Welcome to my episode four recap of Diet Secrets and How to Lose Weight which is all about carbs. This is the final episode of expert answers about dieting to separate fact from fiction.
As ever, I watched with my personal finance hat on to see how this might influence our spending for the better. This Channel 5 weight loss programme says in the intro that they investigate “the surest way to be the size you’ve always wanted to be.” I suspect it’s probably impossible to make yourself an imagined size, but many of us will lose many hours of wages trying.
The show pitches itself as the truth about diets and how to succeed at losing weight. Doctors, nutritionists and researchers challenge trendy health claims or popular myths in each episode. I didn’t want to misquote anyone, so I’ve tried to faithfully capture their views below. It’s not a word for word transcript, but I’ve worked hard not to distort anyone’s meaning. I hope this information clears up some confusion so that that we can stop wasting money on pseudoscience.
Here’s what I’ve covered below:
What Are Carbs?
Are There Good And Bad Carbs?
Are Carbs Making Us Fat?
Is Sugar Addictive?
Are Carbs Necessary For Physical Performance?
Do We Need Carbs For Concentration And Mental Aptitude?
Diet Test: The Sugar Free Diet
Diets From Hell #4: When Gastric Bands Attack
What Does It All Mean For Our Wallets?
What’s The Best Alternative To Dieting
The diet industry makes billions from crash diets and I’m not convinced they’re great value for money. Contrary to some, I think that a goal to get fitter or eat more nutritiously is not only possible while saving for something big like a house deposit, but can actually be a way to spend better and achieve that very savings goal.
Here’s the experts featured in the series:
Dr Ranjan Chattergee GP
Dr Linia Patel, Consultant Dietitian
Pixie Turner a.k.a Plant-based Pixie
Dr Gavin Sandercock, Director of Research at Essex University
Nutritional Therapist Ian Marber
Science Journalist Nathan Rao
Rosemary Conley OBE
Dr Nicola Guess, Research Fellow at Kings College London
Dietitan Priya Tew
Clinical psychologist Dr Anna Colton
Dietitian Sian Porter
Professor Mark Thomas, University College London
Judy Swift, Associate Professor of Behavioural Nutrition
Dr Sarah Schenker
Dr Aseem Malhotra, Consultant Cardiologist
Dr David Unwin GP
I’ve just used first names below after introducing anyone to make things easier, but also because I like to think I’m on first name terms with everyone after about five minutes of basking in their knowledge. This applies if they already appeared in the previous episodes first.
I am NOT a doctor, nutritionist etc and I rely on professionals like the ones in this programme to be my Yoda, my Giles, my Deaton [insert name here of your favourite wise fictional character]. The first time I wrote that sentence I put a typo in professionals, so I’m just a clutz trying to learn about how we can combine nutrition with personal finance. I am not trying to give medical advice, and I don’t think bloggers should make health claims of their own, or repeat anything that isn’t backed by experts and evidence.
Missed the series so far?
Drop into the comments if any of this is helpful because it’s always nice to know I’m not just writing for my own benefit. I hope these posts take less time for you to read than they do for me to write anyway…!
Episode 4 – All About Carbs
Let’s challenge what we think we know, eh?
Question #1 What Are Carbs?
Nicola says this can refer to:
2) sugars e.g. fructose in fruit, sucrose or added sugar, lactose (natural sugar in milk)
3) or fibre
Ian says complex carbs have more fibre and break down more slowly in our bodies.
94% of the experts agreed that “as a nation we consume too much sugar”; 6% said no, we don’t.
Claim #2 Are There Good And Bad Carbs?
Nicola says it depends on what you mean and what food the carb is in…
Anna says complex carbs are healthy.
Linia says wholefood carbs are healthy. Put a pea and a piece of white bread in your mouth and you’ll see how quickly the white bread dissolves. That’s a fast source of sugar.
Nathan says eating white bread is just like eating sugar.
Gavin disagrees that they are good or bad because he says you metabolise a biscuit the same as a banana.
Pixie says simple carbs can be beneficial if you do need a quick source of energy. Also fruits have simple carbs with other health benefits and you should definitely include fruit in your diet.
The final word: 73% of the experts said yes, there are good and bad carbs, 20% said no, and 7% said they were unsure.
Claim #3 Are Carbs Making Us Fat?
Pixie, Nicola, Ian and Linia say we tend to demonise one food group at a time.
Ian says we eat a lot of carbs because they’re cheap with big profit margins, easy to preserve, and they taste good combined with fat.
Dr David Unwin GP says your blood glucose rises when you eat sugar. Your body regulates your sugar levels, so it has to find somewhere to put this sugar. First it pushes it towards your muscles [which I think is why Pixie said above that simple carbs can be useful in certain situations]. But if you don’t use it in activity, it goes to your belly and your liver and becomes stored as fat.
Gavin says we also spend a lot of time inactive.
Linia says if you’re not every active, you need foods which give you nutrients, but not lots of energy.
Pixie says a low carb diet is not for everyone. If you replace the sugar with something else and don’t reduce calories, you won’t lose weight.
