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Opinions of Sunday, 13 March 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

The “Pimpinis” Ideology - Iced Kenkey Part 2

There was a time in Ghana when a pot “belle” in the male was thought to be respectable. The fashion concept of “pimpinis”, when the male trousers were pulled up the abdomen, must have emanated from an attempt to accentuate lower abdominal protuberance, thus projecting an image of well-being. The “Obaa Sima” image also meant that, traditionally, Ghanaian men have preferred women on the larger side.

As far back as the Victorian era, Europeans have always tried to portray a slim figure, especially in their fashion, while we were, and probably still are, fascinated by obesity. I have known Ghanaian women in the Diaspora, who, before they went home on holidays, would deliberately devour as many calories as they could, so the family and everybody else back home would be impressed with how “good” they looked.

So, while in Ghana, hypertension and diabetes are considered diseases of the wealthy, in western society, it is worse amongst the low-socio-economic sector of the population, including African immigrants, where obesity is rife. In the UK, African women are most likely to die during pregnancy than any other racial group, in part due to the high incidence of obesity.

When I started to loose weight, my European colleagues congratulated me and asked what the secret was. But Auntie Grace, a work colleague of mine from Cape Coast who is like a big sister to me, called me to one side and asked, rather seriously, if everything was alright with me.
After managing to convince her of my reasons, she mentioned her own frustration at not being able to loose weight, despite her doctor’s strong recommendation for her to do so and in spite of jogging every morning. It was lunch time, so we began a long conversation on weight loss.

“Firstly” I said, “you can loose as much weight jogging as you can loose a pot “belle” doing sit-ups..... That is, you loose nothing!”

