Diet blog: gut feeling

Judith Wills / 06 December 2016

Is gut bacteria the key to combating obesity? Our diet expert investigates.



Our own dear Fergie (no, not the sainted Alex of Man U, but the Duchess of York) has been well known over the years for gaining and losing weight. 

She’s probably one of the most well-known serial dieters, otherwise known as yo-yo dieters, in the UK.  Not that she’s alone – it is thought that over half of people who diet to lose weight do so more than once, and up to 20% of us diet then put it all back on, every year of our adult lives.

Fergie’s recent appearance in the media was to celebrate her latest loss of three stones and the fact she’s kept it off quite a while, and this time, her weight-loss regime and her new-found ability (so she says) to keep it off may have some basis in scientific fact.

At first glance, the Duchess’s diet looks typically bizarre, restrictive and bonkers, consisting, as she says it does, of mandarin oranges, tomatoes and mayonnaise.  Seems, doesn’t it, like the worst kind of fad diet a serial yo-yoer could possibly have chosen.

But wait!  Intrigued by her choice, I have been doing some research.  And it seems that, if you can forgive for a moment the restrictive side of it, two of the three foods in her diet are very good sources of a plant compound that can help burn fat and keep you slim.  It’s called naringenin, with citrus fruits like mandarins, and tomatoes, being two of the best sources.

It appears naringenin may work to stop us yo-yoing by combatting the effect of ‘naughty’ fat-loving gut bacteria created when we are overweight, which hang around inside us after we’ve slimmed down to try to persuade us to eat more and get fat again.  They may be a throw-back to the days when we hunted and were extremely thin and the bugs were there to make us try even harder to find a boar or a tiger to eat.

As for the mayo, home-made mayonnaise can be very healthy – egg yolks are protein and vitamin-rich, while olive oil is a healthy fat, and both ingredients will help prevent hunger. 

Whether or not the mandarin diet can be called anything other than a silly fad diet is open to question – I wouldn’t fancy trying it myself, I mean – what meals could you eat for goodness sake?  Mandarin and tomato in mayo?  A mandarin, tomato and mayo extra-thick smoothie?  Breakfast – skip the mayo and tomato and have two mandarins? 

Yes these foods show promise for helping with long-term weight control, but my advice is to eat some other stuff as well.  Could just be that plenty of other foods will turn out to have similar effects.

But the point is, really, that researchers are finding out more and more about weight control, and the fascinating subject of gut bacteria is a large focus of current studies. What goes on in our digestive tract, and the role that the billions of bacteria that inhabit it play, is probably going to turn out to be much more significant in the war against obesity than anyone could ever have imagined.

And as latest research* finds that for women in particular, yo-yo dieting increases the risk of death from heart disease by threefold, it’s important to try to find the cause and cure.

*  Study by Brown University presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions November 2016

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.