Can the Hybrid Diet rev up your metabolism?
Fancy having the best of all worlds, enjoying fatty food and not having to shun all carbs or count calories? The Hybrid Diet could be just the eating plan you've been looking for, writes Denise Smith
Fat or carbs, plant-based or meat, paleo or FODMAP, vegan or flexitarian? We have become obsessed with our dietary needs, but with so much choice comes great confusion.
If you find yourself wandering the supermarket aisle wondering what clean-eating regime you should subscribe to on a specific day, you're not alone.
Despite instant access to medical journals and nutritional know-how, it's never been more difficult to decide what we should include on our plates.
In fact, you only have to open a magazine, scroll through your Instagram feed or flick on the TV to see another 'expert' extolling the virtues of a new wonder diet, which is where the Hybrid Diet comes into play.
Encouraging us to challenge our own nutritional knowledge, nutritionist Patrick Holford, co-author of a radical new book The Hybrid Diet, explains: "Obesity is wide spread. Seven hundred people a day develop diabetes. Yet confusion reigns about what we should eat. Fat or carbs? Vegan or meat? Or is it just about calories? What if you could have the best of all worlds, enjoying fatty food and not having to shun all carbs or count calories?"
We know that obesity is a major cause of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's, but what exactly is the solution to the obesity epidemic? It's simple, explains the celebrated author, who will present a series of Hybrid seminars in Dublin, Belfast, Sligo, Galway, Tralee, Cork and Kilkenny, the first of which kicks off this Sunday in Dublin: "Eat fewer calories. And since fat has more calories than either carbohydrate or protein, the theory goes that we should all eat less fat. But it is painfully obvious that this remedy is not working. This is because the less you eat, the hungrier you feel. Furthermore, you feel exhausted, so you are less likely to do any exercise and burn the calories you have eaten.
"The two most effective ways to lose weight are either a high-fat, ketogenic diet (think Atkins) or a slow-carb, 'low GL' diet. Both have been shown to cause more weight loss than a conventional low-calorie, low-fat diet", says Holford.
"But switching between the two has even more health advantages. The hybrid way of eating gives the benefits of fasting without going hungry and reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline, as well as slowing the ageing process."
The nutritionist explains: "We are 'hybrid' with an inbuilt 'dual fuel' mechanism for making the best of periods of feast and famine. This is our ability to run on glucose derived from carbs or on ketones derived from fat, which is what happens if you fast. Alternating between the two is the hottest health secret.
"The worst of both worlds is a diet high in animal fat and refined 'fast-releasing' carbs and sugar - the hallmark of today's average diet. Studies show that this combination creates the equivalent of junk-food addiction and rapid weight gain.
"If you avoid carbs and eat a high-fat - a ketogenic diet - you lose weight and reverse diabetes. Alternatively, if you eat the right kind of carbs that release their sugar content slowly, such as wholegrain bread, pasta, oats or brown rice, in the right quantities, this also works.
"We are like a hybrid car, with a dual-fuel system - either running on carbs or running on fat, but not both."
Holford's new book, co-authored with award-winning medical journalist Jerome Burne, unearths the magic that happens when you switch between a slow-carb and high-fat diet, mimicking the body's evolutionary design.
"Switching between a slow-carb and a high-fat diet sets up a healthy cycle of new cell growth and repair, and body fat is burnt more efficiently.
Dubliner Paul Kenny, Professor of Neuropharmacology at New York's Icahn School of Medicine, tested the theory by feeding one group of rats unlimited amounts of sugary foods and another unlimited amounts of fatty foods.
Patrick explains: "Amazingly, both groups were able to control their intake, and it was over a month before either gained any weight.
"However, when Kenny offered them foods that were half- fat, half- sugar, such as a donut or cheesecake, the rats gorged themselves. After this initial binge, the rats would continue to graze, returning to the food time and again, as if the internal off switch that should have told them they were full had malfunctioned. They also stopped exercising and gained significant weight in the first week of the experiment. They were even prepared to subject themselves to a mild electric shock in order to get to the junk food
"When Kenny tried to reintroduce a healthier diet, the rats went on hunger strike and refused to eat. He had discovered the half-sugar, half-fat 'sweet spot' that's the hallmark of junk food. We literally get addicted and can't stop eating it."
The hybrid way of eating also "promises to break our sugar and junk food addiction and provide the advantages of fasting without going hungry", according to Holford.
"In the past, in nature, we 'feasted' in the summer when fruits, potatoes and grains were plentiful, and naturally, you would eat less carbs in the winter. The ability to switch to burning fat for energy is what kept us alive in hard times. The trouble is that modern man has a non-stop supply of carbs and the carb engine is badly in need of a service.
"Meanwhile, for most people, the ketone engine hasn't been used at all. It's like running a hybrid car on only petrol and never using electric mode. When you switch to a very low-carb diet, high in fat, not only do you lose weight and reverse diabetes, but the carb engine is also cleaned up. It's a process of cellular repair called 'autophagy' which explains the benefits of fasting."
Far from starving the body of nutrients, the nutritionist explains: "I fast for 18 hours by having dinner at 7pm and lunch at 1pm. This combination of a week or two on a high-fat diet and then switching to a slow, healthy carb diet the rest of the time makes losing weight so easy."
You may have once been versed on the perils of including fats in your diet, but Patrick says: "In the Hybrid Diet, we show you how to enjoy fatty foods, whether you're carnivorous or vegetarian, but without carbs, and how to enjoy slow carbs so you don't have to shun all pasta and bread.
The Hybrid Diet explains why, when and how to switch and provides you with the simple and delicious recipes you need to do it. For example, on a high-fat day, you can start your day with a Hybrid Latté made with no-carb almond milk, almond butter, coconut butter, coffee, cacao and cinnamon, and lunch on a delicious pesto butter sautéed spinach with salmon.
"On a slow carb day, you could have a slice of carrot and walnut cake as a snack and, for dinner, a big bowl of chestnut and butterbean soup with oat cakes, both made in five minutes.
"Switching regularly between slow carbs and high fat, you become 'carb adapted' (craving less sweet foods) and 'fat adapted' (able to burn and derive energy efficiently from fat). It's like nutritional yoga as your metabolism becomes more flexible.
"We are not designed to eat the same thing everyday. Variation, not moderation, is the key to health."
Niamh from Dublin will also attest to the wonder of the Hybrid Diet.
Alternating between fats and carbohydrates for three weeks, she revealed: "I lost 12lbs (5.4kg) in weight, five inches from my waist and four inches from my hips. I followed slow carbs for the first two weeks and felt switched on as soon as I woke up. No lethargy, full of energy and vitality throughout, which was unlike me.
"I switched to the high-fat/ketogenic phase in week three. Initially, I felt cranky, irritable and tired. Interestingly, I was not at all hungry during the fasting periods. At the end of week, I felt wonderful."
Patrick Holford is presenting his first Hybrid seminar in Dublin this Sunday from 10am-1pm in Hampton Hotel, Dublin 4 (tickets €17). Details on the seminar and the book, out tomorrow, can be found at hybriddiet.co.uk. The Hybrid Diet book retails at €23.80