• According to Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, the secret to good health is to stick to the dietary facts. (SBS)
Australia’s most loved science communicator who’s been translating fascinating health truths to laypeople since the 1980s reveals the secret to eating well.
By
Yasmin Noone

14 May 2019 - 1:08 PM  UPDATED 14 May 2019 - 1:51 PM

If you want to eat well and stay healthy throughout the course of your life, there’s one overriding principle you should always adhere to, especially in today’s age of social media and celebrity health endorsements.  

According to Dr Karl Kruszelnicki – Australia’s most loved science communicator who’s been translating fascinating health truths to laypeople since the 1980s – the secret to good health is to stick to the dietary facts.

The science advocate tells SBS that if we want the truth, all we need to do is seek diet advice from dietitians, not unqualified wellness gurus, and “not people with nice teeth, very tight abdomens and six packs”. 

“Celebrity endorsements also count for a lot: having someone who is unqualified but famous does a lot of good for you."

Tongue-in-cheek, Dr Karl says wellness gurus are easy to identify. Just listen for their stories that discuss their ‘journey’ to good health. “Celebrity endorsements also count for a lot: having someone who is unqualified but famous does a lot of good for you,” comments Dr Karl.

An unqualified guru may also promote the new, amazing health values of regular food with a cultural heritage that has been in use for decades, if not centuries. “They’ll say ‘this is food that’s been around in your culture for hundreds of years’, as opposed to a new food that has just been invented that comes in a blister-seal pack that you need a small chainsaw to open.”

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Unlike the wellness gurus he describes, Dr Karl has certainly earned the right to inform us about science. The ABC radio commentator is a qualified medical doctor, engineer, physicist and mathematician, and a Julius Sumner Miller Fellow at the University of Sydney.

To-date, Dr Karl has written over 40 books. In the 2006 honours list, the doctor was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2014, he was voted as the ninth most trusted person in Australia by Readers Digest.

“I don’t know whether [the commonality between our chosen careers] was genetic or behavioural. But he was in the field of passing on information, telling stories and being a journalist. Somehow I’ve drifted into that field.”

Truth-seeking: nature or nurture?

The truth is Dr Karl didn’t start out his career as a science communicator. Born in Sweden to Polish parents, he came to Australia with his family to live at age two.

He says he faced schoolyard racism and bullying and - to some degree - denied much of his Polish heritage during his younger years in order to fit in with the Anglo kids. "But of course, it made no difference."

After school, Dr Karl gained university qualifications in physics, engineering, medicine and surgery, and went on to work in hospitals. Driven to reveal the truth about wrongly publicised facts, he later gave up his medical career and became a science journalist.

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As viewers learn in episode four of the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? airing on SBS on Tuesday 21 May, Dr Karl’s fascination with asking ‘why’ may be an inherited trait.

His father was a Polish lawyer and journalist who became a Russian prisoner of war in World War Two after publishing truths about the social injustices of communism.

“I don’t know whether [the commonality between our chosen careers] was genetic or behavioural. But he was in the field of passing on information, telling stories and being a journalist. Somehow I’ve drifted into that field.”

Whatever the reason, the doctor remains determined to help people understand the truth about science and better comprehend evidence-based facts about dietetics and health.

The truth about eating well

So what does Dr Karl say is the truth about what we should be eating to maintain a good state of health?

“The best book I’ve come across on this is from Michael Pollan and called, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

He explains the evidence-based book consists of a simple philosophy divided into three parts, described in seven words: “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”.

Dr Karl explains what it means. 

“Eat food…”: He translates ‘eat food’ to mean “stuff that has a heritage from your culture”.

“If you are Inuit Eskimo, you go out there and eat whale or seal blubber," he says. "If you are Han Chinese, you eat will differently from Schezuan Chinese, which is different again from Vietnamese, which is different to the English, which is different to the French and Spanish.

“Just eat the foods that your culture has found to be good – and food that you recognise.”

“Mostly plants…”:  A diet high in plant-based proteins and fats is recommended.

Dr Karl explains that if you decide to go vegetarian or vegan, you have to become informed about how to replace the nutrients you are omitting from the animal-based foods of your diet. Otherwise, you could become deficient in iron or vitamin B12. 

“Not too much": Apparently, we’re all at risk of over-consuming food because there’s a 20-minute delay between the moment you actually become full and when your brain recognises that you are full.

"We’ve all felt that when we’ve been for dinner at someone’s place. The conversation is nice and the food is amazing, and we keep eating. Then you have this feeling of fullness and think ‘I should have stopped eating 20 minutes ago’.”

Dr Karl says the reason is evolutionary. Back in time, if we came across a dead whale or elephant, we would have consumed as much of it as we could have because we didn't know where our next meal was coming from. “You see, for most of our history, we have not had agriculture. Only agriculture gives you an assured food supply."

“Just eat the foods that your culture has found to be good – and food that you recognise.”

It’s these sort of scientific truths – minor facts about the human body and the world around us that have major implications for our health – that Dr Karl has become so famous for. It’s also the reason why we trust his evidence-based wellness tips.

“This is what I find fascinating about science: it comes out with stuff that - firstly - is amazing and - secondly - that you can trust.”


 

Who Do You Think You Are? is produced by Warner Bros. International Television Production Australia for SBS.  Australia’s favourite scientist, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki came to Australia as a refugee with his parents in 1950. An only child, Karl knows very little about his parent’s life before they emigrated. Following his only lead, Karl heads to Ukraine in Eastern Europe where he has found a small village that carries his surname. As he traces his parents’ footsteps, Karl will uncover buried truths, make unexpected connections, and finally bridge the gap to his parents’ past. Tune in for Dr Karl's episode on Tuesday 21 May on SBS and then via SBS On Demand.

The series airs at 7.30pm Tuesday nights on SBS and then via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #WDYTYA

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