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Big Fat Lie 1 – Eat Less
Big Fat Lie 1 – Eat Less

Is the government really responsible for giving us poor healthy eating advice? Dietitian Juliette Kellow delves deeper into Hannah Sutter’s Big Fat Lies, the latest food book to catch the attention of slimmers and healthy eaters alike…

Big Fat Lie 1 – Eat Less

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

One of Sutter’s points is that advice to eat less – especially to eat less calories – is wrong. She claims that as a nation, we are already taking in fewer calories now than we were in the 1970’s, yet we are fatter. Furthermore, she believes it’s the role of insulin rather than calories that’s crucial in determining a fat tummy.

 In simple terms, when carbs are constantly eaten, the body responds by pumping out insulin, which encourages us to store any excess glucose as fat, especially around our stomach. She says that knowing the calorie value of a food doesn’t tell us whether a food will release insulin, which is ultimately responsible for making us fat. Sutter also suggests that counting calories predominantly means surviving on processed foods as it’s difficult to get calorie information other than from packaging. Plus the calorie content of a food doesn’t tell us whether a food is rich in nutrients. And finally, she suggests that clinical trials show that calorie counting doesn’t give the best results.

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WLR opinion:

It’s one thing to say we are eating less calories than we did in the 70’s but the validity of this is questionable. Whilst studies of what we eat in the home environment reveal our calorie intake has indeed dropped a little over the years, there’s been an explosion in the amount of food we now eat outside of the home – and until the last decade, this hasn’t really been considered to any great extent in national surveys looking at food (and therefore calorie) intake.

Indeed, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey was the first major study to collect information on what we consume outside of the home – and this was based on fieldwork carried out in 2000 and 2001. The survey found that one meal in six was eaten outside of the home environment, accounting for 20 percent of the calories consumed by women and 25 percent for men. A decade on since this data was collected and chances are this figure has risen further. Swap a cup of tea and two digestives at home with around 200 calories for a latte and a chocolate muffin at a coffee shop for around 600 calories and you can see how the notion that we’re consuming fewer calories now than in the 70’s and 80’s is possibly flawed if eating outside of the home hasn’t been included in survey data.

Reduce Calories, Not Just Carbs!

As for the idea that insulin is responsible for making us fat rather than an excess of calories, well, it’s certainly true that insulin increases fat storage – but this is only when glucose is in excess. When we reduce our calories – whether that’s by reducing fat, carbs or protein – our bodies burn glucose before it has a chance to be stored as fat. So in other words, a calorie reduction will not lead to fat storage.

The idea that only processed foods contain calorie information is outdated. These days, most pre-packed supermarket foods including chicken, meat, fruit, veg, pasta and rice provide nutrition information, making it easy for people to identify the calories in fresh, unprocessed foods, not to mention the wealth of information on the nutritional value of foods that is now available online

Certainly knowing the calorie value of a food doesn’t automatically tell us whether a food is rich in nutrients but labelling has improved dramatically and there’s more information than ever to help people identify the nutrients found in different foods.

As for clinical trials that show calorie counting doesn’t give the best results, well, in order for anyone to lose weight, they need to eat less calories than they use up. Ultimately, any diet that results in weight loss will be due to a reduction in calories below requirements. This can be done in 101 different ways – you only have to look at each new fad diet that comes out to see that ultimately, calories are restricted. Paying more attention to the calories in food and drink simply provides an easy and direct way to achieve this – plus helps to teach people about higher calorie foods that are the most likely to result in weight gain.

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