Clean Eating is bad for you

carrying_text_12640Trendy, faddy, beloved by social media – but rubbish.

The Sunday Times had just published an expose of the Clean Eating movement and it makes shocking reading. They put it like this: Clean eating can seriously damage your health.

The clean-eating favourites with their girly socio-media friendly names are guilty of spreading an obsessive desire for healthy eating called orthorexia. This recently labelled eating disorder has serious ramifications.

Removing whole food groups or advocating low protein or no animal protein diets doesn’t make nutritional sense according to nutritionist Miguel Toribio-Mateas. It also makes you prone to getting infections.

Another nutritionist Jo Travers says cutting out dairy means “you have to concentrate a lot harder on getting enough calcium to achieve and maintain good bone density“. She also notes that vegan diets can led to deficiencies in protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega 3.

In Britain there are now half a million vegans, an increase of 350% in ten years. Two-thirds are female and half aged between 15 and 34.

Young women are particularly likely to be deficient in both iron and calcium. A British Nutrition Foundation study found that 1 in 10 teenagers risk nutritional deficiencies; half of teenage girls take insufficient iron and 20% insufficient calcium.

A third of Brits have eaten “free-from” food (meat-free, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free) in the last 6 months despite their being over twice as expensive as normal foods.

Not all clean-eating diets cut out carbs and fat but those that do are a “catastrophe for teenagers” according to Mark Berelowitz, clinical lead for child and adolescent mental health services at the Royal Free Hospital.

The last thing they need, he says, “is courgetti pasta and cauliflower rice. They will starve on that“.

He also sees a link between clean eating and anorexia. “A preoccupation with clean eating can be a symptom of significant issues with food.”

He says 80-90% of people he sees with anorexia are obsessed with clean eating.

In America experts at John Hopkins school of medicine say many Orthorexia cases fall within Arfid – avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Arfid sufferers share “an overvalued belief that they have to stick to a very rigid diet”.

They may claim to be focussed on health rather than weight loss but that’s what anorexics say as well. They all narrow their food choices, have ritualised eating habits and preparation rituals and prolong eating.

So whether or not it’s called a diet this clean-eating movement is making money and making young women, in particular, risk their health.

Remember diets only work for 10% of people – and the latest research suggest that you have to keep it up for at least a year for your body to adapt. As for crash dieting – avoid at all costs (see my post here on this topic).

So there you have it. For further details see last weekend’s Sunday Times Magazine.

Crash diets make you even fatter

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853There is a risk that crash diets will damage a person’s capacity to burn calories.

A study of people on a reality TV show, The Biggest Loser,  which challenges obese people to lose weight, found that they are now condemned to a lifetime battle with food as their bodies strive to get back to their original weight.

And to make matters worse they are no longer able to burn calories at the rate they once did.

The show had been criticised previously for irresponsibility in promoting drastic weight loss through dieting and fitness. Almost all the original contestants from 2009 have now returned to their original weight with many now heavier than before.

The study was carried out by Dr Kevin Hall at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Maryland, USA. Analysis of their metabolic rates shows that they are physically unable to process a normal number of daily calories.

Danny Cahill was the winner in season 8 (2009) when he dropped from 30.7 stones to 13.6 stones (i.e. losing 239 lbs). He now weighs more than 21 stone despite only eating 800 calories a day – less than half a man his size should eat.

Dr Hall’s study also revealed that almost all the contestants battled with hunger pangs and cravings which had risen dramatically since they appeared on the show.

During the extreme bouts of dieting their levels of the hormone leptin, which helps to control hunger, dropped to almost nothing which would have made the contestants ravenous all the time. Once they started eating normally again the leptin levels rose but to only half the previous levels.

Rachel Batterham, from the centre for obesity research at University College London, said “tampering with the body’s predisposition to fight weight loss will result in uncontrollable weight gains in almost all cases. These changes do not reverse once the person returned to their previously higher weight – they continue

Source: The Times

Medical academics at Washington University found that even a small amount of weight loss benefitted obese people. Losing just 5% weight reduces body fat and other risk factors for heart disease.

They said “The guidelines for treating obesity recommend a 5 to 10% weight loss but losing 5% is much easier than 10%.

