Interview with Ilona, Nutritionist at Tucker Health

By Coach Michael Lyons. ​ Hi Ilona, tell us about yourself and your approach to nutrition? My name is Ilona. I’m Hungarian, living in Singapore for the past 10 years. I work as a Nutritionist at Tucker Health. While travelling and living in different countries, I’ve noticed that people living a traditional lifestyle do not display the symptoms of nutrient deficiencies and chronic diseases we observe in people in our modern society. I particularly think of the perfect teeth and bone structure of children living in poverty in Tunisia that I met in the early ‘80s while living there. What makes traditionally living people healthy compared to us, living a “civilised” lifestyle? Weston Price’s book: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (link: that I’ve read many years ago, had a huge impact on my view about the relationship between diet and health. Weston Price travelled all around the world in the 1930s and collected data on the physical differences in populations living in isolation and those living and trading with Europeans. At that time, I did not understand the metabolic implications of a traditional diet versus our current diet, rich in refined carbohydrates and sugar, and low in fat. The compelling evidence from this book suggests that dietary fat is indeed a very nutritious food, on the other hand, refined carbohydrates and sugar (representing the bulk of our modern diet) is harmful. As I was reading more and more medical journals and textbooks, I came to understand the role insulin plays in the development of obesity. I’ve also noticed that if obesity appears in a population, then chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer also surface in these societies. An obese person is also at high risk of developing these chronic diseases. So, if we find a way to reduce a person’s fat tissue, then we also reduce his/her risk of developing such diseases. So, is LCHF a new thing or are we returning to our ways of past generations? LCHF (Low-Carbohydrate, High-Fat) diet or ketogenic diet* is not new. For instance, William Banting, who published Letter On Corpulence (link: in 1863, had lost 85 pounds on a high fat, carbohydrate-restricted diet. Somehow, this knowledge had been lost after World War II. Ancel Keys (professor, University of Minnesota) published the Seven Countries Study (link: and started to advocate a low-fat diet in order to prevent heart disease. To this day, this “low-fat” craze failed slow down our heart disease epidemic. Today, fat consumption is lowest than ever, refined carbohydrates and sugar takes up bigger and bigger portions of our daily calorie consumption. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer are still in increase. Why are we blaming our chronic conditions on something we are not eating? * Ketone bodies are produced by the liver from the fat we eat or our own fat tissue. Ketones provide energy in the absence of carbohydrates. Thus a ketogenic diet. I’ve heard that LCHF can reverse some major modern day epidemics such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Is that so, and how does that work? It is possible to reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes by consuming much less carbohydrates and bringing back blood glucose to a very low level and keeping it in a very narrow range. This is when the body produces ketone bodies, another source of energy. It turns out that this energy source is much more efficient than carbohydrates. People who are pre-diabetic, type 2 diabetic and/or overweight, they are not able to burn carbohydrates (glucose) for energy as efficiently as when they were younger. They are usually carrying month’s worth of energy in their fat tissues, but they have no access to it, because of their high insulin levels. The solution to this problem is to switch to burning fat instead of glucose (carbohydrates), by lowering carbohydrate intake. When insulin levels are low, fat stores open up and we start to burn fat for energy. Burning fat, does not require insulin. Eating fat, does not elevate insulin levels, subsequently fat tissues “melt” in the absence of insulin, and fat (the fat we eat and the fat from our tissues) becomes the primary fuel. When insulin levels drop, people start to lose fat tissue, and if they are type 2 diabetics, they are also able to reduce, and eventually quit their diabetes medication (Insulin, Metformin) completely. I know some very fit but unhealthy athletes. Is LCHF something that athletes should be doing also? What are the upsides? Some of my patients are athletes and they usually look good from the outside, but their blood test results show a very different picture. They also develop pre-diabetes or diabetes after many years of fuelling their exercise routine with a high-carbohydrate, sugar-rich diet. They develop fat tissue deposits in the muscle, resembling marbled meat, and around their organs. They are not sheltered from today’s epidemic, despite their very intensive physical training. I usually recommend them to start a low-carbohydrate diet, in order to facilitate their body’s to access their fat deposits. The benefits are great after their adaptation period of a few months is over. Their performance goes up and they do not need to carry gels and energy drinks when training or during competition, as they are able to dip into their fat stores for energy much more efficiently. They also report better mental health and clarity, better sleep etc. How should a person start on LCHF? Simply by reducing the amount of carbohydrates they are consuming. I usually recommend to start the diet when they are able to rest and relax, as switching from burning carbohydrates to burning fat causes side-effects for a few days. Adaptation to burning fat goes on for months after starting the diet, and it can have side-effects. What sort of food should we eat, should we count calories and how many times a day should we eat? There is no need to count the calories consumed. Fat tissue gain depends on how much insulin the pancreas secretes, and it does not depend on the number of calories consumed and expended during exercise. The food to eat is high in fat (butter, cheese, olive oil, lard, liver pate, eggs etc.) and fibre (vegetables that grow above the ground), moderate in protein (meat, fish, seafood), and very low in carbohydrates (rice, pasta, noodles, potatoes, bread, fruits etc). Describe the phases and symptoms of ketosis and the athletic benefits. Not everybody experiences side effects. The most commons ones are: - Headache, dizziness, just for a few days. Increasing salt intake helps with these symptoms. These symptoms last only a few days. - Constipation: the loss of salt and other minerals can cause temporary constipation for a few days or weeks. Adding salt and increasing magnesium intake helps. - Irritability for a few days as blood sugar drops and ketone production is not efficient yet to replace the energy loss from lower carbohydrate intake. The brain experiences a short period of very low energy that leads irritability. - Athletes often complain of muscle inefficiency and muscle burning, when starting the diet. This comes from the inability of the body to switch back to fat burning mode, their body is still waiting for carbohydrates. Adaptation takes a few weeks or months, depending on the degree of insulin resistance of the individual. It is very important to rest a lot during this period and train only when they feel they have energy. In my experience, although benefits of the diet are noticeable after a few weeks, full and complete “recovery” from this lifestyle change happens over a longer period of time, usually 1 or 2 years. The positive effects of this diet include: - Mental clarity - Better sleep - Better performance after the body learns how to burn fat. - Muscles become more efficient as the fat tissue built up within the muscle tissue breaks down slowly. This might result in a leaner muscle mass, but greater efficiency. - Better heart and lungs efficiency. For more information about low-carbohydrate performance, please watch this video: Prof. Jeff Volek - The Art and Science of Low Carb Living: Cardio-Metabolic Benefits and Beyond (link: Are you available for consultation and how should we reach you? I am available for consultation at: Tucker Health 8 Sinaran Drive Suite 04-07 Novena Specialist Center Singapore 307470 Tel: +65 6659 6918 You can also reach me on social media: Facebook (link: Twitter (link:

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