The Science of Human Potential

Will sweeteners make you fat or sick?


Now here’s a very controversial topic: aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. My conversations with (usually) men on sugar and substitutes usually go something like this:

Me: ‘Have you thought about replacing your fizzy drinks with diet drinks like Coke Zero or Diet Coke?’


Me: ‘Why not?’

‘I don’t drink that shit.’

Me: ‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s full of that artificial crap, like those sweeteners and other chemicals. They cause cancer. Diet Coke is a girls’ drink, as well.’

Me: ‘So you’d rather drink that 500 ml of Coke, which has 12 teaspoons of sugar in it?’


Me: ‘Even though half of that Coke will send your blood sugar through the roof, raise your insulin, and leave you hungrier than before you had it, while the other half that is fructose will go straight to your liver and screw you up in several other ways? And even though there is no evidence for negative outcomes, especially cancer, in the artificial sweeteners like aspartame, one of the most tested and long-standing additives to the human food supply?’

‘What are you talking about, [usually some profanity starting with d or f and ending with -head]?’ (Returns to drinking, laughing at me.)

Okay, my overall approach was probably fundamentally flawed and really misses the mark on the ‘how to win friends and influence people’ scale, but this is very typical of the responses I hear from men. I’m not a promoter of diet drinks for their own sake, but if you want a sweet drink I think the choice is a no-brainer. Sugary drinks – and fruit juice is in this category as it contains exactly the same amount of sugar as regular Coke – are a worse choice than a diet drink. Sugar is relatively toxic to the body. Aspartame is probably not.

What the heck does “probably not” mean? That’s a very good question. The answer is that there isn’t much evidence, especially experimental evidence with humans, showing adverse health outcomes.

Don’t you hate it when researchers sit on the fence and say that sort of stuff? There isn’t convincing evidence that sweeteners don’t harm you either. So it’s a double edged sword. The reality is that you would be better off drinking water. But that’s not the social and environmental reality of the world we live in. I’m saying that all things being equal, I’d prefer the diet drink to the full sugar version.

OK, I hear all the paleo, whole foods guys screaming – and I hear you. But how do you balance that approach with the pragmatism of public health? (clue: think about our approaches to reducing smoking which is obviously bad for you).

Here’s why I would take a more pragmatic approach to sweeteners. First, all foods are made of chemicals. Nutrients are chemicals. Too much or too little of any nutrient has adverse effects. In other words, when we exceed our biological capacity to deal with a nutrient it is almost always a problem. This is why high carb diets are a problem for some people. Aspartame, when synthesised, breaks down into phenylalanine (an amino acid), aspartic acid, and methanol – all of which are found naturally in foods. So I think it’s a matter of perspective and harm with sweeteners. We can deal with these substances in small amounts.

This isn’t everyone’s view, but I think there is now enough evidence to make this recommendation a public health one. In other words, on the continuum of water being the best and sugary drinks the worst, sweetened drinks and meals fit somewhere in between. That’s different than a personal health choice. It might be considered “harm minismisation”. Some people will say that by drinking sweet (even artificially sweetened) drinks you are giving people a taste for sweet stuff. My response is that we already like sweet stuff and no amount of abstinence from sugar will completely cure our taste for it. That being said, lower carb, sugar free diets do go a long way to curing the actual addition many people develop. Through sweeteners, food technology allows us to enjoy sweetness without the sugar.

Besides aspartame, which can have an aftertaste that some people find off-putting (and was originally developed as a fly spray which is even more off putting), there are two other popular sweeteners available in New Zealand: Splenda and Stevia.

Splenda is sucralose, which is made from sucrose (normal sugar), but with a refining process that reduces the calories. Because sucralose is inert (not metabolised) in the body it is calorie free. This product looks and feels a bit more like actual sugar and doesn’t have the same aftertaste as aspartame sweeteners, so it is much better for cooking and baking.

Stevia is a natural plant extract. In New Zealand it is sold under the name Sweete in 2 g sachets, which contain 1 calorie. Compared with sugar, the onset and duration of sweetness is slower and longer. Stevia is, however, about 16 times sweeter than sugar, the 2 g sachet providing the same sweetness as a teaspoon of sugar. So if you are worried about being natural, this plant-extract additive is pretty good.

On balance, I much prefer the Stevia sweetener.

