A report entitled “Eat fat, cut the carbs and avoid snacking to reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes” was published by a UK charity called the National Obesity Forum (NOF) on Sunday 22 May. It has caused quite a controversy with Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England saying that it “irresponsible and misleads the public” and other nutritionists making similar statements.
The paper, drafted by authors from around the world, was coordinated by Aseem Malholtra, a UK cardiologist who has been a leader of the anti-sugar movement. It’s authors include Dr Robert Lustig, who has been one of the leaders of the anti-sugar movement in the US and NOF chairman Professor David Haslam.
So why all the backlash and fuss? Well the paper goes against current dietary advice. Most people are familiar with these guidelines. According to SafeFood and the Food Pyramid which is still used in Ireland or the Eating Well guide used in Northern Ireland we should eat:
- Plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Some milk, cheese and yogurt
- Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- Very small amounts of fats and oils and
- A very small amount or no foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt
These guidelines clearly have not been working well with obesity and diabetes levels in Ireland rising at worrying rates and predicted to rise even faster. In fact, a recent study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague predicts that in 15 years time 89% of Irish males will be overweight (and 48% obese) with 85% of Irish women falling into the overweight category (with 57% obese).
So lets take the first guideline to eat eat “Plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods” – it actually recommends 6 or more servings a day or about two thirds of your plate! In a nutshell, the overall advice is “Eat carbs”! As Atkins followers will know, this is guaranteed to make most people gain weight rapidly. Or ask any farmer what they feed to animals to fatten them? Starchy crops and grains. It is not rocket science that this would have the same effect on people.
Here are the recommendations put forward in the National Obesity Forum’s report.
- Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat
“Evidence from multiple randomised controlled trials have revealed that a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet is superior to a low-fat diet for weight loss and cardiovascular disease risk reduction.”
Evidence from multiple large trials shows that low carb, high fat diets (like Atkins) result in greater weight loss and more improvement in important health markers.
- Saturated Fat Does Not Cause Heart Disease. Full fat dairy is likely protective.
“The most natural and nutritious foods available – meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, olive, avocados – all contain saturated fat. These natural foods have formed part of the human diet since Paleolithic times and have been eaten ad libitum without adverse health consequences for millennia. The continued demonisation of omnipresent natural fat drives people away from highly nourishing, wholesome and health promoting foods.”
Check out our previous post on the Real Heart Healthy foods for more on why saturated foods are good for you.
- Processed foods labelled ‘low fat’, ‘lite’, ‘low cholesterol’ or “proven to lower cholesterol” should be avoided.
“No single piece of evidence exists that demonstrates reducing dietary saturated fat reduces cardiovascular events and death. Instead, improvements in hard cardiovascular outcomes are independent of cholesterol lowering.”
In this interview with cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malholtra (one of the report authors) he states that two-thirds of people admitted to hospitals with heart attacks have completely normal cholesterol levels. Dr Neville Wilson of the Leinster Clinic Mayooth talks about the dangers of artificially lowering blood cholesterol and why we shouldn’t eat plant sterols here.
- Limit starchy and refined carbohydrates to prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes
“Type 2 diabetes is a disease of excessive insulin resistance, which manifests itself by elevated blood glucose levels. Patients demonstrate profound carbohydrate intolerance and public health messages should reflect that. Refined and starchy carbohydrates are well known to increase blood glucose levels, requirements for medications and weight gain. It is therefore very disturbing that both Diabetes UK and NHS websites prioritise the consumption of starchy carbohydrates for type 2 diabetics. Such diets will potentially lead to progressive worsening of disease with all its attendant complications, such as blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, peripheral vascular disease, heart disease and stroke.”
This one is so obvious really – when someone has diabetes their blood sugar levels are too high and their insulin is no longer able to reduce the level effectively. By reducing the carbs (sugar and starches which turn into sugar in our blood), this becomes much less of a problem – patients can often greatly reduce or stop their medications (which should be done under doctors supervision), lose weight, improve health and achieve normal non-diabetic blood sugars.
- Optimum Sugar Consumption For Health is ZERO.
“Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever. There are no biochemical reactions in the human body that require dietary fructose. No single study exists that demonstrates benefit associated with its consumption. Excess sugar consumption is strongly associated with increasing risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease..”
Nutritionists and dietitians will tell you that sugar is fine in moderation. Firstly I think we should shoot for optimal health rather than just being ‘fine’ or not obviously sick. Secondly it is very difficult to eat such an addictive substance in ‘moderation’ and particularly for people that are very carbohydrate intolerant – in this case it is far easier and wiser to avoid it completely. See our article on food labels to find out how to identify if a food contains added sugar or not.
- Industrial Vegetable Oils Should Be Avoided
“Omega-6 rich vegetable oil ( such as sunflower and corn oil), linked to the increased risk of death, coronary heart disease, and cancer in humans  as well as the growth of cancer in animal models  cannot be considered safe. Indeed it can barely be considered a food.”
We recommend butter or coconut oil for cooking and olive oil for salad dressings.
- Stop Counting Calories (Calorie focused thinking has damaged public health.)
“For example, equal calorie portions of sugar, alcohol, meat or olive oil have widely differing effects on hormonal systems such as insulin, and satiety signals such as cholecystokinin or peptide YY. It is highly irrelevant how many calories a portion of food on a plate contains…It is often assumed that excessive caloric intake is the root cause of obesity, but this is untrue.”
Counting carbs is not only easier, it will help to successfully lose weight and make sure it stays lost without being hungry. See our article on How to Count Carbs in Ireland for more information.
- You cannot outrun a bad diet.
“For many years, food and drink companies have pushed the physical activity message to exonerate themselves of their own role. Indeed, companies promoting processed and highly refined foods linked to the obesity epidemic have sponsored major sporting events e.g. the Olympics. Regular physical activity does indeed have a multitude of beneficial health effects but weight loss is not one of them.”
In my own experience, the belief that I had to exercise in order to lose weight put me off even trying it for years. In fact, with Atkins you can lose weight by simply reducing your carbs and you may even feel that you want to exercise when you’ve shed some of the excess pounds and you experience the improvement in energy levels that most people do.
- Snacking will make you fat (Grandma was right!)
“Eliminating snacking (especially after dinner) and adding back periods of fasting are simple ideas practiced widely before the obesity epidemic. This is not likely coincidental.”
- Evidence Based Nutrition Should Be Incorporated In to Education Curricula For All Healthcare Professionals.
“A global survey carried out by investment bank Credit Suisse worryingly revealed a substantial level of misinformation that exists amongst doctors with 92% believing that fat consumption could lead to cardiovascular issues, 87% suggesting obesity as a consequence with nutritionists coming up with broadly similar conclusions. Incorrectly 54% of doctors and 40% of nutritionists thought that eating cholesterol rich foods raises blood cholesterol. Most “shocking” in the report was that 83% of doctors thought butter was worse than margarine and 66% believed vegetable oils are beneficial to health.”
This one was news to me and I find it quite scary. Looking at the Credit Suisse survey, it included 151 doctors (50% of whom specialised in nutrition!) from across America, Europe and a smaller number from Asia. I imagine the results would be similar in Ireland. We’re planning to put together a list of doctors, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals who promote low carb diets to their patients or clients so please send on their names to us and we’ll add them with their permission. In the meantime, I think it is up to everyone to take control of their own health and get informed on what a healthy diet really is. Your health and well-being if not your life is at stake.