Sunday Shutdown Series

#31 BCAA’s

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What are they?

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) have been big business in the health and fitness industry for a while now. That being said I still get asked about them and I still know people taking them. It makes me angry sometimes.

Out of the nine amino acids that make up protein, three of them are of the branched chain variety:

The most important of the three in terms of muscle gain and maintenance is leucine, the other two have no added benefit. So here’s your first hurdle, you are paying for those extra two for no reason. No benefit, nada.

Why do people take them?

Most individuals currently taking or considering taking BCAA’s are those who actually give a sh*t about training and nutrition. They will already be taking on additional protein and be conscious of what they consume throughout the day. They will also be easy to market new products to. The thing is, if you are hitting your protein target/threshold per day then there is absolutely no benefit in taking these. The only time they may be beneficial is in super low protein meals, which you are unlikely to be eating.

The science?

An in depth review of the science conducted by Wolfe in 2017 found no human studies that showed an increase in muscle protein synthesis after taking BCAA supplements orally. And when taken intravenously it actually resulted in muscle breakdown and less muscle synthesis.

A time when they may be useful are for those participating in ultra-endurance events, think #ironman. And this is due to the severe carbohydrate depletion towards the end of the exercise period, we are talking like 6 hours in. Once your carbohydrate stores are gone, your body will start to breakdown protein to use for fuel, not ideal, but by taking BCAA’s this can limit the amount of protein broken down which is going to assist with your performance right to the end and also your recovery too.

If you are an avid BCAA user, try investing your money elsewhere and perhaps think about other areas of your diet and or nutrition which may have got you those results. #justsayin

#30 Manuka Honey

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SUNDAY SHUTDOWN #30 MANUKA HONEY, is it worth the price tag?⠀

What is it?

Manuka honey is native to New Zealand and is a product of the manuka tree where bees collect their honey from. In recent years it has landed on the shelves of many health food stores and even supermarkets with a price tag upwards of £20, some even coming in at £70. Health claims on manuka honey (and any products containing it) include it’s positive effects on your gut health, treating cancer and diabetes, boosting your immune system and generally being good for oral hygiene. It is both marketed for external or topical use and for ingestion as well.⠀

All types of honey have been praised for thousands of years on their antibacterial properties and have been used for wounds and burns. Manuka honey has a special chemical called methylglyoxal which has specific antimicrobial properties, this compound is not found in standard honey and is what makes it different. However, the benefits of methylglyoxal found in Manuka honey is not quite known just yet. In general terms for wound care there is medical grade honey which is licensed around the world. Manuka honey is not medical grade. And you should not use any honey purchased from a supermarket to heal your wounds at home.⠀

What does the science say?

Most people will see manuka honey and buy it for ailments such as a sore throat and because it costs more and has a fancy rating system on it then surely it must work, right? False. Despite all the claims you read about manuka honey there are no large scale human trials that have looked at its effect on cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol or gut health (or anything for that matter). Most of the limited research conducted using manuka honey has been done in a lab or in animals therefore it cannot be applied to humans.⠀

And finally…

So whilst a well known remedy for a sore throat is a hot cup of water with lemon and honey, the standard stuff will do just fine. And a side note from a sustainability perspective, our bees are in danger so plant some bee loving varieties in your garden next spring or buy some bee bombs, the kids will love them.⠀

#29 The Alkaline Diet

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What is it?

The alkaline diet is based on the idea that the food and drink you consume can alter the pH of your body. It is sometimes also known as the alkaline ash diet or the acid alkaline diet. The diet promotes the idea that eating acid forming or acidic foods will cause damage to one’s health and alkaline foods will improve it. Claims have also included curing diseases such as cancer. The diet states that foods such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, alcohol and grains are all highly acidic and damaging and those such as fruits, nuts, seeds, veggies and legumes are alkaline and therefore beneficial.

What is pH?

pH is a scientific measurement of how acidic or alkaline the body is and the pH of the human body as a whole is 7.4 which is just above neutral. Somewhere like the stomach has a pH of 2 as it contains acid to digest food whereas something like bleach has a pH of 12 and falls into the alkaline category. The body maintains its pH of 7.4 very strictly as this is where we can function. Just like it maintains our body temperature. If the pH of your body changed you are at risk of death, very quickly if untreated. Foods have the ability to affect the pH of our urine, however that’s something the body is getting rid of. In fact that is one of the ways your body maintains it’s pH by getting rid of very acidic or alkaline substances.

Is it safe?

Products marketed as alkaline are not regulated in the UK and any claims made on them are unfounded. A few years ago in the USA, Robert Young (claiming to practice as a doctor at the time), defrauded terminally ill cancer patients by informing them his baking soda infused drips would cure them. Many stopped their conventional treatment and subsequently died. In 2016, he was convicted of practicing medicine without a licence and sentenced to almost four years in jail. I appreciate this in an extreme, however people like this prey on the vulnerable and when you have tried anything and are at your wits end, you are likely to believe them. This is the severe danger of the nutrition industry. Food is not medicine. Please remember that. None of the claims made by this diet have scientifically been proven in humans.

