Archive for the ‘diet & nutrition’ Category

Media Headline: “High protein diet raises cancer risk as much as smoking”

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Dozens of worldwide media outlets are reporting on the same study recently published in the Journal of Cell Metabolism. Let’s take a look at the facts…

The study:

The researchers conducted a 24-hour dietary recall (known to be highly inaccurate) and measured nutrient intake (protein, carbohydrates, fats, and calories) of 6,000 participants. These participants were categorised into three groups (low, medium and high protein intake) based on their consumption in one 24 hour period.

Eighteen years later they measured causes of death (cancer, diabetes, heart disease and all-cause mortality). The researchers theory was that protein increases IGF-1, which may increase the rate of growth in tumours already present in mice. In addition to this, 2,200 participants were tested for IGF-1 levels, although no information on how this testing was done was detailed in the study.

Their “findings”:

This was an observational study.  This means they are looking for relationships between two or more phenomena and commenting on this association, however, this method of research cannot prove causation.

For example, you may look at the association between the increased presence of umbrellas in wet weather. Although umbrellas are often present when it rains, it doesn’t prove that they cause it to rain!

Unfortunately, claiming causation based off of an association is exactly what these researchers have done. Hence the sensationalism of the headlines.

Overall, our human and animal studies indicate that a low protein diet during middle age is likely to be beneficial for the prevention of cancer, overall mortality, and possibly diabetes through a process that may involve, at least in part, regulation of circulating IGF-1. Having said this, is it the low-protein component or is it due to the possibility that those who consume ‘high’ protein generally lead a relatively unhealthy lifestyle. After all, protein can be a Big Mac or a piece of steamed fish. Big difference.

In short, there are many influencing factors that have been ignored in this study. For example, those who eat more meat are typically not living healthy lifestyles. They may be inactive, consume less fruits/vegetables, smoke, consume high amounts of added sugar, alcohol, chemicals and preservatives, etc. They likely live the typical Western life. Despite the ability to control statistically for these factors in an equation, you cannot control physiologically for the interactions, and you certainly cannot pick one factor out of the myriad and claim it is the main cause.

Findings of many studies to date also indicate that it may be important to avoid low protein intake and gradually adopt a moderate to high protein to allow the maintenance of a healthy weight and protection from frailty.

In addition, the authors claim a benefit of increasing the consumption of plant proteins, however, the results from the mice studies where animal protein was actually replaced with plant proteins do not support these statements. There was no effect on tumor growth regardless of type of protein consumed. Not to mention the fact that mice, unlike humans, do not consume very much of their natural diet from protein sources (primarily herbivores).

Despite the very similar rate of cancer death per group, the authors described this as a 70% increase in cancer mortality with higher protein consumption, triggering a media sensation, despite the absence of these statistics (it seems they have calculated this figure over the entire cohort, rather than the categorised groups).

Next the authors claim that protein consumption increases the release of insulin and IGF-1, which increases the growth of existing cancer cells.

It does not cause the development of cancer.  If IGF-1 and insulin caused the development of cancer then we should all avoid exercising (as it’s a powerful stimulator of IGF-1) and eating as every time we eat (especially carbohydrates) insulin is released to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

It’s also worth noting that the author (who supervised this study) is Victor D. Longo (VDL), the founder of the company, VDL. VDL, designed the study and obtained funding from the Nation Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, or the writing or and publishing of the manuscript. VDL has an equity interest in L-Nutra, a company that develops medical food. L-Nutra’s products are a “formulation of natural nutrients with the ability to provide nourishment and allow subjects to enjoy a combination of good and mostly organically grown and plant-based food.”

In summary, there appears to be a vested interest from the author of this study and some exaggerated and unfounded claims, which have eventuated in a sensational media storm. I know we all aim to do the best we can for our health and sensational claims, such as this, don’t make our decisions any easier. I felt compelled to write this blog to clarify a few things.

