Fat phobia rules the land.
“My rule is to abstain from any hint of dietary fat and to exercise until I drip or drop,” a client told me proudly during our first consultation. “Luckily, my girlfriend has discovered that ‘Frosties’ has a lower fat content than most cereals. I have a big bowl every morning for breakfast”. Yet another triumph for the marketing department at Kellogg’s. And here’s a stunning victory for a multinational that’s managed to infiltrate the NHS: a lady rang me to say her daughter suffers from blood sugar fluctuations. “The hospital dietitian has advised her to carry a bottle of cola with her at all times and take a swig whenever she feels woozy. Can it be any good for her?” she asks.
Hardly – it’s precisely sugar we need to avoid because it elicits such a negative response in the body. The insulin it stimulates prevents fat from being used for energy and increases blood fats, resulting in increased body fat. We live in an era where the average person consumes 120 lbs of sugar per year in the form of sugary food and drink, as well as refined carbohydrates in white bread, white rice, biscuits, cakes and chocolate. A staggering 80% of the population now suffer from varying degrees of excess insulin, a potentially serious health problem associated with obesity, heart disease, Type II diabetes and cancer.
Insulin is a pancreatic hormone and controls how the body uses and stores glucose needed for energy production. Insulin’s storage role was vital when humans were hunter-gatherers, but no longer complements our high-sugar, sedentary lifestyle. As soon as glucose levels rise in the blood, the pancreas produces more and more insulin and certain tissues become increasingly resistant to its effects. Symptoms range from energy fluctuations, fatigue, cravings, weight gain, a fuzzy head and poor concentration. In the longer term, persistent stimulation of insulin through eating too much overprocessed foods coupled with stress and lack of exercise predispose us to degenerative disease.
It’s easy to mock those who find it difficult to fight the flab, to assume they are simply lacking in willpower and self-discipline. This is not always the case, says Antony Haynes, an experienced London-based nutritionist. “It’s not just the number of calories you eat that, but rather the type of calories you eat that causes weight gain.” He explains that refined carbs require little or no digestion and provoke an excessive insulin response. “The key to reversing any type of blood glucose imbalance is to avoid foods like white bread and pasta which are ranked high on the Glycemic Index – an index of how fast food appears in the blood as glucose. On the other hand, complex carbs (vegetables, beans, legumes, wholegrains) contain natural fibre which release their sugars more slowly into the bloodstream than carbs stripped of fibre. Eating quality protein (meat, fish, egg, cheese, tofu) with each meal is equally important as it slows down the digestion of carbohydrates.”
Apart from diet, stress and a certain genetic predisposition, there are other less obvious factors that increase your risk of insulin resistance, such as nutrient deficiencies and digestive problems. Abnormal levels of the stress hormones DHEA and cortisol also play a role.
Antony addresses the major causes of the syndrome in his new book and provides a clear nutritional plan to reverse it, without resorting to dubious artificial sweeteners. He also shows how to determine your level of insulin resistance, providing tasty meal plans and clear advice on nutritional supplements. “The Insulin Factor” by Antony J Haynes is published by Thorsons (ISBN 0-00-716377-0).
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, Article First Published Brighton Argus June 2004