If you weigh 200 lbs you will be doing yourself a favour if you can lose 10 lbs and keep it off. You don’t have to lose 50 lbs to get important health benefits

Some weight loss myths

apple_measure_tape_1600_wht_131291   Giving up carbs

Processed carbs can contribute to weight gain but you shouldn’t give up on complex carbs or wholegrain such as brown rice which have a lot of fibre and make you feel fuller longer.

Complex carbs can also have a lower glycaemic index (GI) – which is a measure of the rate at which sugar is digested – so you won’t get highs and lows in blood sugar.

Dietician Dr Sarah Schenker says it’s more about portion control and suggests limiting the calorie-dense healthy carbs such as rice, oats , or pasta, and alternate with lighter ones like butternut squash or corn on the cob which are just as filling.

2   Extreme exercise 

We think that if we expend more energy than we consume we should lose weight. And exercise does increase our metabolism (the rate at which we burn calories) but when we push ourselves too much it can actually prevent weight loss. “Pushing ourselves to do long runs and jogs can cause the body to release cortisol, a stress hormone, which encourages fat to build up round our middle” according to nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

She recommends interval training instead as this boosts fat loss, gets the heart working, but controls the release of cortisol.  Also strength and resistance training which helps to build lean muscle and increases metabolism as well as burning calories which will lead to weight loss. She suggests 3 mins of fast running followed by 3 mins of walking, repeated 3 times 3 times a day.

3   Diet pills

A market worth £125 million ripping off people every day (in my opinion). All I want to say is that people who rely on pills are deluding themselves and may even put on weight because they aren’t careful about what they eat or exercising relying on their magic pill instead (And I could say the same about nutritional drinks sold by some sales people masquerading as personal trainers).

4   Skipping breakfast

Yes you might miss out on the 250 calories in an average breakfast but probably over-compensate by snacking mid-morning on sugary foods or eating more in your other meals. There is research that shows that people who skip breakfast are heavier than those who don’t  and Louisiana State University found that eating a 250-calories serving of oatmeal for breakfast resulted in reduced calorie intake at lunch.

5   Eating little and often

Or grazing. Problem is not the eat little but the often part of the equation. Just how often? it’s probably better to eat three meals a day. Our body releases insulin when we eat carrying sugar to our cells to burn as energy. This lasts for about 3 hours after which the body has to use energy from our fat stores. So an early breakfast followed by a noon lunch and you are already burning up your fat.

Research in Prague into people with Type 2 diabetes found that they lost more weight having two regular meals than eating 6 small meals with the same total amount of calories.

6   Going fat-free

All types of fat are high in energy. A gram of fat whether saturated or unsaturated provides 9 calories of energy compared with4 calories of carbohydrate and protein.

Healthier unsaturated fats are better at helping you to lose weight. For example Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish can help to reduce our addictive tendencies according to Dr Sally Norton, a former weight loss surgeon. “Fatty food also slows our stomach emptying making us feel fuller for longer”.

And beware foods labelled as healthy – they can contain more calories than the regular version. Harvard School of Public Health found that low-fat diets are no better for longterm weight loss than high-fat ones. (See “Healthy foods can be bad for you“)

7   Sticking to salads

Beware the calories in the salad dressings. And processed salads from fast-food chains or supermarkets can contain nuts and avocado which are rich in calories. Pret a Manger’s superfood salad contains 431 calories and 18 g of fat without a dressing but 662 calories and 42 g of fat with.

But who wants to eat nothing but salads? They hardly seem as if they would satisfy your appetite without some fish or similar alongside. So stick to salads as side dishes.

8   Not eating after 7 pm

Who comes up with these ideas. Have you never seen families eating evening meals in Spain late in the evening?

The premise behind this seems to be that eating later gives you less time to burn off the calories. It’s true that metabolism slows when you are asleep but it doesn’t automatically turn your food into fat.

Impose a deadline and you find yourself eating earlier so it doesn’t help you lose weight.And according to the US Department of Health it doesn’t matter what time of day you eat. “It’s what and how much you eat and how much physical activity that you do that determines whether or not you gain, lose, or maintain your weight level

And that’s the most sensible piece of advice I’ve heard.

Source: the Times

Mirror, mirror on the wall..

looking_in_mirror_1600_wht_5647Who is eating most of all?

