In defence of Sarah Wilson (and Grant)

I’m the first to admit, I used to be territorial about nutrition information. You would too had you spent a quarter of your life and the better part of $50k studying it. I used to dismiss information related to food and effects on health from anyone who hadn’t undertaken a nutrition degree. What would they know? If it doesn’t fit with what I learned at university, then it isn’t valid.

However, today I’m taking a stand for people who are not nutritionists but who have important things to say about how nutrients affect our performance, mood, wellbeing and overall health – and the skills to critique information, despite it not being in their major field of study. My colleague and good friend Grant is a prime example of this. He’s the first to admit that he’s quick to speak out on an issue that he feels strongly about – and over the last year this has moved from being all about increasing physical activity levels of the population to being all about food. The detrimental affects of carbohydrate and benefits of saturated fat to be exact. However, in this process he has copped a lot of criticism from the nutrition and public health circles in New Zealand – it’s fair to say that he hasn’t won many friends in those areas.

I understand why nutrition academics and health professionals are quick to dismiss Grant as a nutty professor (sorry Grant). He’s a strange mix of charismatic and socially awkward – which are not uncommon character traits for an academic.* He can be moody, obtuse and a real pain in the butt sometimes. We’ve had arguments that have ended in yelling (both of us) and tears (him… obviously). However Grant cannot be faulted on his passion about health, about public health, about policy and about getting important information out in the public sphere. While he hasn’t devoted his entire academic life to studying the area, what I don’t think people realise is that Grant has literally spent the last year living and breathing the literature around insulin, carbohydrates and health (as anyone within earshot of him over this time can attest to). I would conservatively estimate he has crammed the same amount of information in that time that would take another person five years to learn.

He’s not always right – far from it, and he’s the first to say he is wrong when he is wrong. And his belief that the foundation of what we’ve hung our hat on in terms of health is flawed makes for some uncomfortable conversations. But, without people like Grant, we would not be having the conversations to begin with. In terms of public health I think we should be questioning – particularly with the health problems that most western nations suffer from today. And hopefully, instead of dismissing what he has to say as being uninformed, people will be doing their best to prove him wrong if they truly believe that what he has to say is inaccurate and misleading. Then at least we may understand more about why, if the low fat, high carbohydrate diet recommended by health professionals over the last 40 years is the way to go, population rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer have skyrocketed in the same time period. Food for thought.

The other person I’m taking a stand for is Sarah Wilson. I read an article this week in the Sydney Morning Herald about two nutritionists releasing a book in direct response to her I Quit Sugar programme – and how it effectively ruined their lives. Interesting, I thought. If you’ve read my blog then you’ll know that Sarah Wilson’s book was one of the catalysts for me taking a hard look at my own habits around food and food choices. I can’t imagine why these two people would have to ‘claw their way back to health’ after following an eight week programme designed to reduce your reliance on sugar.  In a nutshell, the programme looks like this:

  • Week 1: pare back a little
  • Week 2: Eat more fat
  • Week 3: Quit
  • Week 4: detox – and deal with it
  • Week 5: get creative with food/time/habits
  • Week 6: add some sweeteness back in, and see how you go
  • Week 7: dealing with relapses
  • Week 8: refining and moving on

Not quite the extreme approach to cutting out sugar that is suggested by the two authors. A friend of mine (out of curiousity) bought the book and passed it on to me. I skim read the book and, surprisingly while the author is described as having a philosophy based on in clinical research and human physiology, it’s not even backed up on actual science. For example, the assertion that sugar is an essential nutrient should send alarm bells ringing immediately. It’s well accepted that, in fact, that is not the case. (I’m not saying that whole food carbohydrates aren’t a source of important nutrients and fibre that we require and can thrive on – just that, they are not considered essential in the same way fat and proteins are.)

