Diet Secrets and How to Lose Weight was a four part Channel 5 series where experts answered common questions about dieting to sort fact from fiction.
As ever, I watched Diet Secrets with my personal finance cap on to see how these facts might influence our spending for the better. Diet Secrets says in the intro that they investigate “the surest way to be the size you’ve always wanted to be.” I think it’s probably impossible to make yourself an imagined size, but many of us will lose our paycheque trying.
Here’s what I’ve covered below:
- Are There Good And Bad Fats?
- Are Low Fat Diets Effective For Losing Weight?
- Are High Fat Diets Effective For Losing Weight?
- Is Cholesterol Bad For You?
- Diet Test – Pescatarian Keto Diet
- Diet From Hell – When Pills Attack
- What It All Means For Our Wallet
Diet Secrets and How to Lose Weight: the premise
I recently posted a recap for a series of Save Money Good Health and within that they have segment on the “best value” diets. I fancied recapping this Channel 5 weight loss programme to follow on from that. This features a lot more experts, some diverse opinions, and also digs into individual health claims rather than promoting dieting. (This is despite it being pitched as the truth about diets and how to succeed at losing weight). This first episode is all about fats in food.
in each episode of this series, they put about four questions to a group of experts including doctors, nutritionists and researchers. Some of these questions are trendy health claims or popular myths. I didn’t want to misquote anyone, so I’ve tried to faithfully capture their views below. It won’t be word for word as it’s not a transcript, but I’ve tried really hard not to change anyone’s meaning.
Also in each episode they got a celebrity to test a diet and they also interviewed someone with a diet horror story to get as many perspectives as possible and warn of the pitfalls, so I’ve included those too.
To round off each episode, I’ve tried to sum up how any of this knowledge might be applied to our wallets.
I am NOT a doctor, nutritionist etc and I rely on experts like the professionals in this show for my information. I am not trying to provide medical advice, and I don’t think a blogger should make any independent claims without referring clearly to experts and evidence.
How will Diet Secrets help me save money?
The diet industry is worth billions, and as far as I can tell a lot of it is made up of faddy ineffective crash diets which is not great value for money. I’ve heard that health goals and financial goals can’t work together, but I disagree.
I actually think that a goal to get fitter or eat more nutritiously can be a way to spend better and achieve a savings goal. If you are trying to save for something big like a house deposit, this doesn’t have to be counter to other things you want to change in life. One goal can support the other.
It does require a bit of sorting fact from fiction though. I hope this information demystifies some health ideas so that that we can stop wasting money on anything that isn’t backed up by science.
Here’s the experts featured in the series:
Dr Ranjan Chattergee GP
Dr Linia Patel, Consultant Dietitian
Nutritionist 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, Assistant Professor at Kings College London
Dietitian Dr Duane Mellor
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 hope this post helps you spend better and save more whatever your goals! Let me know in the comments what brought you here and if you found
what you needed.
Claim #1 Are There Good And Bad Fats?
Dr Ranjan Chattergee GP says we have subcutaneous fat that we see and visceral fat underneath that we can’t see. It’s the latter that’s dangerous, but that’s not what we worry about. He says there are different types of fat, so don’t avoid nuts, avocado and olives because they have “good” fats.
Dr Linia Patel (Consultant Dietitian) says we can’t make essential fats ourselves, we have to get them from our diets. These include omega 3 (unsaturated fats). Saturated fat is still helpful in the right portions.
Nutritionist Pixie Turner a.k.a. Plant-based Pixie says “Unsaturated fats are associated with decreased risk of heart disease, whereas saturated fats are associated with increased risk of heart disease.” (Pixie crops up a fair bit in my recaps of Save Money Good Food also).
Following on from Linia, a little bit of cheese also gives you calcium and protein, so you don’t have to exclude it because of the saturated fat. Trans or hydrogenated fats are added to oils to make them solid. A good example is margarine. Linia refers to these as man-made fats.
Pixie says these are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Hydrogenated means they add hydrogen atoms to an unsaturated fat. This makes it saturated (i.e. solid), but also hard to digest, so our bodies store the fat, hence the risks.
I’m just going to refer to everyone by their first names once I’ve introduced them because I’m overfamiliar that way.
The final word: 100% of the experts interviewed for the show agreed there are good and bad fats.*
*What’s interesting about that is you notice Pixie only talks about fat in terms of saturated or unsaturated rather than the moral terms of “good” and “bad”. If Pixie is included in their 100%, then they’ve overlayed her words with some moral judgement.