At the end of the day, a balanced diet containing lean protein (beef, fish, chicken, dairy, eggs) and loads of colourful, fresh plant foods will cover all bases. I don’t advocate “high” or “low” anything as “high” is more than your body can use, which is useless and “low” is less than your body needs, which is also useless. Adequate amounts of lean protein, unprocessed carbs and essential unrefined oils is the best ratio for optimum health and longevity.

As I always say – you can’t believe everything you read!


Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Tight neck & shoulders? Aching lower back? Do you sit for hours a day? Do you play a sport or train regularly? Read on…prehab may be just what the doctor ordered…

What is it?
Prehab is a customised and ever-evolving exercise program designed to match your lifestyle, physical condition and goals for change and/or maintenance. It provides body-specific focused exercises and activities to best suit an individuals needs.

Used to keep high-level athletes in optimum physical condition for decades, incorporating prehab into your training regime is just as important for those of low to moderate fitness levels, if not more so. The philosophy is essentially to prevent injuries and to keep you fit to train and fit to sit! The development of postural issues, specific muscle weakness/tightness and pressure on joints is exacerbated by day-to-day life. Prolonged working hours, sitting (car, plane, desk, sofa), poor ergonomics in our work environment, stress and recreational sports/exercise can all play a role in causing a multitude of imbalances. Injuries often occur as a result of many years of repetitive strain. You’ll often hear someone say they bent down to tie a shoe lace and ‘put their back out’. The shoe lace is not the cause – it was likely the 10 years of sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours a day leading up to this event.

The development and execution of an effective program can be complex. The practice of prehab and its success relies greatly on an individuals ability to commit to prevention. The development of the program needs to be progressive and regularly re-evaluated to tweak and change with the individuals needs.

Who Needs it?

Individuals of all ages and fitness levels can gain great benefits from incorporating prehab into their weekly regime. The more stress your body is under, the greater the need for prehab. Too often repetitive actions and everyday stresses can have a negative effect on our body. Incomplete and limited training techniques may cause tightness in certain muscle groups, imbalances in strength, coordination and/or muscle stabilisation. It’s difficult to avoid such imbalances as they occur with most activities and are constantly reinforced. This repetition is at the core of many injuries and may predispose an individual to a greater risk of injury and joint degeneration. This is where a specific prehab program comes in.

What’s involved?

A customised prehab program takes into consideration any existing imbalances, lifestyle, posture, weaknesses and strengths. It balances and optimises your range of movement, strength, coordination and stabilisation. In designing your prehab program, your trainer will compare left to right, front to back and upper to lower. Exercises and mobility training are focused on correcting weaknesses and vulnerabilities, primarily stabilisation of the hips/glutes, and the core. This may require a combination of Clinical Pilates, specialised Personal Training and consultation with an Exercise Physiologist. Tools such as a foam roller, balance boards, Pilates Reformers and weighted balls are invaluable in such a program. A Nutritionist may also be enlisted to complete the Prehab program. It’s important to ensure your movement is not being impaired by carrying excess body fat and/or excessive inflammation, plus there needs to be focus on optimum nutrition to allow efficient muscle recovery.

Prehab programs can be as simple as adding a few exercises in a warm up or cool down or as complex as a dedicated workout focussed on correcting weaknesses.

Who can help me?

Individuals should be screened for imbalances, measuring active range of motion and strength, biomechanical observations, past medical history, overall lifestyle, goals and present health status. Such screenings can be initiated and monitored by a Certified Exercise Physiologist.

For further information, please contact Aston Fitness – or +61 3 9827 8671

The ‘Secret’: Make it your New Years Resolution…

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

If I have a dollar for each time I’m asked (or told) about a new miracle diet plan, pill, cream, procedure or fad exercise class, I’d have my feet up on my private island counting the proceeds!

Despite the fact that the worldwide obesity rate continues to climb and 99% of fad diets end in a dramatic rebound, most continue to remain eternally optimistic about finding the elusive weight loss Holy Grail. While I’m all for optimism, the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect something different to happen!

