Happily we don’t see so much TV advertising for fat blockers now, but they are still around and promoted all around social media. They are seriously bad news. Why?
Before we look at how bad fat blockers are, we first need to know why fats are important, what lipids (fats and oils) are made from, and how are they broken down and digested.
Why we need fats
The good fats* in our diet help build cell membranes, help transmit messages along our nerves, help build the brain, supply a very good source of energy, cushion our vital organs and supply the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. In fact, without fats, our physical, emotional and mental health suffer.
What fats are made from
The fats you eat are in the form of triglycerides. Each triglyceride is made from three fatty acid chains which are joined at one end by a monoglyceride.
How fats are broken down and digested
These triglycerides are too large to get from our gut into the body, so need to be broken down.
The first step is to emulsify the fat so it breaks down into much smaller particles which hang in suspension; this process is needed so lipase, the digestive enzyme which breaks fat down, has a chance to get at it properly. When fat passes from your stomach into the small intestine, bile is released from your gall bladder and it is this bile that emulsifies the fat.
To help you visualise this, next time you are washing up some oily plates, dip them into the bowl warm water and see how the fat floats on top. Now add a few drops of washing up liquid – the fat breaks down into tiny droplets, making it much easier to clean your dishes.
Once broken down into tiny particles of fat, the enzyme lipase, released from your pancreas, chemically breaks the monoglyceride away from the lipid chains. Each constituent part is small enough to pass through your gut into your body.
Triglycerides are transported around the body to be used as energy; any excess is stored in the fat cells. The lipid chains float freely in and out of fat cells; they can only be stored in the cells as ‘fat’ if a monoglyceride joins them up again to make a triglyceride – these triglycerides are too large to leave a cell.
NOTE: The monoglyceride (glycerol) is a glucose sugar. If there is no glucose in the diet, then fat cannot be stored, but will used as energy.
NOTE: If you have fat stores and are hoping to get rid of them, this will not happen if you eat lots of carbohydrate! The body will use the carbs (which all, apart from fibre, break down into sugar) for energy before it uses fat stores. If you eat fats along with lots of carbs, then the excess carbs and fats will get stored as fat. That’s known as a lose-lose situation if you are looking to lose weight!
What fat blockers do
Also known as ‘fat binders’, fat blockers work by either binding up fat with fibre so bile and lipase can only reach it to a limited extent or by stopping the action of lipase. Either way, this means most of the fat eaten passes through undigested.
Some fat blockers (such as XLS Calorie Reducer) are available over the counter and some (such as Xenical) only on prescription. How well each brand/type works varies widely in terms of the amount of fat that is bound and passed out in the faeces (poo). A couple of brands promise you will still get the fat-soluble vitamins out of the fat-fibre parcels.
Why fat blockers are bad news
First and foremost, they stop you absorbing the fats you need! Many also prevent adequate intake of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
Secondly, and this is not good, if you eat a fatty meal, you may suddenly, and without warning, have a bout of oily diarrhoea! Why would you do this to yourself? Even if you don’t get nastily loose bowels, you can suffer from bloating and cramping.
Thirdly, this approach to dieting does not help you ‘eat for life’; you may as well start now and skip the blockers.
Lastly, these fat binders do not help you lose fat from any part of your body. Why pay for these things when a there is an easier and better approach?
What do do instead
Eat good fats and avoid starches and sugars. You’ll find plenty more details on this spproach to eating on this site, in my books and from me.
*There are fats and fats, and some are better than others. Click here to find out which are which.