The video above is 2 minutes 30 seconds long
Guy: The video above is the short version of why we get fat and what we can do about it. Below is the fascinating long version as today we are joined by Dr Kieron Rooney, a Researcher in Metabolic Biochemistry.
Kieron is a fun, down to earth guy who gives us an incite to what is going in the world of nutritional study from an academic perspective. So if you are wondering why there could be so much disagreement out there on the world of nutrition, then watch this as Kieron sheds some light on what’s really going on!
Full Dr Kieron Rooney Interview: Science, Research & Nutrition. What’s the real deal?
- Kieron’s personal journey of weight loss
- How scientific research actually works!
- Why we are getting fatter and sicker as a nation
- Understanding our own carbohydrate tolerances
- The relationship between sugar and cancer cells
- And much much more…
Guy Lawrence: This is Guy Lawrence of 180 Nutrition and welcome to another episode of the Health Sessions. Our awesome guest today is Dr. Kieron Rooney. Now, to quote his twitter bio, “Dr. Kieron Rooney is a researcher in metabolic biochemistry. He campaigns for real foods in schools,” and awesome project, “He’s interested in cancer and sugar metabolism and he’s also a registered nutritionist.”
And, also, on top of that, a really awesome cool guy, and we’re pretty keen to get him on the show today. The one thing I’ve realized chatting to Kieron on this podcast today is that the more you know the more you don’t now. You know? So delving into the world of science and academic research with Kieron and trying to figure out why there’s this whole nutritional mess going on, really, with this low-fat, high-fat, high-carb, low-carb, what, you know, what’s going on and to get it from Kieron’s perspective is pretty awesome.
So strap yourself in. It’s pretty information-packed, but he does break it down in really simple terms, and we cover many, many topics, including all of the above I just mentioned, so I’m sure you’re going to get a lot out of this.
If you are listening to this through iTunes, a little review, awesome. It takes two minutes. It can be complicated; iTunes don’t make it easy for us, you know, but the reviews, and if you subscribe to our podcast, allows us to get found easily on iTunes and it helps get this message out there. So if you do enjoy our podcasts and you do enjoy the show, a simple review telling us, “Hey, guys, keep it up,” would be pretty awesome.
We know we’re reaching a lot of people now and we know you’re out there. Of course you can watch these on video. If you are listening to us through iTunes, just come over to our blog 180nutrition.com.au where we’ve got a host of things everywhere from blog posts, obviously these podcasts, our products, whatever, it’s all in there, and it’s all there to serve you and help your health moving forward.
Anyway, enjoy the show. Let’s go over to Kieron and let’s hang out for the next 45 minutes. Awesome.
Guy Lawrence: All right. I’m Guy Lawrence. I’m with Stuart Cooke and our awesome guest today is Dr. Kieron Rooney. Welcome!
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Hello.
Stuart Cooke: Hello.
Guy Lawrence: Before we kick off, I’ve got to say I’m very excited to have you on the show and now I do say that to all the guests, but even more so today, because, you know, I was just thinking this morning there’s a lot of smart people in this world, right? And a lot of academics and the rest of it, but for some reason we still can’t get a unison, harmony, if you like, on nutrition, so what’s going on? So I’m really looking forward to shedding some light on that today.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Excellent.
Guy Lawrence: And find out why everyone is so indifferent about it.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I might not have a definitive answer for you, but I can at least come up with a few suggestions. How’s that?
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, that’d be awesome.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: yeah? All right.
Guy Lawrence: Before we get into that, can you just explain to our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Oh, yeah, sure.
Guy Lawrence: And why we are excited to have you on the show?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Okay, so, look, professionally I did a Bachelor of Science degree from 1995 to ’98 at University of Sydney and then I did my honors and Ph.D in metabolic biochemistry. So I had four and a bit years where I was looking at the role of the phosphocreatine energy shuttle and how it reacts or behaves to shuttle energy around muscle cells, liver cells and the pancreas. I was particularly looking at whether or not it influence insulin secretions, so I then used a couple of different animal models to manipulate that, so we would use exercise as intervention, we would use high-fat diets as an intervention, and we’ll have a look to see what we could do to influence fuel storage and fuel utilization capacity, and that…
And then in 2003, I got my position as a lecturer just after the Ph.D lecturing in exercise physiology and biochemistry. I’ve spent the last ten years now developing curriculum for exercise science degrees, exercise physiology, that mostly focuses, my part mostly focuses, on what regulates fuel utilizations, how we store it, how we break it down, and the regulation behind that, and that’s my teaching side of things, and then for my research perspective what I’ve continued on is the investigations of fuel utilization. We’ve got a number of research projects have looked at how diet and exercise can influence how well we store and break down fuel.
Personally, because I know that you’re interested in the personal story, if we go back to 2006, 2005, I was a smoker weighing in at around 90 kilos, but I could still run 5Ks at around about 25 minutes, so was living thinking that I was fit, right, but then decided with my partner that we wanted to start a family so we probably really should get ourselves healthy as well. I started making more changes so I quit smoking. I quit the drinking of Coke, which at that time I was probably around about two liters a day, and then I quit drinking Coke again in 2008, and then I quit drinking it again in 2010, and I quit drinking it again in 2013…
So, that one’s been a little bit of a recurrent one for me, but look…about two years ago I decided to go, well, I guess, the focus was not eating processed food. It was removing as much of the highly processed foods that were in my diet, which at the time was huge, right? That’s twos liters of Coke a day and there was a lot of pasta, there was a lot of breads, it was eating out a fair bit, and so once I, or the family, jumped onto that thinking and we removed a lot of the highly-processed refined flours, those types of foods, health just started improving even more dramatically.
Everyone like weight stories. I dropped. I went from 91 kilos at that point down to 75, but more importantly I think I’m still running quite well, although, I’ve cut that out and I’ve started doing more strength work and my power outputs at the gym have been increasing over that same time, so I know I’m feeling stronger and now I’m feeling better, and some people tell me I’m looking better.