Really, you only need to read the introduction of the book to figure out that the authors didn’t just quit sugar. In fact, it seems they quit food entirely. Both talk about how they were constantly craving sugar, despite professing a diet rich in protein and good quality fats. Anyone who has reduced sugar in their diet will know immediately that cravings for sugar are a direct sign missing some serious calories, not that they were lacking sugar.  Further, the dietary habits of the authors prior to re-introducing sugar to their diet have ‘disordered eating’ all over them. The consumption of stevia-sweetened green smoothies and brussel sprouts for dessert is not something that I’ve ever seen mentioned in the I Quit Sugar book, so I’m not sure why they are trying to blame the programme that has helped thousands of people quit their sugar addiction.

In a nutshell, this is a blatant cashing in on the I Quit Sugar programme, and a lazy one at that. I’m embarrassed for the authors of it actually. Do not go and buy this book. You can borrow the one I have if you’re interested. And check out the post from Christine Cronau on why it isn’t worth the paper it will be published on.


On a lighter note, I popped into Farro Fresh this morning and the creator’s of Clean Paleo cereal were doing taste tests. I had a sample, and a chat to them and they said the cereal was going to be stocked in Farro across Auckland and at Wilder and Hunt in St Heliers (the new Paleo café that has just opened) – which is awesome for those people who live in Auckland! Now it’s not cheap – $17.99 for a 500g bag, so it’s not going to suit every body’s budget; however for those who might currently be making their own paleo-style muesli, the cost differential between that and buying a pre-made one might not be so bad – and could be particularly good if you’re travelling and are after something quick for breakfast. Check out their facebook page for more information.

In celebration, then, of all companies and people who are making us think twice about what we are putting into our mouths, here’s a lovely idea for lunch from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar cookbook – a combination of a couple of snack ideas and made into lunch. Courgette fritters topped with haloumi and apple.


*I’m just charismatic, so.. not an ‘academic’ in the true sense of the word

Marathon training: sorting your food #3: What’s for dinner?

Right. You’ve just come in from a training session and it’s close to 7pm. Dinner. Hmm. Well, you could pick up takeaways, given you’ve just ticked off an 80 min run wth 20 minutes of tempo. Alternatively, as you’re watching your weight, a 50g serve of Tegel shredded chicken on a supermarket salad will fill the gap without undoing all of the hard work of this evening’s session. It doesn’t matter that you’re starving and you felt a little sluggish and slow in the training session – and that’s been happening quite a bit lately during training. It’s that time of year.

Unsurprisingly, the two common scenarios that I see in the clinic are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to refuelling in the evening. Some people (lean or otherwise) use their training to justify poor dietary choices, whereas others constantly underfuel themselves in an effort to drop body fat – and then wonder why they get sick, injured, or slower in training. There are times when both situations are fine and, sometimes, appropriate, given the overall goal of the session and the phase of training. No, I’m not saying a dirty burger from BK should be a mainstay in an athlete’s diet (‘Cholesterol free’ vegetable oil should raise red flags) – but equally it’s not the end of the world to include these once in a while if your overall diet is grounded in whole food with good quality nutrients. On the other hand, being strategic about your refuelling practices can be a good way to become better able to burn fat as fuel, to promote fat loss and also to enhance your muscle’s ability to adapt to the training session. However, choosing low carbohydrate (CHO), low fat meal options as your default after training could be the undoing of your marathon journey. While this can be effective at burning fat, if your overall diet is one lacking important nutrients and overall calories, you’ll experience both fat and muscle loss, increased risk of illness or injury, and less likelihood of toeing the start line. Let’s face it – the main issue for most runners is getting through the training unscathed, not the race itself.

Some of the basic considerations:

How hard was the workout or session? If it was a light jog and stretch, then focusing on sports nutrition principles isn’t necessary in most cases. However, if you’ve had a hard session and it’s appropriate to refuel for the next session, then getting on board some CHO and/or protein might be a good idea, depending on how far away dinner is.

What is your body composition goal? If you are wanting to drop some body fat prior to your event, then try and structure your food around your training. However, if you need to refuel quickly to ensure recovery before your next session (if you train in the evening, and again the following morning), then it might be necessary to take on board some CHO source directly after the session, and then focus on just protein, fat, vegetables at dinner. That way you get in the CHO necessary to replenish muscle stores in the ‘window of opportunity’ straight after training where your body is most receptive to taking on board nutrients, but don’t eat in addition to your normal intake.

