So…. how did Nigel Latta change his diet anyway?

ICYMI, Nigel Latta ended his six episode documentary series this week with a focus on sugar. Part of the fun, in amongst witnessing a two year old have their teeth removed and people in the kidney dialysis unit, was Nigel changing his diet to see what effects this would have on his health and wellbeing. Julianne Taylor, who did the research for the show, brought me in to help Nigel with that.

Interestingly, when first approached by Julianne, the plan was to put Nigel on a high sugar diet and see the effects it might have on his energy, his mood, and his metabolic outcomes (cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides and the like). I figured that would be an interesting experiment, particularly given that Nigel was pretty sure he had a good diet (smug, one might say). Other than the small issue of an afternoon crash, leading him to seek out something sweet to give him an energy boost, he thought it was all good. From what I knew of Nigel, he appeared pretty lean, he was fairly active, and he enjoyed vegetables and fruit. It’s fair to say that – on appearances – Nigel was your average kiwi guy. A bit shorter, maybe, but all in all a fairly average, run-of-the-mill male.

Then I got his diet to analyse. Hmm. This wasn’t the ‘healthy diet’ that I was expecting.. Here’s an example day of what I received (and it was on his ‘treat’ day – takeaways for dinner).

BREAKFAST

 

Banana

 

50g Muesli, toasted, sweetened with trim milk

 

Flat white with one sugar

 

1 Egg and 2 rashers of bacon on 2 slices of toast

 

LUNCH

 

Flat white with one sugar

 

CAFÉ: Serve of Quiche,Lorraine with a chicken salad roll

 

SNACK

 

CAFÉ: muesli slice

 

Flat white

 

DINNER

 

Diet coke

 

McDonalds Burger (McFeast)

McDonald’s large fries

McDonald’s Chocolate sundae

 

Far from being a low sugar diet, Nigel managed to get almost half of his carbohydrate energy from sugars, which included 54g of sucrose – this is the ‘proxy’ used to determine ‘added’ sugars. That’s 14 teaspoons, people. I don’t think that Nigel didn’t have a clue – I just think that people aren’t aware of where sugar is in food AND that the rise and fall of energy throughout the day (that is related to blood sugar) dictates food choice far more than what they think it does. And it’s easy to forget such things when reflecting on a ‘normal’ day.

On top of the diet, when the blood results came to me, I could see that this average kiwi bloke had fairly average results:

  • Total cholesterol 5.3 mmol/L (<5.0 mmol/L)
  • HDL cholesterol 1.08 mmol/L (>1.0 mmol/L)
  • Triglycerides 2.4 mmol/L (<1.7 mmol/L)
  • LDL cholesterol 3.1 mmol/L (<3.4 mmol/L)
  • Chol/HDL 4.9 mmol/L  (<4.5 mmol/L)

As I discussed last week, the triglyceride level was higher than ideal and, when combined with a borderline HDL cholesterol reading, this is indicative of a greater number of VLDL cholesterol particles making up his LDL cholesterol reading – ie. elevating his risk of inflammation and artery and cell damage. Combined with the Chol/HDL ratio being high (indicative of a greater number of LDL particles) and Nigel’s tendency to store fat around his mid-section, we felt Nigel could do to improve his diet and his risk profile*.

So, for six weeks (in between visits), Nigel followed my advice for a low sugar diet. Some of the highlights of the diet were:

  • I got Nigel to focus on getting his carbohydrate from natural sources that were minimally processed, Include protein at each meal (eggs, meat, poultry, fish)
  • Include natural sources of fat (butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, nut oils) while steering clear of seed oils, margarines and the like. Importantly, don’t avoid fat. This is fairly easy to do when you remove most of the processed food from your diet.
  • Include vegetables at all meals where possible, focusing on the really colourful ones to ensure he was getting more nutritional bang for his buck
  • Snacks: focus on sources of protein and or fat that will help keep him satisfied and not cause swings in blood sugar that he experienced which leads him to the cake and biscuits at his local café for a 3pm sugar hit.
  • Drink more water, and less coffee.
  • That 19 out of the 21 meals had to be awesome. It killed me to say it but – that McDonald’s meal in the context of my recommendations was not going to be the death of him. But, let’s be clear: that’s NOT the treat meal – those other 19 meals? Treats.
  • Preparation is key to any good diet, and prepackaging nuts, cheese portions, having fruit (that can be eaten with either the fat or protein options for a snack), and hard boiled eggs would help keep him satisfied when he got hungry, avoiding the need to buy food that might not be ideal.

