Are you a carboholic?

As Re-Find Health are frequently reminding me, the journalist and author of among other things The Case Against Sugar , Gary Taubes will be in London in November speaking at a seminar held over two days. Should be interesting!

One question my clients frequently ask me about cutting out refined carbohydrates is whether it is possible to just have a bit… the odd piece of toast, a croissant, maybe some jam? To which the answer is “Yes, of course it is but once you have weaned yourself off processed carbohydrates you’ll pay for it if you eat them. Symptoms may include nausea, diarrhoea, bloating, headaches, water retention and unexpected and sudden spikes in your weight. Still want a slice of toast?” To which the answer is frequently “Yes I do.” And they eat what it is they crave and all my dire predictions as to what will happen to them come true. They then have a miserable few days feeling awful while they repair the damage and wean themselves off the carbs again. Why put yourself through such self-inflicted torture?

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times written by Gary Taubes where he suggests that carbohydrates may actually be addictive and sugar particularly so.

He suggests that for most carbs it may be the insulin response that causes the addiction as insulin both stops fat burning and clears sugar from the blood stream, removing the body’s two main sources of energy and causing the desire to eat more carbs. I think it goes a bit deeper than that in the case of wheat. I think there is enough evidence out there that suggest that the gliadin protein in modern wheat acts on the brain in the same way as opiate drugs (such as heroin) do.

Supermarkets exploit this by taking the vapour from the in store “bakery” and injecting it into the ventilation system so that you can smell the bread all over the store. It’s particularly noticeable at Easter when the whole shop smells of hot cross buns. The shop is simply reminding you that you are addicted. 

So when my clients come to me complaining of feeling ill after eating bread after they have tried so hard to come off it, I don’t criticise, I sympathise. They have a real addiction that is terribly hard to conquer.


A real meal in 35 minutes… proper fast food

Some days you simply cannot get away from work when you would like to and that means you get home later than usual. The time you have and, to be frank, the inclination to spend time you do have cooking a real meal can be much less than usual. At times like that there can be a great temptation to reach for the fast food.

That happened to me today. I got home at 7:25pm and I like to eat no later than 8pm. This is especially true this week as I am intermittent fasting. More on this when I have some results but I am restricting my food intake to my evening meal only. So I was late home with 35 minutes before the latest I wanted to eat. Reaching for the fast food was inevtible so I reached for oven cooked salmon and sauted fennel with garden salad

I admit, I had an inkling I would be delayed today so I shopped for the main ingredients at the weekend but this is in no way a complex recipe. I had bought a 500g side of salmon and a single bulb of fennel. I had store cupboard lemons, olive and coconut oil, herb dill and salad from the garden.

First off I seared the salmon in coconut oil in the same pan that I was going to cook the fennel. 

I got the oven pan ready with foil ready prepared with a bed of olive oil, the fronds from the fennel bulb, some fresh dill from the garden and slices of lemon. You are not going to eat these so don’t worry if they are rough looking. When the salmon has a good colour lift it into the pan leaving the coconut oil behind and put the same lemon and herb on top. 10 minutes have gone so far.

Parcel up the salmon in the foil and place in a reasonably hot oven. While the fish is cooking wash your salad and dry it – that takes no more than 10 minutes tops. 15 minutes left until 8pm!

Wash your fennel bulb and thinly slice and saute in the coconut oil left in the pans from searing the salmon. That’s going to take almost all the remaining 15 minutes for a single fennel bulb. When the fennel is soft and lightly brown it’s ready. Take the salmon from the oven and carefully unwrap – watch out for scalding hot steam! 

It’s 8pm the fish and fennel are perfectly cooked, the salad is waiting, all you have to do is put it on a plate, add some Celtic salt if you want and eat it.

A proper primal meal, made with real food in 35 minutes? No bother! Enjoy. 🙂 

Two more reasons…

… to ditch the carbs (as if you needed them):

Amy Berger (she of the Tuit Nutrition blog)

Insulin, insulin, insulin.

undertakes a forensic examination of why poorly managed insulin and excessive carbohydrate intake damages the ability of brain cells to respire and may lead to Alzheimer’s and other lesser cognitive problems. Alzheimer’s is increasingly being referred to as “type 3 diabetes” and is becoming more prevalent as a disease.

Radio 4’s The Food Programme bravely explored the links between diet and Alzheimer’s here

Travis Christofferson considers the role of metabolism in the development of cancer. A surprisingly old idea that we seem to have forgotten about as we searched for cancer’s genetic secret… which doesn’t seem to exist. A book Cancer Research UK should read. Obesity doesn’t cause cancer… obesity and cancer are both consequence of poor insulin control and general metabolic damage caused by the over consumption of carbohydrates.

I’ll say it again, these are not new diseases and the answers are not new – Amy Berger cites TL Cleve from the 1950s – as I do. Travis refers to the Warbugh effect*, again described in the 1950s

… this survey echoes the need to urgently reduce the amount of sugary snacks and drinks…

We simply forgot the truth. Its time we remembered it. The healthy human condition relies on fat metabolism not carbohydrate metabolism. Thats why are genes are programmed to store many many many times more calories as saturated fat rather than glucose. Listen to the background music.

Given the choice of Alzheimer’s or cancer or something else, my advice would be die of something else.

*In oncology, the Warburg effect is the observation that most cancer cells predominantly produce energy by a high rate of glycolysis followed by lactic acid fermentation in the cytosol,rather than by a comparatively low rate of glycolysis followed by oxidation of pyruvate in mitochondria as in most normal cells. The latter process is aerobic (uses oxygen).


