February 21, 2016

The Diet Myth by Tim Spector

The Diet Myth by Tim Spector
Why the secret to health and weight loss is already in your gut.

{I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to have a healthy lifestyle].

“The diet myth” breaks down common misconception that fuel weight loss fads by exploring the hidden world of the microbiome. World class geneticist Tim Spector demystifies the latest information on fat, calories, vitamins and nutrients.

I was regularly told by my consultant bosses to tell obese patients with major health problems to exercise to take control of their lives and use their willpower to stop overeating or perhaps remind them that ‘there were no fat people in concentration camps’.

Anton Leeuwenhoek was perhaps the first man ever to see a microbe (by which we mean a living creature seen only by means of a microscope). He was certainly the first to describe them and to realize that healthy humans are teeming with these creatures inside our guts and on our skin. We humans share 38% of our genes with the microbes inside us.

You are no safer swimming in the water, where a million bacterial cells are found in every millimeter of fresh or seawater. These microbes are the true and permanent inhabitants on earth. Differences in our individual gut microbes can explain why a low-fat diet works for some people, while a high-fat diet is fine for some and dangerous for others; why some people can eat plenty of carbohydrates without problems and others extract more calories from the same amount and get fatter; why some eat red meat happily and others contract heart disease.

Intermittent fasting (such as the Fast Diet or 5:2) may be the good as short term fasting can stimulate friendly microbes, but this is only as long as the other ‘free eating’ days contains a diverse diet.

The ability to taste has been called our nutritional gatekeeper. People who completely lose their sense of taste don’t get fat. We all have up to ten thousand taste buds on our tongues for five main tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, Umami and may even have a 6th one called kokumi, meaning heartiness. The buds regenerate every ten days and are controlled by genes influencing their relative sensitivity.

In fact in a large multi-country study of blood levels, high omega 6 fat levels are actually much more beneficial for the heart than omega 3.

A large population project, later named ‘The China Study’ amassed a huge amount of dietary data from sixty-five counties and 120 villages in rural China in the 1970s. Dietary fat levels and blood cholesterol were half of those of the US and the most common diseases seen in the West such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer were virtually non-existent. Colin Campbell and his team at Cornell University running the China Study believed that the lack of both animal proteins and dairy products packed with fat, plus the large amount of vegetables consumed were the reason for the amazing absence of cancers or heart disease. The conclusion was that we should eat vegetables and give up meat and dairy completely. Bill Clinton is reported to have lost 20 lb on the diet after reading the Campbell's book ‘The China Study’ following his heart problems.

The French eat a hell of a lot of cheese - 24kg per person per year - nearly the double that of the average US & UK. The difference is the most cheese in France is eaten as real cheese purchased from a shop rather than as in the US in processed food products. (Charles de Gaulle famously asked in 1962, ‘How can you govern a country with 246 different types of cheese). France has probably as many as thousand different varieties now with many protected by law in the way they are traditionally made and with an Appellation d’Origine Controlee certificate of origin like the classification of wine. Of the top ten bestsellers at least four cheeses are unpasteurized which the French believes gives them more taste and special properties. it contains a wide variety of microbes including bacteria, yeasts and fungi and hundreds of species plus thousands of known and unknown strains.

Another non-traditional form of cheese is made when you mix certain bacteria with milk. You can personalize these cheeses to uniquely suit you as an individual. All you have to do is take swabs of your armpits, belly button and between your toes and mix what you have garnered with milk, then add some lactic acid bacilli and hey presto your own personal and very individual cheese.

The famous pungent Limburger cheese is made from the same bacteria that many people have between their toes, the ones that cause smelly feet.

Yoghurts are another common source of our saturated fats, although the amounts vary widely across styles. Traditional Greek yogurt, which is more solid also contains the most saturated fat, often 14 grams per pot, and also has plenty of vitamin B12, folic acid and calcium. Most of the bacteria in natural yoghurt are strains that don’t normally live in our intestines.

When the so-called gut-friendly bacteria are added to food in sufficient amounts and they are claimed to have potential benefits, they are called ‘probiotics’. A meta-analysis of several probiotic trials concluded that there was little evidence of consistent benefits, either because they don’t work or because most are small and short-term studies. One notable exception is the trial of a particular strain of a probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri in people with hypercholesterolemia.

Red meat is red because of the protein myoglobin in the specialized muscle fibers that are good for endurance, whereas chicken muscles lack myoglobin which explains why you may see them making a quick dash across the road but not running marathons. These sprinting chicken contain less total fat and the lowest proportion of saturated fat - 2/3 of their fact is unsaturated - compared to a roughly equal proportion of unsaturated and saturated fats in beef, pork & lamb.

