There have been a few programmes on TV over the past months focussing on healthy nutrition. It’s a good sign that people are interested in their health and fitness levels, I’m sure.
But I feel that some of the programmes have been a little low in quality. For example the Channel 4 offering on ‘Are You Addicted to Sugar?’ was weak in quite a few places. They couldn’t even standardise on how many grams of sugar constituted one teaspoon.
I had better hopes for ‘The Truth About Sugar’, one of the Horizon documentaries on BBC2. If you missed it, the one-hour programme contrasted the ‘fat is evil ‘ and the ‘sugar is evil’ schools of body-fat loss. It did this by taking two identical twins – same genetic makeup – and putting one on a zero sugar diet, and the other on a zero fat diet, both for a month. The two brothers, both doctors, were mildly overweight at the start, so they both had some body fat they wanted to lose.
At the end of the month, both guys had lost weight, but both had become substantially less healthy in doing so. Levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and pancreas and liver function were causes for concern, as was the news that one had blood sugar levels that made him pre-diabetic (and that was actually the fat-eating one).
I had a few concerns on the programme
Firstly, they didn’t address the protein content of the two diets at all. Without doubt, the fat-eating guy would have consumed substantially more protein than the sugar-eating chap. So the effect of this protein difference on their systems wasn’t considered – the sugar eater didn’t just miss out on his fats, he also missed out on the protein with his diet.
As protein is, of course, one of the three macro-nutrients – alongside fat and carbs (ie: sugar) – this was a huge factor to ignore.
Secondly, the two brothers didn’t do any resistance or weight training in the entire month – and yet they were surprised at the end that they both had lost muscle mass from their bodies. In fact, the only exercise shown was a single cycle ride and even though this included hills, this was not a significant muscle-building activity.
Thirdly, the analysis of their diets went into too little detail. I would have liked to have seen numbers throughout – calories, grams of each macro-nutrient, the times of eating and effect of timing. For the two guys to have gone to such lengths without recording this information was an opportunity missed. And if it was recorded, I think we should have been let in on it!
Moving away from these three concerns, overall I was happier with their conclusions. These were that body-fat reduction isn’t as simple as cutting out one of these nutrients from the diet – there’s a whole lot more going on.
Key recommendations they made are (1) eat less of everything – basically, consume fewer calories overall; within this, (2) make especially big reductions in BOTH sugar and saturated fats – but not to zero; (3) eat natural produce – minimal processing; and (4) exercise more.
These four recommendations have been some of the principles of my approach which helped me lose six stone of fat, healthily, over the course of a few years since turning 50.
I would add two more to give my own full recipe for success – the things they missed out on the programme – (5) within the reduced overall calories, ensure that the protein levels are kept up – replace some (not all) of the calories that have been displaced from saturated fat and sugar reduction by more protein, and (6) the phrase ‘more exercise’ isn’t enough on its own – there needs to be a properly structured plan of both cardiovascular work and progressive resistance training.
Put those six principles together, and I believe you have the key to success. They got four out of six of those principles on the programme, which is better than most TV shows manage.
As a post-script – On programmes such as this you will usually see leading anti-sugar endocrinologist from California, Dr Robert Lustig and he was indeed there on this one.
I have a good measure of support for his views, but I feel that if he has the right answers, how come he is so, err, portly? He’s always seen in overly-large suit jackets (clever optical trick, and one I used to use) which I suspect conceals a trouser size of maybe 36 inches. If he knows all the right answers, how come he isn’t somewhat leaner?
Have a healthy, fit, fun and low-sugar, low-sat fat month!
Read more from Expert Chris Zaremba