How might this look when you don’t want sports drink, sports gels or other processed sports nutrition products? Have a piece of fruit / a fruit puree pot/dried fruit / 250 ml fresh juice within 20-30 minutes. Then have dinner as normal. Those who are after fat loss would be better focusing on protein (20-25g serve protein at least – see here for protein in food and if you’re not a vegetarian then ideally choose animal sources of protein for a better source of nutrients)/vegetables/1-2 serves of fat for dinner, and those who struggle to maintain weight would also include a CHO source at dinner and at least another serve of fat. A serve of fat equates to 1T oil or butter, 2T seeds, a couple of handfuls of olives, ½ small or ¼ large avocado… you get the drift. The inbetweeners? (i.e. those who are happy where they are at body composition wise), well it’s trial and error really – you might want to include additional CHO in your dinner or, those who are following a low-carbohdyrate, high fat diet would up the amount of fat consumed at dinner. At any rate, you’ll need to monitor hunger levels, energy levels and whether you are gaining or losing body fat.

Another way to promote fat loss is to create a ‘low carbohydrate’ environment that can also enhance changes in the muscle (become fitter, stronger, faster) quicker than when you always have adequate carbohydrate on board to fuel the session. This is not just for fat loss, however – and can be a useful training tactic for endurance athletes. What I’m suggesting is to do two ‘back to back’ sessions without having carbohydrate in the meal in between. The second session is a light one (ideally in the morning, before breakfast – say a 45 min easy jog). Ensure after this that you have a good breakfast that includes CHO, protein and fat to help recover (and adapt to become stronger) from the training, as the danger is to continue to restrict calories and nutrients and start digging yourself into a low energy hole that can be hard to get out of. Those wanting the training stimulus but are not requiring fat loss will need to ensure adequate fat in the evening meal, so they aren’t low in overall dietary energy, just the carbohydrates.

Strategically targeting particular workouts throughout the week to make the most of the potential adaptation for training ‘low’ is a good way to become fat adapted, focus on fat loss, and have an increased biochemical response to the training stimulus for a lower training effort (training ‘smarter’). The trade off for this though is that you won’t be able to go and smash it to the same intensity as you would if your muscle fuel stores (i.e. glycogen) were fully replenished – the high end power output is diminished. However for most people (i.e. not elite athletes) wanting to see some body composition gains  as part of the overall training effect, training low can be a really good way to adapt to the training.

Spag bol with leeks used as the pasta substitute

Spag bol with leeks used as the pasta substitute

Dinner the low CHO way

It can be difficult to think of what to have for dinner if you often rely on pasta or rice for a go-to dinner. The key is to find acceptabe substitutes so you don’t feel that something is missing.

Options instead of pasta, rice, root vegetables, bread-based dishes

  • Zucchini noodles instead of spaghetti
  • Leeks instead of spaghetti (chopped thinly – thank you HK for this; potentially steam them first to cook them, and then you can sautee them if you wish in butter, olive oil or coconut oil)
  • Layers of grilled or panfried sliced eggplant or zucchini instead of pasta for a lasagne
  • Mashed potato/kumara: Cauliflower OR brocooli and carrot OR swede mashed with seasoning, butter/olive oil and mustard
  • Chopped, roasted swede or celeriac instead of roasted potato/kumara
  • Cauliflower grated or food processor and then steamed for a couple of minutes to cook (i.e. this risotto)
  • Use cauliflower or eggplant (as per the recipe page) to create a pizza base or taco