Scientists are interested in factors that influence how much people eat.

Previous research has shown that the size of plates, even their colour can have an effect. As can background sounds e.g. the sounds of the sea makes fish tastier.

Eating with a fork rather than a spoon (which makes people underestimate their meals), using paper plates or even giving people toys with their meals can make them accept smaller portions.

On of the latest ideas is putting up a mirror in the dining room so you can see a reflection of what you are eating. Given a choice of chocolate cake or a fruit salad those eating in front of a mirror enjoyed the chocolate cake less (those eating fruit salad were unaffected).

Researchers at the University of Florida where the experiment took place said that having a mirror in the room makes diners more careful about their behaviour including watching how much they ate. “A glance in the mirror tells people more than just about their physical appearance. It enables them to view themselves objectively and helps them to judge themselves and their behaviours in the same way they judge others.

Maybe they also feel more guilty when they are being observed. There was some research which showed that people tucked away in dark corners of restaurants tended to eat more.

Researcher from the University of Texas found that telling people they were eating healthy food encouraged them to eat bigger portions because they found it less filling. This suggests that “low fat” and “low sugar” labels may encourage over-eating.

This research is to be published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. One of the editors, Professor Brian Wansink from Cornell University is also releasing the results of a survey on what makes slender people different from overweight ones.

Half of people who are not overweight try to eat vegetables for supper every day, 34% eat salads for lunch and 30% would choose vegetables as part of their last meal on earth (what – no ice-cream?). And a quarter avoid chocolate altogether.

That sounds pretty boring to me but don’t forget the stats mean that the other half of people who are not overweight don’t do those things.

And before you start making New Year resolutions about losing weight, it’s also a time to remind you that diets only work for 10% of people, juicing takes the fibre out of the fruit and veg so nutrients aren’t absorbed effectively, removing whole categories of food from your diet is just a fad and can be unhealthy,  and the only sure way to lose weight is eat less and exercise more.

And don’t forget that when you eat out you are being psychologically manipulated from the moment you walk in the door. Read here to find out how.

Protect your memory

head_outline_puzzle_1600_wht_10307Apparently we are experiencing an epidemic of premature memory loss. Scientists are now saying our memory begins to fade at 45 years of age rather than at 60 as was previously believed.

Unfortunately failing mid-life memory – the occasional slips which are referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – could also be an early symptom of senile dementia. This brain disease is now striking people 10 years earlier than it did 20 years ago and is regularly being diagnosed in people in their 40s.

Half of those diagnosed with MCI go on to develop senile dementia. But half don’t so what makes the difference?

There seems to be no simple explanations. Some experts have blamed environmental pollution including exhaust fumes and pesticides. Others have blamed an over-reliance on technology, junk food and our lifestyles generally.

More people are referring themselves to doctors about memory problems. The vast majority suffer from what psychologists have called “security protection overload”. They feel overwhelmed by the numbers, codes and operating systems they need to know to function in a hi-tech environment.

Who hasn’t experienced ‘PIN amnesia’? It happened to me today as I used a credit card I don’t use very often. All my cards have different PINs which I remember pretty much all the time. The stress of getting it wrong and worrying about three strikes and out is enough to interfere with memory recall anyway.

People are using their memory less as they store information on their smartphones. And we’ve seen what happens when people over-rely on sat-navs and end up in a river. The brain is like  a muscle. Use it or lose it!

We have to keep active and our brains active by doing new and different things. Keeping the blood flowing to our brains and making new connections through imagination and planning.

For those of us with middle-aged brains the upside is that we are generally calmer, less neurotic, better in social situations, wiser, and more contented. The Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the mental abilities of thousands of adults over the past 50 years, has found that middle-aged adults perform better on 4 out of 6 cognitive tests than they did as young adults.

And while middle-aged people can perform tests as well as young people in conditions of silence they are more distracted than them in noisy environments. This might also explain the “doorway amnesia” where we move from one room to another and forget why we are there. The movement breaks our concentration as we are distracted by new stimuli in the new room.

Forgetting is a healthy brain function. You don’t want your brain cluttered up by irrelevant information about previous events when you need to remember something today. People who can’t forget – it’s called hypermythesia – get confused.

