Irish milky tea a trojan horse to obesity?

Haha, caught your attention?

I wonder how much milky tea has to do with obesity in Ireland, because of its regular drip-feed of insulin-spiking milk throughout the day.

Such a sacrosanct thing surely couldn’t have any ill effects, right? Simply to question the Irish cup of tea risks an onslaught of horror.

A cupán tae is heart-warming. It’s a relief in the busy day. It’s milky goodness, without that harsh bitterness of brewed black tea. In being the heart-warming relief, it’s also an emotional crutch – I learned this habit from my childhood and regularly practice it myself daily. A cup of tea can be that emotional sticky plaster that settles the nerves after life’s daily stresses, like getting the kids out the door for school or finding a fix to a software bug.

But the first cup of tea is soon followed by the next cup of tea, losing count of the number of cups of tea by the end of the day.

The origins of the cup of tea don’t seem so dramatic. As far as I can tell, it was a mid-afternoon treat. You’d have the small porcelain teapot, and pour yourself a small porcelain cup of tea. Drinking from a cup that tiny might be enough to get laughed at today. What we have for cups of tea are mugs of tea.

My focus here is on the milkiness of tea, I’ll ignore the topic of sugary tea. For me, the milkier the better. I know others have more refined taste and manage to just “whiten” their dark cup of brewed tea. A milky drink is really a kids’ drink, drinking it as an adult might be something we could be ashamed of. It’s got that childhood motherly comfort that not many foods or beverages can provide.

In his book The Obesity Code, Dr. Jason Fung’s core thesis is that obesity is an outcome of hormonal (im)balances, in contrast to our “fed” view that it’s simply how many calories we eat.

He says that any food causes some spike in insulin, the hormone that’s responsible for storing fat. Hormones are meant to be “pulsatory” in nature – that is that their intention is to spike for a short period and then go back to near-zero levels.

The trouble comes from decades of insulin flowing in your body for too many hours during the day. Your body’s systems ignore the higher-than-expected levels of the hormone (an intelligent thing to do), which then means that even more insulin has to be pumped into the bloodstream in order for the glucose in your blood to go somewhere else where it won’t make so much harm.

Dr. Fung’s general advice is to tweak what you eat and when you eat. The “when” is an interesting one that’s probably overlooked by many of us. The idea is that we can go with two, perhaps three, meals a day, and let our insulin levels drop right down for the rest of the day.

He suggests that there are two modes in our bodies related to insulin, and you can’t be in-between: you’re either in fat-storage mode, or in fat-burning mode.

Where does milky tae come into all this? A single little cup of slightly-milky tea has a small effect of insulin. It spikes it up just a tiny bit. Then your body goes back down to picking into your fat reserves.

But take this to a modern setting: between meals, it’s very easy to get a cup of tea per hour, and the cups are actually mugs. Let’s say you’re drip-feeding yourself 200ml of milk throughout the day. Your body never gets that four or six hour rest of fat-burning mode, because you keep spiking it with little bits of insulin throughout your day.

And what piggy-backed habits do you have for your cup of tea? Maybe depending on the time of day you have it with a little chocolate, or a few biscuits, or nuts, or cheese. It might be the hook to more things you’re consuming that only the milky tea itself (yes, I just said it, tea is a gateway drug).

What’s my real point to myself here? It’s to find a replacement habit for this milky tea habit (such as pu-erh tea with bit of lemon juice), plus it’s implementing this in my normal days more broadly so that my body is indeed getting long stretches with no insulin spikes caused by my own consumption of food and drinks.