Well, apparently fat Australians are here in droves. According to a recent study published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet, Australia's obesity rates are growing faster than anywhere else in the world (ABC, 2014).
63 per cent of Australian adults are overweight or obese; so are one quarter of our children.
According to some measures Australia is the fattest nation in the world, with a higher percentage of obese people than America (The Age, 2008).
Now I'm not a big fan of using the crude measurement of Body Mass Index (BMI) to define who is overweight or obese but either way the trend in those numbers is pretty horrifying.
So what's the deal? Are us Aussies just too wealthy, greedy and lazy these days? Are we eating too much and exercising too little? Are we drinking too much, working too much and not taking advantage of the great outdoors? Too many meat pies and not enough kicking the footy?
Well, yes, this is all part of the problem but let me explain another piece of the puzzle... Food quality.
As I've explained ad nauseum in posts covering dietary myths such as as ‘calories in, calories out’ and ‘eat low fat to lose weight', it isn't always a matter of quantity of food or quantity of exercise. It is also the quality of nutrition (and quality of exercise) that really counts when it comes to being healthy and lean.
My understanding, informed by years of research into ancestral health and evolutionary biology, can be summarized by a few (still unconventional) health wisdoms that I believe to be the underpinnings of a healthy body composition:
1. Avoid grains and grain derivative foods such as cereal, bread and pasta. Avoid wheat, corn and potato based products including snacks and processed packaged foods. Especially avoid wheat, which is addictive and contains gluten - an often problematic protein that no human can properly digest (Fasano, 2011).
2. Avoid eating excess carbohydrates, especially added sugar. Eat only enough carbohydrates for your activity levels, from whole plant foods. Research is increasingly confirming that it is the excess of carbohydrate in the diet that leads to insulin resistance, fat storage, obesity and ultimately diabetes.
3. Eat more fat. Since we only require a small amount of carbohydrate (10-30% of total calories) and a moderate amount of protein (10-30% of total calories) the remaining 40-80% of calories must come from healthy dietary fats from whole animal and plant foods. Fat is the preferred fuel of the body when functioning in a healthy state (Mercola, 2012). We are born in ketosis (a fat burning state) and we wake up in the mornings in ketosis. Glucose is only required in tiny quantities for very specific metabolic functions. Running on glucose (sugar) like most people do most of the time is a surefire path to systemic inflammation and pathology.
The unwarranted bureaucratic pressure in the last few decades to restrict fat in our diet and replace it with carbohydrates (from grains) was based on flawed science and self interest.
When junk food like Cheerios can pay for a heart healthy tick of approval on their cereal boxes you have to question the real motivations behind such "health" advocating groups.
This advice, championed by Governments and dietary associations around the Western world has been devastating to our health and a major cause of our current obesity epidemic.
Without getting bogged down with politics and economics, let’s take a look at the latest Australian Dietary Guidelines with the above three pieces of health wisdom in mind and see where they go wrong. Spoiler alert: basically everywhere.
I’ve copied and pasted in magenta the following bullet points directly from the summary of the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines. My comments are italicized below each bullet point in black.
AUSTRALIAN DIETARY GUIDELINES 2013
Enjoy a wide variety of these foods every day:
- Plenty of vegetables of different types and colours, and legumes/beans [Five to six servings per day]
Avoid legumes. They are high in carbohydrates and lower in nutrition than other whole plant foods. Eat more non-starchy vegetables instead or if you require starch eat roots and tubers such as sweet potato, parsnip, taro, etc. Some beans here and there won’t hurt but don’t they should not be a staple.
• Fruit [At least two servings per day]
Eating some fruit is good in terms of vitamin, antioxidant and fiber content. However, you should limit fruit intake and only eat whole fruit, not juice. Fruit contains a lot of sugar. Focus on lower sugar content and higher nutrient-density fruits such as berries and try not to over consume high fructose fruits such as pineapple, mango, watermelon, etc.
• Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley (At least six servings per day; at least nine servings for pregnant women)
Avoid grains. Grains are inferior foods and basically a cheap source of calories in the form of refined carbohydrate. There is nothing healthy about ‘whole grains'. Steer clear of all of the above foods! Recommending at least six servings of grains per day is ludicrous. This is the biggest issue I have with the dietary guidelines. Having said that, I think eating some non-gluten grains on occasion such as white rice or corn should not be a problem for most healthy people at a healthy weight.
• Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
Your meat does not have to be lean. Eat fatty cuts of (preferably wild/grass-fed/organic) meat, including organs where possible. Much of the nutrition in animal products is in the fat and organs - not the muscle meat - and eating too much lean protein without adequate fat can be problematic.
Choose wild caught fish where possible, with a preference for oily cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel for their excellent omega-3 content. Try to avoid farm raised fish and don’t eat fish that has been fried in vegetable oil or battered. Eggs are great, particularly pastured eggs. Eat the whole damn egg and don’t worry about cholesterol in egg yolks or other foods for that matter. Dietary cholesterol does not affect serum cholesterol in most people.
Avoid tofu. Unfermented soy is estrogenic and contains a substantial amount of anti-nutrients. Avoid unfermented soy products such as soy milk and edamame. In contrast, fermented soy such as nato or miso can be beneficial.
Eat some raw nuts and seeds but avoid over-consuming these energy-dense and hyper-palatable foods as the high amount of polyunsaturated omega-6 fats can be inflammatory.
• Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
Avoid milk. Avoid reduced fat dairy. Eat some full fat (grass-fed/fermented) dairy such as butter, sour cream and kefir if tolerated. If you choose to eat dairy, always favour full fat dairy as it has more nutrition and less of an insulinogenic (insulin spiking) effect.
• Replace high fat foods which contain predominately saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominately polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado.
Don't avoid saturated fat! Eat saturated fat to satiety from healthy sources such as grass-fed beef, coconut products or full fat dairy.
Avoid polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) from vegetable oils, spreads and nut butters. Stay away from canola/sunflower/safflower/cottonseed/rapeseed/corn/soybean oil and all other cheap industrial vegetable and seed oils and spreads, which have very high levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 PUFAs and no redeeming qualities. Replace these refined vegetable fats and oils with natural sources of saturated fat from butter, coconut oil, MCT oil and even ethically sourced palm oil. Monounsaturated fats such as olive/avocado/macadamia nut oil should be used as a condiment or dressing, not as a cooking oil. These fats are not stable at high temperatures.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines may be well intended but they offer too much bad advice in my opinion.
They are greatly at odds with any respectable real/whole food diet such as Paleo or Weston A. Price. They also vastly differ from much of the latest research showing the benefits of high fat / low carbohydrate diets and the about-face on the vilification of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
It astounds me that Governmental bodies continue to regurgitate the same old incorrect assumptions from the 1970s and 1980s that were based on poor science and often funded by grain-centric food corporations. i.e. saturated fat is bad, grains are good. Eat lean protein, low-fat dairy, vegetable oils and up to NINE SERVINGS of grains per day.
Clearly this Standard American Diet - now Standard Australian Diet - does not work.
I am not here to bad-mouth the Australian Government on it’s health agenda. Bless them for trying. But I urge you to take their recommendations with a hessian sack full of salt. (And then do some overhead walking lunges with it).
PALEO MODEL PEP TALK...
Your health is completely and utterly your own responsibility and no one else’s. You need to take control of your health if you want to avoid being in the 63 per cent of fat and obese Australians.
This means doing your own research and coming to your own conclusions. It means self experimentation, trial and error, tracking your health markers and becoming a bio-hacker of sorts. It means being honest with yourself about how you look, feel and function and what you can do to improve your mental, physical and emotional health.
Not to sound like a contrived yogi but we cannot partition segments of our lives and disassociate them from our health. Mind and body are fused together like a DNA double helix.
Mental agility, mood, compassion, relationships, sexual drive, success, happiness - these are all affected by your health, which is affected by what you put in your mouth every single day. If you eat crap and treat your body like shit you will be a fraction of your full potential as a human being.
It’s your choice. And you can turn your health around in a month or less.
The Government can tell you to eat cereal grains for breakfast, lunch and dinner but you don’t have to. I say it's your choice.
I say, let them eat butter.
Thanks for reading and please do share!
Thanks for reading and please do share!
ABC News, 2014: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-29/australian-obesity-rates-climbing-fastest-in-the-world/5485724
Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 2013: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/n55