The final word: 75% of the experts said no, carbs aren’t making us fat; 19% said yes, they are; 6% said neither.
Claim #4 Is Sugar Addictive?
Nathan says yup.
Aseem thinks some people are addicted.
Linia says to some of us it lights up the same part of the brain as cocaine.
Priya says because your blood sugar drops after the sugar wears off, that makes you crave more.
Ranjan says we evolved to look for fruit in summer because this was useful to hunter gatherers…
Mark says when our ancestors looked for sugar, they found vitamin C, so it makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.
Ian says it’s a choice not an addiction; the latter absolves you of responsibility.
Pixie says it’s not addictive.
Nicola says the evidence so far has been tested mainly on animals.
Sarah says cravings don’t make you an addict.
Sian says we are adaptable. Try having one less sugar in your hot drinks if you have two or more instead of going cold turkey.
Ranjan says don’t have sugar in the home because you will eat it when you get home and you’re tired after a long day which is when you don’t need the energy.
The final word: 55% of the experts said no, sugar is not addictive; 38% yes it is; 6% were unsure.
Claim 5# Are Carbs Necessary For Physical Performance?
Ranjan says his medical training taught him we need carbs for exercise, but there are athletes on ketogenic diets now who use fat for energy. They’ve likely adapted.
Linia is also a sports nutritionist and she expects the people she advises to use carbs for their muscles.
Pixie says carbs are the most convenient way to energise.
Anna says athletes eat a balanced diet.
The final word: 63% of the experts said carbs are necessary for physical performance, 12% said they’re not, and 25% were unsure.
Question #6 Do We Need Carbs For Concentration And Mental Aptitude?
Pixie says low carbs can hurt your concentration until your body adapts.
Linia says the brain prefers complex carbs to ketones.
Nathan says poor concentration and other symptoms are the brain’s way of telling you your sugar levels are dropping.
Anna says in eating disorder services, the low carbers tend to be depressed because of the effect it has on mood.
The final word: 40% of the experts said yes, 40% were unsure, and 20% said no.
Diet From Hell #4: When Gastric Bands Attack
This week’s hellish story was about NOT going on a diet and using extreme medical alternatives instead.
Kim says she used to overeat and was so sedentary that if she went to see a friend, she would expect them to come and speak to her in her car outside rather than getting out the car to knock on the door.
Having a child made her want to change, so she had gastric surgery.
After time, you are meant to go on solid food, but her body never adapted. As a rare side effect, she can’t eat solids without being sick. Yowzers. It looks like Kim will be on a liquid diet for the rest of her life.
Diet Test – The Sugar Free Diet
Tina Malone of Shameless fame had a gastric band to lose weight drastically too. She then regained weight. With her GP’s approval she tested the sugar free diet for the show.
Westminster University found that she had a healthy BMI, but slightly too much fat mass (subcutaneous fat). This isn’t dangerous in the way that visceral fat is, but they obviously thought there were other benefits to her going sugar free. Tina says she has got up in the middle of the night before to bake because she loves sugar so much.
Tina went to bed early to avoid eating chocolate and used The Real Housewives of Cheshire as motivation (whatever works for you I suppose…? I’m wasn’t clear on how this was motivating. Perhaps as a distraction.) She lost weight and her BMI reduced (although it was in a “normal” range before).
The hardest thing was finding foods without added sugar. Tina realised how many low calorie, so-called healthy, and even savoury snacks all had sugar added.
What Does It All Mean For Our Wallet?
Fruit is an investment in our health.
Other simple carbs might be more energy than we need if we’re inactive. This might not be the best value for our spending therefore.
There’s no saving or weight loss to be had if you just replace sugar with the same or more calories from elsewhere though.
Try and focus your spend on nutrients. Forage some fruit and veg in the supermarket and you’ll stumble upon intrinsic vitamins too…
What’s The Best Alternative To Dieting
What’s the final word?
So after four episodes of science and real talk, what did the experts suggest as a solution?
Priya says our culture is negative towards food and our expectation is to be told what we can’t eat…
Pixie says we should talk about including variety and fruit and veg, not exclusion.
Nathan says portion control might be more useful.
Anna says change your lifestyle instead of going on a short term diet.
Ian says similarly, if your eating plan has a beginning, middle and end because there’s no pleasure then you won’t have long term success.
So far on the blog I’ve tried to give a moment’s thought to nutrition before linking or recapping any recipes or anything food-related. However, this will also likely never be a sugar-free/fat free/dairy free etc blog as I don’t think we should be afraid of food and exclude entire food groups.
Want to know more?
Let me know in the comments if you found any of this wisdom from the experts helpful, and what you do to achieve your financial and health goals at the same time.
I’m going to post a recap eventually of The Big Fat Lies About Diet and Exercise also. That was a Channel 5 diet programme from 2019 that relates strongly to this and interviews a bunch of the same experts. Don’t forget to subscribe, subscribe, subscribe if you want to know whenever there’s new posts, and to get extra tips to boost your savings and income straight to your inbox.