“Cereal Killers” follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family.
You can rent and watch this brilliant movie for around NZD $6-7 here – www.cerealkillersmovie.com
It is a great watch. The science, medicine, and history behind the story Donal tells is of no surprise to me – it is something I have been living and writing about for a few years now. What I found most fascinating is the consistency in the reaction from general lay-people, no matter where in the world you go (Cereal Killers is set mostly in Cape Town, South Africa) to eating this “extreme” diet. When quizzed on his diet and how he was eliminating entire food groups, Donal’s answer was the same each time – “I don’t eat sugar or grains.”
The reaction to this was priceless – the fear and anxiety people have of letting these their sugar and grain foods go. There is the fear of fat (even just the word invoked looks of disgust from some people). There is the fear of missing out on something (wheat and sugar – seriously? See the reaction from the Master Chef’s partner at the food markets – priceless). And there is the fear of eating so many eggs. Eggs!
Anastasia and I had this conversation just yesterday after a patient of hers was trying to pin her down on how many eggs might be too many. The pateint needed a hard number in order to make eating any eggs at all a valid thing to do. Almost like “I will eat eggs only if you can tell me, with science, exactly how many I can have so that I don’t go over that number.”
My answer, had I seen that patient, would be that there probably is a limit (there is with everything), but that the reality of eating such a self-limiting food is that you are unlikely to be able to reach it (unless you sugar-coat the eggs to allow you to bypass your natural satiety mechanisms). But what if the limit, say, was 5 eggs, and you accidentally ate 6. What might happen because you ate one more egg than the guidelines suggest? As Anastasia and I discussed, these sorts of questions, fears, and anxieties, about food, come from people who go over limits all the time.
Nearly all of the people who would question the recommendation to eat more eggs are eating more sugar than the guidelines suggest. Many also drink more alcohol than they should. They are well under on the amount of vegetables, fruits, and fibre they should be getting, and they certainly don’t come close to the recommended guidelines for exercise.
I’m certain most travel over the posted speed limits on a regular basis too. Yet all of this is done without fear or angst that the sky will fall in on them in the next 24 hours. Yet suggest that 3 eggs might be a better breakfast, or tell someone that you eat more fat than most people, and these people start quoting at you risks and guidelines, questioning the balance of it all, tell you that you are being needlessly extreme, and even openly fear for your health (all the while ignoring that you are usually in better shape than they are).
Donal’s movie captures all of this so very well. There is the quote from his Pilates instructor (who is also following his higher fat diet) that people can generally accept eating less carbohydrates, but they just can’t accept eating more fat. Then there are the reactions from the medical team monitoring Donal. They are at times truly flummoxed by the results he has achieved. You can see the “does not compute” signs in their eyes. I know that look because I have had it myself when I first went down this rabbit hole.
Overall, I highly recommend this 60 minute feature. There are some gaps and I can see where critics are likely to have a go at it (they would likely suggest that Donal was very fit before he started this experiment, that he is not representative of the general population, they the plan he followed was only in the short-term [28 days], and that eating such a way isn’t feasible for most people – all the usual stuff). It is also a story that is perhaps less about killing cereal and more about not fearing fat. My background and experience in this area allows me to see how those two concepts (no cereals/sugar and increasing fat) go together. For someone viewing this documentary in a nutritionally naive state, they might not be able to connect the dots so well and these people will need to be careful they don’t try Donal’s experiment in a half-way is good enough kind of way – like increasing the fat whilst only marginally decreasing the grains and sugars – that would be a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
If you are going to follow in Donal’s footsteps, I seriously suggest you do some solid homework (as Donal clearly did before making this film) and tap into the many resources that are now available to help you safely and effectively navigate this “new” nutritional frontier.
If nothing else, Donal and his fantastic “Cereal Killers” film encourages you to hold a degree of healthy scepticism for everything and to take the responsibility for your health into your own hands rather than to subcontract it out to other people (or worse – food companies) hoping they can magically fix a lifetime of poor/ignorant choices. Watch it and learn.