A few comments about research on these sweeteners:

  1. None are likely to stimulate an insulin response on their own.
  2. I acknowledge that actual experimental trials with these substances on humans will never happen because that research is unethical. So we are left with only some prospective study showing no harm. That’s not that convincing.
  3. A study out last week in the journal “Diabetes Care” showed something very interesting. The paper by Pepino et al was entitled “Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load“. So you can see from the title that Sucralose (Splenda), although on its own doesn’t stimulate an insulin response, combined with glucose does magnify the glycemic and insulin response and area under the insulin curve. That’s interesting. I have no idea why that would happen, whether it happens with other sweeteners, how much glucose is required for this response, or whether it applies in slimmer subjects (average BMI was 42). In any case, it is a bit of a warning about Splenda in particular. Not sure about the others.
  4. Watch out for emotional claims about research in this space. Here’s a great example of one about the above paper which is titled “Splenda and Sucralose shown to contribute to the development of diabetes“. That seems to happen all the time in this field. Let’s agree that absence of evidence isn’t the same as evidence of absence. But let’s also agree that the evidence just isn’t their yet for the outright harm of these substances.

So will they make you fat and sick? They might, but sugar is more likely to do so. Are they harm free? Probably not entirely, but in an obesity epidemic let’s be pragmatic in public health.

Bliss – Cheez doodles, Menthos, and Chocolate bars?

Even if you don’t understand a word of Norwegian (which I don’t), I think you will figure out and the essence of this fabulous clip.

Here’s the context: Its Day 86 of Norwegian explorer Aleksander Gamme ‘s solo trek to the South Pole and back. He’s lost 25 kg of body weight.   He has left stashes of equipment and so forth along the way. This video shows him coming across one he left almost three months prior. He has no idea what’s in his stash.  Initially it looks like junk…even so he rifles through full of hope….then unexpectedly he comes across some Cheez Doodles.. and more.

Bliss….is bliss the difference between the previous state and present state?

Enjoy the message, and I think it reminds us that treats really can be treats.  This is the extreme end of treats of course.  But there is a point here!

A tale of two meals

Check out this cool ideograph of how high carb and low carb affect energy metabolism and fat storage. Nice picture for you to get your head around and explain to others.  Source for the lovely ideograph

A tale of two diets

A tale of two diets

Final installment of the diary of a low carb dabbler – Part 5

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

The final day of my 7 day LCHF dabble is here. I’d love to tell you that meal 21 of 21 was a big eye fillet drenched in a creamy butter sauce served with deep fried broccoli but hey, that’s not what dabbling is all about. Poor planning , a lack of motivation to go shopping and wanting to have the same meal as my husband, meant that my last supper was, of all things, a bowl of pasta, albeit with a very oily sauce.

So I’ve done it, the 7 days is over, and it’s time to think about what I’ve learned, and what I haven’t learned. In the end, I didn’t really dabble; I actually think I hit it quite hard. I say ‘think’ because my first observation is that I have absolutely no idea how much carbohydrate I actually consumed each day. In the absence of a simple tool to do this (but watch this space on that), my approach was to try to eat pretty much none. Hence why without planning to, 20 out of 21 meals ended up being LCHF, although whether they were L enough and H enough is anyone’s guess. What I can tell you is that:

  • I definitely had less sugar highs and, to start with at least, less sugar lows
  • I found the food I ate tasty but lacking in variety, but this bothered me less as the week wore on, probably because my normal diet isn’t particularly varied either and that doesn’t/didn’t bother me
  • I realised I don’t have to have bread, pasta, rice or potato at every meal to feel satisfied
  • Eating LCHF didn’t affect my ability to exercise, or my exercise performance, except on one occasion
  • It didn’t seem to affect my milk supply either
  • The extra cost of things like raw nuts, seeds, good quality canned fish, more fresh fish than normal, high fat yoghurt, etc undoubtedly outweighed any savings from cutting out milk, bread, cereals etc.
  • Eating out was about 50% more expensive
  • Dietary fat does not immediately appear on your hips! Although I think I was still a bit tentative about adding fat to things – old habits die hard
  • I was more thirsty than normal, or at least I drank more water
  • Going LCHF takes some planning and preparation
  • Pepsi Max is highly addictive[1].

Although 7 days is a very short period, I could still kick myself for not doing at least some baseline measures, but that’s what happens when you start a trial accidentally and only plan to ‘dabble’. So I probably have more questions than answers right now. Some might be impossible to answer and/or the answers are only relevant to me, but others might form the basis of future research to a) confirm the benefits (or otherwise) of the LCHF approach, and b) help make the approach more appealing and/or accessible to the general population. So here goes…..

