August 19, 2013

There’s been some interesting stories in the media (links below) that have questioned whether weight gain and weight loss is all about energy balance (eating less and moving more). Have the experts got it wrong – for the last 30 years?

Do yourself a favour and watch the ABC Catalyst show. Click here.

About 30 years ago we were told:

  1. The energy balance theory. “Weight loss is all about eating less (calories) and exercising more.”
  2. The low-fat story. Carbohydrates and proteins have just 4 calories a gram but fat has 9 calories a gram. To eat less calories reduce fat in your diet and choose low fat versions.
  3. Believing this to be “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” the global food industry made money hand over fist by promoting the low-fat message and selling us low-fat foods. But to make low fat foods palatable they added sugar. Here’s an example: One tablespoon of regular Praise mayonnaise has 0.5 grams of sugar. One tablespoon of Praise low-fat mayonnaise has 4.9 grams of sugar. Nearly 10 times the amount.

The sad thing is that many of our health authorities bought into the message. The Heart Foundation says “Sugar, is a type of carbohydrate, needed by our body for energy.” (link)  Anybody reading this might interpret this statement as meaning two things:

  1. Sugar is harmless.
  2. Sugar is actually an essential nutrient.

To their credit, they do try to put this in perspective. You can be the judge as to whether they do this adequately, knowing that there is growing debate about whether we have got the “sugar is better than fat” message wrong.

Not So Sweet

Last week, and tonight, ABC’s Health Report ran some more stories on sugar and expanded it to foods and drinks containing carbohydrate. It’s worth listening to last week’s interview. (link) Here’s the link for tonight’s interview. (link) The first interview included science writer Gary Taubes who makes these points.

  1. Instead of looking at energy balance “calories in versus calories out” we should look at what causes fat cells (in some people) to enlarge.
  2. Fat cell growth is mainly affected by the (essential to life) hormone insulin.
  3. Insulin is stimulated by dietary carbohydrate, and by a small amount by protein.
  4. Insulin is not affected by dietary fat.
  5. Not all carbs are bad. Foods like green leafy vegetables are high in nutrients and low in carbs.
  6. Just as some can eat more than others and stay slim, each person has an individual tolerance to how much dietary carbohydrate they can tolerate to optimise their weight.

That is the question that we seek to answer.