Stuart Cooke: Oh boy, okay. You’re qualified to answer my next question then.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: On two fronts, right? I get the academic perspective and the personal anecdote N=1 that nobody likes.
Stuart Cooke: Exactly right. You’re right. You’ve certainly touched on what I think the answer is going to be, but in your scientific opinion why do you think we’re getting fatter and sicker as a nation?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: My perspective on this has changed dramatically over the last ten years. My training was from a biochemistry point of view, small animal models, cell models, looking at individual metabolic pathways, looking for particular energy transfer systems that might explain why it is that we’re storing more fat or more carbohydrate, whatever it might be, or not accessing it properly, and so therefore we might be storing it but not breaking it down, but five years ago, 2009, 2010, I started collaborating with a psychology group who were, at the time, looking at sugar-sweetened beverages and sugar-sweetened foods to influence cognition, and we got collaborating going, “Well, you guys will measure behavioral adaptations to food, I can have a look at the metabolic perspectives in those same models, and we’ll see what happens.”
So, for the last five years, we’ve been publishing that work. Last year we were able to get an ARC grant to start trying to translate into human population. So, look, ten years ago I would’ve said to you, “We’ve got some nice discrete energy pathways that are defective in individual cells within the body, and that might be what it is that’s driving us to be fatter and sicker.”
But, over the last five years, as I start looking more at the behavioral, the cognitive side of things, I see it’s much more of a mix between the two, and I think one of the biggest issues we’ve got at the moment is as individuals we want our meals to be convenient so they can fit in with our busy lives. We want them to be cheap, so they can fit in with our finances, and more and more, we want them to be increasingly tasty, flavorsome, and so what we’ve done as a society is we’ve created a niche there where the food industry have come in and provided exactly what we’ve been wanting with highly processed foods that are energy dense, taste great, and relatively cheap.
Now what that’s done is that it’s lead us to be eating more, and so we no longer just have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which are in moderate proportions, but we’ve also got the mid-morning snack, the late-afternoon snack, the food that I’m going to eat on the drive or the bus ride home, I’ve got my dessert, and I’ve got my late-night snack before I go to bed. So we have an environment where we’ve got a surplus of food, but the big issue is that metabolically our systems can’t meet that capacity, and so we’ve put our metabolic systems, which have a limited threshold to utilize energy into an environment where we’re providing it with vast excesses.
Now, our bodies do burn energy. Absolutely. We’ll try and excrete as much of the excess as we can, but any excess we store, and that answers the question as to why we’re getting fatter, shall we say, or larger, right? So, we’re eating the wrong foods. We’re eating too much of them. We’re eating too frequently, such that the system doesn’t have a chance to recover and remove the excess that we’ve taken in, but the other big issue there is that we’re not eating the right foods. We’ve gone for the reliance on the convenient, cheap, highly-processed foods and we’ve moved away, we’ve forgotten about food quality, and so when you move into eating those types of food, they meet the nutrient requirements for your metabolic capacity and you don’t tend to overeat all of them.
Guy Lawrence: A question, a thought just popped in there, Kieron. With your own personal circumstances, you know how you say you dropped this weight from being over 90 kilos…
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah.
Guy Lawrence: And you’ve changed the quality of your food dramatically, obviously, in the Cokes and that. Did the consumption change as well, or did that remain the same?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I’m a little bit of a, because I’m a scientist at heart, I tend to collect a lot of data on myself, so I do have spreadsheets of energy intake, energy expenditure, what I’ve been doing, since around 2004, and when we have a look at the total energy intake, that hasn’t changed that much, but what has happened is that my frequencies of meals.
So, for example, I don’t eat breakfast anymore. All right? When I wake up in the morning, I’m not hungry. I might have a cup of coffee. That gets me to work. My first meal is usually around about half-past ten, eleven o’clock, so you might see me attacking my fridge in about an hour, but what I’m seeing is I’m eating far less often during my day, but those meals are much more nutrient dense, and that’s getting me through the day.
So, what I’m probably finding, if I was to look at my own system, is that there are far more times during my day where I’ve got a recovery period and I don’t have a constantly high metabolic load coming in onto that system that my digestive system and my endocrine system have to deal with.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, right. From a science perspective, then, because we’ve been pushed a low-fat diet for many, many years, you know, I think Ancel Keys was the breakthrough scientist, and do we know what we know now back then? So, has opinions changed dramatically, or have we just had new discoveries over the last couple of years? Or has it always been a mixed bag of information over the last twenty or thirty years?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I think…when you think about it from a nutrition research, nutrition information, public health policy point-of-view, the science and the evidence hasn’t necessarily changed significantly. We still know very much what we knew quite a long, long time ago. There’s been evidence from early turn of the century that particular foods behave in different ways when you consume them, all right? So whether or not that knowledge has changed is not really the issue. I think part of the big problem is how it’s being marketed, how it’s being utilized in health promotion, and that’s what necessarily has changed.
We knew years ago that if you ate too much, if you ate more energy than you’re going to, than you expend, then you’re going to store lots of it. We knew twenty years ago, thirty years ago, forty years ago exercise was important for prevention of cardiovascular disease, the prevention of diabetes…I think the big change that is happening at the moment is people realizing that maybe one of the biggest fallacies that they’ve had is that they’ve only thought about food and nutrition from an energy perspective, and what we really need to identify far more is how individual foods react or changehow our metabolic systems work.
So, the whole energy in, energy out argument, which works as a nice simple piece of dogma to get a particular message across, that is, “If you eat too much, you’re going to gain weight. If you eat less, you’re going to lose it,” that works to some extent, but it doesn’t explain how food relates to metabolic disease, because food is far more than just the energy, right? 150 calories from a sugar-sweetened beverage is going to metabolically impact your body far different to 150 calories from cheese.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: And in that instance then, eating, and our nutrition advice should all be about not so much just what the energy balance is about, but what rather what are the food types that you’re eating? What’s the quality of that food? Where is your energy coming from?