Quick meals to combine with a quality source of CHO, or a substitute as above

  • Salmon steak sprinkled with cajun seasoning that is grilled and served with steamed or sauteed vegetables (in olive oil, butter or coconut oil)
  • White fish baked in foil in oven with lemon juice and olive oil drizzled over it
  • Cabbage, carrot sticks and broccoli stirfried with frozen prawns added near end
  • Supermarket rotisserie chicken with salad and side of avocado – throw seeds into salad and dress with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar
  • Steak pan-fried in coconut oil and served with salad or vegetables as above
  • Omelette with 2 eggs and sliced vegetables (microwaved to steam) with salmon (canned, smoked, woodsmoked) added
  • Fish in an egg wash and crumbed with almond meal, pan fried and served with poached egg and a salad
  • Red cabbage, red onion, red apple sticks sauteed in olive oil/butter/coconut oil and served with cooked, shredded chicken (this isn’t appropriate for the low carb option, given the apple
  • Spaghetti bolognese mince, served with either a pasta substitute, or on top of microwaved kumara
  • Sliced brussel sprouts, sliced bacon and broccoli stir-fried in olive oil and served on the side of fish, chicken or steak
  • Shredded chicken breast on salad with grilled haloumi and pumpkin seeds

Bon appetit

Deb’s story.

I wanted to share with you my friend Debbie’s story. We’ve been friends since our gym days in Dunedin back in 1998, and this is a real life, transformation story with no photoshopping or embellishing at all. Stories like this are exactly why I now advocate the whole food / paleo approach to diet as opposed to the ‘moderation’ message.


I feel like I have been on a “diet” of some sort most of my adult life. Before kids, Glenn (hubby) and I were gym bunnies and trained every day. We even did body sculpting and ate rice, tuna, chicken, egg whites and veggies for 12 weeks. Never again!! My weight was pretty stable back in those days. Then came a big change: kids. No more gym – but lots of walking. After Ben (our first child – now 10) my weight went back to “normal” pretty quickly but after Ruby (7 ½ years old) it took a lot longer – and it was much harder! However I would make changes and would lose weight to a place I was generally happy with. THEN in November 2011 I broke a bone in my foot!! Arrgghhhh 6 weeks in a cast!!! Oh my, 6 weeks of no exercise…. While I thought I had better watch my eating…. it was Christmas time and I felt so distraught that eating chocolate was a good way to cheer me up in the short term. So to cut a VERY long foot story short – the 6 weeks turned into surgery with a screw inserted, 6 months of being in a cast and moon boot, 7 months of being stationary!!! This was not good – I was very unhappy – just ask my family! Even after I got the go ahead to move again, it was a very slow walk and only 20min to start with. As a result I had put on quite a few extra kilos!!

I tried to lose weight and a typical ‘good’ day for me started with eggs on Vogel’s toast, or muesli. During the day I would have pita breads, salad, meat, or sushi/subway for lunch and was always watching what I ate, choosing all the low fat options (such as low fat yoghurt) and plenty of fruit! Somedays a sweet treat/cake/bickie (or two) might be eaten, but that’s ok its just one right?? I craved diet coke in the afternoon, and often snacked on the kid’s food (such as McDonald’s fries) etc. My lattes in the café were always a bowl size – and obviously always made with trim milk. I was not seeing any results or feeling very good.

Mikki had always helped me out but this time I knew I needed drastic action – my weight was making me feel very unhappy, to the point that every time we went out I would lack confidence in how I looked. I was wearing (and they were fitting tight) size 12 clothes. I just never felt comfortable. I had chatted to Mikki and arranged to meet up for coffee in December last year. Instead of the usual brainstorm around low fat food options, Mikki revealed she had a different food concept for me. I was very keen to hear as I was very unhappy with how I felt. I listened as Mikki talked about the “Primal Blueprint” while quietly thinking ‘can I do this?…. No gluten, wheat, grains or processed sugar!!!’ And I had to stop eating all the “low fat” yoghurts/milk/ cheese and less fruit. OMG!!! And eat fat!! No more trim milk?! BUT I totally trusted Mikki and was keen and ready in my mind to commit to a different lifestyle. After all, my usual eating plan just wasn’t working and I needed to do something as I was so unhappy. As it was the week before xmas, I chose boxing day as Day 1 – cold turkey (excuse the pun). Let’s do it!!!!

