Food is cure
An award-winning science journalist, Michael Mosley bats for Indian cuisine and the benefits of home-made yoghurt. By Ramya Palisetty
Do questions like is eating carbs in the evening bad for you, would listening to Mozart make an individual intelligent, can cramps be cured, are germs good for people, could standing up transform one’s health, boggle you? A television presenter, journalist and scientist, who has made regular appearances on the show, Trust me, I am a doctor, Michael Mosley does a lot of original research and finds answers. He explores ideas with surprising results which is why the show is distinct from other medical shows and popular among the masses. He values scientific credibility above all.
The 5:2 diet endorsed by various celebrities, doctors and Nobel Prize winners was invented by Michael Mosley about six years ago when he discovered that he was a type 2 diabetic like his father who died due to complications related to the disease at the age of 74. Though his doctors wanted him to start medication, he was curious to see if it could be reversed without them. While he was consulting various doctors across the world, he came across research on intermittent fasting which led to the development of 5:2 diet, where on five days of the week you eat normally and on the remaining two days, you have less than 500 calories.
He tried it on himself, lost 10 kilos and his blood sugar levels returned to normal.They have stayed that way since. Many doctors would be of the opinion that type 2 diabetes is an irreversible disease but he is a living proof that it is not true. There have been lot more studies showing the possibility of improving your health through intermittent fasting where one doesn’t need to rely on medication.
From studying medicine to joining BBC’s training scheme as a producer, you took a leap of faith that has worked in your favour. How do you feel about that?
I think I have done more good by going into television rather than if I had practised as a doctor because these programmes have helped people lose weight and become healthier. I can reach a much bigger audience. I can cast more challenging ideas and I am able to because I work for BBC and have a reputation that helps me talk to certain scientists across the globe where we share ideas. There are times when I wonder what my life would’ve been like if I had stayed a doctor but I am surrounded by doctors all the time. I am very well-connected with the medical world.
Why do you consider switching to Mediterranean style diet essential?
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and nuts, plenty of full-fat yoghurt and a certain amount of red wine and dark chocolate. Those are the key components in the Mediterranean diet. Some of these ingredients would translate to a typical Indian diet, except that you would probably want to replace the olive oil with coconut oil. The evidence shows that the benefits of olive oil are stronger but I am not sure how well it would go with Indian cuisine. The other thing that I would strongly recommend is huge servings of lentils and chickpeas, which are again a big part of the Indian meal.
How can we lose weight on an Indian diet? What are some of the good and bad elements that comprise Indian food?
Studies have shown that restricting your meal time – by eating your first meal in the morning a little late and eating your last meal of the day earlier — can help us be healthier. There are two reasons for the same. First, it’s now well known that periods of not eating — fasting is good for our health. It allows the cells in our body to go into a ‘repair’ state rather than a ‘growth’ state. It seems that if we lengthen the ‘mini fasts’ that we have every night, this might itself be enough to give us a benefit, without us having to have whole days of eating little food. Second, our bodies have a ‘body clock’ which affects how they deal with food over the 24-hour period. In the evenings, our bodies are preparing for night-time fasting and this means that eating can affect our blood sugar and fat levels badly. One of the good things about Indian diet is that it is fibre-rich. This helps you largely in prevention of diseases and overall good health.
What are some of the ways in which we can maintain an active and healthy lifestyle?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle but there are some general rules. For example, almost all of us will benefit from keeping our weight down. Unfortunately, if you are an Indian or an Asian, you have to keep your weight down more than Caucasians. So, the Caucasian with a BMI of over 25 has a greater risk of diabetes and heart disease. But for an Asian, the BMI is just 23. Generally speaking, eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and pulses are going to be good for you, whoever you are. In terms of exercise, none of us can exercise rigorously but getting some sort of activity even if it is walking up the stairs is going to be good for us.
What are the challenges that you have faced while doing some of the groundbreaking work in various arenas?
The challenges are coming up with new ideas, new things to talk about and new things to make films about. I always want to try and do things which have not been done before. That is a challenge and also finding people who will help you do it.
The Fast Diet has sold 350,000 copies in UK in its first year. Did you ever think your books would garner so much success among the masses?
I was really overwhelmed. I have written a couple of books such as The Clever Gut Diet, The 8-week Blood Sugar Diet, The Fast Diet, Fast Exercise and many others. These books have had a great impact on me. The Fast Diet certainly changed my life and I always hope it can do the same for the others. Through these books I hope people start becoming more conscious about what they eat or drink and lead a comparatively healthy lifestyle.
Where do you find the topics to create each episode?
We have a big meeting where all the researchers and academics are involved. The team actually consists of about 20 people where we all sit down and suggest ideas. The editor collects those ideas together and then we see which ones we think are most interesting and also which ones we can actually test and have something interesting and new to talk about.
You are constantly researching, you are a TV presenter and you write books as well. How do you balance it all?
I am fortunate that all the different things I do work together. So my TV work is often about the impact of food and exercise on health. These are the things that I write books about and this is also the area that I like to research. It all helps reinforce itself.
Individuals are becoming obsessively conscious of their diet and fitness routine. Do you think there is a specific reason behind it?
The advancement in technology has led to lifestyle changes. However, the change they have brought to human life is not essentially positive. The obsession with smartphones and other electronic gadgets have resulted in a lack of ‘me’ time. In this strenuous lifestyle where people are too occupied with their professional commitments, individuals find it difficult to manage their stress levels. There is a need to prioritise on healthy eating which should be devoid of junk food. A good eight hours of sleep and involvement in some physical activity are a must. The more positive your thinking is, the happier you will be.
How good are fermented drinks that you get in stores?
If you want living bacteria with probiotics in it, you might want to have delicious Indian home-made yoghurt. The drinks in the store have been processed which might have killed all the bacteria. They add sugar which kills bacteria as well so you are much better off eating yoghurt or other fermented drinks and foods rather than buying something in the store which claims to have probiotics in it. I am a huge fan of south Korean and Japanese foods like Kimchi.
(Trust Me I’m a Doctor premiers on June 18 at 8pm on Sony BBC Earth)
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