#28 The Fast 800

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A relatively new diet plan developed by Michael Moseley focusing on weight loss. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?⠀

The diet focuses on 3 stages (we will discuss 2 of these today)⠀
? 800 calories a day⠀
? 5:2 or intermittent fasting⠀
? Maintenance⠀

Stage 1

800 calories a day is severe food restriction. And whilst for some people with a lot of weight to lose this may be a good way to start (especially when motivation is high) for many people this can be dangerous. Really anyone on a diet this low in calories should be under professional supervision. It’s recommended for between 2 and 12 weeks. 12 weeks with no supervision in my professional opinion is unsafe and setting yourself up to fail. It’s based on meal replacement shakes and whilst this is only advised for people with a large amount of weight to lose anyone can buy the shakes online. Not good.⠀

Stage 2

800 calories for 2 days a week, eating on the others days but with smaller portions, otherwise known as intermittent fasting. Yes, you will lose weight because you are still consuming less calories than your body requires. The thing that gets me here is not the weight loss but the fact it states the benefits of fasting include: cancer prevention and increased life expectancy. There is no clinical evidence to support these claims. Even on the science page of the website, only journal papers relating to weight loss are mentioned. You can reduce your risk of getting cancer, you cannot prevent it.⠀


Stage 1 is not safe, stage 2 will more than likely result in weight loss (you can do this without buying shakes, just consuming 800 calories, 2 days a week) and stage 3 is eating a balanced diet. If this will keep you accountable to someone or something for weight loss then it may be worth a try. However it’s worth remembering, this doesn’t stop at the end of your 12 week programme. This is a new way of life. This is building lifelong habits, not going back to the ones that got you in this situation in the first place.⠀

#27 CBD

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What is it?⠀

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an oil derived from the cannabis plant. It is well known for its role in pain management and can be prescribed via the NHS in the UK for this and motor sensory disorders. However, we are now seeing it on the shelves of pharmacies and health food stores, in both tablet form and as an oil. It’s expensive. A quick online search had me finding prices for the oils between £20 for a 10ml bottle and £34.99 for 60 tablets. Just this week I saw it mixed with coffee beans (@biffinskitchen), then there are also smoothies and breakfast items containing it being marketed as a master supplement. I’m not going to get into the detail of its role in medicine, but as it’s now promoted as a nutrition supplement, there is a need for me to have a voice!⠀

The research

A meta-analysis (lots of research all reviewed together) conducted by Bonaccorso et al this year, 2019, looked at the evidence for the use and safety of CBD in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Now this certainly isn’t my area of expertise as a nutritionist, however further reading in these types of areas is important and helps expand my knowledge. The results showed limited evidence for benefits to chronic psychological disorders but some therapeutic effects for specific disorders such as substance abuse and anxiety. And as for research on its nutritional benefits, there is 0.⠀

In summary

The safety of CBD’s use is still being researched, there simply aren’t enough trials or evidence of doses and the impact of taking too much. There are also no approved health claims which manufacturers can use on packaging. So in essence, any food product claiming it contains CBD and that it will bring benefit to your health is false. Please do not waste your money thinking this is a magical fix, it isn’t.⠀

#26 Gluten

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The reason this has come about is purely through anecdotal results. That’s when individual people report “I cut out gluten and I lost weight, or my digestive problems stopped or I just feel better”.⠀

What do we know?⠀

That people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease should not consume gluten. There are also people who may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, this means they have an acute reaction to gluten, but not full blown celiac disease and also shouldn’t consume it. You can also have an allergy to things like wheat or rye which contain gluten and these can be tested for. Other than those groups of people, there is no reason why gluten needs to be avoided and can form part of a healthy diet. It shouldn’t be labelled as bad or have fear associated with it.⠀

But why do people report feeling good when they cut it from their diet?

One of the main reasons this can occur is not from the act of removing gluten itself but from the act of making a change to their diet in general. Gluten is found in many products. A lot of those products are things we as humans find easy to consume a lot of. Bread, pasta, processed snacks. By removing these foods not only are you removing gluten but also removing a large proportion of food you more than likely were eating too much of. This in turn may also result in some fat loss, as in essence you are consuming less calories than you were beforehand.⠀

Just an idea, but rather than cut it out, try to consume less of it. This is harder than it sounds, we’ve all smelt the fresh loaf of sourdough and ended up eating more than we should have. But how about⠀
– halving your portion of pasta and adding in some greens⠀
– having an open sandwich with one slice of bread⠀
– or trying to consume bread at one meal a day only⠀

There have been no scientific studies in healthy individuals showing an inflammatory or negative effect on health when consuming a diet containing gluten. Just because something is gluten free that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, arsenic is gluten free and it can kill you!

#25 Green tea

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Commonly assumed as a master of all teas with benefits such as improved skin, assistance with weight loss and speeding up metabolism. But just what is the deal with this green hot beverage?

