Want to know how to cut human fuel consumption? Ask car manufacturers how they do it.

By Rob Verkerk

Editor’s Introduction: Why official plans for weight loss are doomed to failure and what to do about it.

One of the challenges of writing about the long running trench warfare between the low fat and the low carb lobbies is finding anything new to say. For at least a decade the exchange has been along the lines of:

Low carbers: Low fat doesn’t work but still claim it’s evidence-based even though it really isn’t.

Low fattists; low carb is a fad diet with not enough good evidence to support it.

So, it is a delight when someone who really knows the area writes about it in a way that puts the war in a new light. Dr Rob Verkerk, the good natured but scientifically astute director of Alliance of Natural Health ignores the routine exchange of references and sets out a primer for understanding the current obesity crisis and how best to handle it by using a motor car metaphor.

But first a quick look at the latest depressing news this week from the low-fat trenches. Childhood obesity, we all know, can have nasty consequences. So, what is Public Health England’s (PHE) latest plan to save our children?

Putting the fox in charge of the hens doesn’t help them

Why, it’s to eat fewer calories! The standby solution for years, while school kids and adults alike ballooned. And that needs to happen fast? Not exactly.  The challenge to the food industry, PHE’s website tells us, is to reduce calories by 20% in products consumed by families by 2024. Apparently the failure of this other standby obesity-reduction plan – putting the fox in charge of the hen house – doesn’t faze PHE either.

There is one bit of tension however. SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) has been looking at the evidence for low carb diets as a way of treating or even reversing diabetes because, it says there has been a lot of discussion of it in the media. Not because the people sitting on SCAN are experts in the field who keep up with the latest in research and clinical practice then?

The committee has found 12 relevant studies although it hasn’t said yet what the balance of evidence is. Sam Feltham of the Public Health Collaboration, which has a list of around 60 Randomised controlled trials of low carb (PHCUK.org/rcts), reckons that the short SACN list favours low carb and that the committee will have to recommend the diet. Others are more sceptical, saying the exercise is designed to find against low carbs. So, a bit of tension there.

What’s clear from just these two examples is the authorities have little to offer to handle the crisis. They lack even a basic understanding of the cause of weight gain – cutting calories has never been a solution – and they have no intention of tackling the industry the promotes weight gain and poor diet.

This is Rob’s primer of what’s gone wrong and what to do about it.

Want to know how to cut human fuel consumption? Ask car manufacturers how they do it.

By Rob Verkerk

There are several ways in which humans and cars are different. Cars aren’t living organisms. They’re not sentient beings that rely on conscious and subconscious processes that tell them when and where to fuel. They’re not made from millions of cells, each containing identical genetic material that has all the instructions needed to operate successfully in varying environments. The list goes on.

But what about the similarities? They do have the ability to move, they do burn on-board, stored energy, and both have control systems based around feedback loops that govern the efficiency of fuel use in different situations, which can range from rapid movement to being stationary.

The PHE initiative to get the public to reduce the calorie content of various processed foods, such as pizzas, ready meals and take-aways, with a 20% cut in their calorie count is like trying to mitigate the damage caused by gas-guzzling cars by making people put 20% less fuel in the tank. The idea that smaller fuel tanks could cut fuel consumption and the associated pollution is daft. People would just fill then up more often.

Telling people to eat less doesn’t work

Humans treat their own stores in the same way. Adults are on average eating 200 to 300 calories, or 20%, more than they need each day. Yet studies have shown time and time again, that telling people to eat less doesn’t work. Either they ignore the advice or just ‘fill up’ more often. Public Health England’s plan to get round this with a campaign to encourage adults to consume just 400 calories for breakfast and 600 for lunch and dinner respectively, plus so-called ‘healthy snacks’ in between.

But that’s the equivalent of going on a crash diet, even for people who are a healthy weight, let alone the obese. Such calorie reduced diets are well known for failing spectacularly. That’s because they make you hypoglycaemic, depressed, anxious or just plain hungry between meals.

So, what do you do? Snack on something sugar-loaded, and nutrient-depleted from the nearest confectionary outlet, which in towns is rarely far away.  Making this disaster even worse is the fact that the body signals that tell obese people that they are either hungry or full aren’t working properly

Chicken or egg? Fuel tank size or more efficient engine?

So the PHE approach to fuel doesn’t work for people or cars. But car manufacturers have a firmer grip on how to change fuel consumption than PHE does on what works to change human behaviour. Worries about the environmental damage and pollution caused by cars have forced the manufacturers to make cars both more economical and less polluting.