Guy Lawrence: Yeah. That’s certainly coming at the forefront. I mean, because we play around with this a lot, don’t we, Stu? Like, you know, and for myself, personally, I can dramatically increase the calories providing it’s natural fat, and as long as my carbohydrate intake remains reasonably low, I can, I generally don’t put on weight even if I increase in calories quite a lot, from a personal perspective, and Stu can eat all day and not put on…
Stuart Cooke: Yeah, I come at it from the other side of the fence, where I have always struggled to maintain weight, and I can eat literally anything, but the difference for me is the way I feel. You know? I may look slim and skinny, but I just feel wasted if I eat some food low in nutrients, to put it that way.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, so, you’re touching on a couple of things, and so I’ll start with Guy’s. Guy touched on carbohydrate content relative to fat, and that’s where we see a lot of the social conversation happening at the moment, a little bit of the academic conversation happening, and that is, “What is this discussion around the balance of carbohydrates and fat?”
And you’ve got a number of different approaches to how you balance those macronutrients. We’ll come back to that in a moment, but Stu, you also touch her on something else that a lot of the behaviorialists talk about, but very few of the metabolic researchers have until recently and that is if we think about food as more than just this energy content, what’s its impact on our quality of life, our general outlook on things, and that’s an area in which there needs to be far more attention, because we’ve got qualitative data from individuals, but people like to think that that’s not strong enough to warrant investigation, but yeah, it’s definitely a theme that keeps popping up, so you’ve got a macronutrient issue, but you’ve also got a consideration of whether or not food is more than just the energy and there it is, but the third thing that you’re touching on here is individual variance, and how you can get a number of individuals eating the same diet, but they might respond very differently.
Okay, so, give me a couple of minutes, I’ll try and cover those ones for us, right? So, if we go to the carbohydrate/fat ratio thing, right? Now, it’s an area I’m particularly interested in, because I think one of the biggest things that’s changed over the last twenty years with our general society eating is the introduction to liquid calories and, in particular, sugar-sweetened beverages.
Okay, so I’ll declare my bias. I’ve researched in the area for five years, so I might have a little bit of an idea about what I’m talking about, and I’ve received funding from the ARC to investigate this in the next few years, right? But we can show on our models what others have shown quite consistently that the excess calories that you take from sugar-sweetened beverages or the sugar that you’re getting in from that will have a completely different effect upon individuals, between individuals, will have a completely different effect to the carbohydrate sources that you might get from whole foods and real foods, right?
So, when we talk about individuals who go along restricting processed foods, removing those nutrient-poor but energy-dense types of foods what you might typically find is people drop their carbohydrate intake, because when you have a look at the processed, a lot of the processed foods, they’re high-fat and high-sugar, but they’re far more carbohydrate in there relative to the fat that might be in there.
Now, when we think about how our metabolic systems are designed, we have a minimum, sorry, we have a maximum threshold for how much carbohydrate we can tolerate. Now, we’ve been told within the profession and therefore have translated it out to the social, to society, that there’s a minimum requirement of carbohydrate of about 130 grams a day, as a theoretical value, and in actual fact, my opinion, from what I’ve read, from what I’ve researched, is that 130 is not a minimum requirement, it’s a maximum requirement.
Stuart Cooke: Right.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: And where we calculate or where that 130 has been calculated from was discrete experiments that have a look at what’s the minimum requirement of the brain, the central nervous system, what are tissues burning within you cells, sorry, what are the cells within your body utilizing as their predominant fuel. Now, if you accept that that number is a maximum threshold, then you start looking at the metabolic systems that get kicked in when you start eating over it.
Now, the most recent national nutrition health survey data of Australians that came out a couple of months ago showed that on average we’re eating right about 250 grams of carbohydrate, and there are individuals in amongst that group, that’s on average, so there are some individuals in that group who are eating in excess of that up to and over 300 grams of carbohydrate a day.
And there’s an acknowledgment in that data that there’s underreporting, so in actual fact, it’s probably over that amount. Right? Now, that means if we have a metabolic system that can only handle 130 grams of carbohydrate, give or take a few carbs for individual variance, then if you’re an individual who’s eating 200, 250, 300 grams, then your body is not going to catabolize that fuel. It’s not going to burn it and break it off; it’s going to store it or do its best to excrete it. Now, we initially store carbohydrates as glycogen, but we’ve got a maximum threshold of how much glycogen we can store, and then once you’ve met that threshold, the overflow goes elsewhere.
And there’s multiple pathways in which that excess carbohydrate can go, and there’s good evidence to show that it can go into fat or it might go into other metabolites. So, you’re carbohydrate content there has its maximum threshold, Guy. Now when it comes to fat, there’s no published minimum threshold for fat, and there’s no published maximum threshold for fat intake. So if you go to the NIH where there’s where this 130 grams of carbohydrate came from, in that same table for fat they’ve got a dash, right? It’s an unknown number, right?
What we do know is that there are essential fatty acids that our bodies can’t create, so therefore there are certain fats we do have to eat, right? Now, so, when I think about what you’re telling me, Guy, and that, yeah, you can fluctuate your energy intake but if it’s fat you can get away with it a fair bit. What you’d think about is the people who come from the low-carb, high-fat philosophies say, “Well, if you maintain a very low carbohydrate content, so you’re sitting around about 50 to 80 grams of carbohydrate, then your body adapts to be a fat-burner.”
So, all the metabolic systems within your tissues that can burn fat stay up-regulate, so you’ve got more of them, and you down-regulate, or reduce the amount of carbohydrate pathways…
Guy Lawrence: Yeah.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Which means that if you’re eating fat, your systems tune to burn that fat, right? Now if you put carbohydrates into that system, though, because you’ve down-regulated the pathways that would burn carbs, you’ve got a reduced capacity to catabolize them and perhaps a more increased capacity to store them, so you need to be careful of that balance and when you’re going to bring those different macronutrients in, so, one of the issues we need to identify is that the human body is an adaptable system. It will change its metabolic processes to deal with the foods that you’re putting into it.