A typical day in the life of Nigel after I spoke to him would be:

  • 3 eggs scrambled in butter or coconut oil with some avocado, spinach and tomato, +/- a piece of fruit based on hunger
  • Lunch at café would be a lamb/chicken salad – avoiding the dressing unless it was an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing, but getting added avocado and ensuring a good amount of protein. If at home, add pumpkin seeds, avocado and aforementioned olive oil as a dressing to a salad and, again, a good serve of protein to help keep him satisfied.
  • If Nigel felt hungry in the afternoon, then snacks on cheese, nuts, hard boiled eggs and the like were recommended.
  • Dinner choices included (again) plenty of vegetables, meat, poultry or fish cooked in either coconut oil, kumara either baked or roasted in olive oil, or legumes or lentils (as Nigel doesn’t have any issues with digesting these).

As you would see on the show, over the course of the filming, Nigel lost 3kg and his energy massively increased. His blood cholesterol readings also improved. On an email half way through Nigel said that the diet had such an effect on how he felt that ‘there was no going back.’ And on email this week he revealed he was 8kg down and his enthusiasm for the change in eating hadn’t altered six months on. Importantly he can’t believe the change in his energy levels.

So… Nigel really is your average kiwi bloke (a bit shorter, perhaps – but average). However there was no need for him to have an average diet OR average blood cholesterol results. Why be average when you can be awesome? With the improvements in his risk profile, the slippery slope into poor health that many average kiwis will experience over their lifetime due to diet has been halted. Nigel’s health has moved from ‘average’ to awesome and he is not complacent about what he eats. As a father, this will undoubtedly have a flow on effect to the younger members of the Latta family. It was great to be involved in that.

*There was, however, some dissention amongst the ranks at my reaction to Nigel’s initial blood results. Apparently I was too alarmist and I could cause the public to be alarmed at their own ‘slightly elevated triglyceride levels’ in the absence of other risk factors. I was a bit perplexed by the email, quite frankly. Not because triglyceride levels that are elevated are almost never elevated without the presence of other risk factors, and this was a television show that due to editing and time restrictions, cannot delve into all of the risk factors. I was perplexed that there was an issue to begin with. Sorry. If you have a diet not unlike Nigel’s diet, then you need to sit up and take notice. Nigel was not that overweight. He was fairly active and – to look at – relatively lean. However his diet was pretty terrible, his energy levels were compromised AND didn’t have an ideal blood profile. If my (or the show’s) emphasis on triglyceride levels caused the general population to be alarmed at their own triglyceride levels then…. be alarmed people. If it makes you think about the amount of sugar you are eating then that’s okay by me.

130 thoughts on “So…. how did Nigel Latta change his diet anyway?

  1. Hi Mikki, I have Crohn’s disease and am really interested in following a low/no sugar diet. The problem is that I struggle to eat most fruit and vegetables especially raw or in salads. I also struggle with nuts and seeds. My diet is mostly based around carbs as I find it easiest to process but I know that it isn’t good for me. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi Jo – I’m not in a position to be able to offer you clinical advice over the internet, but I suggest that focusing on natural sources of fat with good amounts of protein and cooking/steaming vegetables (with the inclusion of starchy vegetables also) can help. Focusing on a period of gut healing can go a long way to minimising discomfort. If you’ve seen The Paleo Mom’s website, she goes into some specific auto-immune issues including crohns. I hope this helps – if not, happy to provide more individual advice. 🙂

  2. Thanks Mikki….I think a few of the above do apply….I fill it with Milo, have been known to be a bit of a stresser and my fluid intake needs work! Will have to work on that!

    • Perhaps try a ginger tea – or Kawakawa tea! I’ve recently discovered this and it is awesome. That is saying something as I’m not a fan of herbal tea usually. Based on their aroma I think they overpromise… and underdeliver 😀

  3. Hi Mikki. I have been buying some orange juice which has only squeezed oranges. Nothing else. Is this as good as it looks, like as pure as if i had just squeezed it? thanks.

    • Hi Claudia, hmm – fruit is a LOT better as there is so much sugar in juice – freshly squeezed or otherwise – you are always better off eating the fruit (fibre/bulk) and drinking water ☺️ Orange juice and coke have the same amount of sugar.

  4. We watched the Nigel Latta show with great hope but terrified that he would choose Claire Turnbull as his “go to sugar advisor”… especially after her endorsing “Cheerios breakfast cereal”. Imagine our relief and delight when you name was mentioned.

    We have been following a sugar free/low carb paleo type diet now for three years and our triglycerides have plummeted and HDL risen. Pre-diabetes is a thing of the past for us. For those who think you can’t change the way you eat – think again. It can be done.

  5. It’s certainly an eye opener. Do you by any chance have a full week meal plan. I am a person who can very easily follow something if it’s laid out for me, and all I have to do is prepare what it tells me to. Cheers . Janice.