A beneficial side effect of this has been that the fuel tanks on many cars have got smaller. They simply don’t need to carry the extra weight. The process didn’t start by making fuel tanks smaller. The lesson is: if you want to cut fuel consumption you must change the way the car operates. You redesign the engines, use new, lighter materials, re-map fuel injection systems and so on.

So what clues does this give PHE about the way they might get humans to use less fuel? At the heart (pun intended) of the epidemic of obesity and metabolic disease is a misfunctioning metabolic engine that asks for fuel (glucose/carbohydrates) when it doesn’t need it and has largely stopped using its most important, long-range fuel, namely fat.

And if your fuel- burning metabolic system isn’t working the way it should, then your whole system – immune, inflammatory, hormonal etc – is also going to be unbalanced. So, the lesson is clear. If you want to reduce fuel intake, the place to start is by fixing the problems with your metabolic system. What we call ‘good health’ is a state when it’s running properly. Then your tank size will reduce of its own accord with no reason to carry more fuel than you need when you next go hungry.

Messed up appetite-regulating hormones

So now we have a clearer idea about how our bodies handle fuel we can create a more realistic and effective road map for fixing our metabolic engine. That in turn is the way to cut our fuel demands.

Among the controllers of our metabolism are signalling compounds known as hormones. They work together through a complex system of feedback loops to make up our endocrine (or hormonal) system. Some of them control our appetite – how full or hungry we feel – and also to how we store energy and burn fat. Among the most important of these are leptin, the ‘energy balance hormone’, ghrelin, the ‘hunger hormone’, and adiponectin, the ‘fat-burning hormone’.

But our fuel intake is also strongly affected by what is going on around us – in other words, environmental factors. Things like our access to food, the nature and properties of the food, and a range of social and cultural norms and pressures. If you want technical detail, a paper entitled: ‘Gene environment interactions controlling energy and glucose’ will provide lots.

Looked at this way, the reason some people put on lots of weight becomes very simple and clear – their metabolic engines aren’t working as nature intended. Unfortunately our evolutionary history has ensured we’re much better adapted to fasting than we are to feasting. And that makes for problems when you are living in a ‘feasting’ environment – never far from a food supply.

The 5 magic bullets to reset your metabolic programme

To sort these dysfunctional systems out, telling people to eat 20% less calories isn’t going to cut it. People with metabolic diseases need to reset the control systems of their metabolism within their own engines. The most basic way to do this is to keep your glucose and insulin levels in check by not gorging on refined carbohydrates – and allowing plenty of time between meals to allow your fat-burning apparatus to come into play. For some people who rely carbohydrates for fuel, especially high glycaemic ones, the result of that is that your body stops responding to all the extra insulin that is being produced (i.e. you become insulin resistant), glucose rises to dangerous levels and the next thing you know you’ve got type 2 diabetes.

Science and clinical experience tells us that to regain control we need to do at least five things, all of which are as natural to us as life itself, and all of which have been studied and written about extensively in recent years. They are:

  • Low carbohydrate/high fat diets – for most people carbs shouldn’t exceed 25% of total energy needs, with healthy fats delivering around 60% and protein the remainder.
  • Caloric restriction – eat a bit less but not by following a one-size-fits-all, 400-600-600 kcal formula, which is next to useless. Instead with the help of a practitioner or health coach if possible, gradually spend longer periods without much food. The extra fat in a low carb diet will make you feel less hungry.
  • Intermittent fasting  – once or twice a week have at least a 12 hour overnight fast and space your meals so there is at least 5 hours between them.
  • Regular, daily physical activity – including limited high intensity exercise
  • Stress transformation – this means getting the best out of your sleep, making time to de-stress, having the right nutrients in your body to help you recover, repair and regenerate, and turning negative stress into positive stress.

Public Health England is tackling just one of these – and then, it’s doing it in a way that has been proven not to work. A combination of these five approaches, delivered together in a way that works for you, does something quite profound your metabolism, allowing it to return to its evolutionary norm. Muscles become stronger and energy improves as you start making more mitochondria – the tiny energy-making units in every cell.

The full version of this article can be seen here.

For a comprehensive but very accessible account of what carbohydrates are, what they do and how to take control of your intake see here: https://ketowatt.com/carbohydrates

Robert Verkerk

Robert Verkerk

Robert Verkerk PhD, is an internationally acclaimed sustainability scientist who has devoted his working life to improving environmental, agricultural and healthcare sustainability. He gained his PhD at Imperial College London. After 7 years as a postoc researcher, he established the research, educational and advocacy non-profit campaign - the Alliance for Natural Health, which he continues to lead today.anh-europe.org


  • “One of the challenges of writing about the long running trench warfare between the low fat and the low carb lobbies is finding anything new to say.”