I’m going to let you in on a secret – and believe me, I am speaking from many years of experience…

To gain and maintain the body you desire is not the result of any specific exercise or diet plan, it’s simply the result of a way of life.

I have clients and friends who exercise 10 times more than I do, yet they’re still struggling with their weight. Getting into shape and staying there is all about lifestyle choices and consistency. It’s not about ‘excess’ and you cannot out-run or out-train poor choices. So the “secret” is as follows:

  1. Take responsibility: while you’re spending all of your energy trying to find the ‘right’ program, you’re relying on someone or something else to fix it. Take responsibility for your choices. You will not have success until you suck this one up.
  2. Consistency: rather than being “all or nothing” or “going hard” for a short period of time, find a happy medium and stick with it. Remember, if you try to be ‘perfect’, you will fail time and again.
  3. 3. K.I.S.S.: there’s no need to follow an elaborate program, nor is it feasible to sustain. Keep it as simple as A, B, C! Aim for the following:

Active: 30 mins/day of movement (walk, run, swim, play with the kids…whatever works!)

Braun: Use your strength 2-3 times/week (the gym, a home program, with a trainer – just do it!)

Choices: eat 3 meals a day and put 5 minutes of thought/organisation into it the evening beforehand to ensure you don’t get caught out. Loads of colour, lean protein at each meal, adequate water intake, no added sugar or processed carbs and fats. Simple!

Now that you know the ‘secret’, it’s time to make this your resolution for the New Year. Let’s face it, you’ve tried everything else and have likely had many failures. This is the easiest of the lot and most importantly, it works!  Happy New Year  :-)

Think before you drink…

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

With the festive season fast approaching, it’s easy to be seduced by the numerous Christmas parties and celebrations. As we all know, a little extra alcohol consumption is generally part and parcel of such occasions. Before you become immersed in the festive season, it may be worthwhile familiarising yourself with the calories in alcohol…

The calorie misconception

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

I have found over many years of consulting with and advising clients, that most people believe they need far more calories than they actually do. While online calorie calculators are now widely accessible, they may provide an estimate of your requirement, but much of the time I have found these estimates to be too high. Particularly when we enter information about our activity to calculate calories burned over and above our minimum daily requirement (BMR). In the menu planner in my sixth book, The End of Dieting,  you will find and accurate BMR calculator. However, be careful not to overestimate your perceived activity. Once you have one of these calculations, if you follow this honestly over a period of weeks and you do not see a significant loss in body fat, you are probably over-consuming. In this case, I don’t care about the fact that your calculations are correct, or that it’s working for your best friend and third cousin on your mothers side! The only thing that matters is that it’s not working for you. The fact remains that if you continue to do the same thing you will continue to get the same result. You either increase your daily exercise and/or decrease your portions by 10 per cent (or both!) and you WILL kick-start fat loss. Your body is a mirror-image of your lifestyle. If you’re 80 kilos with a goal of 60 kilos, and you get ‘stuck’ at 70 kilos, it’s because you have the diet and exercise habits of a 70 kilo person. Tweak your lifestyle to that of a 60 kilo person and your body will have no choice but to follow you there!

Now, I hear you saying that you may keel over from malnutrition if you stick to this rule of thumb, but I’m here to tell you it’s going to be pretty close to what your body needs.