Claim #2 Are Low Fat Diets Effective For Losing Weight?
This has been the common advice for the last 30 years. Rosemary Conley (OBE) built her empire on this, but people weren’t as health conscious in the ’80s. Dieters found her approach simple as they could still eat what they liked such as marmalade on toast, or a jacket potato as big as your head, so long as you skipped the butter.
Pixie attributes the idea that low fat diets are healthier to a link made between high fat diets and caridovascular disease in research in the ’80s.
So why are we getting more overweight? Is it because low fat diets demonised all fat and stopped us eating unsaturated fats too?
Linia says she doesn’t advocate a zero fat diet. However, a gram of carbs is four calories and a gram of fat is nine calories…
By the same logic Rosemary says she’d rather eat more of other things that have less calories than expend all her calories on [saturated] fat.
When low fat means high in sugar
However, Science Journalist Nathan Rao says it’s the carbs we’re eating now that are making us overweight.
Dr Gavin Sandercock, Director of Research at Essex University thinks we’ve increased our calorie intake because when good fat research made the news, we started eating olive oil etc again, but we’ve also carried on eating sugar.
Nutritional Therapist Ian Marber says low fat foods also tend to be high in sugar instead, and without fat they are less satisfying, so we eat more of them. (Ian also features in my recent recap of Save Money Good Health regards flavoured waters).
Rosemary reckons low fat diets will have a revival because she thinks these things come back in fashion. (For my two bits, using the word fashion rather implies that these diets are about fads, not research).
So are low fat diets effective for weight loss or not?
The final word: 37% of the experts agreed they were, 37% disagreed, and 26% were unsure.
Looks like the jury’s out, unless we combine eating low fat with an eye on our sugar intake?
Claim #3 Are High Fat Diet’s Effective For Losing Weight?
Nathan thinks yes, in moderation because they are more satisfying.
Linia says yes, if it’s instead of carbs.
Dr Nicola Guess, Research Fellow at Kings College London says keto diets are very restrictive though. [A high fat diet is often part of a plan where carbs are cut out, hence it becomes a keto diet in theory].
Dietitian Priya Tew says fat can fill you up for longer, but so can fibre and protein. (I also relied on Priya Tew in my recap of Save Money Good Food).
Gavin says it doesn’t matter where the energy comes from so long as you get the nutrition you need. Most keto diets don’t actually induce ketogenesis, so they are just low carb. This affects concentration, ability to exercise, and mood.
Claim #4 Is Cholesterol Bad For You?
Clinical psychologist Dr Anna Colton says the research points to yes because it makes the arteries in the heart and the brain furry.
But Nicola says we make cholesterol in our bodies. If we eat too much, our body adapts and makes less, so it’s not cholesterol in food that raises our own cholesterol.
Therefore Linia says eat as many eggs as you like!
Pixie says the link instead is between saturated fat and trans fat which raises our blood cholesterol. Unsaturated fats lower our blood chloresterol. “Bad” cholesterol refers to high levels of LDL and this is associated with the health risks.
Gavin says your blood cholesterol also depends on genetics so go back and select better parents!
The final word: 69% disagreed that chloresterol is bad for us, 8% agreed, and the rest said neither.
I feel like the wording of the question influenced the percentages here as the answers above show that the question can be interpreted in different ways.
Diet Test – Pescatarian Keto Diet
Big Brother winner and pescatarian Josie Gibson tested this diet for them with the approval of her GP. At Westminster University she had her body fat measured first. Her fat mass and BMI came out higher than “normal”.
Her visceral fat was low though which is why we have to take all these into account to get an overall picture of health. A normal response to a glucose drink told them she had no metabolic disorders. Most of us don’t have any of this information before embarking on a diet which is why there are disclaimers all over that tell you to see a doctor before crash dieting.
Like any keto diet, the theory was that she would burn her fat stores if her carb intake was reduced.
Josie had yo-yoed between a size 8 and size 24 throughout life. She last lost weight on a paleo diet after seeing bikini paparazzi photos of herself that people also gave her abuse for (treat people with kindness! Please!) She lost weight, and then gained two stone.
Josie struggled with the diet because she couldn’t work out what to buy in the supermarket and ended up overspending on peppers stuffed with goats cheese and prawns in sauce. She had a mushroom omelette for dinner with antipasto which sounded epic to me either way. (And yet Save Money Good Food managed a stuffed peppers recipe on a budget, so it is possible).
