Transcript #10: Colombia’s New Food Law, Menopause Diet Ideas and a Quirky Study on Refined Carbs and Attractiveness

This is a full transcript of Podcast Episode #10: The Gut Rumble: Magnesium, The Incredible Mr Baker and a Hot Take. You can listen to the audio version here.

Hello and welcome to Gut Heroes.

This is a ‘Gut Digest’, where I’ll look at some of the most interesting stories and news that I found in the gut health space.

These are things that really caught my eye and include…

A law that has been passed on junk foods and ultra-processed foods (one of the most profound we’ve seen in history).

An interesting study on menopause and hot flashes/flushes and how diet can affect that.

Finally, we’ll finish up with a bit of a left-field one, which is: does eating refined carbs for breakfast make you less attractive? I found this one really interesting.

So we’ll start from the top.

Colombia’s Groundbreaking Junk Food Law

The first one is about Colombia.

In November 2023, Colombia passed the most comprehensive law on junk foods that we’ve seen in history. The aim of this is to tackle what you might call lifestyle diseases. It’s a bit of a strange term, but effectively, they’ve introduced a health tax and it’s laser-focused on ultra-processed foods.

It’s come about after years of campaigning by the Colombian advocacy groups and there was a good reason for this.

Right now, Colombia has the highest rate of salt consumption in a day at about 12 grams a day – that’s for the average Colombian.

And nearly a third of adults have high blood pressure.

They’ve got a raft of diseases which are linked to diet and obesity, things like diabetes. Apparently a third of deaths attributed to diabetes have occurred among people who are under 70.

It has really reached a crisis point and diseases like this account for something like 76% of all deaths in Colombia.

It’s sad that sometimes things have to get this far for something to happen, but hats off to Colombia for really leading the world in making a dramatic change. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this unfolds.

There’s a quote here from Beatriz Champagne, who is the executive director for the Coalition for Americas. She said:

“Colombia is following the path of rich industrialised nations like the US, where diet-linked diseases are a big problem.”

I think that’s something we’re all aware of. The US is really hitting a crisis on diseases related to the Western diet and in particular ultra-processed foods. So other countries are starting to identify the problems they’re experiencing and we’ll see how this pans out.

How are Colombia making this happen? What are they actually doing on the ground?

The idea is that they’re going to introduce a levy gradually. It’s going to cover things like manufactured foods – basically ultra-processed foods, things that have had additives added for shelf life, and foods that are high in salt and saturated fat.

Crisps, convenience food, ready-made meals and chocolates, all of that kind of stuff.

To begin with, the additional tax on foods like this will start at 10% and then this rises to 15% next year. Then next year in 2025, that’s going to hit 20%. So really significant changes there.

On top of this, they’re introducing mandatory health warnings on foods that have a high content of unhealthy ingredients (so high in sugar or saturated fat). Think of cigarette packet warnings that we’ve seen in Europe and the US and Australia.

They’re not actually the first to do this. Two other South American countries, Ecuador and Peru, have been really fantastic on this. So this feels like an exciting step in the right direction and we’re going to start to see some results from this.

If it works well, I really hope this is something that other countries will follow.

There are going to be some critics, particularly the food producers, who may claim this hurts the poor and that these are the people that are going to be affected.

But actually when you have massive food producers spamming the population with food that is nutritionally so poor and is making people sick, making people unhealthy, making them unable to work, making their lives more fatigued, causing mental health problems, all of those things – and that is not an exaggeration – if you do those things, people’s lives are going to be shorter. They are going to find it harder to work, attention spans go down. At the extreme, this kind of food is like a terrible drug that takes so much away.

I think the argument that this removes something from people who can’t afford it is the wrong way of looking at it. If you push food producers to create healthier foods and take this rubbish off the shelves, it will lower the price for foods which are healthier. That’s the way economies of scale work.

At the moment, all of the incentive is for getting the longest lasting, cheapest products on the shelves.

