Last year the Department of Health announced that 61.9% of adults and 21% of children living in the UK are overweight or obese. As a result weight related diseases like diabetes, heart conditions and some cancers are at an all time high. So why, when the diet industry is so huge are so many of us still so huge? Is is too much fat, a lack of exercise, or as Pete Cohen argues in conversation with Paul too much of the wrong carbs and specifically sugar?
For several decades most of us have believed that in order to lose weight we have to eat less and move more. Calories in vs calories out. For many years I believed that too. In fact, when I gained my first fitness qualifications many years ago that’s what I was taught and that’s the information I shared with my clients. But more recently I’ve read some things that have made me question the whole calories in vs calories out paradigm.
I’m not the only fitness professional who has done this either. Pete Cohen is a bestselling author, highly respected motivational speaker and the man behind Weight Loss Guru. He has helped thousands of people to lose weight and now points towards carbohydrates or sugar as the main culprit for all our weight problems.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Pete Cohen, “One man’s medicine is another man’s poison and some people can tolerate sugar better than others. I suppose the truth about sugar in its simplest form is that it has no nutritional value whatsoever. Our body’s capacity to digest sugar is very limited. It’s a really weird dilemma actually because we need sugar for our brains to function but we only need a couple of teaspoons in our blood stream at any one time.
What people don’t really understand is that sugar was put in food in the first place to give it more flavour and when the dieting and weight loss world really took off people stripped fat out of food and replaced that with sugar. This sounds really odd but in many cases it’s the sugar which makes people fat and not the fat.”
Before we go any further it’s important to understand a little more about what we mean by sugar. When we eat food with carbohydrate in it our body breaks it down into glucose (sugar). However, not all carbohydrates are equal. The more processed the food is, the faster it gets turned into glucose. For instance, white bread will break down to glucose much faster than granary bread.
“The hormone insulin is secreted by our pancreas whenever we eat something that contains carbohydrate. It’s appears to be the insulin that’s making us fat and not the fat that we eat.”
When we eat any form of carbohydrate, there’s something else going on that seems to have a big impact on the way we store fat. The hormone insulin is secreted by our pancreas whenever we eat something that contains carbohydrate. It’s appears to be the insulin that’s making us fat and not the fat that we eat.
Pete Cohen: “One of the jobs of insulin is to regulate blood sugar which enables our bodies to work. Another of its functions is to take excess sugar and store it as fat. Unfortunately when you eat a lot of sugar you secrete a lot of insulin and that’s what takes fat into your fat cells. When you eat foods that are high in fat you don’t secrete insulin so it’s more likely that you will use that fat as a source of energy.
That may seem unbelievable but we don’t often eat foods that are high in fat on their own. The foods we eat that tend not to be good for us are usually high in fat and high in carbohydrates. Plus sugary foods tend to be quite addictive as opposed to fatty foods which are not so much. I mean, how much butter could you eat on its own? How many avocados could you eat? It’s hard to over eat these things.
But when people start eating doughnuts or sweets or chips, there’s no mechanism that tells us when we’ve had enough.” Now if you’re discovering all this for the first time it might be hard to digest (excuse the pun). The idea that a high carbohydrate, low fat diet is actually making us store body fat? But we’ve been told for years that’s how we should eat for weight loss, right? But the idea of a diet lower in carbs and higher in fat is actually nothing new.
Pete Cohen: “It’s not new information it’s just been kept from us for many years. I did a lot of research on this because I needed to re-evaluate the advice I was giving to people. A lot of this calorific advice (eat less, move more) dates back to the 50’s and 60’s when it was all to do with the food pyramid.
At the top of the pyramid were fatty foods and at the bottom of the pyramid was what people were told to have lots of, which was carbohydrates, grains and so on. The food pyramid was designed by the Department of Agriculture in America and not by doctors.
As far as they were concerned there was a lot of money to be made in people consuming lots of wheat based products and other carbohydrate products. So I think a lot of us have been fooled.”
“You only need to go to your local supermarket and suddenly it will dawn on you how much food rich in sugar there is on the shelves. For starters my local supermarket has an aisle devoted to cereals, most of which are high in sugar, another full of crisps”
You only need to go to your local supermarket and suddenly it will dawn on you how much food rich in sugar there is on the shelves. For starters my local supermarket has an aisle devoted to cereals, most of which are high in sugar, another full of crisps. Then there’s chocolate and biscuits and a whole corner devoted to bread and cakes. There are also sugar-laden foods sneakily hiding on the other aisles too – sauces, prepared frozen foods, even yoghurts and some soups. It’s really no big surprise how we’re all so addicted to the stuff.
Cut out the Carbs?
So is the answer to losing body fat, reversing the obesity crisis and reducing our risk of diabetes and heart disease to cut out the carbs? Pete Cohen: “When you ask people what carbohydrates are, most people leave out vegetables and fruit. Vegetables are the best form of carbohydrate that anyone can eat. Most people are lacking in green vegetables, which are also very good for your blood as they have lots of nitrates in them.
The glycemic index measures how much insulin is released from eating different carbohydrate foods. For instance a sweet potato has a lower glycemic index than a regular potato. But we could all eat more green vegetables in our diet which are a good form of low GI carbohydrate.” But hang on there, I hear you say. If you’re telling me I need to eat less carbohydrate that surely means I’ll be eating more fat. Isn’t that bad too?
Pete Cohen: “For starters you need fat to burn fat. If you’re eating good quality fats your body will digest those and use them as a source of energy. In fact you can teach your body to use fat as a source of energy. Most people don’t use fat for energy, they use sugar because they eat too much of it.”
“But hang on there, I hear you say. If you’re telling me I need to eat less carbohydrate that surely means I’ll be eating more fat. Isn’t that bad too?”
I’m guessing now that this information about sugar is starting to filter through, the food manufacturers will jump in as they did when we were led to believe low fat was the answer. How long do you think it will be before your supermarket has a small low carb section next to the gluten free and lactose free foods?
Pete Cohen: “I don’t know what difference it will make though. Has putting warnings on cigarette packets made that much of a difference? It’s probably had some impact but as I say sugar is extremely addictive. In fact some studies have shown that mice prefer sugar to cocaine.
So it’s going to be very hard to control because we’re moving further and further away from traditional agriculture and more towards producing processed foods to make life easier and more convenient. I always challenge people to think that what you need to eat and drink is what nature has provided for us and if you eat more food that has been manipulated then you’re manipulating yourself.”
“I don’t know what difference it will make though.Has putting warnings on cigarette packets made that much of a difference?. It’s probably had some impact but as I say sugar is extremely addictive. In fact some studies have shown that mice prefer sugar to cocaine….”
Pete’s top 3 tips for reducing your carbohydrates
1 Celebrate the fact that you’re committing to eat less carbohydrate. Give yourself a big pat on the back every time you go to eat it and then don’t.
2 See yourself as an addict. Recognise that you have a problem with it. Sometimes admitting you have a problem empowers you to act differently. Be open and honest about your relationship with sugar.
3 Tell other people around you what you are doing. Ask them for their support.
To get started on following these tips here’s a great energy ball reicipe as an alternative to refined sugar.