Finding the time to prepare breakfast amidst the chaotic scramble of getting out the door of a morning is no easy feat. But what if we told you it was healthier to skip breakfast – until later in the morning, that is. This sanity-saving advice comes from Dr Michael Mosley, science journalist, bestselling author of The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet and The Fast Diet and presenter of Trust Me I'm A Doctor The impact of when we eat - not just what we eat - is one of the topics Mosley and his team tackle in Trust Me I'm A Doctor and the documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer.
The breakfast solution
Mosley, who devised the popular 5:2 or intermittent fasting diet (based on eating a quarter of a normal day’s recommended kilojoules two day per week), is a firm believer in giving our bodies an occasional break from food – but divulges that simply having your breakfast later is an easy way to fast. You won’t just gain more snooze time of a morning. “If you go for longer periods without food, 10 or 12 hours at a time, your body goes into what’s called negative protein balance, and instead of producing new proteins it starts to get rid of the old, broken-down ones,” he explains. “It’s the equivalent of taking your body to the garage.”
By switching cells into repair mode, it’s thought that occasional fasting can reduce the risk of cancer, dementia and diabetes, improve longevity and, as Mosley declares in Eat, Fast and Live Longer it could “radically transform” our collective health. Can’t stomach a late breakfast? An early dinner is another easy way to give your body a chance to repair (provided you veto the late night snacks).
Why Mediterranean matters
Of course, along with when you eat, what you eat is crucial. “What’s become increasingly clear to me is the benefits of the Mediterranean diet: the more I look at the evidence, the more compelling it is,” Mosley says. He cites one study where over 7000 Spaniards were allocated to either a low-fat or a Mediterranean diet. “After six years they had to stop the trial early because the people on the Mediterranean diet were doing so much better, with nearly 60 per cent less risk of developing breast cancer, 30 per cent less risk of heart disease and 50 per cent less risk of going on to develop type 2 diabetes,” he says. But if you think that means fettuccini and pane di casa on high rotation, stop right there. According to Mosley, the true Mediterranean diet (and the one used in the trial) is based on lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, fish and full-fat yoghurt.
A crusade against carbs
This low-carb, Mediterranean style of eating forms the basis of newly released The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet Recipe Book, which Mosley’s wife Dr Clare Bailey (a GP) has co-authored. Refined, starchy carbs like bread, pasta, potatoes, processed cereals and white rice are omitted, because they rapidly convert into sugars in the blood. Reassuringly, an element of decadence is embraced through the inclusion of full-fat cheeses, yoghurt, butter, eggs, olive oil and avocado.
According to Mosley, the low-fat, high-carb diet that for years has been promoted as healthy is partly to blame for the scourge of obesity and chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease besetting the Western world. “The real villain of the piece is the visceral fat that gathers around your tummy, and I suspect that’s a result of the fact that we’ve removed some of the good, healthy fats from our diets and replaced them with sugary, carby foods,” he says.
Find the recipe for Spiralised zucchini puttanesca here.
Taking his own advice
His human guinea pig style experiments have ranged from swallowing tapeworm cysts to taking the ‘truth drug’ sodium thiopental. But Mosley’s investigations into intermittent fasting (as documented in Eat, Fast and Live Longer) have been his most personally rewarding, helping him lose 9kg in 12 weeks and reverse his type 2 diabetes, with which he was initially diagnosed in 2012.
So, what exactly does a fasting day look like for Mosley? “I’ll have scrambled eggs with a bit of smoked salmon, plenty of tea, coffee and water, a low calorie miso soup at lunch with some vegetables, then in the evening I’ll have a big pile of vegetables with some salmon or steak,” he says. “It’s not a starvation diet by any means.”
The pear and Brazil nuts give these brownies a lovely subtle flavour. And what’s more, Brazil nuts are an excellent source of minerals, particularly selenium (important for thyroid function and the immune system). Cut the brownies small and freeze any left over. They make a great after-dinner treat.
Many of my Asian patients with blood sugar problems tell me that they struggle to replace flatbreads or chapattis in their diet. Unfortunately, most shop-bought flatbreads these days are made of highly refined wheat flour, whereas in India they are traditionally made with wholemeal chickpea flour, which is relatively lower in carbohydrate and high in protein and fibre. It is also gluten-free.