health

Tonight, a "dangerous" diet documentary will be on your TV.

Phoodie makes food fun.
“If you follow this diet we can reverse obesity and type two diabetes.”

Last year, ABC’s science program Catalyst was slammed by health professionals and its own internal review board for screening a two-part documentary which alleged that there was no link between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease.

Now a new episode of the show is dividing health experts before it even airs.

The Catalyst episode “Low carb diet – fact or fiction?”, set to screen tonight at 8pm on ABC, will look at the science behind low-carb diets, with South African sports scientist, Tim Noakes, saying there is no nutritional value in carbohydrates.

Noakes encourages a higher fat consumption, something that is supported by interviews with Paleo diet advocate celebrity chef Pete Evans and cricketer Shane Watson, who are both converts to the low carb, high fat diet.

Noakes says, “If you follow this diet we can reverse obesity and type two diabetes.”

Dr Peter Bruckner who works with Cricket Australia and Shane Watson told Catalyst that a low carb diet is especially important for people with diabetes, saying, “these people don’t metabolise carbohydrates well, that’s what diabetes is – a failure to metabolise carbohydrates. Yet we’ve traditionally given these people high carbohydrate diets and it just doesn’t make sense”.

Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation both declined to be interviewed by Catalyst, but did send statements to the show. The Heart Foundation was at the forefront of complaints about Catalysts’s last controversial show about heart medication, so this is not altogether surprising.

Susie Burrell.
Susie Burrell.
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Nutritionists are already concerned about the impact of the show and have been quick to point out that revelations of a miracle no-carb diet are deeply flawed.

Dietitian and Nutritionist Susie Burrell takes issue with Catalyst’s claim that this lower carb diet is a new idea: “Despite Catalyst and various self proclaimed experts believing they have found a new miracle approach to the ideal dietary prescription, more thorough research would show that over the past 10 years, in line with the significant reductions in physical activity in the western world, there has been recommendations for a lower carbohydrate intake. It is not a new idea.”

But Burrell is scathing of any suggestion that we need to drastically reduce our carbohydrate intact, suggesting that those promoting this agenda have “minimal scientific training, practical experience and with a vested interest to promote”. She says that when it comes to individuals actively promoting these dietary shifts, “perception or beliefs can over-ride what is really going on”.

Burrell’s message is simple: “If you sit down all day, you probably need fewer carbs than you think. Our carbs should always come from vegetables, fruits, legumes and controlled portions of wholegrains which offer vitamins, minerals and most importantly fibre which is crucial for gut health.” There are no surprises about which carbs are still out: “Refined carbs such as white rice, white bread, processed snack foods and fast food are out” because they are “nasty carbs that do damage to our health long term”.

She says that viewers of Catalyst and people more widely need to think critically about the advice that they receive: “If you are getting dietary advice, best to be getting it from someone a) who is qualified b) actually sees people clinically for health and weight loss c) will give you both sides of the argument d) does not have shares in a cookbook, coconut water company or Paleo cafe.”

Will you be watching tonight’s Catalyst show about diet?

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