If they can produce something in a factory that’s filled with things that are going to make it addictive tasting and last on the shelves for months or years, then the costs are tiny for them and they’re going to be able to sell things for a ridiculously cheap price. If you flip the switch on that and say, “No, you’re going to have to pay a massive tax on that,” then they’re going to put their efforts into healthier foods or at least I hope they do that.

Then when you make it actually more cost efficient to produce healthier foods, then you start to see better prices all around.

If it is really affecting people’s ability to do the weekly shop, then why not subsidise it for people below a certain income threshold? I That’s one way you could do it. You could use that tax to add subsidies. There are all sorts of ways to solve the problem.

I don’t think the right critique is saying, “We should produce terrible food that destroys lives because it’s cheap.”

So I’ll get off my soapbox and we’ll move on to the next one!

Diet for Postmenopausal Hot Flushes

That is a study titled, “A Dietary Intervention for Postmenopausal Hot Flashes: a Potential Role of Gut Microbiome and Exploratory Analysis.”

This was a study done on women who were experiencing hot flashes or hot flushes, as we call them in the UK. It was looking at how changes in gut microbiome when you change diet could affect the frequency and severity of those hot flashes in postmenopausal women.

This is a really interesting study. It took 84 postmenopausal women and they had to have been experiencing at least two moderate to severe hot flashes each day.

You had two groups: you had a test group, and they followed a low-fat vegan diet, which included half a cup of cooked soybeans, and they had this daily for 12 weeks. And then you had the control group, so the people they were testing against to make sure what the differences were valid, they just maintained their normal diet, so what they were eating normally, nothing changed for them.

To monitor the results, they were giving everyone a mobile phone app where they could record the frequency and severity of the hot flushes. In addition to this, there was a gut microbiome analysis.

In case you’re new to Gut Heroes, the gut microbiome is the world of microbiota that lives in your gut, working with and sometimes against your body, and they have massive health outcomes including feeling great but including feeling really bad, so it’s that world within us that works with our body and sometimes against it.

They did this gut microbiome analysis and they performed that on a subset of 11 women both at the start and the end of the 12-week period and they used something called deep shotgun metagenomic sequencing for that.

So what were the findings from this study?

It’s quite incredible actually. They found an overall reduction of 95% of the total hot flushes experienced.

Severe hot flushes completely disappeared, so from 0.6 to 0 a day, and moderate to severe hot flushes decreased by 96%, daytime ones reduced by 96%, and nighttime ones reduced by 94%.

On 11 of the women who took part in the microbiome study it increased the levels of a number of bacteria and it decreased levels of other bacteria. You can find the names of these bacteria and the full study here.

And this was linked to a reduction in severe daytime hot flushes, and a reduction in total severe hot flushes and severe nighttime hot flushes, and so on, everything I’ve talked about.

It seems like in those women who had their gut microbiome tested, there was a correlation here with the dietary change and how that was affecting the microbes and how that was affecting the hot flushes.

An interesting side note from the study was that one of these bacteria is linked to cardiovascular disease so this could be something that explains some of the health benefits of the diet.

A lot of information there, what were the headline stats from that diet and if you were someone who was wanting to try this, what were they doing exactly?

They were switching to a low-fat diet that was entirely plant-based and they were consuming half a cup of cooked soybeans every day.

Now I want to talk about some study limitations here.

I want to clarify that I don’t think this diet won’t be for everyone. It’s a fascinating study because it does show a correlation between food and the gut microbiome. But… this was a very small sample size, especially for that microbiome analysis, which was just 11 people, and there was no control group for that microbiome analysis.

On top of that, we know that there are a lot of people who don’t do well on a plant based diet alone. So that makes it quite tricky.

It’s a small test which appears to have been profoundly effective for those people who took part, but one of the things I want to always make clear with Gut Heroes and everything I’m talking about here is that there is no one size fits all.

There are some really interesting and exciting things you can try, but remember no two people are the same.

For example, someone like me, appears to have terrible health outcomes if I have starch in my diet or cow dairy, whereas someone else who’s the same age might be the complete opposite. They might be more plant-based and feel amazing.