  1. Is eating LCHF some of the time better than eating LCHF none of the time? How often is enough?
  2. If I do it for a while and then go back to my old diet, will I end up worse off than if I hadn’t done it at all?
  3. Am I helping myself in one way but doing damage in another?
  4. If I have a cheat day or a cheat meal, is it better if it’s HCLF, HCHF, MCMF, or any other combination of the above? And is there a better time of day to cheat?!
  5. Why did meals/snacks that satisfied me at the beginning of the week not quite hit the spot as much by the end of the week?
  6. Does being told that if you do this diet right you shouldn’t feel hungry affect your perception of whether you feel hungry or not?
  7. Could there be any negative effects, for mother or baby, of breastfeeding while on a LCHF diet?
  8. Would a diet based on real food (and not necessarily LCHF) be more appropriate for someone like me?
  9. Should I be changing how I feed my toddler?

I’d love to know what “the experts” think about what I did and what I ate. I’d love to discuss some possible research projects that might answer some of the questions identified above. And I’d love to know what I can eat to make my little boy sleep through the night and my 2 year old stop having tantrums! Over and out from the LCHF dabbler…..for now.

[1] On Day 6, feeling a bit tired, I decided an inch of Pepsi Max wouldn’t hurt. It tasted OK but not as nice as normal. And when the glass was empty….I had no need for any more. But the following night, I felt the need for another inch and this time an inch wasn’t enough and I could feel myself falling back in to old habits. At my worst, I would drink up to a litre of Pepsi Max a day but in recent years, I’ve been able to limit it to 1-2 glasses a night.

Diary of a low carb dabbler – Part 4

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

Oh dear….maybe when you reintroduce meat in to your diet after over 20 years, you should start with a small portion, not a LCHF diet portion! Stomach ache and nausea in the middle of the night, whilst trying to feed a 3 month old, is not fun. I felt almost back to normal by morning and after some YCBNS and a lovely run/walk on the beach, all was good in the world again. Today was my first real experience of eating out as a LCHF dabbler. My usual café lunch of a smoked salmon bagel or pancakes was replaced with a vegetable omelette. I was very proud of myself for asking for the toast to be replaced with avocado and the café accommodated my request without issue. It looked lovely, a good size but not massive, so I wondered how I’d feel afterwards without the toast. I hadn’t asked for extra butter, cheese or cream, but neither had I asked for these to be omitted like I might usually have done. It was delicious and no need to worry about being satisfied, I was stuffed for hours!

More firsts later in the day with the first night of entertaining as a LCHF dabbler, made much easier by three of the guests also being LCHF dabblers (sorry for the label guys). Despite the previous night’s meat experience, I decided to keep things easy and just make one dish and opted for a beef casserole with mashed potato for the carb lovers, and faux mashed potato (cauliflower blended with butter and cream) for the carb loathers. Guess which one hardly got touched….the faux mash was a big hit with carb lovers and loathers alike and will definitely be on the menu again.

So Day 6 began with a little bit of a sore head but no hangover-style food cravings, so just the normal YCBNS breakfast. Lunch was at a function with a sausage sizzle and an array of salads and desserts. Unfortunately, although delicious looking, most of the salads were either high carb or low fat, but I managed to find a few that didn’t look too bad (or good!) and topped them off with a large helping of fried onions off the BBQ! I was hungry a couple of hours later though so a bowl of yoghurt and cream and a handful of nuts got me through the afternoon, along with plenty of water, which I’m still finding I’ve got more of a thirst for.

Strangely, after being bored silly of canned fish based salads, I really fancied one tonight and really enjoyed it. And now, sitting here writing this, I’m trying to decide if I’m still hungry, or if my old habit of having a yoghurt or something else sweet after dinner is fighting its way back in. No….I think I’m hungry….so in the absence of knowing what else to have, it’s yoghurt and cream again for me. Night night.

Diary of a low carb dabbler – Part 3

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

In the first installment of the Diary of a low carb (or LCHF dabbler), I talked about who I am (a physically active and breastfeeding pescatarian, who regularly falls off the glucose cliff) and who I want to be (a sub-3 hour marathon running Super Mum)!

In the second installment I reported back on a great first 3 days. Stable blood sugar levels, enjoyable exercise, tasty meals. But on Day 4 something changed. After the usual one feed in the night, I woke up around 6.30 am, keen to go for a short run but already feeling a bit “low”. Without knowing what else to do, I did what I’ve always done in this situation and ate half a banana, fed the baby and set out along the beach. But whereas the banana would usually do the trick, not today. I felt sluggish, a bit light-headed and my supposedly easy but brisk 30 min run became a hard and slow 25 min jog (with a stitch at one point too). Not a great start to the day. A YCBNS breakfast and a 10.30 am hot chocolate restored my mood (and energy) but by midday I was ready for some lunch, the thought of which wasn’t particularly inspiring. I was highly tempted to stop at the sushi shop but determined not to fail at the first hint of trouble, I mixed up some tuna and lots of mayo (I’m going to turn in to a fish at this rate) and put it in a salad (yes another bloody salad).