So, if you habitually live on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, then the metabolic systems within your muscles, within your liver will adapt to deal with those fuel systems. If you live on a high-carbohydrate, lower fat system, then those tissues in that system will adapt to try and handle that as well as they can, but we have a limited capacity to deal with carbohydrates and excesses over that will flow in.
Now, what we don’t know is what really determines individual variance. We know habitual diet can have a play. We know genetics has a huge play, and there are big studies in hundreds, thousands of individuals that have tacked individuals over years. I think about this one called the Heritage Study, which has been running for a good twenty odd years or so. It’s got grandparents, parents, children. It’s got quite a number of generations within families. They have endurance training programs. They’re monitoring food.
And one of the outcomes of interest that comes from that route is that you’ll find a reported average benefit of the endurance training program of, yeah, anywhere of around about, yeah, a liter per minute of vo2 max, so that means your physical capacity is improved this much, all right? On average.
But if you have a look at the individual data, you’ll find that there’s individuals who’ve been doing the exact same lifestyle intervention for four, five months and don’t respond at all, so, no response whatsoever, and others who have responded that much, right? So, what we need to be careful of is when we start thinking about dietary advice, exercise advice and try and translate it out to everybody, we need to be aware that absolutely we’ve got the evidence from research that shows we have individual variance.
There will be some people that respond to particular interventions far better than others and…
Guy Lawrence: Sadly, it’s not marketed like that, is it? Like, it’s always like, “You must do this!”
Dr. Kieron Rooney: That’s right! That’s right! And so what you really start thinking about then is a research study. If we want to get that published, if we want to get that funded, we need to have large numbers of participants, and they’re the real good funding bias, or not good, real poor, bad, but they are the fact of publication bias that we like to favor publishing positive results, right?
So, if you go and do a huge study, and you show that your intervention didn’t have a good outcome or didn’t have a significant outcome, then it’s much harder to get that paper published than if you’ve got an intervention that has had a positive outcome, right? Whether it be one way or the other, right? So, what we find is that we can have a publication bias that only published papers and interventions that have had this significant effect. Now, to get that significant effect then you want to make you’re, you don’t want to, but what people tend to, which is not really part of scientific method, is they will search for populations that will meet that need.
So, knowing that we’ve got individual variance, you can design your parameters in a way that ensures a much more likelihood of a significant result, right? So, we get papers published. It shows that we’ve got this significant adaptation or outcome in one particular direction, that’s the message that gets sold because it’s the simplest, it’s the clearest message, but if you go into the individual data sets then you can see that there’s quite a big variance at how individuals respond to that.
And so the idea of the message should actually be, “Well, here’s a couple of different approaches that an individual might want to take in society. Try them. Find out what works for you. You might be an individual that thrives on a lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet, or you might be an individual that thrives on the Ornish Diet, 80 percent carbohydrates, very low fat, but the idea is that the way we should be thinking perhaps is that future-wise, when we think about the research, the messages that come out, it’s not so much saying here’s one protocol that everyone should be trying. It should be more along the lines of, “Do you know what? Here are a number of different approaches that people have used and that have worked for them.”
And it’s about experimenting with ourselves engaged in finding what works best for us.
Guy Lawrence: Is that what’s happened with the low-fat diet? Because, like, everyone I know, or most people, generally are just conditioning to eating a low-fat diet. It’s always been that way, you know, when I grew up everything about it. I remember, you know, avoiding fat like the plague, and you know that information had to come from somewhere.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: That’s right. So, you know, there’ve been plenty of books written about it. There have been public seminars given about it. The big turning point in nutritional history would’ve been, everybody refers to it in the ’70s in America, identify what are some dietary guidelines for Americans to follow from the ’70s onward, and one of the things that we need to keep in mind with Australia is those guidelines don’t directly impact what our advice is.
Yes, there was some influence. They did get translated into our Australian population and that underlying theme of reducing saturated fat or reducing fat intake does persist within our guidelinespre-2013 and to some extent within the current 2013 ones as well. That wasn’t necessarily a turning point directly for Australia, but that message has been what has come through and translated to everybody.
So, we have a ’70s time point in America where there is enough evidence for some individuals to say< “We need to focus on high-fat intakes as being a problem.” The marketing and the messaging around that then severely demonizes fat as a negative macronutrient and that we shouldn’t be eating too much of it, and more often not, you see people will have, the professionals will advise a cap at around about 30 percent of your daily energy intake coming from fat. Anything over that, they would refer to as a high-fat diet. And so, that’s right, what most prevalent in most people’s thinking is, “Fat’s the problem; we need to remove it.”
Now, that’s probably got a much stronger message than anything that comes out at the moment, because it’s the first one that’s come out, right? So, we’ve had dietary guidelines form America since the ’70s. In Australia, they came around ’80s, ’90s or so. Now, the very first time then a society’s being told we’re being told we need to watch what we eat, the focus is on fat, and so that’s the prevailing thought that comes into everybody’s thought, “I’m dieting. I need to restrict fat.”
But the evidence that is subsequently being collected suggests that it’s not as simple as that, right? We can’t just focus on that one macronutrient. We can’t just focus on putting a cap at 30 percent on that one macronutrient and in actual fact, some individuals who go onto that diet do not perform well, all right? They’re eating far more carbohydrates than their systems can adapt.
So, if we force those individuals to stay on that regime, on that dietary advice, they are not going to perform well and they’re going to get sick, but the big issue that we have, or one of the big issues that we have, is if we framed a professional situation now where we make individuals feel that they can’t go against that advice, right, and that’s a big issue that we’ve got when we think about, “How do we translate the evidence from science into nutritional policy into health promotion and health advocacy?”
And then we should be, as academics and professionals, setting up a system that supports that, right? Identifies what’s your relationship with food, what’s your relationship with your eating patterns, and whether or not part of the issues or problems that you might be having is because you’re forcing yourself to fit a paradigm that doesn’t fit for you.