After discussing goals with a client recently, she commenced her new regime. Two weeks later she was standing in my office to weigh in and discuss how she was progressing. Let’s call her Jenny. Jenny started out at 20 kilos above her ‘healthy’ weight and, as a result, had been experiencing some health problems. She was quite distressed, explaining to me that she would have starved to death on the amount of food I had suggested if she had kept it up for more than a day (the plan, by the way, included three balanced main meals and two snacks each day and the appropriate amount of calories). I asked her what ‘starving’ felt like. Did she feel faint, shaky, lethargic, vague, nauseous?  All of which may have indicated that she was not consuming enough food and she was experiencing blood sugar fluctuations, which we certainly want to avoid at all costs. She said her stomach felt empty, but there were no ‘symptoms’ as such. She felt to compelled to increase the amount of food we’d recommended because she couldn’t stand the hunger. So I weighed Jenny and measured her body composition to compare it to her initial result two weeks prior. No surprise she was exactly the same. She hadn’t lost a gram of fat. After a long conversation, I started to get the feeling that much of what Jenny had experienced was a psychological attachment to her food and a fear of change. Jenny left my office with a new goal: to take on the food plan with an open mind and instructions to contact me immediately should she start feeling unwell.  Seven days later an ecstatic Jenny skipped out of my office having lost 1.5 kilos of pure body-fat! She had experienced no hunger. In fact, she now felt she had more energy and fewer cravings. The lesson in this? Sometimes we need to let old habits die and acknowledge that change can be a bit intimidating. It’s a lot easier to feel full and satisfied if you focus on ‘quality’ rather than ‘quantity’.

Creating change and sticking with it through the ’silly season’…

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Committing to a new lifestyle regime can be frustrating if you’re not getting the desired results.

We’ve all been there … you follow the rules – eat well, exercise and you are thrilled with your initial weight loss. And then out of the blue, you keep moving but your fat loss begins to slow, or even slips backwards. At this point it can seem like it’s simply not worth the effort.

It’s important to acknowledge that your body is a mirror-image of your lifestyle. If your goal is to reach a weight of 60kg and you get stuck at 70kg, it’s likely you’re following the lifestyle of a 70kg person. If you start eating and exercising like a 60kg person, you body will have no choice but to follow you there. This doesn’t have to involve starvation, profuse sweating and more time at the gym. It simply means that your present routine needs tweaking.

To gain the edge on a successful, life-long regime, here are some tips to help liberate you from the frustrating set-backs and lead you onto success:

  • Don’t use the scales as your only means of monitoring progress. It is possible to maintain the same weight yet make positive changes to your body
    composition: more lean, less body fat. The way your clothes fit is a great guide.
  • There are SO MANY benefits in regular exercise, all of which go a long way in helping you to burn stored fat more efficiently, such as improved insulin sensitivity and an increase in metabolic rate.
  • It is said that you need to practice something 1000 times to form a habit, so be patient with yourself. If you’re overweight, you’ve likely a champion at poor habits! Start practicing new, healthier habits today. You may mess it up here and there, but be patient with yourself – practice makes perfect!
  • If what you’re doing is not working for you, the smallest changes can get the ball rolling again. You know what they say – the definition of insanity is the continue doing the same thing and expect something different to happen!
  • Don’t try to follow rigid diet plans or you will set yourself up for disappointment. Focus on implementing healthy choices which can be maintained for the long-term
  • Remember, it’s all about quality, not quantity. You can increase the intensity and efficiency of your exercise without having to devote more time to it. You can also reduce your calorie intake without reducing your volume of food. Perhaps it’s also time to find a trainer or buddy a couple of times a week to help you reach the next level.

Use it or lose it!

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Just another ‘bonus’ associated with the ageing process…the older you get, the more you may have to work to maintain your muscles. That’s right – if you don’t use it, you lose it!

Researchers report that men and women over the age of 60 have to lift weights more often than younger adults to maintain adequate muscle to support strength and metabolism.

A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that preventing sarcopenia — muscle loss that occurs as we get older — is “one of the most pressing challenges of biomedicine in our ageing society.” And resistance training, such as lifting weights, is the best means of prevention.

We all know that life often gets in the way of regular exercise. “A major limiting factor of resistance training as a therapeutic approach to sarcopenia is the second key ingredient that defines efficacy — sustainability,” the researchers write. This study aimed to determine the impact that scaling back a weight-lifting regimen would have on muscles and strength.

