Donal O'Neill's documentary 'Cereal Killers' challenges conventional wisdom on cardiovascular disease.
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A new documentary investigating cardiovascular disease declares that fat is good for you. The documentary will have its US premiere in San Francisco this week.
Donal O’Neill, who co-founded the Gaelic Players’ Association in 1999, was motivated to create the film, entitled ‘Cereal Killers,’ after his father had a heart attack in January 2010.
Recently named in the “Top 10 movies of 2013 that could change the world” by LifeChanges Network, Cereal Killers tracks the health journey of Donal O’Neill, an Irishman with a strong family history of heart disease, which takes him to Cape Town South Africa and a meeting with renowned sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes, a passionate advocate of low carb nutrition.
The movie also features the low carb journey of members of the Australian cricket team.
Donal’s father, who managed to pull through after the heart attack, never drank and was always fit, hardly putting on any weight since his days as a former All-Ireland footballer in the 1960s. The younger O’Neill says he was perplexed.
“I got angry,” he says. “I come from a marketing background. I’ve worked with the big food companies. I know what they do. The more I found out how far removed we are from what works in maintaining health, the more annoyed I got.
“I started to think it was a little bit strange for a man who had been so fit and healthy - he had sailed through these stress tests for checking heart issues.
“That was my starting point and then I thought, ‘Am I next?’ When they moved to look at my father’s brother, my uncle Sean O’Neill, who was the more famous footballer, they discovered he had type 2 diabetes; again - not a man who had abused himself in any way. The research fascinated me.”
Cardiovascular disease kills 10,000 people in Ireland a year. That is the equivalent of the capacity of Hill 16 in Croke Park, O’Neill told the Irish Times.
In the documentary, O’Neill undertakes a 28-day, high-fat diet monitored by Noakes, who co-produced the film with O’Neill. He says the results showed clearly that fat was a benefit not a problem.
O’Neill cut out carbohydrates and sugar and gorged on high fat foods such as meat and bacon, Greek yogurt, and eggs “the single best food to improve your cholesterol profile.”
The first-time filmmaker says we’ve been given misleading information about the elements of a healthy diet.
“Fat is good. What we’re told is clearly dictated by corporate and political interests. Sugar - and high-fructose corn syrup, the sugar replacement in a lot of soft drinks - is probably the single, most damaging component of the food chain,” says O’Neill.
“There is an interesting study of wholemeal brown bread, which is held up as being healthy. They found that three out of five people will get a more aggressive blood/sugar elevation response to brown bread than they will to plain sugar.
“One of the most devious products out there is Kellogg’s Special K. It has 23 grams of sugar per 100 grams. A bar of Lindt 90 per cent dark chocolate has 7 grams of sugar so you’d need to eat nearly half a kilo of 90 per cent dark chocolate to get the same amount of sugar you’d get in a big bowl of Special K.”
The documentary takes a look at the origins of the anti-fat campaign in the 1970s when competing factions in the food industry clashed over the the cause of heart disease. One side argued saturated fat was to blame, the other side said it was sugar. The anti-fat lobby won and its nutritional guidelines, based on incomplete research by US scientist Ancel Keys, were used to create The Food Pyramid in 1977. Those diet suggestions are still promoted by the US government today, sustained by powerful lobbies.
During the experiment, O’Neill’s cholesterol rose from 6.5 to 7.2, but he had large-particle cholesterol, what Noakes calls “the good kind” of cholesterol, because it helps to reduce inflammation in the body.
O’Neill says that medical tests don’t allow the difference between small and large particle cholesterol levels.
“It’s probably the single best marker of your cardiovascular risk, and we don’t measure it. That doesn’t make any sense to me. They’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg.”