  6. Hi Mikki, what are your thoughts on juices? I recently bought a juicer and have a vegetable/fruit mix most days – typically beetroot, carrot, apple and whatever else is lying around. I’m confused, I would have thought juices would be a good way to get more vegetables in? Should I be concerned about the level of (natural) sugar in these?? Thanks

    • Hi Gail, if you’re a person who is healthy and if the mix is geared towards vegetables and not fruit then that shouldn’t be a problem – the problem with juice is the high sugar content when someone starts to incorporate 2+ pieces. Juice isn’t very satisfying and, unfortunately, one of the main benefits of vegetables (the fibre content) is removed when juicing. I’m not saying not to juice (!) but just to be mindful of that. 🙂

    • Hi Mitchell, from a food perspective I think that building your meals around healthy fats and protein with vegetables and ensuring the carbohydrate you eat (potato/kumara/taro etc) is included in a meal can go a long way to stabilising blood sugars as often cravings for sugar is drawn from blood sugar levels dropping too quickly because meals are unbalanced. Of course there are lots of other reasons as well, but that’s my more generalised advice 🙂

    • Hi Mitchell – it’s all context. If someone has given up sugar then their tastes will change and they will come to expect less sweet foods, meaning the ‘treats’ they once craved are no longer pleasurable to eat. For some, it’s easier to rid of them completely, for others, 1-2x a week (it’s what you do typically that counts). For everyone, changing your view that these are ‘treats’ is a good idea. 🙂

  7. Hi Mikki, can you explain briefly why you specify coconut and olive oils over other plant oils – is it basically the omega content, so it’s an opportunity to get another good thing in there, or are there reasons you’d recommend avoiding other plain vege oils?

    • Hi Nicki, great question. Yes, partly the omega 6 content of the seed oils being pro-inflammatory when out of balance with omega 3s in the diet (and the ratio of 6:3 is estimated to be from 14-20:1 as opposed to the 4:1 ratio that would be considered ideal). However, perhaps more importantly is that the seed oils are easily destabilised both in and outside of the body, leading to oxidation of both oils and possibility of a change of structure to trans-fats (or hydrogenated oils)if heated to a high enough temperature – there is no ‘safe’ limit for these in the diet. Further, the process by which these oils (canola, soybean etc) go through to become an oil is pretty horrific, including the use of bleach, chemical solvents and they are completely stripped of any nutrients. Here’s a 5 min clip showing you how canola oil comes about… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfk2IXlZdbI 🙂

    • And an important one :). It’s all context Jo – from a sugar perspective, red wine (and your drier whites) will contain a lot less sugar than the sparkling, sweet or less dry wines. In the context of a low sugar diet that contains plenty of the good foods (i.e. a well formulated whole food diet), a wine or three a week isn’t going to hurt you.

  8. Hi Mikki, I wondered what recommendations you have for someone who doesn’t like eggs (or eggs don’t like me). I can manage about one a day but anymore leaves me feeling unwell. A lot of the limited sugar diets seem to have a big emphasis on eggs. Thanks!

    • Hi Jake, there’s still plenty of options for the non-egg eaters :). Smoothies in the morning that include good fats (coconut milk, LSA powder, almond / peanut butter), good protein (if you can do dairy then a whey powder, otherwise a pea protein isolate such as Clean Lean Protein) and fruit is good. Equally leftover meat that is made as a ‘hash’ with leftover potato or with spinach and avocado provides the same nutrient balance. Pan-fried mushrooms and bacon in the morning also. Perhaps a grain-free muesli with greek yoghurt or coconut cream. Breakfast is usually where eggs are a staple, hence my focus here. Nuts, meat, dairy and (for those who can tolerate them) legumes are all sources of protein – and I’d say animal protein is best :). Hope that helps.

  9. As a NZ registered Dietitian i feel some of the advice you are providing: unbalanced, unsafe and scientifically incorrect. I am aware of this new low CHO, high fat craze/fad. I agree there is benefit of adding nutrient dense foods (like omega 3 and 6 oils) in your diet but how you are promoting it is dangerous. If you have any clinical experience you will know the advice you are giving is generally taken out of context, and can lead to more serious consequences e.g. eating disorders and weight regain (lets face it, most studies in this area are over a 2 year period – max. Weight loss should be for life).

  10. Hi Mikki Have just received my own blood results and my chol is 6.6 and my LDL is 4.4 Having recently just watched Is Sugar the new fat? it rang a bell and I have re watched the program. I too am concerned by these results but my Gp didn’t have much to say apart from no medication yet and will retest in a year. I am too young for these results and would like to be pointed in the right direction for changing my diet. Not sure what LDL means? I would like to change my diet like Nigel and have better results in a couple of months There are so many fad diets and I would like to find enduring sustainable healthy eating. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Paula

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