UCL News


Press cutting: 'How Fat Works'

8 December 2006

In 'How Fat Works', Philip A Wood draws on his extensive knowledge of fatty acid metabolism to give an admirable insight into how genes, diet and exercise impact on fatty acid oxidation and synthesis, and how these processes affect us.

… Elsewhere, Wood introduces the various constituents of fat, including "good" and "bad" fatty acids, and discusses how they are ingested or manufactured by the body. …

Meanwhile, the "ambitious general reader", whom Wood also hopes to capture, will find it interesting to learn exactly why we should care about the type of carbon bond found in different fatty acids - it is because this quality determines their properties and effects in the human body.

Even when describing difficult biological concepts, Wood retains a lightness of touch and uses creative analogies. Fatty acids are passengers in a train carriage (very low-density lipoprotein), sitting three to a seat (triglyceride). Meanwhile, visceral fat is like a current account, "easy in, easy out"; whereas subcutaneous fat is a retirement account: "You may be socking it away, but it is very difficult to get back out." …

The chapter on exercise left me convinced more than ever of its benefits, although Wood, like many other experts, believes that exercise alone is a highly inefficient way to lose weight.

Perhaps the most interesting and surprising argument in the book is encapsulated by what Woods describes as his "heretical" statement - that "eating a diet relatively high in unsaturated fatty acids but low in total calories may actually help lower blood levels of fatty acids". In fact, this sounds a whole lot less controversial now than it would have done at the peak of the "low fat" revolution several decades ago - most dieticians now espouse the benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet high in nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil.

This is a fascinating and ambitious book, well divided into manageable chunks. It deals with an exciting and dynamic area, and it includes much cutting-edge research. …

But the outstanding strength of this book is undoubtedly Wood's ability to describe complex metabolic processes in readable English. It will therefore be enjoyed by students, health professionals, scientists and lay readers - all of whom may now think just a little harder before choosing what, and how much, to eat for lunch.

Susan Carnell [UCL Epidemiology & Public Health], 'Times Higher Education Supplement'