Monday, January 6, 2014

The Spherical Diet Plan

New research shows that the shape of the food you eat may be the most important consideration in choosing a healthy diet. Head of Polygonal Nutrition Research at Charles Sturt University, Dr Kelly Linden, says that recent studies undertaken on the shape of foods being consumed have shown that choosing spherical, round or ball-shaped foods might be the single most important aspect for maintaining a healthy diet.

Dr Kelly Linden and a big pile of balls

This has been a ground breaking area of study as no previous health research has focused specifically on the shape of food being consumed. While the healthy food pyramid is indeed a shape, many people have confused this idea with the shape of the food itself.
“At first, people struggled to get their head around the idea,” said Dr Linden, “as soon as they saw the words food and shape in the abstract of the research paper, they immediately assumed the study was a re-think on the traditional food pyramid.” 
There have been many variations on the Healthy Food Pyramid since it was originally published back in 1992.

It has been adapted to suit different ideas on healthy eating, particular dietary requirements and even as “a perfectly calibrated recipe for maximum personal achievement” by Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson.

The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness includes such useful guidelines as:
Honor: If you need it defined, you don't have it.
Buffets: Whenever available. Choose quantity over quality.
Capitalism: God’s way of determining who is smart, and who is poor.
Many scientists now agree that the traditional food pyramid, which espouses that a healthy diet should be high in bread, cereals, grains and other refined carbohydrates, has been delivering unhealthy dietary guidelines and is probably the cause of the huge increase in obesity, heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted many Western countries over the last 30 years. Below you can find a story from ABC’s Catalyst program about some of the changing ideas on these dietary guidelines.
And this article explains how Sweden became the first Western country to reject the “low fat diet dogma” in favour of high fat, low carbohydrate recommendations.

Swedish Meatballs can be used as a cornerstone of the Spherical Diet Plan

Anyway, the point is, that while the food pyramid is, indeed, a shape, it does not, in any way, make recommendations about the shape of the actual foods being consumed.

The research study investigated the effects on the health of a group of test subjects.
“We had the subjects consuming foods made into shapes like cubes, balls, sticks and even interesting things like squiggles or bowties like you can find in different types of pasta.”
The overwhelming results from the two year study were that consuming balls was most likely to provide positive health benefits and reduce the risks of heart disease and diabetes. But Dr Linden stresses that the recommendations need to considered carefully.
“If people think that these new spherical dietary guidelines are an excuse to start pigging out on bagels, then I can’t stop them. But if they are prepared to sit down and read the science it doesn’t take long to understand that the shape of a bagel is actually called a torus, which is a surface generated by revolving a circle in three-dimensional space about an axis coplanar with the circle. It is certainly not a ball or sphere.”
While the mathematics (and geometry in particular) might be a bit beyond most people, Dr Linden, with the help of the graphics team at Charles Sturt have published a simple infographic along with the results of their study that should help people to easily make healthy food choices.
The Spherical Diet Plan infographic helps people make healthier food choices

But what about athletes with their higher calorie requirements and different healthy living needs? Mark Cavendish changed to a lower carbohydrate diet that completely eliminated sugar and processed foods in order to help lose weight in preparation for the London Olympics. And although he didn’t manage to win a medal in the Men’s Road Race, according to the website the new diet seems to have helped him lose weight after “…having won one of the toughest races on the planet, Tour de France…”

While this blog certainly cannot claim to be a credible authority on road racing, it can be said with a fair amount of certainty that the only way Mark Cavendish would ever win the Tour de France was if a very long list of riders ahead of him got disqualified for doping violations…which is not to say that it couldn’t happen.

When Dave Zabriskie famously went vegan for the 2011 Tour de France, he allowed himself to cheat slightly by eating small amounts of salmon. This must have come as quite a shock to the fish in the Zabriskie pond who, initially, must have thought that they were off the hook (so to speak). Did this special diet work for Dave? Well, it’s always hard to tell but he did finish the 2011 Tour de France in 100th position (42 places ahead of Mark Cavendish).

When asked about how the Spherical Diet Plan could be adapted for athletes, Dr Linden advised that:
“Because the Spherical Diet does not make recommendations about anything other than the shape of the food being consumed, at this stage we don't feel it's necessary for athletes to adapt the diet. Obviously, athletes might need a few extra calories compared to sedentary individuals but it’s really up to them whether they choose to eat larger balls or just eat more balls.”
Like many modern Western scientific discoveries, the idea of a diet rich in balls is not new and has been practiced by many other cultures for centuries. Falafel balls have been an extremely popular food in the Middle East for probably over a thousand years, while in India and much of Western Asia, Kofta balls (made from a variety of different ingredients), are found in many traditional dishes. Then there’s Taiwan where locals have known about the “joys of sucking on balls” for many years now.
When asked about the reason why balls were found to be the healthiest food choice, Dr Linden said:
“We are still not completely sure why the balls performed so well in the study compared with other shapes and there is further research scheduled over the coming years. The most likely reason seems to be that every point on the surface of a sphere is equidistant from the centre and also because it has the smallest surface area of all surfaces that enclose a given volume, while at the same time enclosing the largest volume among all closed surfaces with a given surface area.”
Dr Linden went on to describe these concepts in further detail, but thankfully they are beyond the scope of this article…and most cyclists. In fact, the last article on this blog that dealt with some slightly complex mathematical concepts (Quantum Mechanics for Cyclists) was met with little more than mild apathy and disdain by the cycling community due to the fact that it did not offer any specific number of training tips for improving performance, a review of any new device or equipment that may (or may not) improve performance or a GoPro video of some epic ride that “you just have to see!”

Thankfully though, Dr Linden’s research is something that cyclists can definitely benefit from. While the science itself may not yet be fully understood and even though the concepts might seem difficult and a little abstract, if you are looking for a nutritional edge over the competition then it is important to become an early adopter. Once people start to catch on and the ball-rich diet becomes mainstream your spherical advantage will quickly vanish – squashed flat by a levelled playing field.

If Dr Linden’s findings prove to be as influential as early signs indicate, then athletes can all look forward to a healthier future full of balls.


  1. Are you allowed to refer to an "Epic" ride? Won't Specialized sue?

  2. We all know it's about eating SQUARE!

  3. Have you seen @mrdarcysballs (instagram and twitter) or known as delectaballs on facebook :)