Stuart Cooke: So what should we be doing right now at home to address this confusion, because from a commercial standpoint, you know, “Fear cholesterol, you know, eat healthy whole grains.” We still seem to be doing the wrong things being told to do the wrong things, so right now, what could I do to figure out what works for me?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: The safest option for you is to find yourself a qualified professional who’s going to support you in identifying what works for yen,
Stuart Cooke: How would I do that based upon traditional food practices and doctors who are again aligned with perhaps cholesterol-lowering drugs, you know, and the like. How would I find a , I guess, I’m almost looking at a new age doctor who understands.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Look, it doesn’t have to be being New Age. You can’t put that umbrella over it or make people think that they’re quacks and…
Stuart Cooke: How do you think I can about that? I’ve been to, well, in the past, I’ve been to a number of doctors who have been grossly overweight, and I figure, “Would I really want to go to you for nutritional advice?” That would be my concern.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Hey, look, you raising an interesting issue and I’m not remembering the journal that it was published in, but there was a paper that came out a year ago or maybe early this year, which was looking at clients’ perceptions of receiving advice from the professional that I’m talking about, and without doubt there’s very much that feeling that some people would walk into a room and look at the individual and go, “Well, how am I going to trust you?”
It’s an issue I’ve had trying to teach biochemistry. The vast majority of people that walk into a biochemistry lecture have already decided that they’re going to hate it, and they’re basing that on more likely their experiences with chemistry in high school, and there’s a really good reason for people to feel that, right? Because chemistry and biochemistry can be intimidating. It can be something that people hate, so as a lecturer in that topic, I’ve had to take onboard very early on how do I get people to engage with that topic? Do I have to be the topic myself? Right? And now I find myself, yeah, answering a question in which I’ve got to turn that philosophy onto, well, yeah, does the person giving the message have to represent the message that they’re giving? I’m going to say no for a moment, right? And I’m going to say no because what you’d have to appreciate in your analogy there, Stu, is that we don’t get fat and sick overnight.
Stuart Cooke: Right.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: WE get fat and sick over thirty, forty years of small incremental differences in our metabolic behaviors but also in our cognitive behaviors, right? So, you could have a very wise health professional who’s reading the up-to-date evidence at the moment, who’s beginning to challenge their own beliefs and what they’ve been practicing, what they’ve been doing over the last twenty or thirty years, but they won’t represent that right now, right?
And, so, to put that kind of assumption on an individual is kind of being unfair to that profession, right? What you need to be able to appreciate is that while a health professional I don’t think has to embody the evidence that they’re giving out, right? Because what we’ve got at the moment is a real change in the zeitgeist, right?
The conversations that happen in society, the conversation that’s happening on social media, the conversations that are happening in academia are changing, so what one individual might advise a patient tomorrow could be quite different to what they advised last week, two weeks ago, even a year ago, but they won’t see that impact straight away, right?
If I think about my own personal journey, if we just looked at weight as an outcome, yeah, I lost, what was it, 15 kilos, but it took eight months to do that, all right? But I started feeling perceptual benefits, yeah, within a couple of weeks. I was feeling great. I was feeling energized. I was feeling like I made the right choice, and I was going to stick with this new approach to living, new approach to eating, but if you’d come and seen me three weeks into my program and had gone, “Yeah, you’re still fat, right? Clearly, it’s not working for you.” Then I would have lost you very early on, right?
So to say to expect that immediate change and for us to represent that, I don’t think is exactly fair, right?
Stuart Cooke: If I had come to see you while you were guzzling two liters of Coke a day, I perhaps would have been questioning your advice as well.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Absolutely. If I’m telling you to cut out the sugar-sweetened beverages while I guzzle down on one, I, perfectly, I accept that 100 percent, right? I mean, for people who’ve come across me already, they might be aware that for at least the last year or so I’ve been campaigning to change the nutritional guidelines for what we sell in schools, right? At least in New South Wales, if not nationally.
Stuart Cooke: Yes.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: And one of the challenges that we’ve got there is the New South Wales government has said, “The person responsible for implementing healthy eating practice in schools is the principal, right? So, that means that the government have put this policy in place then they’ve washed their hands of it and gone, “Local schools; local decisions. You can take care of it.”
So, if you’ve got a principal who’s walking around the school playground guzzling Coke, eating Party Pies, sausage rolls, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas. He’s the person, or she’s the person, that we have to convince to change what food they serve to kids, and the message gets lost right away. So, point granted. If at the time that they are delivering their health advice they’re not following it themselves, they have good reason to question it, right?
Stuart Cooke: Got it. Got it. So, I’ve gone to the doctors and I’ve looked past the appearance of my doctor. The doctor looks okay, and I’m questioning my doctor, “What should I eat to be healthy?” Where would we go? What should I be looking for? What do you think my doctor would be advising me to do?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I think one of the first things that the doctor should be doing is asking you, “How much processed food are you eating?” You would classify in nutrition and dietetics as being discretionary food, so if you go to the Australian dietary guidelines, there’s a nice couple of peaches, there’s some good worded paragraphs that shows you exactly what are classified as discretionary calories.
Now, one disclaimer: I do not believe that anything, in my opinion, such as a discretionary calorie, right? There’s no such thing, so your body does not take a calorie that’s coming from a sugar-sweetened beverage and go, “Oh! That’s one of my 10 percent discretionary calories, so I’m going to put that over in my discretionary calorie bank account, and this is a good one.” Right?
Stuart Cooke: That’s right.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I think the, in my opinion, the rule should be processed foods are out as much as you possibly can, right?
Guy Lawrence: Can we just explain the umbrella of processed foods? Just in case…
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Sure. The best thing I can do here in such a timeframe would be to advise people to look up the NOVA Classifications of Food Processing. All right? So that’s N, O, V, A. It’s originated out of Brazil. It is providing an alternative classifications on foods on the degrees of processing.
