‘I’m not the enemy, blame obesity,’ says Noakes

2014-10-14 00:00

HOW did Tim Noakes become a dire threat to the health of all South Africans?

Noakes himself posed that question during a lecture at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) yesterday.

Noakes’s promotion of a high fat, low carbohydrate diet (popularly known as the Banting diet) has caused controversy in health and nutrition circles to the point even the Sports Science Institute of South Africa at the University of Cape Town where he works has distanced itself from his findings.

But, said Noakes, “Diabetes and obesity are the problem, not me.”

A highly respected sports scientist, Noakes’s landmark book The Lore of Running recommended a high carbohydrate diet as being ideal for both health and sport. “No it isn’t. I was wrong. I apologise.”

As a doctor Noakes said he had embraced the low-fat diet as the best for health, but now he has changed his mind as reflected in his lecture’s title: “Is the low-fat diet the worst dietary advice in history?” Simple answer: yes. “The error I made for 30 years was that I thought what I was doing was right.”

The core idea of Noakes’s recent best-seller The Real Meal Revolution (co-written with Jonno Proudfoot, David Grier and Sally-Ann Creed), is eat fat and limit carbohydrate.

“If there is a single message to take from the book it is: stop eating processed foods, eat real foods — and learn how to cook.”

Many medical conditions, including hypertension and obesity, are “abnormal biological responses to abnormal stimuli” said Noakes, namely the food we eat.

“85% of diseases are nutritionally based. We are seeing the medical consequences of having a low-carbohydrate diet.”

Noakes pinned down over-production of insulin as the common factor in many diseases. “It’s the excessive insulin that kills you,” he said. “The trick is to keep your insulin levels low, and you can do that on a low-carb diet.”

Before 1980 everyone was lean, said Noakes, but then countries began following U.S. dietary guidelines: to eat fruit, vegetables and grains — high carbohydrates. “This food does not satisfy. It makes you hungrier so you eat more. Cut the carbs and you lose your hunger.”

Asked by The Witness about the recent Stellenbosch University study that found that low-carbohydrate diets resulted in no more weight loss than “recommended balanced diets” Noakes said in fact the study “confirms what we have to say”, though he also questioned the scientific basis of the study.

And given the Banting diet is vigorously carnivorous, did Noakes have any advice for vegetarians? “Cheat. But seriously, include dairy products and eggs and allow yourself fish.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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