-minded consumers, making items branded as low-fat unhealthy in other ways.

“If it just says low fat, what else is in there? Have they substituted some simple sugars for the fat?” she says.

One brand of light cream cheese, for example, is lower in fat and has fewer calories per serving, but is higher in sugar content.

While drinks and liquids are often seen as healthier choices, liquid calories are still something to be concerned about. Many beverages are surprisingly heavy on calories.

“Even juice has its own natural sugar, and a lot of people drink a lot of juice not realizing that they’re putting the pounds on,” says dietitian Mary Lou St. Pierre.

Frazer says drinking fruit juice, even pure fruit juice, isn’t as healthy as eating the actual fruit, which contains more fiber.

“Certain types of fiber can help you carry out some of the fatty acids. It helps reduce the absorption of the simple sugars,” she says.

According to St. Pierre, most people consume 5-10 grams of fiber each day, but should be aiming to consume 25-30 grams.

Those looking to lose weight fast might think not eating at all can help them meet that goal. But fasting can also cause lean muscle mass, and muscle is what burns calories to keep them from turning into fat.

“It’s better to spread your intake out over the day,” says St. Pierre.

“Have 3-5 small snacks or meals. That way you’re burning up your calories all day too.”


Part two: Heading to the gym to lose weight? Here's what you need to know


It’s the time of year when gyms everywhere fill up with patrons hoping to improve their lives through New Year’s resolutions.

Often these newcomers run out of steam and return home by mid-February, returning the gym to its normal state.

But not only do the New Year’s crowd cause headaches for gym regulars who might have to wait for their favourite equipment, many of them also aren’t doing themselves the favours they think they are.

Robin Near knows that experience all too well. Willing to try almost anything to lose weight faster, she was told she would lose two pounds if she ate nothing but cucumbers for 24 hours.

Partway through that ill-conceived plan, she fainted. Now she hits the gym for her weight loss desires, more aware that not all exercise advice is correct.

“You can go to the gym and work out all you want and see no results,” she says.

“You have to be educated and trained and know what you're doing.”

Once she was educated, trained and knowing what she was doing, Near lost ten inches over her body and three pounds.

Fitness experts agree poor advice is one of the leading causes of people not achieving the weight loss results they hope for.

One common bit of poor advice? Being told there’s no such thing as spending too much time at the gym.

“If you do not rest, you’re going to hurt yourself, you’re not going to see end results,” says Tanya Otterstein-Liehs of Body Business in St. Jacobs.

Experts say working out for 15-20 minutes a day, three or four days a week can be enough to see significant weight loss over time.

But equally important as how much time you spend working out is what you do with that time.

“The biggest myth is that cardiovascular activity will burn more fat than resistance training,” says Justin Brooks of Waterloo-based Depth Training.

While some first-time gym rats think cardio training is the magic bullet, because they’ll shed weight faster if they move faster, trainers say that’s not true – though cardio training does have its own benefits.

“Cardio is great for the heart, very very good, but if you want to start seeing some results, weight loss, definition, you’re going to have to implement some basic weights in there as well,” says Otterstein-Liehs.

Weight training, not cardio, is what builds lean muscles. And muscles are what burn calories even long after a workout.

“Muscle is very metabolically active in that it requires a lot of calories just to maintain itself, because it’s constantly turning itself over,” says Brooks.

No matter what, though, losing weight through exercise is not a short-term proposal. Brooks says even losing half a pound each week is a sign that hitting the gym is working out very well.


Part three: Consumers should research diet supplements before they buy, experts say

Manufacturers of diet pills and supplements often promise the moon in the hope it will help sell their product, but rarely do those promises live up to reality.

Some such products don’t even receive approval from federal agencies before they hit the shelves.

And retailers say it’s up to consumers to ask questions about products before buying them.

“It is the customer’s own ownership to ask questions when they come in, to be well educated about what they are taking,” says Gbenga Adeniyi, owner of Healthy You Supplements in Kitchener.

Diet supplement products often like to make claims that some say have never been proven. Thanks to TV hosts like Dr. Oz, products like raspberry ketone and coffee bean extract have become among the more popular supplements.

“They’re saying that it helps you suppress your appetite, and we all know that part of weight loss is how you control or how you manage your habits,” says Adeniyi of one raspberry ketone product.

It sounds good on paper, but much as they are with the claims made by coffee bean extract products, experts are skeptical.

“There’s very few human studies,” says registered dietician Jane Dummer.

Adeniyi agrees no pill will produce magical results on its own, and some may even come with unintended side effects like gut rot, nausea or bladder problems.

“If you’re taking any pill, to sit down and not do anything, burn fat, you’ve got to ask yourself – what are the damages that’s doing to my system?” he says.

“How is that actually working, and what’s getting that fat to burn off?”

While natural health products that have been licensed by Health Canada can be identified by an eight-digit number on the label, government regulations allow for products that have yet to be licensed but have passed an initial safety assessment to be licensed as well.

Experts say natural supplements can produce different results in different people, and advise anyone thinking of using new products to first consult with a doctor.