Early in the spring of 2016, highly-respected broadcaster, Angela Rippon OBE, caused something of a stir. The effect of the revelation, made during the screening of her co-presented documentary programme on the science of staying young, sent ripples of surprise not just among the disciples of health and nutrition, but throughout the television-viewing public in general.
Angela, renown not only for her award-winning journalism and broadcasting skills, but also for her youthful figure and shapely legs, revealed courtesy of an MRI scan, that her famously slim body concealed a large amount of dangerous visceral fat…
Image credit: Rob Hollingworth
This discovery was made during the BBC screening of a two-part documentary featuring Angela and Dr Chris van Tulleken. The programme, entitled How to Stay Young, was described as ‘an eye opening guide to how science is enabling us to overcome the obstacles of getting old.’ In dealing with the subject of staying young, it was necessary for Angela and Chris to delve deeply into the clinical health of both body and mind to uncover the secrets of not just living longer, but living longer healthily. This meant a full-body MRI scan for Angela, and knowing herself to be in good shape for her 71 years, she went into the procedure feeling pretty confident.
Not surprisingly, for someone so active and diet conscious, Angela sailed through most of the scan results with flying colours. Professor of Medicine, Jimmy Bell of Imperial College London said, “You have the body composition of a young person, and your muscular strength is substantial.” He also confirmed that her heart and lungs were in good shape.
- All looked fine until Professor Bell pointed out the mysterious mass surrounding Angela’s abdominal organs. “This is visceral fat.” He told her. ‘‘You have between six and seven litres; the average is two.’’ He went on to explain to a very shocked Angela that this amount of visceral fat spelt danger and could lead to heart disease and diabetes if action was not taken to significantly reduce it.
Professor Bell told Angela: “You have the body of an athlete with no extraneous external fat at all. But this internal fat makes you a puzzle.’’ He confirmed that a build-up of visceral fat is usually caused by poor lifestyle choices, such as eating excessive amounts of sugar and fat and not taking enough exercise. However, neither of these two reasons could apply to Angela whose lifestyle involves lots of exercise and a good diet. Surely everyone watching the documentary must have been asking the same question. How, in view of her healthy lifestyle and slim figure, could Angela be storing so much visceral fat?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question remains something of a mystery. It is known that as we age, and particularly for women, hormonal changes can cause the body to store fat around the middle. The fact is, this type of dangerous internal fat is still a relatively new field of medical science into which further research is needed. Angela resolved that whatever the cause, her priority was to be pro-active in dealing with the problem in order to avoid the very real dangers set out by Professor Bell. The risk to her cardiovascular health posed a particular concern due to a large amount of visceral fat shown to be wrapped around her heart.
Did Angela get rid of the visceral fat?
The next question to be addressed by the documentary was how to get rid of this hidden stash of fat? Angela was relieved to learn that scientists have recently discovered that regularly including in the diet the soluble fibre inulin, or a high-resistance starch such as that found in lentils, may help the body to metabolise blood lipids, as well as the dangerous stores of internal fat.
On a table before her, Angela had a large bowl of red lentils which are high in a variety of starch known as resistant starch (meaning resistant to being broken down by gut enzymes). She also had a small dish containing white powder known as inulin, which is actually fructose, classed as a soluble fibre.
She explained how inulin and high-resistance starch works: This type of dietary soluble fibre is not broken down by the digestive system, but remains intact until it reaches the large intestine. At this point, it releases an acid which may help the body to metabolise fat.
However, Angela made the point that eating the necessary amount of lentils to bring about this effect would be fairly unrealistic as she would have to get through several kilos each week to have the desired effect. She then turned her attention to the dish of white powder, explaining that fortunately it is possible to take inulin as a food supplement in this concentrated form and all you have to do is to sprinkle the powder onto your food each day. She also stressed that taking inulin would not be a ‘quick fix’ but would begin to show results possibly after a period of about 6 months.
Staying young from the inside out
In a statement following the screening of the BBC documentary Angela Rippon said that making ‘How to Stay Young’ had taught her a great deal more about the ageing process and how it can be slowed down, or even held in abeyance. “After all, she observed, “living longer is not enough if that extra time is spent immobile or in pain. As the English anthropologist, Ashley Montagu said: The idea is to die young as late as possible.”
Following the disturbing revelations made in How to Stay Young, many people have felt the need to get much more information on the dietary supplement recommended to help with alleviating the problem of excess stores of visceral fat. To this end, we have put together a scientifically researched Q&A on inulin, so if you have any questions we hope you will find your answers here.