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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature: why Giles Yeo wants to help you stop dieting

The University of Cambridge academic and BBC television personality is coming to Dubai to promote his “anti-diet book”

Giles Yeo wants to see healthy foods become cheaper than the less healthy alternatives. 
Giles Yeo wants to see healthy foods become cheaper than the less healthy alternatives. 

Debunking the myths of modern diets has been at the core of geneticist Giles Yeo’s work over the past 20 years. Investigating obesity and its links to genetics, the environment and the misconceptions of ­modern-day diets, the University of Cambridge academic and BBC television personality spent years lifting the lid on the false claims of diets and the marketing ploys of health food companies. He also campaigned for better education to help the public make more informed decisions about health.

His latest book, Gene Eating: The Science of Obesity and the Truth About Diets, is “an anti-diet book” busting everything from counting calories to high-protein diets.

He will share his insights at this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, unravelling the truth about healthy eating and fad diets, many of which are sold with no scientific basis, or just “a kernel of truth”

What he wants you to know

The fact is, Yeo wants to show there is no such thing as a diet that works for everyone, and personalised medicine and personalised eating is more vital than ever.

The TV presenter made his name in shows such as Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, and has assisted in groundbreaking research that uncovered pathways in how the brain controls food intake.

His current research focuses on understanding how these pathways differ from person to person, and the influence of genetics in our relationship with food and eating habits. Some people are simply more predisposed to gain weight, are less able to control their food desires and are more prone to having bigger appetites, he says.

“Whether or not we choose to eat something is a choice, but I argue that because some people feel hungrier or more attracted to food, it’s more difficult to stay healthy so we aren’t in full executive control over what we eat.”

But, although biology plays a part, it is not genetics alone. Environment and socio-­economic circumstances, he says, are also key factors. More must be done to bring the price of healthy food down and to better educate the general public, especially those less economically secure, he says.

“Eight to nine million people in the UK are food insecure. It’s tragic,” Yeo says. “Am I going to judge how those people eat? I am not. I feel it’s a privilege for me to make the choices I make. We need to improve food literacy across the population and we need to make the healthy choice, the cheaper choice.

“We can’t judge people for choosing the cheaper choice. If the healthy option was the cheaper choice, then poorer people could afford to eat healthier food.”

People must better understand calorific value and stop counting calories blindly, he says, because it is crucial to understand the concept of caloric availability over simple numbers.

Why there needs to be better regulations for food marketing

While it is necessary to eat less to lose weight, what those calories consist of counts. “If you eat 100 calories of sugar, you’ll get 100 calories of sugar,” he says. “If, however, you eat 100 calories of corn on the cob, you’d have absorbed much less than that, yet the calories still ‘look’ the same on the packaging. To blindly count calories makes no sense.”

Instead, he supports the introduction of more labelling on food, such as muffins in a coffee shop, which has been proven to reduce daily food consumption by at least eight per cent.

With so many high-protein diets, one myth Yeo wants to bust is the misconception that protein needs to come from animal sources. While higher protein diets make people more satiated for longer, as the protein goes deeper into the gut due to its chemical complexity, this can be achieved with anything – whether it’s chicken or tofu.

Rather than a miracle of the latest branded diet, or the sudden removal of carbohydrates, it’s simple science, he says, which would “explain almost every single diet out there”.

The problem is that people are hijacking some of these intolerances and marketing them as healthier, for example, quinoa milk sold as dairy-free – but is it healthier? It’s a marketing ploy.

Giles Yeo

Yeo is a staunch advocate for better regulations of food marketing and the misuse of the term “healthy”.

He says vitamin and supplement companies are among the worst culprits, while those marketing “alternatives” such as gluten-free or dairy-free foods as healthier, are also crossing blurry lines. “The problem is that people are hijacking some of these intolerances and marketing them as healthier, for example, quinoa milk sold as dairy-free – but is it healthier? It’s a marketing ploy,” he says. “People have for some reason come to believe that removing food groups is healthier, but for most people it’s not justified.”

However, Yeo says that one thing is clear: obesity is a global issue that is here to stay and people will always be on the hunt for quick fixes that will make them lose weight.

“The book gives you universal tools to understand if this new diet is complete rubbish or if it has some chance of working,” Yeo says.

Yeo will be at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Saturday at 10am

Updated: February 27, 2019 07:52 PM

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