Seventy adults were recruited for the 48-week study. Just over half of the study participants were aged 60 to 75, with the remainder ranging in age from 20 to 35.

For the first four months, everybody did the same strength exercises three times a week. Each participant steadily increased the amount of resistance over that period. By the end of this first part of the study, everyone — young and old — had gained muscle.

The second phase was designed to reveal how much of that muscle would be lost to inactivity or reduced exercise. To start, the researchers randomly divided the participants into three groups. Then, for the next 32 weeks, one group did no exercise at all, another group did the same exercises as before but only one day per week, while the third group reduced their regimen to one set of exercises once a week.

By the end of the study, the differences between the young and old groups were striking. The younger participants who continued to exercise showed little or no reduction in the muscle gains they had made during the previous phase of the study, despite the less frequent and less intense workouts.

By contrast, members of the older group lost muscle mass when they scaled back their training regimen, indicating that they need to lift weights more often than young people to keep their muscles buff. Their strength, however, remained the same. This loss of muscle mass would also have a significant impact our their metabolic rate, which goes a long way in explaining the “middle-aged spread”.

Maintaining muscle mass is essential to healthy ageing. This study revealed that the positive health benefits of increased muscle mass among older adults extend well beyond muscle performance. Some of those benefits include increased aerobic capacity, better fatty acid metabolism, and improved bone and joint health.

Pros & Cons: Red meat, oily fish & olive oil

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Red meat

Pros: Lean red meat is a great source of well-absorbed iron, protein and vitamin B12. Women, particularly those of child-bearing age, require optimum iron intake, which is difficult to achieve with the exclusion of red meat. Despite the hype, I am yet to see a single clinical trial which shows that a diet of lean, unprocessed meat eaten in balance with colourful fresh plant foods increases our risk of any disease in humans.

Cons: Studies showing a negative effect on health have been associated with char-grilling (forming carcinogens), processed meats (nitrates) and/or overall poor lifestyle choices. Excessive consumption of red meat (or any food) will likely throw other nutrients out of balance. A variety of protein sources, such as fresh fish, skinless chicken and lean lamb and meat are important for optimum health.

Oily fish

Pros: Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, are high in omega 3 essential fatty acids. The EPA component of omega 3 has natural anti-inflammatory and blood thinning properties, while the DHA component has been associated with promoting brain health. To achieve optimum omega 3, two servings of oily fish a week are recommended in addition to a daily fish oil supplement.

Cons: It is common for oily fish to contain some level of contamination with toxic metals. If consumed in large quantities, these metals (such as mercury) can have a detrimental effect on health, particularly in pregnant women and small children.

Olive oil

Pros: All oils are composed of varying mixtures of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids. Olive oil is high in a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, as well as health promoting flavonoids and vitamin E. Always purchase cold-pressed oils in opaque glass containers and store in a cool, dark cabinet or in the fridge. Coconut oil is also blend of fatty acids, incorporating an unusual blend of short and medium chain fats, primarily lauric and myristic acids. It is this unusual composition that may offer some health benefits. Coconut oil also has a high smoke point that makes it resistant to oxidation and shelf stable.

Cons: When any oil reaches smoke point (193 degrees C for olive oil) in cooking it will degrade, potentially creating harmful trans fats. However, it is not necessary to heat oil to this point to cook our food. Although heating olive oil to lower temperatures may damage some of the flavonoids, this loss is not substantial. Coconut oils are often partially hydrogenated, a process which produces trans fats. While neither of these oils are considered ‘essential’, they are better choices than some over-processed vegetable oils and trans fats.

Pros & Cons: Vegemite, Apples & Oats

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013


Pros: Vegemite is relatively low in kilojoules when compared to most spreads (40kjs per teaspoon) when compared with other breakfast spreads such as jam or honey (approx. 200kjs/teaspoon) and it is a source of some B vitamins, including B1, B2 and folate.