Healthy brains allow us to recall information when we need it. The problem is that we don’t always retrieve it efficiently. Our library of information becomes less efficiently managed as we get older.

This post is based on an article in the Times Body and Soul segment which also suggests the following ways to protect your memory.

Walk for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. Regular exercise provides the brain with oxygen and nutrients.

Eat vegetables and nuts. We know mediterranean diets are good for us . Now nutritionists at Rush University Chicago have developed the MIND diet, a specially formulated brain-protecting diet.

Give up transfats. Found in burgers, biscuits and cakes. Designed to increase the shelf-life of food but not people.

Eat less sugar. Studies have shown that high blood glucose can damage brain function. Not to mention sugar ruins your teeth and makes you fat!

Lose weight. It’s not PC to use the F word but obesity is a killer and costs the country a fortune. Overweight people’s memory declines over 20% faster than people of normal weight.

Avoid cigarettes and beer. Middle-aged men drinking two-and-a-half pints of beer a day speed up their memory loss by 6 years. Smoking has also been linked to a faster decline in memory.

Drink strong coffee. Twice a day. It helps middle-aged people do short-term memory tests but appears to have no effect on young people. Caffeine also strengthens brain connections. So there you skinny decaff latte drinkers. Not good for you!

PS Brain training games don’t help. You might get better at the games but that’s all according the the Alzheimer’s society. Same goes for crosswords and Sudoku.

Once you’re obese it seems you’re stuck with it

tape_measure_around_plate_1600_wht_15585Obese men only have a 1 in 20 chance of returning to a normal weight and for women it’s even worse news. They only have a 1 in 124 chance.

Research at Kings College, London,on 280,000 people over ten years,  confirms early theories that our evolutionary heritage provides a set point which helps us stay at our maximum weight. Useful for survival maybe but these days a serious health concern with obesity linked to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

These findings highlight how difficult it is for people with obesity to achieve and maintain even small amounts of weight loss. The main treatment options offered to obese patients in the UK are weight-maagement programmes accessed via their GP.This evidence suggests the current system is not working for the vast majority of obese patients” said Alison Fields at Kings College.

Jude Oben, director of Obesity Action Campaign said “Obesity is far worse than smoking and the HIV epidemic – we need to be far more aggressive than we were with both. Why aren’t we spending more money on preventing people developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, liver disease (through obesity)”

Nick Finer at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes said the findings showed that the NHS should start considering drug treatment for obesity as it did with high blood pressure or diabetes.

Studies have shown that some people can lose weight; 1 in 12 men and 1 in 10 women achieve a 5% weight reduction in 1 year (I’ve previously posted about research that shows that diets only work for 10% of dieters).

Just over half put the weight back on within 2 years and three-quarters within 5 years. However Professor Finer says that weight loss, even if regained, still has health benefits in preventing diabetes.

The study, reported in The Times, was published in the American Journal of Public Health

Other recent posts on obesity herehere and here

Bad news for dieters who exercise

apple_measure_tape_1600_wht_13129stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853Why? Because researchers in Boston and Taiwan have found that they put on more weight.

Sounds counter-inuitive doesn’t it? But psychologists explain that exercise , and even the anticipation of exercise, can cause much more dramatic binges in food intake when people are trying to control what they eat.

It’s as if having exercised they have given themselves permission to eat a lot!

They see exercise as a way of buying credits for a heavy snack.

The researchers say, in the Journal of Health Psychology, “Dieters have a greater need to justify food consumption and as such, they have increased sensitivity to entitlement cues, such as exercising“.

“This means that expending effort on exercise provides dieters in particular with a compelling justification to indulge in food consequently dieters will consume more food when the the entitlement cue of exercise is involved in comparison to when it is absent”

In plain English: they eat more when they exercise than when they don’t!

The researchers think the effect might be lessened if the dieters do exercise that are fun rather than those they see as strenuous.

There is also research from 2006 that suggests dieters’ brains respond differently to food. They appear to be more likely to eat fattening food when they believe they have made some progress in losing weight.

But remember; diets only work for less than 10% of people who try them.

And on a happy note for anti-dieters like me, the infamous Dr Dukans has finally been struck off as a doctor and may be declared bankrupt in France.