So I enjoyed xmas day – my last “supper “– and woke on Boxing day with the excitement of change. Surprisingly I found the switch of eating pretty easy, and don’t really remember any withdrawals from sugar. I downloaded the Easy Diet Diary App and entered everything I ate into it which was a good to track. With some foods I was surprised at how high in carbs they actually were (tomatoes were one that I remember). What I do remember is that the change in eating pattern was easy, satisfying and very quick to see and feel changes. I kept a food diary to send to Mikki and in regular contact about “can I eat this or that”, but very quickly got my head around it and felt fantastic. I was always searching the web looking for ideas and different receipes. The results within the first few weeks certainly gave me a boost. Mikki saw me again (from the unhappy me the week before xmas) after 3 weeks of going primal and could see a much happier person already.

It didn’t take long to realise I really enjoyed eating the food. I don’t miss anything and have absolutely no cravings for all that sugary stuff and sweet tasting things I used to consume, including the Diet Coke!! And no afternoon slumps. After 6 months I had lost 10 kilos, but, more importantly felt amazing!! My skin and hair feel healthier (as confirmed by beautician and my hair stylist). The biggest difference (apart from the weight) is the puffiness in my face, I have always had a “roundish” face, and it still is the same shape but not so puffy – with changes especially around my eyes, they seem brighter. And the bloating in my tummy has completely gone. There is none at all which is a huge difference. My weight has stabilised and this is perhaps naturally where I’m supposed to be.

Exercise has always been a big part of my life and I had always felt guilty when I missed a planned exercise session, especially after eating something bad during the day.We all know the saying “you can’t exercise away a bad diet” but now I am eating 100% clean I never feel those guilty feelings if I don’t have time for exercise. That is a huge change. I was exercising when I could – AND still losing weight and more importantly feeling very good about myself – this is GREAT!!!

This way of eating has to be the way forward and I am not going back! No cravings and amazing tasty food. It also made me very aware of what we were feeding the kids. They have a lot less processed and high sugar food and I bake a lot more from scratch. I am always in the kitchen, baking and cooking, preparing food for the week ahead. My favourite food to eat is greek yoghurt with a spoonful of almond butter, and faux-tato (mashed cauliflower) is the best!! For a sweet treat I love coconut butter filled dates or 85% cocoa chocolate. I’ve got a couple of recipes of our go-to foods – a sweet breakfast scramble and bacon and egg pie in the recipe section of the website. Takeaways have changed – no more sushi, we now order Turkish kebabs – specially made, in a take away container, no wrap, tabouli or hummus. If we are heading out to a restaurant, I always get a menu prior so I can suss out the best options before going, being prepared is the key. I spend a lot of time on-line looking up recipes and following other primal/paleo websites/blogs.

I have my dear friend Mikki to thank and for pointing me in this direction. So ditch the gluten, wheat, grains and processed sugar – you certainly won’t regret it!!

deb b4

November 2012 and August 2013.

Marathon training: sorting your food #2 (Switching out that sandwich…)

Well it’s been an exciting week for all nutrition enthusiasts. I was out to breakfast with HK, enjoying some delicious poached eggs and babagnoush on spinach at Jam (one of our Taka fave’s) when I spied this headline in the NZ Herald “Switch that sandwich filling.”

Hmm..  why would this be news? Despite clinical trials testing the saturated fat/heart disease association finding no such relationship, this has yet to be common knowledge in the public sphere for health and nutrition so, for most people (despite the flaws) this would be considered ‘old news.’

The reason for the most recent flurry was the release of a paper that reviewed saturated fat intake of New Zealanders and risk of heart disease, and the possible benefits of switching out the saturated fats for unsaturated ones (think margarine, canola oil, that kind of thing…) Two very good blog posts went up about this almost immediately, so there is no need for me to cover it when both Julianne and Grant put forth good arguments that, for better health, we shouldn’t be switching out the butter for canola oil margarine.  And, if you read the comment sections in Grant’s  post, there is this two and fro debate between the author of the paper, Nick Wilson, Grant, and Jamie Scott.

