Irish-founded Sigma Nutrition is one of the most respected evidence-based education resources in the world. Ahead of its seminars in London and Dublin, founder Danny Lennon speaks to Pádraig Hoare
In an age where pseudoscience, quackery and too-good-to-be-true fad diets have pervaded modern culture, Danny Lennon of Sigma Nutrition is determined to play his part in ensuring true evidence-based research and science eventually wins out.
The Limerick-based researcher has quickly gained a sterling reputation globally among his peers for his integrity and faithfulness to the best of ethical nutrition.
Mr Lennon’s podcasts have become a go-to resource for people all over the world seeking to further their knowledge in nutrition, knowing Sigma’s guests are among the top of their field in scientific research.
As important is debunking pseudoscience and quackery so that consumers keep their money for methods that work, according to Mr Lennon.
“Sigma Nutrition provides evidence-based nutrition information through educational media content. This is most notably through the podcast Sigma Nutrition Radio and through seminars and lectures. We also have an online coaching service.
"Really, the goal is to be a source of honest, objective and accurate information in an age where the health and fitness industry is full of misinformation and misleading gurus trying to make money at the expense of the end consumer,” Mr Lennon said.
A thirst for knowledge combined with a love of sport set Mr Lennon on his journey.
“I have an MSc in nutritional sciences from University College Cork. Previous to that I graduated from University of Limerick with a BSc in Biology and Physics Education. Outside of academia, I’ve been in competitive sport my whole life, and was the thing that first got me interested in nutrition.
"I played soccer for years as well as Gaelic football. I college I started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trained a bit of MMA on the side. In more recent years I’ve focused entirely on powerlifting, in the Irish Powerlifting Federation,” he said.
The Dublin 2017 Sigma Nutrition Seminar is taking place at St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra on November 25 and 26, a week after taking place in London.
The weekend is made up of a number of lectures, aimed at arming attendees with an understanding of what research currently tells us about a number of topics around nutrition, health and body composition, Mr Lennon said.
“A high percentage of the attendees are using the information in their own work. Over the past few years we have had many fitness professionals, nutritionists, dietitians and postgraduate students attend.
"However, we also have many people who just love nutrition or are interested in learning about it at a deeper level,” he added.
In a world where celebrities endorse diets that have no basis in fact, influencing millions to part with money on methods that simply do not work, Mr Lennon said there were signs of change.
“I do think that more people are becoming aware of asking for evidence for claims that people are making.
"A lot of people are now seeking out reputable sources of information. Pseudoscience and quackery will always be around, and certain people will always fall for it, or just want to believe in it.
"But in general, I think it’s easier to spot nowadays that someone is an obvious quack,” he said.
A more dangerous trend is now emerging that requires even more critical thinking, he added.
“To me, the much more dangerous things for consumers of information nowadays is the growth of fake “science-based experts”. Even the term “evidence-based” is in danger of becoming a buzzword as people try to jump on the bandwagon.
"I see it all the time -- people talking about complex topics and giving the impression they know what they are talking about, when in reality that are just trying to sound smart and they don’t actually know what “evidence-based” means. These folks are hard for people to spot unfortunately.”
Persuasion through respectful dialogue rather than conflict is the way to change hearts and minds, he said.
“If someone has a misconception about a topic, to really get them to change their view, then engaging in a respectful manner is much more likely to be fruitful as opposed to trying to highlight how wrong they are.
"Because in truth, we all had things wrong at some point. I certainly did.”
Making changes to improve health and lifestyle need not be so complicated, he said.
“Some of the ones that will have the biggest impact would be making sure they are getting enough good quality sleep, being physically active, eating mainly minimally-processed foods, eating a quantity of food that is suited for their goal.
"All the stuff that people already know. Then from there, start thinking of daily behaviours that will address that issue,” he said.
Mr Lennon said peers like Martin McDonald of Mac-Nutrition Uni, Dr Brendan Egan at Dublin City University, Leinster rugby and Dublin football nutritionist Daniel Davey were proof that integrity and excellence were alive and well in the field.
"First, I have so much respect for Martin MacDonald, who runs the Mac-Nutrition Uni certification. Not only is he knowledgeable but he has strong ethics and values that are so admirable. I’m honoured to be able to call him my friend.
"Here in Ireland, I have to give a mention to Dr Brendan Egan over at DCU, who is another person I’ve been lucky enough to get to know. He has such a strong understanding of the sports science literature and is a true scientist in every sense of the word. In terms of practitioners here, you won’t find much better than Daniel Davey, who has been the nutritionist behind Leinster Rugby and the Dublin footballers for years. And plus he’s a great guy.
"Outside of Ireland there are so many more people I could mention here. However, to name a few that I recommend people check out, I’d say Eric Helms, Brad Dieter, James Krieger, Greg Nuckols, Stephan Guyenet and Lyle McDonald. Apologies to the many, many people I know that I had to leave out!"
Mr Lennon added: “The poor quality coaches will take simple ideas and make them unnecessarily complex. The best coaches will know all the underlying complex understanding but communicate that in as simple terms as is possible,” said Mr Lennon.
Full weekend and one-day tickets available are available for Sigma Nutrition Seminar in Dublin on November 25 and 26. See sigmanutrition.com/seminar2017 for more.
Making a change doesn't have to be complicated
Danny Lennon of Sigma Nutrition insists nutrition and good health practices need not be as complicated as some in the field would have the public believe.
"Our health and body composition can be influenced by a while list of nutrition-related factors.
"However, they are not all equal in terms of importance. Unfortunately, most people tend to focus on
the smaller, less-important details -- what supplements to take, exact times to eat, what specific
superfoods to eat, etc.
"Whereas most of their focus should be centred around a few key principles, e.g. average quantity, quality of the diet, being consistent over the long-term, etc," he said.
Find a starting point and make small changes over time rather than jumping into an extreme overhaul, Mr Lennon added.
"In terms of making change, this can be different from person to person, however a decent start
point is for people to first look at the most important, foundational pieces that matter most and
identify one they can start changing.
"Some of the ones that will have the biggest impact would be making sure they are getting enough good quality sleep, being physically active, eating mainly minimally-processed foods, eating a quantity of food that is suited for their goal. All the stuff that people already know.
"Then from there, start thinking of daily behaviours that will address that issue. So for example, if someone has constantly poor sleep and doesn’t get enough, then they can start by making sure their room is pitch black at night, having the bedroom slightly cool, trying to get regular sleep and wake times, and avoiding being on their iPhone, iPad or laptop when in bed."