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posted: 3/25/2013 6:00 AM

Your health: The skinny on fat

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  • Exercising and building muscle is the best way to combat excess fat that might harm your health.

    Exercising and building muscle is the best way to combat excess fat that might harm your health.

  • Whole-grain bread is a good choice when eating complex carbohydrates.

    Whole-grain bread is a good choice when eating complex carbohydrates.


Is fat killing you?

Being fat has been linked to such dangerous health conditions as diabetes, cancer and cognitive decline. But fat tissue was long considered to be passive, hanging out lazily and doing damage without much effort, says The Washington Post.

New research, though, shows that this isn't exactly true, especially in the case of visceral fat that can form around the organs of overweight and normal-weight people alike. Fat, reports the March issue of Outside magazine, wants to keep us fat.

According to the magazine, numerous studies over the last two decades have revealed that fat tissue is essentially a "single huge endocrine gland" with great influence over the rest of the body. A certain amount of body fat is harmless and, in fact, necessary for survival. But excess fat is said to desensitize people to leptin, a hormone that plays a key role in satiety, and researchers at Yale University found that pools of fat in the muscles and liver can lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

So what's the best way to wage war against fat? Exercise, according to some experts. Just as fat can "invade" muscle tissue, strong muscles can fight back. A 2012 Harvard study identified a hormone that is secreted during exercise and "tricks plain, blobby, 'white' fat" into becoming a type of fat that can burn energy as muscle does.

"The most dangerous issue (for overweight people) is not being heavy per se but being sedentary," Bente Pedersen, the Danish physician and researcher who helped discover myokines, tells the magazine. "It's much better to be fit and fat," she says, "than skinny and lazy."

Energy-raising foods

Given that food is fuel, it's only natural to wonder if certain types of food deliver energy more efficiently than others.

Beyond the importance of eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthful sources of fat and protein, there's relatively little scientific information about the effects of specific foods on a person's energy level. However, certain foods can give you more energy under specific circumstances, according to Harvard Medical School.

To keep your blood sugar and energy levels on an even keel, pick your carbohydrates wisely. Try to avoid highly refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, processed pasta and white potatoes.

It's better to choose complex carbohydrates, such as high-fiber whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and most vegetables. These take longer to break down, so your blood sugar levels rise and fall more gradually.

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