Not a day goes by without another story about the obesity crisis, usually accompanied by a call for governments to act or for money to be spent or for more research. The problem with this is that people tend to, understandably, switch off and tend to think that the “problem” is too hard and that there is nothing they can do about it. The latest Australian figures estimate the direct and indirect “cost “ of obesity at $56 billion annually.
Yet simple things both work and are easy to do. At times the obvious even comes out in clinical trials.
This has been the case twice recently. A study which looked at weight loss and lowering of blood pressure in two groups found that the people who were on a low carbohydrate diet had a better drop in blood pressure than those on a weight loss pill. The weight loss in both groups was the same.
This prompted the lead author, Dr William Yancy from Duke University to say” It is important to know you can try a diet instead of medication and get the same results with fewer costs and potentially fewer side effects”.
I agree fully with Dr Yancy. What is staggering is that the idea that you could seek to reduce weight by changing eating patterns would not normally be considered the obvious way to go, and that pills are seen as the answer to everything. The way this finding has been presented suggests (and I could be misreading the intention of the authors, but doubt it) is that it came as a surprise that changing eating patterns would be as useful as pills. It is almost as if a pill is the default option and now a whole new world of “diet” has been opened up.
The other interesting part of this study is that nearly half the people on a low carbohydrate (almost but not quite Atkins like) had a drop in their blood pressure compared to around one fifth in the other group. These people were able to reduce or stop blood pressure medication. We know that reducing weight helps lower blood pressure. This tells us that cutting down on carbohydrates not only reduces weight; it also has an independent effect on blood pressure.
The key point with carbohydrates is that it is refined carbohydrates, which are the problem. Our bodies are just not designed for them and up until 50 years ago we did not eat much of them. The explosion in consumption of refined carbohydrates came from the “fat is bad” mantra of the 1970s coupled with a trend to eat more processed foods. These foods are quickly absorbed and influence insulin release and in turn other hormones. Over time this plays havoc with our system. Good carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains do not get absorbed so quickly and do not wreak havoc with our hormones.
Interestingly, another recently released paper criticized Australian doctors for not prescribing enough blood pressure drugs. It did not suggest the doctors recommend a low carbohydrate diet.
And if this was not simple enough, we have also had confirmation that one of the simplest ways to lose weight is to eat more slowly. People eating ice cream slowly (over 30 minutes instead of 5) had a different hormonal response in their blood stream leading them to feel full and eat less. It has previously been shown that eating quickly doubles the chances of being overweight and eating quickly till full trebles it.
So how simple is it to reduce weight and lower blood pressure without resorting to pills?
- Eat more slowly
- Eat less refined carbohydrates
- Eat more whole foods like fruits vegetables and whole grains
- Get enough protein in your diet from either animal or vegetable source
As Dr Yancy said, it is important to know that there is much you can do without medication and get the same result. I would go a step further and say you will get a better result.