So, there’s foods that have not been processed, such as your vegetables straight out of the ground, shall I say. Then you’ve got your minimally processed, where you might be including your dairy products in there, so you’ve had to do some kind of human interference to it in manufacturing. Then you go up to highly processed, up to ultra-processed, and when you’re getting into those degrees what you’ve got is industry coming in, they’re taking what was once originally a whole real food and they have mashed it, they’ve homogenized it, they’ve extracted out what nutritional scientists have said are the good bits and they’ve repackaged them into something that’s highly palatable, cheap, and convenient to eat.
Now, at that point, we cannot say that the nutrients within that food behaves the same way as if you ate the nutrients in their original form. All right? So, what you should be looking for is reducing as many of those ultra-processed, highly processed foods out of your diet, because what we’ve got is although they might be packaged saying that they’ve got all the nutrients that you need to be fit and healthy individual, they also bring alongside a number of products that you don’t need to be healthy and active, healthy individual, but also may be what’s making you sick.
They’re also designed to make us eat more, so what I would like is my doctor to tell me, “Well, Kieron, the first thing I want to find out is how many of these discretionary calories are you eating? Have you gone beyond what the dietary guidelines recommend you should be eating?”
And, if we go to the National Nutritional Health survey that came out a couple of months ago, thousands of Australians interviewed over a couple of years period, we saw that between 30 to 40 percent of our energy intake was coming from these discretionary foods. Right. So, if I’m an average Australian that fits into the data that came from the National Nutritional Health survey data, then my doctor would be making the assumption that 30 to 40 percent of my daily energy intake is coming from these discretionary highly processed foods.
Stuart Cooke: Right.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: And, if we have a look at what the Australian dietary guidelines are saying, whether or not you agree with them on any particular level, just at a very simple point they say no more than 10 percent. So, already we would have identified a key area that you need to reduce food intake from. Now that does not mean you stop eating them and don’t replace them with anything. All right? That would be a starvation diet, and we’re not advocating for that. All right?
What it would be doing is going, “We’re going to remove those processed foods and the energy that you’ve lost from that we’re going to reintroduce, but we’re going to reintroduce them from your minimally or nonprocessed foods. All right? You’re going to be cooking at home with the real food, raw ingredients that you’ve purchased from your fruit and veg shop. Right?”
In that instance you should have already drastically minimized your total energy intake, although that won’t necessarily be true for everybody, but what you will have done is you’ll have removed preservatives, additives. You’ll have removed, you will have inserted probably far more fiber, because you’re eating proper vegetables because they’re in their whole form, but you’re also bringing their nutrients in the format in which you would have been, your body would digest them and expect them.
Guy Lawrence: It’s quite a simple form now, isn’t it?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah. That’s right. You look like you want to ask another question.
Guy Lawrence: No, no…I’m trying to keep myself restrained.
Stuart Cooke: You’ll struggle to read Guy’s face. I’ll tell you that, Kieron.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, okay.
Stuart Cooke: I think he’s just thinking about his next meal.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, yeah, yeah, right? But that’s what I’d be expecting from my health professional. All right? If my health professional started dictating a particular prescription that I had to follow, then I’d be concerned. Now, how do you find one of these individuals? Well, I’m not aware of any particular database. I would not Google “new age doctor.” All right?
Stuart Cooke: You should try it.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: But, you know what, there are enough health professionals on social media sites, qualified dieticians, qualified medics, who are out there talking about what their message is that you should be able to relatively easily find someone who is still not going to dictate to you their new philosophy, but at least support you in investigating for yourself what might work.
Stuart Cooke: Perfect, and I guess referral plays a large part in that as well.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeas, as in, you mean, word of mouth if you’ve come across individuals that have supported one individual…
Stuart Cooke: Exactly right. Yeah, absolutely. Guy has found a wonderful new age doctor. I like what he says. I’m going.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Now I love my GP. I’ve had the same GP since I was five now, so he’s known me for quite a long time, and he’s seen me go from a preschooler up to a qualified academic now, and we have great conversations. He knows I’m only coming to him because I haven’t tried to figure out first what went wrong with me, and I already have a long list, “I don’t think it’s any of these, so it’s over to you now. All right?”
Stuart Cooke: That’s exactly right. Fantastic.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: But he’s more than willing to support and go, “All right. Well if you’re going to go that way, let’s have a look and see what happens.”
Dr. Kieron Rooney: That’s right, and if you find yourself eating a meal out of convenience because you’re trying to fit it in between a meeting or between one other priority, then we need to rethink how we’ve approached what our food intake, what our behaviours are, because once we start doing that type of mindless eating, you can very easily increase more snacks, your taking in food more regularly, your energy intake is going to shoot up, and depending upon what the macronutrient content is, you could be doing yourself far greater harm.
Stuart Cooke: Got it, and I guess it’s kind of an exercise in time management as well, because if we’re putting ourselves into a space where we simply don’t have time to eat and we have to make these processed choices then we should perhaps go back and look at how we structure our days.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: It’d be lovely to think that’s what our holistic approach is. All right? And at the moment, we, as a community, have allowed our society, our environment to be dictated to us, and I’m going to jump on the big food bandwagon for a moment and say food industry, they want us to be distracted. They want us to be busy because that’s what their product is. Their product is in a box. It’s quick. It’s convenient, and it apparently has all the nutrients that you need to be fit and healthy, but it’s not. Right?
You’ve removed, you’ve given up your right to listen to your body, to take control of what it is that you’re going to feed it, and in that instance, if we keep our environment set up that way, we’re only going to get worse, right? So, you want to have an approach to eating in which you’re in control and you’re not being dictated to by marketing, because let’s face it, food industry they’re here to make profit, not to look after your health. All right?
And your priority should be your health and not an individual’s profit, and look, it’d be nice to think that what we need is a big social debate with our unions, with our workers, with our employers, with our workplace individuals, to say, “Look, what we’ve actually allowed to happen over the twenty, thirty, forty years that we’ve been here is we’ve created an environment in which our health is suffering, because we’re filling our lives up with priorities that are external to us. Right? We’re working for somebody else. We’re earning other people money. We’ve got this focus on commercialization, and in that instance our priorities have been distracted, and so therefore, one of the big areas that we’ve allowed without source is healthy eating, and that seems to be one of the biggest mistakes that we’ve made.”