I noticed today that I’m drinking more water; partly to stop myself drinking Pepsi Max, and partly to check first whether I’m hungry or just thirsty. But today was monumental for more than just drinking more H2O…, for the first time in 22 years (other than on two occasions when I was pregnant and my body was craving iron), I ate meat! Now this might not be strictly connected with the LCHF experiment, I’ve been toying with the idea for weeks, but maybe that’s because I’ve been toying with the idea of LCHF for weeks. By eating meat (in this case in a Bolognese sauce with a tiny portion of spaghetti and topped with cheese) I would get a good hit of fat, I wouldn’t have to have fish (again!), and my family could have the same meal for the first time in ages. It was quite nice.

Eating meat again after such a long time might seem a bit drastic, so it’s probably important to know why I haven’t done so for so long. I’m sorry to say that it’s not that I’m an animal lover; more the opposite really. I don’t really like animals (I’m a bit scared of them to be honest) and I think they’re dirty, so why would I want to eat them? Now fish on the other hand I quite like so I’m happy to eat them.

So why the sudden change of heart? New Zealand has very few meat substitutes and more and more lately I’ve been feeling the lack of variety in my diet and wanting to be able to eat the same meals as my husband and friends. I’ve always known that the extra iron would be good for me and the high saturated fat content of red meat, which might traditionally have been a reason to put me off, is not an issue according to LCHF advocates. For the moment, I can’t see myself eating sausages or chicken (they’re foul!! and too high risk of food poisoning) or any other white meats, so I’m not going to say I’m a meat eater again; it’s probably just a case of more “dabbling” at the moment!

Diary of a low carb dabbler – Part 2

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

Well after some early hiccups, I’m now 3 days in to my 7 day trial. Day 1 was Day 1 by accident really…..after having a café brunch of omelette and salad, an early afternoon snack of full fat yoghurt with nuts and seeds, and then a dinner of a beautiful piece of oily salmon with salad and just a small piece of bread, I realised that I’d possibly, accidentally, had a relatively LCHF day. So I decided to call that Day 1. I started the next day with just a small bowl of yoghurt, cream, berries, nuts and seeds (YCBNS), as I planned to do some exercise soon after. After a 30 minute run round the lake with the buggy, I met friends for a walk and some exercises on the beach. By 11 am, after the walk alone, I would usually be ready for a mid-morning snack but not today. I had a hot chocolate because I like it and to be sociable but I didn’t need it. And then out of the blue I was asked if I wanted to go for another run. Normally I would have to think twice about how I was going to fuel for it but that thought didn’t cross my mind and 4 hours after the first time, I was back round the lake (again pushing my precious cargo) and feeling great. And this is when it gets really weird….we finished in a café, again, and even though I’d cooled down and it was 6 hours since breakfast and 2 hours since my hot chocolate (with full-fat milk) and I’d run twice in one day for the first time in years, I wasn’t hungry.

Around 3 pm I whipped up the only thing I could think of for lunch – half a can of red salmon, half an avocado, a boiled egg, various salad items and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. Traditionally I might have had some of these same items mixed through cous cous, with little or no dressing. Traditionally I would have felt hungry shortly after. Not this time. And the cravings for crackers, chips and dips around 5/6 pm while getting the kids ready for bed and dinner sorted? Not today.

So then on to the dilemma of how to cook a LCHF dinner for one person and a high carb medium fat (HCMF) dinner for another…..not too big a deal tonight it turned out. Egg frittata made with cream and veggies and topped with cheese. Penne pasta in one half, no penne pasta in the other half. Bread on the side for those who want it; a salad with avocado and olive oil dressing for those who don’t. Husband and wife both sorted and satisfied.

Day 3 was much the same. YCBNS for breakfast (it still feels incredibly odd to be looking for the highest fat yoghurt I can find….and then pouring cream in it!), a 1 hour swim, a hot chocolate at 11 am and a salad with tuna and loads of olive oil for lunch. No mid-afternoon fall off the cliff. No rush for dinner to be ready. And no need for anything else after a decent size piece of salmon with cheesy coleslaw on the side for dinner…oh and a couple of glasses of wine 🙂 Traditionally I wouldn’t have had the coleslaw and would have had the potatoes and bread on offer. Traditionally I would have been sitting here typing this hungry and reaching for a bowl of cereal. Not tonight.

