The year 2014, turned us all into ‘Panting, er..... Banting Enthusiasts'! From a dietetic perspective cutting out all carbohydrates has never made sense to me, but boy, did South Africans follow the Pied Piper on his pilgrimage of high-protein, high-fat, zero- or very-low-carbs over the hills and far away!
Read: 10 Golden rules of Banting
If we consider that our bodies are designed to use carbohydrates as their primary source of energy particularly for the brain (which uses up to 20% of the body’s energy production), then cutting out all carbs is not a good idea (excuse the pun!).
But what we tend to forget, is that the global village is much larger than our country and that there are many thousands of dedicated researchers all over the world who are investigating other aspects of nutrition, not just obesity or the role that carbs may, or may not, play in causing fat accumulation.
One of the most important challenges we as humans will have to face sooner, rather than later, is the impact of climate change on the availability of common foods.
In 2014, I was fascinated to hear Prof John Taylor lecture on the very real threat facing continents like Australia and Africa, where dwindling rainfall in the grain producing areas may force us to change our staple foods.
Read: UN report outlines ways to adapt to climate change
Instead of maize and wheat, drought-stricken Africa may have to revert to using sorghum, millet and spelt as staples, while Australia may have to change over to new plant food sources such as lupins.
Vitamin D, the once forgotten vitamin, gains importance with every passing year and has now been declared a hormone, not just a vitamin. This elevation in status may come as a surprise to most South Africans who cannot imagine developing vitamin D deficiencies because of our abundant sunshine that should be powering our bodies to produce plenty of our own vitamin D.
Studies throughout the world have, however, shown that even people living in high-sunshine countries or areas, tend to suffer from vitamin D deficiencies. And a lack of vitamin D has been linked to colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancer, as well as heart disease, hypertension and stroke. As researchers discover more about this vitamin/hormone it is possible that they will be able to identify its immune-boosting actions and protective functions and to find out if vitamin D is the answer to the many ‘new’ autoimmune diseases that ravage humanity.
Read: Can vitamin D lower your risk of melanoma?
Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored in the body and can accumulate in excessive amounts, which may in turn cause a condition called hypervitaminosis D, that damages tissues and organs. The public, is therefore, cautioned not to take massive doses of vitamin D without being monitored by your medical doctor. Too much of a good thing, can also be dangerous!
The Endless Quest
Modern people tend to laugh at the stories of noble knights who went on quests to find precious, holy relics or lost kingdoms. Well, modern people should examine their own quests for a slim body, mega-fitness and beauty which so many of us pursue on a daily basis, before pointing fingers at those old knights!
2014 was a prime example of ‘The Endless Quest for Weightloss and Beauty’. Despite the dominance of banting as a cure-all for everything except your bank balance, other slimming topics also enjoyed their moment of fame. For example Garcinia cambogia was hailed as the ‘new slimming wonder drug’ and now most slimming pill manufacturers are adding this ‘magic’ ingredient to their diet pills and potions. Does it work or is it the massive doses of caffeine in these products that stimulate metabolism? At the moment, no one knows and reliable research results are still sketchy. I would prefer to wait for more data before recommending the use of Garcinia to the public.
Read: Paleo diet - is it worth the switch?
Then the Paleo Diet was introduced and went down well especially with those members of the public who were either tired of banting or had not lost the promised vast amounts of weight with a zero-carb-diet. As is always the case, some people did lose weight on the Paleo Diet, but the Paleo Diet also started fading into the mists of time (!), when its users found that maintaining such a strict primitive food intake became too expensive or difficult to source.
The Witch Hunt
No year would be complete without a Witch Hunt of a selected food.
2014 saw the demonisation of sugar once again. This has happened with monotonous regularity during the past 40 years, ever since Prof John Yudkin published ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ in 1972. While most members of the public rather like protein (even if the majority cannot afford it), sugar and fats are linked to feelings of guilt, suspicion that they could be causing weight gain, tooth decay, blocked arteries and as many ills as the average person can think of.
Read: Craving sugar? Blame your brain
So 2014 was the year when sugar was “burnt at the stake” and in 2015 the media and the public will probably pounce on fat again. The pendulum of public opinion swings back and forth and in the meanwhile our populations continue to gain weight; authors of slimming books, manufacturers of diet pills and products and diet gurus grow rich; but little changes.
Let’s see what 2015 brings. I personally have a feeling that computerised nerve stimulation via micro-probes implanted in selected nerves will in time be the solution to many diseases and conditions, including obesity and eating disorders.
At present these treatments are in their infancy, but they may well become as common as pacemakers for the heart and help us control our autoimmune responses and even help with weight loss.