Weeknight fast (real) food 

I don’t get home until about 8pm on a Thursday as I run a high intensity interval class in the evening. I’ve run the class for quite a few years now and I have a lovely group of super enthusiastic regulars who seem to enjoy the buzz from the intense work out. I don’t believe that high intensity interval training (HIIT) by itself is sufficient – “fitness” is a combination of respiratory efficiency, strength and flexibility- but it is a useful component of cardiovascular training.

If you are doing it right, an HIIT work out should take you close to your maximum heart rate for brief intervals – no more than 30 seconds – followed by a recovery period at least as long as the work interval the objective being to get your heart rate back down before you send it back up in the next interval. There are loads of protocols available online using all sorts of equipment and none. Sprinting uphill and jogging back down is highly effective.

Anyway back to my point, I get in late and I want something quick and easy and no fuss. Rough and ready burgers and salad fit the bill perfectly.  I take 500g of organic beef mince and roughly form it by hand into 4 patties and throw it on a griddle for about 15 minutes, turning every couple of minutes.

While they are cooking I fish around in the refrigerator for whatever salad is available. This time of year it has mostly come from the garden. If there’s an avocado in there I will add that too as I think it goes great with burgers, it acts like lubricant as pure beef burgers can be a little dry.

By the time I have got the salad on the plate with a spoon of real mayonnaise, the burgers are ready and my perfectly primal dinner is ready. The little flowers are watercress. All it needs now is a sprinkle of celtic salt and you’re good to go.

Celtic Salt

Only 20 minutes start to sitting down to eat. Rough and ready Thursday night burgers. Perfect.

Asparagus season! 

Asparagus season is well and truly underway and the bed is very productive this year and almost producing more than I can use but I’m finding new ways to eat it. 

I used this morning’s crop to make omelettes for breakfast. 

I boiled the asparagus first and the simply folded the spears into an omelette and added some snipped chives too. Easy. 10 minutes maximum from start to finish and it looked great IMHO. 

Next time I will add some grated cheese into the middle of the omelette to make it a little richer as I was hungry again three hours later. 

I saved the trimmings from the asparagus spears and the water it was boiled in as it will make delicious soup with the bone broth from tonight’s chicken. You’d be surprised how much flavour the spears leave behind in the water. 

Wonderful asparagus! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

You are not a bank account

Here we go… I have started another massive online open course (MOOC) and I think I might be addicted. This new one is from Johns Hopkins University and is taking a systems science approach to the global obesity epidemic. Rather than see it as a problem of an obese individual, it is looking at it as a problem of society as a whole. The shift in weight has happened right across society, even the thin people are fatter than they used to be! Are you listening Cancer Research UK? Spotted in a London tube station (well you could hardly miss it) 

Global Obesity – a Systems Science Approach

One of the things we often struggle with when trying to lose weight is that after a while it we simply stop losing it. Our body hangs on to the fat. We can’t understand it because we are eating fewer calories and exercising more so surely if the calories going into our body are fewer than the calories going out in energy burn, we will lose weight?  Just like a bank account, if we put in less than we spend the balance will go down (seriously, I know that to be true!). Prof. Tom Glass from Johns Hopkins sums up the Calories on/Calories out theory beautifully in this slide:


Basically you can do four things with the calories you eat. You can burn them for fuel; use them to build stuff: waste them; or store them as fat. It doesn’t matter what kind of calorie they are, your body simply decides and decides the same way constantly, whatever. Obesity then inevitably occurs when the burning and the using of the calories does not equal or exceed the consumption. We store the excess as fat. But our bodies are not a bank account, the human body is a complex metabolic factory and its treasure is fat. The partitioning of calories is subject to hormonal signalling and fat is not an inert tissue! It is biologically active. Fat (adipose tissue) can increase insulin release into the blood stream which instructs the body to store energy (not just excess energy but ANY energy) fat.  The partitioning system also responds to the type of food we eat. Carbohydrate intake also raises our insulin levels that, guess what, instructs our bodies to store fat (eating fat, by the way, doesn’t). And just so we understand how elegant this system is, insulin starts to rise before the food is even in your mouth. Sit next to someone on the train eating sweet porridge and you start secreting more insulin and that’s not an good feeling. I know that from experience!

So a better illustration of what is going on is shown in this slide also from Prof. Tom Glass:


Front and centre of the problem is the partitioning system, choosing to use or store calories based on the signalling it is getting from the food we eat and the metabolic state of our bodies. The more carbohydrate we eat, and unfortunately, the fatter we are, the more energy we will store as fat rather than use for fuel. This is the function of a single hormone and there are many hormonal interactions in reality. 

The ability of human beings to store fat (I have never seen a fat buzzard) is an evolutionary genetic triumph that has made us the successful species we are. Its a tragedy that modern food has turned it it an evolutionary disaster that is reversing medical gains and is now starting actually to shorten human life expectancy.

Spotted in a London tube station (well you could hardly miss it) 

Did fat shaming just become acceptable? I was a little bit taken aback by the latest advertising campaign from Cancer Research UK which I discovered on my way to somewhere else. I didn’t really understand what the message is… apart from obesity causes cancer… it can’t be “if you are obese and you get cancer it’s your fault” can it? Really? 

But whatever the message is, CR UK seemed determined that we wouldn’t miss the posters…

And on both sides of the subway. No one seemed very interested though, apart from me.

Clearly if you thought you might be obese, you had the potential to be quite shocked at the thought you also had a high risk of cancer. But the message came without any suggestions about what you should do about it if you are at risk, no suggestions about where to go for help, not even any indication about what obesity is and whether the person looking at the advert should consider themselves obese.

All in all, and whilst I agree that people do not understand the risks of being obese, this is a pretty unhelpful approach in my view. People need help, not shaming, Cancer Research UK.