THIS week Boris Johnson announced a range of measures to tackle the obesity crisis. He was prompted to do so by evidence that people with metabolic diseases have a greater risk of death from the coronavirus. Previously, he has shown little desire to solve this problem, even though the same people have always had a greater risk of death from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia.
The proposals are typical of a Government devoid of scientific knowledge and lacking independent advice. While any attempt to heighten awareness of this terrible problem is welcome, these suggestions are just a rehash of ideas that have never worked in the past. We are told to ‘eat less and move more’. The calorie-deficit approach works for a short time but it is unsustainable because our bodies think there is a famine and respond by reducing metabolic functions; we reduce body temperature, become lethargic, irritable and hungry. We need willpower to continue but when we eventually give up, the weight comes back rapidly because we have lowered our metabolic rate.
The Government’s desire to have calories listed on foods, menus and beer pumps shows they have no idea what causes obesity. In 1956, two researchers, Kekwick and Pawan, demonstrated that calories do not control weight: the deciding factor is the type of food we eat. For decades, we have been told to reduce fat intake because a gram of fat has twice as many calories as a gram of protein or a gram of carbohydrate. Kekwick and Pawan put four groups of obese people on a daily diet of 1,000 calories. Those calories were 90 per cent protein, 90 per cent fat, 90 per cent carbohydrate or an equal mixture of the three. The group losing the most weight was eating 90 per cent fat, followed by protein, mixed and finally carbohydrate. Some of the people eating 90 per cent carbohydrate put weight on despite only consuming 1,000 calories per day. How is this possible?
All carbohydrates are digested down to sugar molecules, which increase blood glucose levels. Insulin is then released to remove excess sugar from the blood and, if the cells do not need more energy, insulin triggers the liver to turn sugar into fat and store it. A rapidly falling blood-sugar level, caused by the action of insulin, produces a sense of hunger and if we eat more carbohydrate, we store more fat. The reason obese people continue to eat is because they ‘feel’ hungry. Eating dietary fat has no effect on insulin levels whilst protein causes only a slight rise.
Not only does insulin store fat, it also blocks access to our fat stores. Exercise has many benefits but it will not boost weight loss in the presence of insulin. A 30-minute run might use 300 calories but this energy will come from glycogen (glucose) stores, which will be replaced with the next meal. The body fat we must shed to lose weight remains untouched unless insulin levels are low.
In 1983, the NHS and our Government issued the National Dietary Guidelines. Ancel Keys, an American researcher without any nutrition qualifications, had persuaded everybody that dietary fat, especially saturated fat, was the cause of ever-increasing heart disease. The American Senate Committee in charge of dietary guidelines accepted Keys’s opinion despite many voices in disagreement. They approved a reduction in dietary fat, which inevitably meant an increase in dietary carbohydrate. The high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet has been enshrined in national policy ever since. So many careers and reputations have been built on this never-proven dogma that the authorities will always deny the obvious truth that their dietary advice has caused the obesity crisis along with all its co-morbidities.
Dietary fat is essential for health. Sixty-five per cent of the human brain consists of fat molecules. Saturated fat is required for the optimum function of cell membranes. Cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D and our sex hormones. Although we have been told repeatedly that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease there is no reputable evidence to back this up. We are being subjected to a catalogue of lies about our diets and well-being. The people who do this are far more interested in their own wealth than our health: they are the vested interests of the processed food industry and the pharmaceutical industry and they spend a lot of time and effort lobbying the Government. The NHS costs us £340million a day but metabolic diseases continue to increase because medicine does not tackle the root cause of our problems. Boris Johnson’s entreaty to ‘move more and eat less’ is dreadful advice because it blames the victim. It implies that people are overweight because they are lazy and greedy when in reality it is because they follow NHS dietary advice.
The path to metabolic health, which will bring weight loss and improved immunity to disease, involves the rejection of current dogma and the enjoyment of a nutrient-dense, satisfying cuisine of low-carbohydrate, high-fat, protein-rich, unprocessed, real foods of animal and plant origin. Surely that sounds better than a Boris Bike.