The massive global experiment of replacing the total fat component of our diet with extra carbs in recent decades has turned out to be a total health disaster.
Fit or fat?

There is an interesting debate going on about whether it is better to be tin and sedentary or fat and fit. The studies are pretty consistent: being fat yet fit is definitely better than being think and unfit for heart disease and for overall mortality. The overall conclusion here is that for msot of us saturated fat is not the villain to be avoided at all costs. TThis is provided the food is ‘real’ and contains living microbes and is not over-processed or full of other unwanted chemicals and sweeteners.

Olive oil - the fatty miracle drink

Olive oil comes in three main types: expensive high-quality extra virgin olive oil, which has less than 0.8 per cent acidity, indicating its freshness and quality, plus a strong, sometimes slightly bitter taste. This comes from the rapid first pressing of the olive - which is sometimes performed at cold temperatures and marketed as ‘cold-pressed’. Virgin olive oil is a grade lower, possessing higher acidity and still some taste; then finally there is regular olive oil. This last is made industrially by refining the leftovers and is cheap and normally tasteless, but may be given some flavor by mixing with a small amount of extra virgin oil. Good quality extra-virgin olive oil contains the greatest amounts of the chemicals known as polyphenols, which have special properties and probably account for much of its health benefits. The low-grade oils used in spreads and processed foods probably have no equivalent advantages.

Mediterranean diet

People living in Mediterranean countries have consistently lower rates of heart disease and stroke than northern Europeans and Americans. This is primarily because of their diet. Mediterranean countries have been making and using olive oil since at least 4000 BC and it is part of the practice of most ancient religions. For Greeks to be drinking nearly half a liter a week seems quote hard to believe, unless they still use it for washing and on their hair.

Over 80% of the fatty acids and nutrients from olive oil reaches the colon before full digestion and comes into contact with our microbes. Here the microbes feed on the rich mix of fatty acids, and polyphenols and break them down into smaller by-products, signaling to the body to lower harmful lipid levels and telling the immune system what to do next, Polyphenols actively encourage some microbes to flourish such as lactobacilli that mop up and bind fat/lipid particles and clear them from the blood. They also prevent unwanted microbes from colonizing our guts.

Olive oil may have benefits over other oils because the complex juice comes form the whole fruit rather than just the seed and this may be a general principle that applies more widely. It also means that its extraction is much simpler and does not require chemicals or solvents. So far its proven benefits extend to reducing heart disease and diabetes and possibly helping weight loss, but it has been claimed also to alleviate arthritis via its anti-inflammatory effects.

Junk food
Probably the most dangerous kind of food is one that is hidden, which is the trans fat. The combination of saturated fat ,sugar and salt (holy trinity of bad food) are added to the processed food for preservation and extending its shelf life. Together they would produce the conditions for the perfect obesity storm.

Protein: Animal:

Most of the protein in our diets comes from just a few sources. These include meat like beef and chicken, which are over 30% protein, fish like salmon and tuna at over 20%, beans and nuts such as peanuts (24%) and soybeans (12 %).

Paleo diet:

The full paleo-diet doctrine prohibits grains, legume (which includes peanuts), milk, cheese, refined carbs, sugars, alcohol and coffee. It also bans tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines as they are all nightshade plants and thought to cause autoimmune disease via leaky guts. The diet encourages organic grass-fed meats and poultry, fish, coconut and olive oil and other vegetables and a small amount of fruits, though some adherents eat only berries. The diet is broadly based on what we think was consumed for a million years or so before our recent history, items for which we perfectly adapted.

The major flaw with this diet is that, likewise other diets, it also forgets about the trillions of microbes we carry around with us that have also been adapting and evolving.

Protein: Non-animal

Beans and lentils are known around the world as poor man’s meat, containing as they do all the key amino acids necessary to make protein inside the body. Although most beans have 20-25 % protein, soy is the champion at 36-40% protein. Soy is one of the most controversial topics in nutrition with strong arguments on both sides for it being either the ultimate health of a major cause of concern. Soy and tofu have been part of the natural Asian diet for centuries and all soy products depend on a complex fermentation process that involves bacteria, fungi and yeast. There is now reasonable evidence of soy’s mild protective effect against breast cancer and possible also in reducing recurrence of the disease.

Seaweed: There is a new culinary movement called Gastrophysics that advocates of using seaweed in cooking to replace flavors like umami instead of resorting to meat, salt or MSG for the same effect.

Mushrooms & fungi.

