We all know we’re all getting fatter, don’t we? Obesity has become the latest plague of the developed world. And, body mass index has become the vital statistic your GP is most interested.
Well, I’ve actually lost a few pounds from my Adonis-like physique* over the last few months, it must be the daily dog walking. Nevertheless, my BMI is high, but then so is that of at least half of the England rugby team – it’s big bones and muscular hypertrophy that do it. You cannot visit a health-related website or pick up a medical newsfeed these days without seeing some bizarre news related to obesity and overweight. [*Yeah, right!]
The research results are often contradictory, one day we’re told it is high saturated fat content that we must worry about. The next we hear that Gary Taubes has resurrected almost forgotten research that suggests carbohydrates are to blame for boosting insulin production and it is high insulin levels that make us fat. It sounds like a 1950s notion, too many potatoes will make you fat, but he could have a point. The link between insulin and obesity is very strong, but does one cause the other or do they operate synergistically to the detriment of our health. Who knows? Certainly not the headline writers were see, as I say apparently contradictory and at best confusing statements day in, day out.
- Study firmly links obesity, cancer
- Diabetes up amid rising obesity
- Obesity ‘fuels cancer in women’
- Obesity ‘epidemic’ turns global
- Obesity May Be Protective in Progressive Prostate Cancer
- Obesity and overweight linked to higher prostate cancer mortality
- Little bit of fat not so bad: new study
- Diabetes up amid rising obesity
- Obesity ‘not individuals’ fault’
- Gyms ‘little help’ in obesity
- Inflammation, Not Obesity, Cause Of Insulin Resistance
- Study finds some overweight people live longer
- Little extra weight may not be bad
That’s just an almost random sample from this week’s news. But, the message is clear – we don’t really know what’s going on. The conventional wisdom has it that the more calories you take in and the fewer you use, the more overweight you will become. But, the type of calories do matter, as Taubes points out, we don’t tend to talk about middle-aged guys with burger guts, the more usual description of choice is a beer belly. The calorific content of beer, of course, arising from carbohydrates as opposed to fat.
There are also issues with the public health statements that tell us to reduce our saturated fat intake and to keep our (bad) cholesterol levels low. But, did you know there isn’t just one form of low-density lipoprotein, there are two – a dense form and a diffuse form. New evidence points to the dense form of LDL as being the bad form and not the nice fluffy type, but related research also hints that the presence of cholesterol is not actually a relevant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It’s the dense LDL itself. So, is there any point your GP measuring your blood cholesterol and putting you on statins? Possibly not.
And, what of the possibilities that obesity is down to genetics, viral infection, bacterial infection, (fungal infection?), hormonal imbalances, pancreatic problems, missing out on breastfeeding as an infant, getting too much breast milk as an infant, a throwback to our grandparents’ diet, an evolutionary aberration, too much TV, not enough sleep, too much carbohydrate, too much protein, too much fat, too little exercise, too much walking and not enough running…
Taubes comes to 11 critical conclusions in Good Calories, Bad Calories, based on substantial literature research and interviews, summarised below:
- Dietary fat does not cause heart disease
- Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on insulin
- Sugars are particularly harmful
- Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases
- Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behaviour
- Consuming excess calories does not make us fatter any more than it makes a child grow taller
- Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry
- We get fat because of an imbalance between hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism.
- Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage
- Carbohydrates make us fat by stimulating insulin secretion
- The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be
Confused? It’s enough to make you head for the donut bar. Or, maybe not. Next week, “Cardiovascular Disease News Epidemic”. Incidentally, I was going to call this post Bingo Wings and Muffin Tops, but thought better of it. You can look up definitions in the Urban Dictionary.