Her energy crashed without carbs though and she also got constipated without enough fibre. Nice.
Josie found nine sharing bars of Galaxy under her boyfriend’s bathroom sink…On the one hand, this might seem a kindness that he was keeping “temptations” out of sight as it’s easy to be “sabotaged” by family or friends. On the other hand, can we have a healthy relationship with food if we’re hiding chocolate in the bathroom? (Not a criticism of Josie or her BAE, just an observation).
Josie concluded that she knew she was eating a lot of sugar before the diet, but she thought it restricted carbs too much. Diet Secrets gave her a way to test her ketones and she did on occasion actually achieve ketogenesis, but it wasn’t constant. Josie found it so restrictive that she started eating chicken again for lack of ideas.
Josie wasn’t impressed with her weight loss and her waist to hip ratio stayed the same. She gained fat mass and lost muscle. Diets Secrets concluded that this is because diets affect different people differently.
This is why I watch Save Money Good Health and Save Money Lose Weight with a big pinch of salt (no puns intended). Those shows calculate what the diets cost their volunteers per pound of weight lost. However, no two people will have the same exact result just by doing the same diet.
Diets From Hell – When Pills Attack
Helen told her story to Diet Secrets about working as a model with photographers who told her she was overweight. Her sister also used to comment on her weight, although Helen says her sister was bigger than her. She started taking diet pills known as thermogenics in response.
These pills often have caffeine and a “natural” ingredient known as ephedrine. The latter is in such high levels though that it can have dire side effects.
Helen started to feel fatigued and out of sorts. She took cocodamol for a headache one day which reacted with the ephedrine and landed her in the hospital.
She swapped thermogenics for water retention tablets and ended up in hospital NINE more times over seven years because of the damage they wreaked.
Helen only stopped taking pills when she had her son because her priorities changed. She’s been spitting blood for four years and specialists can’t tell her why, but she suspects she damaged her stomach.
Despite featuring this cautionary tale, there were commercials for diet pills during the ad breaks for this programme. Just one reason why I like to mute or fast forward most advertising…What is your life worth?
Diet Secrets And How To Lose Weight Episode 1
While not all the experts agreed on everything, I think it’s safe to say:
- Not all fats are the same
- Eating more or low fat won’t work for everyone
- Not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol
- Two people can try the same diet and have very different results
The expert’s final words:
Nathan says strict regimes don’t work long term.
Dr Duane Mellor says diet comes from a Greek word for “normal behaviour”, but a diet is the opposite of that!
Gavin says don’t do a diet just because it worked for one celeb.
Pixie says dieticians and nutritionists can help, and beware food bloggers who aren’t qualified unlike her. (This is why I don’t claim to offer any nutrition advice of my own on the blog. If I repeat a health claim, I like to make it clear where/who it came from and their qualification).
Priya says eat less calories, and move a bit more.
What Does It All Mean For Our Wallet?
Here’s what I took from this:
Buying foods with unsaturated fats like nuts, avocados and oils are an investment in our health.
It’s too simplistic to call saturated fat a waste of money. Foods like cheese in small portions will have other nutritional benefits.
It’s probably not worth paying more for low-fat versions if the fat has been replaced with added sugar.
There might be savings to be had if we’re currently buying high fat and high sugar and this is more energy than we need.
I made this page previously of where to find lots of raw ingredients cheapest:
If you save twenty quid from any of Pixie Turner’s input, consider earning interest on half and chipping the other half in her direction. She’s written the very aptly named The No Need to Diet Book (among others. Also if you ever get a chance to see her speak, do! She’s a straight talker and entertaining to boot).
Remember, sharing is caring, so share your tips in the comments if you’re a professional with more to add on so-called diet secrets. Or let me know otherwise if any of this has helped you save money.
Next on Diet Secrets and How to Lose Weight
In episode two of Diet Secrets they answer the following:
- What is a superfood?
- Is BMI the best way to measure health?
- Can a superfood cure serious illness?
- Is blending good for you?
And Bianca Gascgoine tested a very unusual diet indeed! I’ll recap some time The Big Fat Lies About Diet and Exercise. That was another gem of a Channel 5 diet programme from 2019 that ties in with this and features the same savvy talking heads. Join the mailing list to make sure you don’t miss any posts, and for extra ideas about how to boost your savings and earnings without sacrificing your health.