Traditionally mushrooms were thought of as a vegetable although they are not plants and in that they need to eat or survive they are probably closer to animals. They are part of fungi kingdom, which also contains yeast. They contain no fat and generally have near-equal amounts of protein and carbohydrate. They are full of the healthy antioxidant selenium which mops up potentially toxic chemicals in our cells and they contain vitamin B.

The Chinese have been using mushrooms as remedies for centuries. Although there have not yet been any human mushroom trials, studies have shown that feeding button mushrooms to mice for six weeks is beneficial. It increases their gut-microbial diversity and their Bacteroidetes species, and protects against gastric infections and inflammation.

One fungus we commonly eat without usually knowing its origin is mycoprotein, more commonly known as Quorn. Quorn has a high protein content (44%) and in Europe it is the commonest meat substitute.


Most of us were told to drink milk if we wanted to grow properly. if you look at a genetic map of the world and color in all the countries with the lactase mutation gene for milk drinking, there is a clear correlation with a clear correlation with height. The Scandinavians and the Dutch come at the top of both league tables. Dutch milk consumption was around 6 million metric tones in 1962 and peaked at over 13.5 million in 1983 and the average Dutchman or woman is still consuming twice as many dairy products per person as in the US. Dutchman is now taller than their US counterparts.

All the same, the evidence still suggests that for most people there is a slight health benefits to be had by consuming milk, yogurt and cheese. And it seems, the cruder and less processed the produce, the better.

Soup & Juice
Studies have shown that people are more willing to eat a wide variety of vegetables as soup than if served naked on a plate. If the soup is thick and the vegetables only lightly cooked, it also slows down digestion and can send signals of fullness to the brain and lower intestines. The other advantages is that nutrients are not lost in the water, and most people in normal health can eat many more plants as a juice or soup than raw or by traditional cooking. Using juicing machines that preserve the pulp and fiber and so many of the nutrients seems sensible if it doesn’t become an obsession.


Garlic as well as being an excellent source of polyphenols and vitamins is a first-class prebiotic that used to be a major discriminator between the cuisines and habits of northern and southern Europe. Garlic effect on lowering cholesterol and improving lipid profiles does seem more likely to be real, based on multiple replications of the results and a meta-analysis of several randomized studies.

Studies showing the miraculous power of chocolates are much loved by the media and the public. The feel-good effects of chocolate are in part due to our gut microbes. Regardless of the media hype, the absence of long-term studies and my initial skepticism, the evidence is now pretty good, that the cocoa in chocolate, which itself is made up of over 300 chemical substances, is positive for reducing risk factors for the heart. Studies have even suggested that regular consumption is associated with lower body weight. So that is fine, if you like 70% cocoa dark chocolate. Hopefully flavonoids and polyphenols will soon be included on the cocoa label as these are the main benefits of having it.

We are told of many conflicting things. Alcohol can be poisonous and addictive, can cause malformations in babies, lead to cancer and depression; or alternatively it can enhance mood and social and sexual success, alleviate heart disease and promote longevity.

Belgium is known for its chocolate and artisanal beer, which really got going after the French revolution when the fleeing monks wanted to drown their sorrows. You can buy over a thousand types of beer at one specialist Belgian Cafe, most with their own distinctive glass and containing a huge range of ingredients including fruit. Belgian colleagues are busy working out the potential health benefits of the various beer polyphenols, but also believe that the yeast and prebiotics like inulin, with their infinite number of combinations and thousands of metabolites can have positive effects on the gut microbes. The beers range from super-strength 11 percent alcohol ones that resemble wine, with healthy names like Delirium Tremens and Mort Subite, to weak brews that up to the 1980s were served at school dinner times.

Small levels of alcohol is seems to be good for health


In much of biology, from the cell to the whole body, low levels of stress are good for the organism. Short burst of oxidants or heat stress , which make worms live longer, or low-dose antibiotics which make microbes much stronger and too-low dose of anti-cancer drugs, which make cancer cells more resistant. Even exercise is a form of stress, which is good for us. In the same way, intermittent fasting can make small animals live longer - even fasting overnight of skipping breakfast may offer us a form of beneficial hormesis.

The checkout:

Try to eat a greater variety of foods, particularly fruits, olive oil, nuts, vegetables and pulses plus fiber and polyphenols. Avoid processed foods and reduce your meat intake. eat traditional cheese and yoghurt, avoiding high-sugar low-fat varieties.

  • A new approach to food: never dine alone
  • Diversify your diet and your microbes
  • Exploring your own gut residents
  • Time for a radical makeover
  • The thirty-ingredient heavy petting diet.
  • Looking after your microbial garden.

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