It’s funny, you know. We (as researchers, professionals in the field) get so wound up around media releases like this one  –that serve to further perpetuate nutrition beliefs that have been accepted as true for the last 50 years by the general public (but are, in fact, incorrect). I’m like a converted smoker on anything to do with nutrition. But, actually, I wonder how much of this information actually penetrates at the level that we would want it to. My students are a case in point. I teach first year nutrition and health paper, and when I asked if anyone saw either the Stuff article or the NZ Herald article, most looked like this:


True, at 18 years old you’re kind of bullet proof right? But even people who might be beginning to notice their age (and lifestyle) catching up on them are, I think, just as likely to briefly skim the headline, have something register in the back of their mind along the lines of ‘yeah, that’s what I’ve been told for years’ and then skip to the business section of the Herald. And government? It’s not like research like this would ever influence a governement who is more concerned with obesity surgery rather than obesity prevention. So a storm in a tea cup in our little corner of the world. If eating crap food actually hurt the way walking out in front of a bus did, then perhaps people would care more about what they ate, and take more notice of what is reported in the news. If you’re reading this then you’re in the minority. However, Grant reminded me on our run this morning that the more people like us write blog posts and bang on about nutrition and health, the more it will penetrate down those that need to hear it most.

Anyway. Back to you and stabilising your blood sugars throughout the day after your awesome training run this morning (or in prep for your afternoon session – or actually just for life in general). I’ve spoken about eggs before. I love them. I hope you do too. I’ve covered good breakfast options that include a good deal of protein so I encourage you to go back to this post and try some if you’re looking for a protein boost in your breakfast meal. Lunch is an area where a lot of people struggle. Often people go light on the protein and are starving by 3pm. Let that not be you. I’ve mentioned a few of these ideas before, but they are worth repeating.

  • Make meatballs (spice mix plus mince meat – that’s it). Bake in oven, on tray, for 25-30 minutes. Done
  • Bake chicken drumsticks with rosemary, salt, olive oil
  • Buy cans of natural salmon, tuna, sardines to stockpile at work and add to salad
  • Rotisserie chicken ½ from supermarket (for two lunches)
  • Grill good quality sausages to chop up into salad
  • Mussels added to fresh tomato soup
  • Woodsmoked salmon
  • Frozen prawns (thawed by the time lunch comes around)

Add these to a salad, steamed vege pack (i.e. Watties steamlocked vege) or just choose a couple of vege to cut up and have raw or cooked with the protein option. For example, chopped zucchini, carrot and tomato to make a raw salad. For a bit of flavour, ensure you also have on hand:

  • Jar of olives, capers
  • Salt and pepper
  • Good olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Seeds and nuts

If you take these to work with you and keep them on hand, then you’ve got a few things that can be added to a supermarket salad or leftovers the night before. If you’re used to having a sandwich, then play around with adding the above fillings to lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves or Nori wraps. I find microwaving the cabbage leaves for around 20-30 seconds an easy way to relax the leaves and make them easier to work with. Cos lettuce leaves, and baby lettuce / cabbage also work really well. Some examples could be:

  • Leftover mince, avocado and grated carrot in lettuce leaves
  • Sardines and hardboiled egg, mashed, with grated carrot and courgette in red cabbage leaves
  • Nori wrapped around salmon and avocado, with cucumber and pickled ginger
  • Sliced ham, cheese and tomato wrapped in lettuce leaves

If you are grabbing a takeaway lunch, and are used to a 6 inch sub or kebab, then switch these options to a salad and ask for either double meat (if from Subway or Pita Pit, or another sandwich type place that goes light on the protein) and/or add avocado/guacamole to it.

Your carbohydrate needs depend on your energy needs and whether you’ve trained (or still to train). For those with body composition goals (i.e. fat loss) you might be best with the fat / protein option as outlined above. Those people who require additional energy could do well off adding a baked kumara/potato, or adding a piece of fruit after lunch. Ideally that would satisfy you for the afternoon. Even adding a couple of slices of this pumpkin and walnut loaf for a change would be good. If you are still hungry, then you will need to add more protein/fat to your meal.

Switching out the sandwiches at lunch, for most people, would be beneficial – not switching out the filling, especially if you’re after a more satisfying lunch option.