Cons: Vegemite is high in sodium (173mg/5g serving, or 8% of the recommended limit), which can exacerbate hypertension. Salt increases blood volume and hardens arteries, causing a rise in blood pressure. Vegemite is also commonly served with other high-sodium foods, such as dry biscuits, butter and bread.


Pros: A medium whole apple contains around 5 grams of fibre (soluble and insoluble), which is more than many breakfast cereals. The type of fibre found in apples has been shown to offer protection against colorectal cancer and help to lower our cholesterol. Apples are also high in the potent antioxidant, quercetin, which has been associated with brain health. It is thought the combination of phytonutrients and fibre in whole apples are collectively responsible for their cardio-protective properties.

Cons: While whole apples provide natures package of essential nutrients, apple juice, juice concentrates and other processed derivatives are comparatively high in sugars (from multiple pieces of fruit – even without added sugars) and devoid of the beneficial fibre, which helps to slow the release of sugars. Regular consumption of these refined foods can lead to tooth decay, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes.


Pros: Oats are high in fibre (10g/100g). Among all grains, oats have the highest proportion of soluble fibre which has been associated with a reduction in cholesterol. This high fibre grain also helps to stabilise blood sugar and improve digestion. Although oats are hulled, this process does not strip away the bran or germ, allowing them to retain a concentration of nutrients and fibre. A versatile cereal option, oats can form the foundation for muesli (add nuts & seeds) or can be cooked into porridge with water or milk.

Cons: Some of the flavoured or ‘instant’ oats contain added sugars, salt and artificial ingredients. Stick to either rolled oats or quick oats (which are generally cut more finely without additives). There is no need to add lashings of sugar. To flavour your cereal, add fresh or frozen fruit and cinnamon.

pros and cons: coffee, tea & red wine

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Pros: There are in excess of 19,000 studies published on coffee, many associating positive health benefits, from a reduction in LDL cholesterol to fewer dental caries. Coffee is higher in antioxidants than blueberries and is actually the highest source of antioxidants in many Western diets (which is not saying much for our fruit & vegetable consumption!).

Cons: Caffeine is a stimulant, so overconsumption can have detrimental effects, such as insomnia, indigestion, hypertension, reduced bone density, release of adrenaline & cortisol (stress-related hormones) and a consequent effect on blood sugar levels. Milky and sugar-laden (fancy!) coffees are becoming increasingly popular. Many don’t realise that a small skim latte will take 20 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.

For those watching their weight, I’d recommend coffee made with ¾ water, such as a long black with milk or a macchiato, but don’t try to make it your primary source of antioxidants.


Pros: White, black and green tea are all derived from the same plant with varying degrees of processing. These teas all contain a particular variety of phytochemicals called catechins – a potent antioxidant. Some Japanese studies show that up to 10 cups of Green Tea a day can reduce our risk of developing cancer. Most herbal teas are derived from a variety of different plants and may include flowers or roots rather than the leaves. Herbal teas generally do not contain caffeine. A brewed cup of black, green or white tea contains less caffeine than a coffee the same size.

Cons: Black, white and green teas all contain caffeine, which is a nervous system stimulant and diuretic. Some add sugars and honey to tea which may cause blood sugar fluctuations, dental caries and weight gain.

Red wine

Pros: Resveratrol (RVT) is a potent antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes and therefore, red wine. The primary cardio-protective properties are as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic (anti-clotting) compound and is thought to be the factor behind the French Paradox (low incidence of CVD in the Mediterranean population where moderate red wine consumption is prevalent).

Cons: While multiple studies indicate red wine possesses several protective properties, the alcohol component of any wine (red or white) is a significant source of ‘empty’ kilojoules and is toxic to our liver, particularly when consumed in excess. Therefore, those who are drinking red wine purely for heart health, I’d suggest sourcing the majority of your resveratrol from red berries and grapes instead – sans alcohol.