    I would say there is still one issue that could be usefully explored. If you listen to Robert Lustig, you get a message that the fructose component of sucrose is particularly harmful, and that other carbohydrates that resolve into glucose alone are less damaging.


    Others discuss the problem simply in terms of fat vs carbs without this complication.

    • Editorial

      Seems very likely that massive increase in fructose has an effect as well as the large amounts of inflammatory omega 6 vegetable oils we have been consuming as David Brown has pointed out in another comment. It’s complicated and PHE has got stuck in a cul-de-sac becasue in trying deliver a simple message for everyone it has ended up beleiving several impossibly simplistic things such as the the benefits of calories in balancing calories out.

      What made me buy into the low carb appraoch is that it made far more sense in terms of the pysiology involved. The low carb lobby tells a plausible story about the mechanism of weight gain, hunger, fat storage and so on. Researchers like Richard Freidman and Zoe Harcombe explain why it is beneficial to lower glucose levels and what the knock on effects on insulin are and how that in turn affects the release of fats from storage as well as switiching on and off of various hormones governing hunger and satiety and and and. Compared with that, the simplistic reccomendations of the low fat camp are reminiscent of Margaret Thatchers damaging homilies about running a national economy on the same’ money in money out’ principle of a domestic one.

      • The thing about fructose is that it singles out sucrose as the main culprit, rather than all carbohydrates. People on Dr Kendrick’s website constantly bring up the fact that some traditional diets often contain a lot of starch.

        This is something that puzzled me for a long time – I mean sure there are complex carbohydrates that take a long time to break down, but they more or less all end up as glucose in the end. So from that point of view, eating carbs should be as damaging as consuming sugar solution in gentle sips to spread the load!

        Lustig’s video seemed to indicate that fructose also had a role to play in turning off the satiety signal, and that as it was converted into fat in the liver, it pushed the body to a point where it couldn’t lay down any more fat. However, the biochemistry he discussed was rather too complicated for me to follow completely, and he presented it at high speed!

        However I guess this does not detract from the fact that those who are T2D need the more drastic LCHF diet to let their bodies return to normal.

        I also think it is important to remember that average life expectancy goes on increasing – so many people must thrive on a modern diet.

  • The most pronounced dietary of the 20th Century and beyond, the one that both low-carb and low-fat enthusiasts ignore, is the altered essential fatty acid profile of the food supply. Some examples:

    “We now know that major changes have taken place in the food supply over the last 100 years, when food technology and modern agriculture led to enormous production of vegetable oils high in ω-6 fatty acids, and changed animal feeds from grass to grains, thus increasing the amount of ω-6 fatty acids at the level of LA (from oils) and arachidonic acid (AA) (from meat, eggs, dairy). This led to very high amounts of ω-6 fatty acids in the food supply for the first time in the history of human beings.” http://openheart.bmj.com/content/3/2/e000385

    Soybean oil consumption is increasing worldwide and parallels a rise in obesity. Rich in unsaturated fats, especially linoleic acid, soybean oil is assumed to be healthy, and yet it induces obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and fatty liver in mice. Here, we show that the genetically modified soybean oil Plenish, which came on the U.S. market in 2014 and is low in linoleic acid, induces less obesity than conventional soybean oil in C57BL/6 male mice. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-12624-9

    Dietary intake of linoleic acid (LA) has increased dramatically during the twentieth century and is associated with a greater prevalence of obesity. Vegetable oils are recognised as suitable alternatives to fish oil (FO) in feed for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) but introduce high amounts of LA in the salmon fillet. The effect on fish consumers of such a replacement remains to be elucidated. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22883314

  • There seems to be a strong overlap of the advice given by the Alliance of Natural Health and the Public Health Collaboration. I hope they co-operate because we need everyone who rejects the current nonsense to work together.

    The SACN ‘review’ can only find 12 studies that it will accept? This sounds like the methodology by the US dietary guidelines committee in arriving at the desired conclusion regardless of the annoying evidence. No one changes their minds based on this sort of work. I hope for the best and expect very little.

    Defending the status quo has increasingly discredited Public Health England, who sound ever more desperate every time they repeat their disastrous calorie reduction nonsense. I wonder if these people aren’t just trying to cling on until they can retire and head for the hills.

  • “… I wonder if these people aren’t just trying to cling on until they can retire and head for the hills…”

    Sadly, not likely. – They are the embodiment of the ‘Ego’ that Max Planck had in mind when he uttered his oft-quoted piece; –

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    to paraphrase, ‘Science advances one funeral at a time’.

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