And how’s the baby doing? No sign of any problem with milk supply yet. And the Pepsi Max issue?! I’m 3 days dry 🙂

Diary of a low carb dabbler

This post (and the next few installments) is bought to you by Helen Kilding (MSc Exercise Science), currently on maternity leave from her human performance research role at New Zealand Defence Force. Helen has a keen interest in the science of nutrition and in particular the application of science in to practice. 

Helen is also a recently reformed vegetarian. Welcome back to the land of the omnivore Helen (Omnivore (n). An animal or human eating both animal and plant foods).

Over to you Helen, and thanks everyone for reading and passing on this blog, already at over 5000 views.  

Grant Schofield

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

As a scientist, ‘dabbling’ isn’t something I do very often but I’m on maternity leave so anything goes!

So why have I decided to dabble in LCHF?

To set the scene, I’m a 37 year old pescatarian with a wonderful carb-loving husband, a beautiful daughter (2.5 years) and a lovely new son (3 months and exclusively breastfed). I’m not overweight, I’m relatively fit and I have no health problems. I love running and am currently trying to improve my swimming so that I can do an Olympic distance triathlon at the end of the year. My goal next year is to run a sub 3-hour marathon.

Having always been involved in sport and exercise, I’ve followed a low fat high carb diet for as long as I can remember. And after both babies, I upped my carb intake to meet the extra nutritional demand of breastfeeding. But with time on my hands in the middle of the night, I started to read the suggestions that there might be a better way; that the exact opposite of my diet could have long-term benefits that I could not ignore. Although as yet unproven, the suggestion of a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s struck a particular chord (having experienced the effects of this disease first-hand), as well as the potential prevention of cancers, coronary heart disease, diabetes, the list goes on. The more I read, the more I saw myself in the description of “falling off the glucose cliff”. I fall all the time; always have. I thought it was just because I’d gone too long without food; that I had low blood sugar so needed a hit of sugar to rectify it. Despite being well-educated, I hadn’t associated the hunger pangs soon after large meals, the crankiness and light-headedness if I didn’t eat for a few hours, with the foods I was eating. Why not? Probably because I didn’t want to. I like the foods I eat. To some people my diet would seem boring and “healthy” (in the traditional sense). To me it was enjoyable, satisfying (at the time), and convenient.

So to get back to the original question of why have I decided to dabble in the LCHF diet:

  • I realise that the foods I eat at every meal and snack are resulting in an insulin surge, closely followed by a blood sugar low. No wonder I feel a bit ropey soon after having a huge bowl of cereal and then hungry again shortly after
  • I might not be overweight but any improvement in body composition can only help my marathon aspirations
  • My diet might not be optimal for long-term good health
  • I want to see what all the fuss is about
  • I don’t believe the anecdotal reports about feeling satisfied for hours on end with what appears to me to be an insubstantial meal
  • And most importantly, I want to try to do something constructive to help address the epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. In trying out a potential solution, I might uncover some of the questions that need answering and the issues that need addressing before it can or will be widely adopted.

So why am I dabbling and not going in all guns blazing?

  • I’ll be honest, my beliefs have been so ingrained that I’m nervous of change
  • I’ve believed that fat is bad for so long that I’m almost scared of it
  • As a fish-eating vegetarian, I’m worried about what I will be able to eat
  • I’m worried about how a change in my diet will affect my milk supply for my currently healthy and happy son
  • My husband loves pasta, rice, bread and cereals and I find it hard to prepare one meal for us let alone two
  • We’ve got some large expenses and only one income at the moment and I’m worried about the cost
  • There has been no research on the effects of a LCHF diet on people like me (active female; breastfeeding)
  • I don’t know what the long-term side effects might be
  • If I fully accept that this is a good idea, I will feel guilty about the food I am feeding the rest of my family
  • I’m pretty happy the way I am
  • And lastly, I’m addicted to Pepsi Max[1] and am not sure how I will survive without it!

My first dabble was comically unsuccessful: fish, veggies and salad for dinner….starving and wolfing down a huge bowl of cereal an hour later! Why? Nowhere near enough fat.

My second dabble…..full fat yoghurt mixed with cream…..a text to Grant and AUT nutritionist Mikki Williden an hour later asking if it’s normal to feel so sick! Yes it turns out….my high carb-low fat trained body just isn’t used to such high fat dairy products. I felt full for hours though!

So I’m going to give it a go for 7 days and see how I get on. Watch this space…. 

[1] Strictly speaking, Pepsi Max is fine on a LCHF diet, but it seems pointless to test out a diet designed to improve health whilst still consuming something I know is bad for me. So the carbs are going and the Pepsi Max is going.

What about kids on LCHF?