Let’s tackle the weight loss claim first. For something to aid weight loss, specifically fat loss, then it must be able to impact or change the energy balance equation. What that means is that it makes the calories you consume disappear faster or in fact make your body absorb less of them in general. Green tea contains caffeine, and we know that caffeine can be used to improve performance and may even slightly suppress appetite in some people. However, the impact caffeine actually has burning more calories is minimal. And let’s remember green tea has less caffeine than standard tea or coffee. It’s also important to note that any relevant clinical studies in relation to green tea, have actually looked at the caffeine content rather than the tea itself.

You may experience skin benefits, however they are likely to be from the fact you are more hydrated than you were previously. If you suddenly introduce green tea into your diet and don’t change anything else, you will be consuming more fluid. This is exactly the same as if you added in 4 cups of hot water with lemon or any other flavoured tea.

As green tea has been marketed for so long as a super tea, it may subconsciously influence your choices. This is known as you having more health seeking behaviours. What that means is, if you start doing one thing you believe is better for you, then you are more likely to add on a few other healthy habits too, like eating more fruit and vegetables or consume smaller portions of food.

I hope that clears it up. Green tea is not magical but can form part of a healthy diet.

#24 Activated charcoal

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Have you seen those black croissants that were all the rage in London last year? Made with activated charcoal and supposedly great for your health. They just looked burnt in my opinion. ⠀

I call bullsh*t on this for one final time. And am done with it. ⠀
Charcoal is used to stop poison or drugs being absorbed by the body when an individual has had a drug overdose or acute poisoning). That does not imply it in any way will benefit individual health, ie/ remove toxins from your body. Please refer to last weeks #sundayshutdown on detoxing for info on that one ?⠀

It is also sometimes used as a teeth whitening agent. ⠀

There is absolutely no clinical evidence that consuming this black stuff will have any benefit on your gut health, your digestion, your skin or weight loss. Because you know, everything these days is good for weight loss ?⠀

When I searched the clinical literature there were zero studies on it. ZERO. ⠀

I’m all for innovation with food, in fact it’s part of my job but the claims that come associated with some of this stuff just leads people astray and gets them to believe in things that are simply unfounded.

Don’t be an idiot ??⠀

#23 The detox

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Hands up, I’ve used this term before, I’m pretty sure most of us have. However the truth is that #detoxingyour body from food simply does not work. Humans have these organs called kidneys and a liver and their main functions are to remove toxins from the body. They basically filter out all the nasty stuff that our bodies don’t need. They are our detoxing system.⠀

Yet, we still buy into claims of detox teas, shakes, meal plans, juices and diets. Detox is a fancy marketing term used to play on our emotions and make us feel guilty about eating normal food. It makes us feel that by consuming this product we will be doing the right thing by our body, it will make us healthier and may even result in weight loss. Ideally we don’t want to detox our gut as it contains millions of bacteria which actually enhance our digestion, we need those little critters in there to keep us in good shape.⠀

A lot of the time when you do a detox cleanse or diet, yes you will lose weight and you may even feel great, but I can assure you it has nothing to do with the so called detox. You’ll lose weight because you won’t be eating, and therefore aren’t consuming calories. However you won’t just lose fat you’ll also lose muscle mass which isn’t a good thing. Especially as we age when maintaining muscle mass becomes even more difficult. You will also lose any excess water that may be stored in your body. Many of these products also don’t contain the magical herbal ingredients they claim to, they actually contain laxatives. So, the scales may tell you you’ve lost 7 pounds in 7 days, but not all of that will be fat, and when you go back to eating the scales will go back up.⠀

By law, the term detox is not allowed to be used to describe a food or beverage, a very well know tea company have just had to remove a product of theirs from sale because it breaks advertising laws. .
So please don’t do a detox. If you’ve had a few days or weeks of unusual eating patterns try increasing your fruit and veg intake for a while and drink some more water, that’s a good place to start. Don’t invest your money is these expensive fad products that will do little for your health in the long term.

#22 Vitamin drips

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I spoke about these in my stories earlier this week but for those who missed it here’s a pretty short and sharp update for you.⠀

There are various companies now offering infusion drips and booster shots that claim to improve your health for all types of reasons. From making you fitter, slimmer, boosting energy, topping up vitamin levels and most recently improving your chances of fertility there is no truth behind any of this. In fact, @getadrip in London were made to remove their #fertilitydrip because there is no science supporting it. I’m waiting for the rest to follow…⠀

Let’s just think about this shall we, you pay a couple of hundred pounds of your hard earned cash for someone in a shop to put a needle in your arm which can help make you slim ?⠀

Guys and gals please use your critical brain to second guess this stuff. Drips should be used in hospitals, they are there for people who are sick and need help. Not a quick fix for your body.⠀

Becoming fitter, losing weight and striving for optimum health takes time, probably longer than you think. It’s not easy. You have to put the effort in and get the right support to help you. And a drip is not supporting you.⠀

Finally give your body the respect it deserves by looking after it in the long term, rather than an afternoon. It will thank-you for consistently eating more fibre and vegetables than being infused with vitamin B12 for a few hours.⠀