Can CLA Help in Losing Weight?
CLA is produced from linoleic acid (found in high amounts in sunflower and safflower oil) utilizing a process that gently converts the linoleic acid into conjugated linoleic acid. But how can a fatty acid help in the challenge of reducing body fat while increasing lean muscle mass? A number of studies have demonstrated that CLA reduces fat mass, while increasing lean body mass. A recent human study investigating the effect of 4.2g CLA/day in 53 normal healthy individuals led to a significant decrease (3.8%) in body fat compared with individuals not taking CLA4. In addition a study in obese and overweight populations demonstrated that at least 3.4 g CLA/d for a period of 12 weeks was necessary to see a significant reduction in body fat.
CLA is very easy to find – if you eat grass-fed meat. It’s found in the meat, fat, and milk of grass-fed ruminants (cows and sheep).
The recommended daily intake from food is typically between 350mg and 1 gram per day. Most people eating a modern diet get much less than this, but it’s not hard to hit the target if you’re eating pasture-raised ruminants. Here’s the CLA content of some common foods:
Grass-fed whole milk (3.25% fat): about 175mg in an 8-ounce glass.
Heavy cream (36% fat) made from grass-fed milk: about 118mg per tbsp.
Butter (80% fat) made from grass-fed milk: about 246 mg per tbsp.
To get the equivalent numbers for grain-fed products, divide by 5.
Beef: between 1.2 and 10 mg per gram of fat (depending on how the cow was raised).
Lamb: between 4.3 and 11 mg per gram of fat.
Turkey, chicken, and pork: much smaller amounts, even if the animals were raised on pasture.
CLA is definitely a nutrient you want in your diet. Is it a magical cure for obesity? No. Nothing is a magical cure for obesity. There is no supplement, pill, injection, diet, or exercise hack that will make weight loss effortless. But CLA does clearly have some anti-obesogenic effects, which probably bring the most benefit when it’s consumed regularly from whole foods, over the course of an entire lifetime. CLA works to reduce body fat by increasing metabolism, converting food efficiently into energy. While it may be misleading to say CLA promotes weight loss per se, it does increase lean body mass by preventing fat cells from growing, promoting a loss of inches instead of weight. And the benefits don’t stop there. CLA can also help increase muscle strength and exercise endurance. Luckily, getting enough CLA is easy and delicious. Pastured, grass-fed butter is probably the cheapest source, but any grass-fed beef, lamb, or dairy product will do the trick. So enjoy some butter on your steak, secure in the knowledge that not only is it delicious, it’s actually helping you get (or stay) thin.
From this latest research, we now know that we shouldn’t have to take any more than 3.4 grams a day of CLA to achieve significant reductions in body fat levels. Keep in mind that these reductions were achieved without any changes in diet or exercise. We should see even better results when these areas are addressed.