This blog was inspired by a question/objection to LCHF from my friend Stuart: “Don’t growing kids need a rich and varied diet when they are growing?”

I couldn’t agree with you more Stuart.  Let’s cover this in two parts, the rich and the varied separately.

Rich:  Yes, kids like all humans respond well to a nutrient dense diet. I am advocating a nutrient dense diet full of fibre, and whole foods full of micronutrients.  Children, like adults, should eat until they are satisfied.  Their food should be based, like adults, on primal principles. In other words, the starting hypothesis for the diet that children thrive on should be based in evolutionary biology, not what the modern food supply is.

The reality is that we have had 100,000 generations of  humans who have successfully bred, raised off spring, and bred again on diets full of whole foods, often high in fat and low in carbohydrates. There is still no evidence that diets high in carbohydrates are essential for optimal human growth and development.

Yet, there is a widespread belief that carbs are absolutely essential for children’s growth and development.  Especially as a source of dietary fibre and other “essential nutrients” (usually not specified what these actually are). A recent article in the Guardian reported on Gwyneth Paltrow’s children being on a low carb eating pattern. It was interesting to see a variety of reactions to this approach.  At one end there were the dietitians claiming that the children would be at health risk because of the absence of the vital carbohydrates.  And that they would no longer be able to think clearly and this would affect brain functioning. Others, with a more balanced view in my opinion, note that from an evolutionary biology perspective there is no reason children shouldn’t flourish under these sorts of whole food conditions.

We certainly need more research in this field with kids.  If the adult data are anything to go by, then children should flourish under a diet that more closely resembles that of our ancestors.

Varied:  Do you mean that refined carbohydrates offer a healthy variation?  If so, no I disagree. These are not part of a rich and varied diet.  Can they eat them now and then?  Yes, like some adults, that is probably OK.  Metabolically healthy children are highly insulin sensitive.  They will spontaneously react to swiftly remove carbohydrate from their blood.  This is what a sugar high is in its extreme in children – the body reacting to remove carbohydrate from the system by all means possible.  I feed my children carbohydrates in higher quantities than I eat them. Heck I even give some of them wheat products. Sugar, yeah that too sometimes.  But my children are metabolically healthy and will deal with it.  They will need to modify this as they age into middle and older adulthood, as it is inevitable that they will become less carbohydrate tolerant.

By metabolically healthy I mean a normal weight.  It’s not normal to be a fat kid. I mean normal blood glucose, I mean normal motivation to be active, I mean normal physical skills appropriate to age. I also mean normal blood pressure, normal liver, and good lipid profiles.  Many children in our society aren’t in this state and it’s not their fault. Being obese as a child, according to some researchers, has about the same effect on quality of life as having cancer as a child. It’s no fun for the child.  They know it, we know it.  Let’s start talking about it.

As Dr Robert Lustig says, “But the kicker here is that fat kids don’t get sugar highs. They just reach for another cookie”. In other words, a high carb diet in a metabolically dysregulated child is not OK.  It’s not because they are the same as a metabolically dysregulated adult.  Children now have fatty livers, insulin resistance and diabetes because of the food, mostly sugar, they are being fed.  Is this because they are gluttonous sloths?  No, it’s not their fault.  It’s no ones individual fault.  It’s the fault of the food industry, poor government regulation, poor nutrition research, and poor public health recommendations.  For fat kids it’s not OK to keep stuffing down the carbs.  That won’t help and if sugar especially is involved, the problem will probably only get worse.

It’s worth watching Dr Lustig’s “Sugar the Bitter Truth” lecture on youtube.  Its great and the first medical endocrinology lecture to go viral.  For the technically minded geeks, his address at the ancestral health symposium is even better.

Lustig has clearly made a decision to, publicly at least, attack sugar as the demon in childhood obesity. Most would agree that is probably the best place to start, especially nutrient-poor sugary drinks.  However, the obvious next logic in his arguments must extend to processed and other rapidly absorbed carbohydrates.

Are we ready for this next step in our society? I am.

OK, I’m ranting, maybe raving now I think.  But did I make the point? Rich is good. Varied doesn’t mean refined sugar and carbs to be “balanced”, especially if you are in metabolic trouble.

So what do my kids eat?

I am the first to admit I’m not a perfect parent, even when it comes to diet. In fact, that seems to be quite a hard part of parenting. That said, we have switched things around from what I would say is conventional eating in our family and it’s going fine.

The reality is that my kids are not on a LCHF diet. They eat mostly whole foods, mostly good quality meats and fats, mostly wheat free, with a dose of the foods all kids get exposed to these days. Is sugar good for them?  I doubt that it does much good.  On the other hand they are insulin sensitive and deal with it pretty well.  So no worries.