Stuart Cooke: Well, I’d happily sit there and discuss that with you, if you want to form a coffee club. I’ll bring the biscuits.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I have to say, in some circles I’m not qualified enough. I’ve only got a Ph.D. and 14, 15 years of research experience, but I don’t have a dietetics qualification, so all of this you’re getting as a nutrition academic who’s researched the area for 15 years.
Stuart Cooke: Well, you file me your details. I’ll order you one on the internet and we’ll get back to you before the end of the day.
Guy Lawrence: I know time is slowly creeping away from us, but I really wanted to ask you this, because I understand you’re looking at the relationship between cancer and sugar, so this is going way off tangent. What have you found? Can you just explain a little bit about that?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, sure, okay. So, look, I should point out I haven’t yet done any direct research myself, but if anybody’s listening, watching who is interested in having a look at the role of low-carbohydrate diets or even ketosis diets in case studies or patient, cancer patients undergoing treatment, I’m more than happy to have a conversation.
I came into this topic because though in my background readings and my support readings in sugar-sweetened beverages, sugar intake, impact on metabolic diseases, and I stumbled across these readings on ketosis diets and the treatment of cancer patients, and it turns out way back in 1924 there was a Nobel Prize-winning hypothesis, well now this wasn’t what the Nobel Prize was for, but the individual who won the Nobel Prize came up with this other hypothesis and that’s called the Warburg…
Guy Lawrence: Is that Warburg? Yeah, Otto Warburg.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, yeah, Otto Warburg, who identified that in particular cancer cells there largely dependent upon glucose as their predominant fuel source. Now Warburg said that every cancer cell expressed this need, right, this desire, but subsequently we, you know, evidence comes out that shows not every cancer cell. There are particular cancer cells that are more dependent upon glucose than others. There are some that can adapt to a low-glucose environment to utilize other fuels, but for the large part, the vast majority of cancer cells have this increased reliance on glucose as a predominant fuel.
So there’s evidence coming out now and research being conducted, mostly in the States, which is investigating the starvation of cancer cells from sugar, and because the working hypothesis is, “Well, if we’ve been able to identify the particular cancer cells dependent upon sugar to survive, well, if we restrict access to sugar, does this cell growth arrest, shall we say?”
And then there’s an added benefit on top of that that some people such as a group XXat ????XX [0:50:11] in Florida are showing that ketone bodies themselves might have a protective effect, so the sugar and cancer story is a developing one. All right?
The general lay of the land is this, there are particular cancer cells that seem highly dependent upon glucose as their predominant fuel source for a number of things, not just as an energy source, but the pathways by which we make new DNA and new cell membranes and all the biomolecules we need to make new cells, which is what cancer cells are doing, is completely dependent upon glucose and that’s the pentose phosphate pathway.
So the thinking is if we restrict glucose from cancer cells, we deprive them of their energy source, we also deprive them of the building blocks of the new cells, but the overarching effect, which other research is looking at, such as Eugene Fine, is independent of the acute effect of sugar on cells, if you’re restricting sugar intake you’re having another whole body effect, and that is you’re reducing the amount of insulin that you’re secreting, and insulin is a specific growth factor that stimulates cancer cell growth.
Now, every time you eat carbohydrates, you secrete more insulin, so there is a window of opportunity there for a cancer cell to have increased growth factors which allow them to grow in that particular time. Now, look, certain cancers are very slow-growing cancers, right? Just like diabetes, just like heart disease, you don’t wake up one day and all of the cancer cells have exploded, right? It’s a progressive disease.
So what you need to, what some people are looking at is, well, regardless of whether or not the Warburg effect or Warburg hypothesis is true for every cancer cell, what is a more common theme amongst cancers is that it depends upon growth factors to stimulate growth, and one of the most predominant growth factors that have an impact is insulin. And what is the major driving force for insulin secretion? Carbohydrate.
Guy Lawrence: So does that mean then this could be a cancer prevention? Actually keeping your insulin production reduced?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Look, some people come at it from that perspective, yes. At the moment, I would say that the thinking would be more as a collaborative treatment, shall we say, so undergoing your chemotherapy, your traditional approaches to cancer treatment, whether or not they can be boosted, supported, by your also having a low-carbohydrate ketosis diet which ultimately leads to lower insulin levels throughout your entire day and therefore reduce the instances of growth factor stimulation on those cells.
Guy Lawrence: Okay. That is fascinating.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: That is, from my personal perspective, that’s reading at the moment, that’s talking to some of those researchers via email at least, but hopefully in the coming years the opportunity to work with a couple of professionals in the area to develop some case studies if not some intervention studies to see where the data’s coming, but there is good evidence coming out in recent times to identify low-carbohydrate ketosis diets in assisting the management of chemotherapy and treatment of cancer cells.
Guy Lawrence: There you go. Fantastic. Thanks for that. Stu? You look like you’re going to say something.
Stuart Cooke: No, I’m just…Yeah. I’m fascinated and intrigued by this talk and I’m just wondering how far away we are from hearing a lot more of this in mainstream media.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Look, it’s getting out there. All right? There’s a focus in some of the research that’s looking at…Unfortunately, I think, at the moment a lot of the research is still focusing on macronutrients, right? Carbohydrates, the fats, the protein ratios, what’s the impact of those? Are they in or not in calorie deficit, so, yeah, taking individuals, forcing them onto a particular diet and have a look at it…
What…last month there was a low-carbohydrate versus a moderate-carbohydrate standard diet paper that came out. There’s a rapid weight loss, there’s a long term weight loss diet study coming out also. There’s lots of intervention studies that are currently running or slowly coming out. It’s a matter if how quickly that evidence base is going to build to influence the profession
What we’ve got with the academic world, I think, is an environment which is completely different to what traditional academic would ever have been experienced to it. If we think about up until ten, fifteen years ago, and academic could have a long-lasting career doing their own research, publishing their own papers in scientific journals and the only people that would ever read that would be other scientists.
