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Should you eat microwaved food? ‘Human guinea pig’ Dr Michael Mosley busts health myths

Are deodorants harmful for your health? Should you eat microwaved food? Can you lose weight by altering meal times? UK-based best-selling author and television host Dr Michael Mosley gives the definitive answer to 10 such common questions, based on his research and experiments.

fitness Updated: Mar 30, 2018 18:06 IST
Soma Das
Soma Das
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
High Intensity Workouts (HIT) can help you lose weight more effectively. (Shutterstock)

While it is relatively easy to find medical research on most topics, conflicting studies can leave you more confused. So, while one study shows that a couple of glasses of wine after a busy day can reduce inflammation and help the brain clear toxins, another study warns that alcohol impacts certain areas of the brain that can make you prone to violence.

To find definitive answers, British author, medical journalist, and television host Dr Michael Mosley devised a unique system: he started experimenting on himself to find out what works and what doesn’t. Describing himself as a “human guinea pig”, Mosley says in an interview to PBS: “I have always been interested in self-experimentation as a research device because so many of the most important discoveries came from scientists and doctors who used themselves as test subjects.”

While self-experimentation may not be everyone’s idea of fact-checking, Mosley admits that it has been a fairly easy process for him. “I’m married to a doctor and I discuss the experiments beforehand to make sure they are safe. But once I decide to do something, I stick to it. Some of the experiments have been painful, and some of them have been squeamish, like swallowing a tapeworm. But, every experience has been memorable,” he says.

His research features in popular shows like Trust Me I’m a Doctor, The Truth about Exercise, and The Secret of Your Food. He also developed the 5:2 Diet, and wrote about it in his book, The Fast Diet (2014). The 5:2 Diet — which lets you eat what you want five days a week, and eat just 500-600 calories for two days — became a global phenomenon with celebrities like singer Jennifer Lopez and model Miranda Kerr trying it out.

We get Dr Mosley to share his research on 10 common health queries:

Eat carbohydrates and starchy foods earlier in the day, and not just before going to bed. ( Shutterstock )

1) Is sitting down as bad for us as smoking?

Fact: Getting up for an extra 3-4 hours per day could slash our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Just the act of standing up can raise your heart rate by a tiny amount — which, when averaged over the days, weeks and months — leads to the equivalent number of calories burned, as if one had run about 10 marathons in the year.

When we eat, our blood sugar goes up. However, if it remains high, it can damage the linings of our blood vessels and increase our risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So, our bodies need to clear the sugar as quickly as possible. Standing up after meals can help clear the sugar from the blood much more quickly.

2) Is eating carbohydrates in the evening bad for you?

Fact: I would recommend eating carbohydrates and starchy food earlier in the day, and not just before going to bed. A large meal taken within a few hours of putting your feet up and going to sleep is more likely to be stored as fat and your blood sugar tends to remain higher for longer.

Having a walk after a meal helps your body to maintain a healthy weight. Even during the day, it is important to keep the total daily carbohydrate intake within healthy limits. Eliminating carbs is not the solution (as that might make you crave for it). Just ensure you don’t eat too much of carbohydrates in a day.

Coffee drinking has been associated with a lower rate of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease. ( Shutterstock )

3) Is coffee good or bad for me?

Fact: Drinking 2 to 5 cups of coffee has been associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease and cancer, possibly because it’s rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds. Coffee drinking has also been associated with a lower rate of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease.

4) Can deodorants cause cancer?

Fact: There is currently no good evidence that they do. Stopping yourself from sweating does not cause a build-up of toxins. The controversy about this subject has mainly been about the chemicals involved. It seems that some of the chemicals used in antiperspirants might be absorbed into the body, and there have been a concern that some of it could cause cancer. However, big studies looking for links between using antiperspirants or deodorants and cancer have found none.

Not being outdoors in the sunlight is the real reason behind bad eyesight and short-sightedness. ( Shutterstock )

5) Can staring at a computer screen make you short-sighted?

Fact: Not being outdoors in the sunlight is the real reason behind bad eyesight and short-sightedness. A study in Australia showed that children who spent more time outside in the Sun were less prone to short-sightedness. Sunlight releases a hormone called ‘dopamine’ in the retina which slows the eyeball when it’s growing. Hence, TV and computer screens won’t make one short-sighted but not being outdoors in the sunlight will.

6) How much is too much alcohol?

Fact: The less you drink, the smaller the risk. There is no optimum amount of consumption as different beverages (beer/wine/whisky) have different alcohol content. Also, most of us have no real idea as to what exactly an alcohol unit is.

When it comes to cooking, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the olive oil is extra virgin or not. ( Shutterstock )

7) Which oils are best to cook with?

Fact: The ideal oil for cooking purposes is olive oil, because it is about 76% monounsaturates, 14% saturates and only 10% polyunsaturates. Monounsaturates and saturates are much more resistant to oxidation than polyunsaturates. Also, when it comes to cooking, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the olive oil is extra virgin or not.

Always keep your oils in a cupboard, out of the light. Try not to reuse them as this leads to the accumulation of nasty side-products. Another experiment by us proves that taking 20ml of raw olive oil can have a positive effect on our hearts.

8) Does microwaving food make it less healthy?

Fact: When food is heated, some vitamins (such as vitamin C), can be broken down, but this is a product of the heating process. It will happen regardless of whether the food is cooked on a stove, in a conventional oven, or in a microwave. The best way to retain vitamins and nutrients when cooking is to use short cooking times that limit the exposure to heat and a cooking method that uses as little liquid as possible – two things that are easy to achieve with a microwave. Hence, microwaving food might be more nutritious.

The advantage of HIT over extended, steady exercise is manifold. ( Shutterstock )

9) How can I get my body to burn more fat, without doing more exercise?

Fact: The solution is to do High Intensity Workouts (HIT), which means working out with full intensity for 40 seconds and resting for 20 seconds and doing this only for a couple of minutes a day. The advantage of HIT over extended, steady exercise is manifold. When you do HIT, you massively increase the number of mitochondria (so-called “cellular power plants” which convert fat and sugar in the blood into energy) and their efficiency. Without the intensity, that doesn’t really happen. Also, when you exercise intensively, you release things called catecholamines — adrenalin — that is a fat-burning hormone helping your body burn more fat.

10) Could I lose fat just by changing my meal times?

Fact: Just by eating a late breakfast and an early dinner, one can lose body fat and see big falls in blood sugar levels and cholesterol. So, avoid snacking late in the night and try and keep a break of 12-15 hours between dinner and breakfast to lose weight. In the period between breakfast and dinner, one can eat whatever one likes without going overboard and staying within limits.

Watch Dr Michael Mosley’s shows Trust me I’m a Doctor on March 30 at 7pm on Sony BBC Earth; Wonderful World of Blood on April 2 at 10am on Sony BBC Earth.

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First Published: Mar 30, 2018 08:56 IST