In fact that’s a point for the whole LCHF thing.  What I am advocating in general is that high carbs affect some people adversely.  Paradoxically, these are the people who are most vulnerable to obesity and metabolic syndrome. That’s not my kids and it may not be you, now at least.  As we all get older we will probably tolerate carbs less well.  Some kids may even be in this category and you’d have to approach their eating with a little more rigor than I do.

Here’s how it goes for the kids in my house 90% of the time


  • out: cereal, skim milk, toast and spreads, fruit juice, sugar
  • in: eggs, bacon, all fruit, yogurt, smoothies with full fat milk and berries


  • out: sandwiches, processed muesli bars, chips
  • in: cooked meat, fruit, cheese, yogurt

After school:

  • Fried rice with vegetables, eggs, yogurt, cookies (yes I know but that’s the way it goes), fruit, milk


  • Whatever we are having, which is typically meat, fish and vegetables or salad and some sort of high fat dessert (e.g. cream and berries).

Do they buy chocolate bars, soda, and other sweets?  Yes they do.  Do I support it? Sometimes, but mostly not.  Remember, a treat is only a treat when it is not all the time. It’s an imperfect world and we’re doing what we can.

What do I actually eat?


Grant Schofield has a chat to a village pig about the pig’s future. The pig listens carefully.

Thanks to everyone who has started following this blog.  Frankly, while I find this stuff interesting and important, I had no idea that it was shared by so many other people.  An academic’s real-life exposure to social media is an eye opener and fun. 3000 hits in a little over a week!

So the main question I have had from people so far is “what do you eat?” and “what about kids?” I think I can talk about both of those, in this and the next post. After all I am me, and I am the father of three boys.

Some background:

I have been active and relatively fit my whole life, including a stint as a professional triathlete. One observation and my main excuse for not being a long lasting and super duper fast professional triathlete, was that I could never get my weight under 85-86 kg.  In fact, when I did my fastest time in Ironman NZ 2001, I was officially entered in the heavy weight “clydesdale” division, where I was 94 kg at weigh in. To be fair, that was at the conclusion of the pre-race pasta party. My time of 9:04 was (I claimed at least), at the time, a clydesdale world record.  I’m not sure there is such a record but it gave me mileage at the time – “world’s fastest fat guy over the Ironman triathlon distance”.

What bugged me though was why I couldn’t get fully race lean. I was eating low fat, high carb.  It was exactly what the experts said I should do.  I could hardly exercise any more.  I was training up to 25 hours a week! In fact, I noticed the same thing when I watched the Ironman in Taupo New Zealand  this year.  Roughly one third of the field is overweight or obese in my judgement.  How can they stay fat doing so much exercise?  Maybe they are LESS fat than when they started?  Or maybe their high carb diet and chronically raised insulin fails to allow fat burning?

Anyway, post triathlon retirement and children arriving I was up over 102 kg.  I was still exercising everyday, eating “healthily” and still fatter than ever and it was getting out of control.  Why was I always hungry? Why did my energy always “fall of a cliff” after lunch? I was trying really hard to NOT be a fat bastard. You can imagine, I do physical activity, nutrition, and obesity research.  You lose street cred when you are fat.

My Solution:  Take up marathon running and starve myself.  This method got the weight off. It also made me sick and injured.  I was especially prone to colds and flu with several every year. I hate flu.

I finally got consistently injured enough to flag the running and take up age group triathlon again. Same results:  weight creeping, always creeping.  When it crept past an acceptable point, I’d starve myself and exercise like crazy.  I’d get sick.

Surely there has to be a better way? Enter, LCHF.

Now: I’m down to my lightest weight since mid-high school.  79 kg, lean, full of energy, and all the  injury and illness has gone.  I’m eating until full, as much as I like.  It’s Awesome.  I wouldn’t have believed this was possible.  But it is.

I started reading all the literature and science in nutrition, which has been part of my broader field for a while.  I have read enough now and experienced enough case work to change my starting hypothesis.

That’s partly why this blog is here.  That’s why I have changed my research and practice direction in physical activity, nutrition and obesity, as well as the broader area of well being. I am now up with the science and we need to do it better.

So what do I eat?

I don’t always eat three meals a day now. I often try intermittent fasting which usually isn’t planned but happens naturally* according to hunger, food availability, work pressures and convenience. For this to be possible is a revelation to me.  I have spent almost all of my life being pretty much hungry the whole time.  If I didn’t eat every few hours I would fall off a glucose cliff and basically become 50% functional.  This is hardly convenient and hardly optimal for a high performance life.  My new way of eating also allows me to easily create calorie deficits to manage my weight if I feel I need to.