Stuart Cooke: Yeah.
And so the information’s gonna get out there well in advance of a consensus change from the profession. And so the information is out there, but if we’re expecting leadership from academia, already you’re a good 15, 20 years away from it still. Right? Because academics, we’re obliged to look at all the evidence. Right? We are obliged to take our time to make sure we’ve checked all the pros, all the cons, crossed the Ts, dotted the Is.
And with every new study that comes out, it doesn’t change our thinking. It gets absorbed into our current ways of thinking and we see whether or not it changes us.
Now, some of us are more open to being adaptive. Others, right? And it’s a measure of whether or not the community, the academic community, are readily taking on new evidence and allowing that to alter their current perception, or whether or not they’re ignoring it.
Stuart Cooke: “Watch this space.”
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t like that phrase, Stu.
I’m going to be in a different space, surely, in a couple of years’ time. If I’m still sitting in this office I’m going to be very upset.
Stuart Cooke: I’m going to print that on a T-shirt and send it your way.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Excellent. Excellent.
Guy Lawrence: Just before we wrap up, Kieron, I know when we were having a chat on the phone the other day you mentioned that you’re going to be looking for some test subjects in Sydney next year.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah. Yep.
Guy Lawrence: Do you want to quickly mention a little bit about that? Because…
Dr. Kieron Rooney: OK. I’d love to. I’ve got; we got funding for two major projects that we’re going to be running from 2015, 2016 onward. The first one is we are looking at trying to translate some of the research that’s been conducted on animals on sugar-sweetened beverages into a human population.
But what our key focus is on is on behavioral changes. Right? So, there are many groups that are already working on the metabolic impact of sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages, from my opinion and from my research, are a particularly nasty processed food to be consuming. Our bodies deal with liquid calories differently to solid calories.
We also, when we consume liquid calories through sugar-sweetened beverages, put a huge dose onto our metabolic systems in a very acute time frame. And that’s gonna have another impact.
Now, other groups are already looking at the metabolic outcomes. And so we’re trying to be a little bit clever. We’ve got funding. We’re going to be doing metabolic outcomes. But we’re mostly interested in whether or not they’re impacting your behavior, your perceptions of foods, your eating behaviors, your intake.
So, that’s currently going through ethics at the moment. It should be, hopefully, approved by January, February of next year. And we’ll be looking for individuals for around about March, April onwards to come into our labs at the university and have some acute eating and metabolic measures taken during and after sugar-sweetened beverages. And we’re also looking at the impact of artificial-sweetened beverages as a control groups. That’s one study.
The other study that we’ve got currently running is going back to that individual variance question. And that is: touching on research from the ’80s and ’90s, going back to some of that data, shows that if you’re an individual who has a habitual diet that’s low in carbohydrate or low in fat, and then we give you a fat meal, you metabolize that fat completely differently.
So, we’ve got genetic studies running at the moment. We’re now going to put on top of that exercise, individual work, and what we’re gonna do; we’re gonna get individuals in, we’ll screen you for your fitness, we’ll screen you for body composition, and then we’re going to have to play around with some acute testing of fat meals and carbohydrate meals and see how individuals respond to that, depending upon your habitual diet.
So we’re going to be looking for hundreds of individuals across a wide section of the Sydney population. So, we’re going to want the paleo guys. We’re going to want the clean eaters. We’re going to want the vegetarians. We’re going to want the standard Australian diet individuals. And we’re going to try and identify, through a large observational cross-sectional study, whether or not we can identify key differences in these example populations.
Guy Lawrence: Awesome. Well, you’ve got two here.
Stuart Cooke: Keep us in the know. I’ll put Guy forward for the sugar-sweetened beverages study, if that’s OK. Go for that slot. You’re in there, Guy.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Well done.
Guy Lawrence: Excellent.
Stuart Cooke: Right. So, we’ve got time for the wrap-up question, Guy?
Guy Lawrence: Let’s do it. Let’s do it. So, we ask this question on every podcast, Kieron. OK? And it’s simply: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve even been given? It can be anything.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: I’m still waiting for something. I’ve been given lots of advice in my time. Right? The biggest problem is that I haven’t listened to a lot of it. All right? So, I’m going to go with the one that’s popping into my head acutely is one from my dad, and that was always: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”
So, quite often I find myself in situations where I might be talking to a lot of individuals who disagree with what I have to say, and they’re telling me that I might have missed things or I might be wrong, and when I go back and read things I try to find and see that, no, no, I should be getting listened to. So, in those circumstances it’s very easy to lose confidence in your own research, your own work, thinking that you’ve missed what other people have got. And then you realize later on when they’re not around, you haven’t.
So, that can get you down a fair bit. So, I say: Don’t let the turkeys get you down. If people are telling you that you’re wrong, as opposed to getting into a XXscrap meet 1:01:04.000XX with them right there, just go away, fine more evidence, build on it, and come back and fight another day. How about that?
Guy Lawrence: Awesome.
Stuart Cooke: That’s perfect. That will do.
Guy Lawrence: That will work. And if anyone wants to get in touch with you, Kieron, or find out more about next year or got any questions, all the rest of it, shall I just link to your bio on the university website?
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, that’s the best way to do it. I’m not on Facebook. I think that’s a fad. I don’t think it’s going to be around for long. I am on Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for roundabout 10 months now, so I’m getting into that.
Guy Lawrence: I see your Tweets coming through daily, mate.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: They can find me there or if you link to the home page on the university website, that will have my contact details there. When we’re at the point of recruiting and advertising the studies, we’ll have announcements up on that.
Guy Lawrence: Awesome.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Thank you.
Guy Lawrence: That was brilliant. Thank you for coming on, Kieron.
Dr. Kieron Rooney: Yeah, no worries. Thanks for having me.