Auntie Grace was surprised

“But burning the calories......” she tried to argue

“How fast do you run, and for how long, with this “overflowing backside?”” she laughed “Even if you did really strenuous exercise continuously for 1 hour, which I doubt you do, all you would loose is about 300 calories. And do you know what it takes to replace 300kcal? – The equivalent of two apples or two glasses of beer. And all you do if you tried to loose a pot “belle” with sit-ups is to build the muscle underneath the pad of fat which constitutes the “belle”.
“Exercise is good.” I said “It makes you feel better because of the endorphins (natural morphine in the body) it releases and it improves the function of your heart. But weight loss, forget it”
“But I watch my diet as well. I grill all my meat to rid it of fat” She protested.
“Do you?” I asked sarcastically. “Actually, I wish you would eat all that fat, because your body needs it.
At that moment, I nearly lost her attention. But I persisted.
You see, the process of fat deposition is complex and involves two kinds of hormones in your body, which for the purposes of this article I will call, THE FAT BUILDING SQUAD and the FAT DEMOLITION ARMY.
The most important hormone in the fat building squad, and maybe, even in the whole body is insulin. Others include the growth hormones and sex hormones. The most important hormone in the fat demolition squad is glucagon. Other members include steroids and thyroid hormones.
Our body’s response to carbohydrate (banku, fufu, kenkey, sugar) is the release of insulin which then collects the glucose coming from carbohydrate and breaks it down for energy. If there is too much glucose it turns the surplus into fat and we put on weight. If there is not enough glucose (eg dieting, starvation), glucagon releases stored glucose from the liver, and also breaks down fat to produce energy and we loose weight.
Our body is designed to keep a balance between the fat building and fat demolition hormones all the time to maintain optimum health. So if an imbalance occurs, problems like obesity and many other health issues occur.
So for example, if insulin levels go up over a long period (e.g. from eating too much carbohydrate), an imbalance occurs and your body may struggle to balance the hormones in one of two ways.
1. The levels of the other fat building hormones may go down to reduce the total amount of fat building hormones. If sex hormones levels go down, there may be problems with sexual desire and arousal. If growth hormones go down, the cells in your body that get injured are not repaired properly. Over a time, damage to blood vessels for instance may result in stroke, heart disease etc.
2. The levels of some of the fat demolition squad may increase to balance the insulin. Steroids for instance, may go up and this may cause a decrease in your ability to fight disease.
“So Auntie Grace, the trick is to eat as little carbohydrate as possible!!”
When carbohydrate is low, of course glucose is low, and that means very little insulin is produced. But your body needs energy! As it cannot generate it from glucose and insulin, it forces glucagon to be released to break down fat and you loose weight.
Equally important is the way your body attempts to balance your hormones. When insulin levels are low, levels of other fat building squad hormones go up to increase their total level to balance the demolition squad. An increase in sex hormones gives obvious benefits. An increase in growth hormones ensures constant repair of damaged cells in your body and decreases risk of major disease like diabetes, stroke and heart disease. But in addition it helps hair growth and improves skin quality.
The low insulin resulting from a low carbohydrate diet also prevents the hormonal imbalances associated with irregular periods and infertility in women. So even after attaining optimum weight, a low carbohydrate diet is recommended for life because of the other benefits to your general health.
“So how low is low then?” Auntie Grace asked
I explained that, the maximum carbohydrate you should eat in a day is 72 grams. Now, a single slice of bread contains 12g of carbohydrate. So each day, you should not eat more than the equivalent of 6 slices of bread. 12g therefore becomes the “bread unit or BU” (Allan and Lutz – Life without Bread). This means, that if you eat 2 slices of bread in the morning, you have 4 BU left for the whole day. 1 medium slice of yam (100g) is equivalent to 3 bread units. (I will give a list in my final article). That leaves 1 bread unit which is the carbohydrate in 1 medium apple.
“Is that all I can eat?”
“Unfortunately yes” I said. “But remember, this is just for the carbohydrates. You can eat as much protein and fat as you like. (List will be provided in Part three)
“But if I eat too much of the fats and protein, won’t my total calories go up?” Auntie Grace asked. Remember, that calories measure the total energy in food, and that is different from just carbohydrates.
The problem with relying on reduced calories, but high carbohydrate diet to loose weight is that, in the earlier stages, your body will break down fat to make up the extra energy required and you will loose weight. But soon, your brain, acting as the finance ministry, sends a memo round to tell every part of your body, that there is an economic crisis and the food is not going to increase any time soon, so everybody should apply austerity measures. So body functions become more efficient and even the few calories becomes sufficient and because you are eating lots of carbohydrate, insulin converts extra glucose to fat and you stop loosing weight.
“Loosing weight” says Zoe Harcombe, in her book The Obesity Epidemic “is more a question of fat storage and fat utilization. You need the body to move into a fat-burning mode and, to do that, you need to cut down your consumption not of calories, but of carbohydrates.”
So the advice is for you to eat as much protein and fat as you desire, so long as you keep to 6BUs of carbohydrate a day. In any case, it has been found, that protein and fat fill you up more than carbohydrate so you don’t get hungry and also it avoids the fluctuating levels of insulin and glucose associated with carbohydrate intake that produce the urge to snack. So you end up eating less anyway.
“What about fruits and soft drinks?” Auntie Grace asked
“Unfortunately, they count towards your total carbohydrates. 1 medium Banana is 2 BU. So you have to adjust accordingly. 250mls of coca cola is 2 BU and so on. Always make sure you look at the amount of carbohydrate on the item and divide by 12 to get the bread units. And you should not have more than 6 BUS!! The rest should be protein and fat.” I said
“What about my favourite banku? There is no carbohydrate mentioned on it the last I checked?”
The difference in carbohydrate levels between banku and mashed potatoes cannot be that big, so I have estimated the carbohydrates in banku, using what is available in an equivalent weight of mashed potatoes. I promised to give her a list later which I will provide in the third and last part of this article.
“And avoid sugar!” I said
“Ahhhh” She moaned
“Each spoonful is 2BUs. If you can afford that at the expense of banku, then fine. And drink at least two litres of water a day” I said “Because when fat breaks down, it produces some acidic substances called ketones. This may make you feel a bit unwell. The water ensures these ketones are washed away in the urine.”
“Papa, you might as well take a knife and slash my throat” she said “After all, all die be die!”
“Don’t get me started on that one “I said
“What about Ghana? Food is relatively more expensive. How many people can afford loads of fish, meat and cheese?” She asked
“Well...” I attempted, but she interrupted me and answered her own question
“I guess back home,” she said “obesity is an expensive business. That is why only the well-off get fat. So I presume, if you can afford to be obese in Ghana, then you can afford to loose weight.”
“You have spoken like a true prodigy” I said
“I brought some “waakye” today” she finally said “Let’s go and eat. You look terminally ill”
“Auntie Grace paaaa!”
NB Some of the advice contradicts conventional advice but it is all well-researched. And it worked for me. If you want more information, read “Big Fat Lies. Is Your Government Making You Fat” by Hannah Sutter and “Life Without Bread” by Allan and Lutz
Papa Appiah