So while it’s a really interesting study and it’s exciting that they’re doing studies like this but just bear in mind we are all different. I hope they do more studies like this in the future and we can start to get some more results and see how different groups fare.

Do Refined Carbs Make You Less Attractive?

Okay so I’m going to finish off with a bit of a fun one, or a strange one anyway and it’s from a French study and it’s called: “Attractive effects of chronic and acute high glycemic carb intake on facial appearance.”

Specifically, it’s looking at how the consumption of refined carbohydrates affects facial attractiveness in men and women.

They look at this both immediately, and they do this for breakfast and also chronically (so if someone’s eating that kind of food all throughout the day).

It’s been summarised by some media outlets as “Does eating refined carbs make you ugly?”

What did this study involve?

It took 104 French subjects, half men, half women, and they were all aged between 20 and 30, all of them were heterosexual, and all had four grandparents of European origin.

I expect they did this (thought it sounds quite linear!) because they’re trying to keep a level control of people from similar backgrounds, similar beauty ideals and similar age ranges.

All kinds of cultural factors could come into play as to what’s deemed ‘attractive’ and what isn’t so they’re trying to really get as similar people as they can to get a baseline of what their subjective opinion of what attractive is. Something that’s very hard to get right, obviously, but they’re trying.

So how did it work?

There were two tests here.

They got the immediate consumption and that means the participants were given either a high glycaemic or a low glycaemic breakfast and then they took photos of their faces two hours afterwards.

They were looking at chronic consumption as well. So they were looking at glycaemic load at breakfast, afternoon snacks, in between meal snacks, that kind of thing.

They were also controlling for factors like age, physical activity, BMI, whether there were smokers, all of that kind of thing.

Let’s get to the findings because these were really interesting.

What they found from this study is that high glycaemic breakfast reduced facial attractiveness for both men and women compared to a low glycaemic breakfast.

So that is absolutely bonkers.

For the chronic effects, the overall trend was that higher chronic consumption of refined carbohydrates generally reduced facial attractiveness.

For breakfast, a higher glycaemic load reduced attractiveness, but a higher energy intake increased attractiveness for both sexes. So high energy intake, that’s going to be a higher calorie intake really of fats, but a more balanced intake, not the kind of refined carbs, sugary foods type of breakfast.

To do a top level of the findings, it found that refined carbohydrate intake affects facial attractiveness differently for men and women.

For women, eating high glycaemic foods, which raises the blood sugar really quickly, during afternoon snacks made them less attractive, while for men it made them more attractive, although high energy snacks, which are higher in calories, had the opposite effect.

Both men and women looked attractive when they had a low glycaemic breakfast, and chronic high glycaemic intake reduced attractiveness for both sexes, with women appearing older and men seeming less masculine.

They’ve got really specific here.

The takeaway from this would be, and this is going to be different for different people because some people thrive off different foods, is that reducing refined carbs at breakfast and in between meals improved attractiveness. Trying to balance energy intake, especially avoiding high calorie snacks in the afternoon, was really beneficial.

The study was run with self-reported data on the demographics and lifestyle factors and the glycaemic load and energy intake was taken from dietary questionnaires. They did body measurements and glycaemia tests.

In terms of the assessment, that was with photographs. So as we’ve talked about, these were taken two hours afterwards and they were rated by opposite sex raters. They tried to control for this with the same lighting, the same background and the same participant expression to standardise the photos.

So, quite a fun one.

Again, like the previous study, not a lot of subjects in this (just over a hundred) but nonetheless really interesting.

It shows the really outsized impact something like what we eat and what is going on in our body can have on us.

I think we’ll leave it there for today. I hope you enjoyed this gut digest. Let me know what you think and I will see you next time.

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Friendly reminder: Please remember this is for information purposes only. Gut Heroes does not offer medical advice. We are all different and what works for me may not work for you. I setup Gut Heroes to share information with you. To shine a light on my own personal discoveries (as I currently understand them) and to help you with your own personal research.

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