January News Round-Up

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Which is worse for the heart, sugar or saturated fat?

It’s amazing, isn’t it? For anyone who checks literature the answer to this question has been clear for years, but for much of the public and the medical community they can’t quite believe it. Medical Daily (January 14th) explains that a review of a half-century of data shows that “sugar consumption, particularly in the form of refined added sugars, are (sic) a greater contributor to (coronary heart disease) than saturated fats.” Uh ha. A good one to email to any doubting Thomas you know. The funniest bit of this ‘no sh*t Sherlock’ review is that it comes from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine! Who’d ‘ve thunk it?

High Carb v High-Fat diet for endurance athletes

As it happens, I’m meeting a young endurance athlete this weekend who is excited about the possibilities of a high-fat diet to improve his performance. The work of Jeff Volek (The Art and Science of Low Carb Performance) has demonstrated that high-fat diets can offer considerable performance advantages compared to the high-carb approach recommended by traditional sports scientists.

The debate amongst performance athletes has been heated. The Guardian (January 19th) has a nice blog piece on this topic should you want to learn more.

Low-fat v high-fat weight loss diets

On the general theme of high fat v low fat, BBC Health (January 5th) had a good article considering both. They referred to recent researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in the United States who reviewed 53 weight loss trials involving 68,128 people.

The results, published in the Lancet medical journal, showed that both low-carb and low-fat approaches led to decent weight-loss. But those eating relatively more fat actually lost marginally more weight. Dr Deirdre Tobias, who led that study, said “Fat has been villainised because there’s a mentality that ‘fat makes you fat’. I think our evidence pretty much puts a nail in that coffin.”

Baby develops scurvy from ‘vegan milk’

A highly cited article in The Telegraph (January 21st) reported on a Spanish baby that developed scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), after being raised on almond milk instead of breast milk or formula milk. Breast milk contains vitamin C, and it is added to formula milk but not to almond milk. Glad we know that now.

Modern diets may be destroying our gut microbes ‘over generations’

National Geographic: An introduction to the microbiome provides a good primer on this revolutionary field

The discovery of a new human organ – the microbiome –  is profoundly changing our view of medicine. As one medic recently said: “Who would want to go to mars when we have the microbiome to explore?”

Science Daily (January 13th) reports on a recent paper that found a low plant fibre diet in mice led to depletion in gut bacterial diversity similar to the differences seen between industrialised peoples and hunter-gatherers. Interestingly, the low-fibre mice microbiomes did not recover fully when returned to a normal diet, and their offspring had less diversity too. All this suggests that simply eating a better diet may not be enough to restore a fully functioning microbiome.

“The extremely low-fibre intake in industrialized countries has occurred relatively recently,” noted Justin Sonnenburg. “Is it possible that over the next few generations we’ll lose even more species in our gut? And what will the ramifications be for our health?” Simple tweaks in our cultural practices — for example, not washing our hands after gardening or petting our dogs — could be a step in the right direction, and steering away from overuse of antibiotics certainly is, he said.

Human trials of one solution, faecal transplants, are soon to start with the aim of reversing obesity, according to MD Magazine (January 20th) . In another article Infants’ Long-Term Health Affected by Delivery Method and Diet, they report on a study that found C-section delivery changed the infant microbiome even more than diet!

Gluten introduction raises babies risk of Coeliac disease

The physicians’ news journal MD Magazine (January 28th) reports on a Swedish study that looked at the quantity of gluten in the diets of 400 babies, followed for two years. They found that the greater the exposure to gluten the greater the risk of coeliac disease.

Results from other studies have been mixed, but a position paper, published this month by The European Society For Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition recommend gradual introduction:

…consumption of large quantities of gluten should be avoided during the first weeks after gluten introduction and during infancy.

Optimum diet for weight loss and muscle gain?

Recently, I have been researching the importance of dietary protein for muscle health and intend to write a post about it soon. So a piece in The Independent (January 28th) caught my attention. The study they report on claims to have found the perfect way for men to gain muscle and lose fat quickly: 40% reduction in calories, six-day workout routine and increased protein, for a month. In the trial, split between normal and high protein intake, both groups lost fat mass, but only the high protein group increased muscle mass.

The authors point out that the diet is probably too extreme to be maintained in a non-supervised setting. Like most crash diets it is also not suitable for long-term weight loss with many studies finding that almost all weight loss is regained in the long run, with no overall benefit. However, raised protein diets are now seen as important from middle age onwards, and have been shown to prevent age-related muscle loss. Keep a look out for the article that we are working on re protein and muscle retention.

Paleo or Mediterranean diets to reverse diabetes?

Would you Adam and Eve it? You wait all year for a diabetes diet book to come along, then two arrive at once!


The Mirror (January 20th) tells the story of Eddy Marshall, director of BBC’s Holby City and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, whose diabetes was reversed using a version of the paleo diet, advocated by David Hack, author of a new book ‘The Back to Basics Diet’. I haven’t read it as it is only out this month, but from the Mirror article, it seems to be advocating a proper paleo diet: “organic meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and “plentiful volumes” of vegetables, salads and nuts” to reverse diabetes. Sounds about right to me.

Meanwhile in the DailyMail (January 18th) TV presenter Michael Mosley promotes his new diabetes-busting book. His diet is based around a version of the Mediterranean diet. So what do these two books have in common? Both avoid processed foods, sugar and sweeteners. Both are lowish-carbs. Both encourage real foods such as meat, fish, eggs and vegetables.

BTW: I’m not recommending either of these books – I haven’t read them.

More on diabetes, potatoes and mum’s to be

This month several papers carried the story that mothers that ate more potatoes in the lead up to pregnancy had a higher risk of gestational diabetes. NHS choices (January 13th) critiques the articles. Potatoes or course, are high glycaemic foods, ramping up blood sugar rapidly after consumption. The more portions of potatoes the women ate per week the higher their risk of diabetes. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as it is basic physiology.

Should you avoid nightshade foods?

Some of my patients need to be on a Solanaceous (nightshade-family) – free diet. This means no tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, chillies, potatoes or paprika. It’s rare to see any articles about this subject, but Health Magazine’s website (January 28th) has a pretty good one on the subject this month. Take a look.

Nitrates and eye health

The Daily Mail (January 15th) reported on a study indicating that dietary nitrates reduce the risk of glaucoma, cutting the ‘risk of a leading cause of blindness by 30%’. Whilst this is interesting in its own right, I thought it was telling that the article only referred to ‘nitrates from green leafy veg’. Nitrates are also found in bacon and cured ham. Why didn’t they mention that? (see our post on pork for more about nitrates in bacon)


To finish off, here are a few interesting grain-free vegetable dishes to inspire you, courtesy of the Guardian:

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