*The fact that I can quite often end up fasting accidentally for relatively long periods, while staying mentally sharp and full of physical energy, is an amazement to me.  I’ve spent my whole life doing exactly the opposite.  It’s sort of like the “user manual” for being me has been found.  I am fat adapted and can oxidize fat as a primary fuel source. I can use ketones as a fuel for my brain.  I don’t fall off the glucose “cliff” every few hours.  This is a great place to be in.  It also means you lose the cravings for the sweet food, especially sugar. This is the main benefit most people I know who have moved into this style of eating report. The constant energy and loss of ridiculous hunger every few hours.

I also have the occasional off day or meal when I just do whatever I feel like.  We are all human after all.  I used to plan these for a while and really looked forward to them.  Frankly, now, I can do this if I want but I feel so crappy after eating simple carbs, especially wheat products, that I just don’t bother much.  Again, this is a revelation as my self control in the face of high sugar high carb foods in the past has been completely non-existent!

Here are some typical meals for me:


  • Scrambled eggs with whipping cream and streaky farm bacon from the butcher fried in coconut oil
  • Smoothie made with coconut cream or milk, whipping cream, coco powder and or fresh berries
  • Salmon, avocado and tomato
  • Omelette with cheese and veggies (meat added when I feel like it).


  • Massive salad with lettuce, tomato, capsicum, cucumber, cheese, meat of some sort – fish, chicken, bacon whatever is around, avocado, almonds.  Mix up and add copious amounts of dressing which is home made olive oil and vinegar or mayo.  The dressings have to be made by you, because almost all commercial dressings use hydrogenated vegetable fats – yuck – and are often high in sugar
  •  That’s my “go-to” lunch above.  I lack imagination for lunch according to my family, but that’s the way it goes!  I do have eggs and smoothies for lunch sometimes or something from the dinner/lunch list below.


  • Some sort of meat or fish.  Heaps of veggies (green and red veggies as a rule, cauliflower is also good, avoid starchy ones). I like pork with crackling. This is the time to really appreciate the flavors of fat.
  • Wine, although I am trying an alcohol free month right now because it was getting out of hand!
  • Berries and cream for dessert
  • Low carb cheese cake is a favorite

Other tips and traps

  1. Don’t trim fat. Healthy fats are monounsaturated olive and other nut oils, Omega 3 fish oils, and healthy meat fats (unprocessed red and white meats including beef pork, fish and chicken), as well as dairy fats. Coconut oil is great.  Avoid hydrogenated and polyunsaturated fats, especially in cooking.
  2. Just to reiterate, you have to replace carb and protein calories with something.  The only macronutrient left is fat.  Our ancestors likely coveted fat.  Fat, at least as far as insulin and leptin goes, is metabolically benign.  Carbs are not, especially when they are rapidly absorbed.
  3. Coffee is OK, I use whipping cream not milk. I tend to avoid dairy except cheese of all sorts (yum!) and cream.  Milk can be high in lactose (a carbohydrate). Those who are more carbohydrate tolerant (have an ability to eat carbs without weight gain) can go for full fat milk and a fuller range of dairy. Most kids are in this  category.
  4. Alcohol is a tricky question.  Alcohol is certainly not metabolically benign.  I recommend abstinence during the adaptation period into LCHF. Have a look at this link to explore more about keto/low carb adaptation. Then what you want is a low carb drink if you enjoy alcohol.  I certainly don’t drink alcohol for physical health reasons but I do drink it for social and marital health reasons!  My wife Louise and I spend lots of time sitting on our deck drinking wine and talking.  Great fun!  The active alcohol is called ethanol and is processed in the liver without much effect on insulin, at least not directly. It in fact follows a similar and dangerous path to the liver and beyond.  It’s metabolically active in an inflammatory and insulin resistance-promoting kind of way.  However, that said, we all have our vices, the actual insulin raising carbs in a glass of wine are between 3 and 6 g, depending on the wine and the size of glass (we have big glasses in our house!) so a glass or two is fine. Beers have way more carbs (12-20 g) per bottle and contain wheat that may result in other metabolic effects for some people.  You can get low carb beers of course.  I don’t really care for spirits, as a result of bad youth experiences I think, but if you do use them then it’s crucial to leave out the sugar based mixers.

That’s my wrap.  I’m not perfect and as a normal human fall off the wagon too.  I’m on the 18/21 plan. If there are 21 meals in a week, try for at least 18 good ones, hopefully better.  Let me know your favorite meals and we can post them up.