Professor Tim Noakes should never have given medical nutritional advice to a mother nursing a newborn baby because he is neither a paediatrician nor a dietician, a professional conduct committee of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) heard on Tuesday.
In addition, his advice in a 2014 tweet that the mother wean her baby onto a low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) diet went against global convention, because at the time of the tweet there was no known LCHF diet for infants.
Babies different from adults
Advocate Ajay Bhoopchand, in final argument against Noakes, submitted that the LCHF diet is aimed at being of benefit to adults with ailments such as diabetes type 2, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and obesity.
But it was not for babies who, conventional knowledge dictates, should be breastfed.
''Dietary recommendations during that period is different from that of an adult,'' Bhoopchand argued.
''Does it make any sense to try and recommend a diet that is geared towards a reduction of weight, like the LCHF?'' he asked.
Bhoopchand said that Noakes had since distanced himself from a carbohydrate-free diet and changed his own advice in his book on children's nutrition, Raising Superheroes, in which he says a measure of leniency regarding carbohydrates for children is fine.
'Not an expert in this field'
He said the LCHF diet is ketogenic, which means the body goes into starvation mode, and this is problematic for babies whose brains are forming.
''He is not an expert in this field... and he certainly doesn't have any training in this field,'' said Bhoopchand.
He added that the LCHF diet ''finds no favour'' with the World Health Organization, or the United Nations International Children's Fund.
Bhoopchand noted that the Noakes Foundation now has a paediatrician who is registered with the HPCSA and the Association of Dietetics of SA.
Noakes – whose book The Real Meal Revolution promotes a LCHF diet – was called before the HPCSA after the former president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, Claire Julsing-Strydom, lodged a complaint against him.
This was after a tweet he sent in reply to Pippa Leenstra after she asked him for advice on feeding babies and on breastfeeding.
Her tweet read: "@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies?? [sic]"
'Extraordinary South African'
Noakes advised her to wean her child onto LCHF foods, which he described as "real" foods.
His tweet read: "Baby doesn't eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high-fat breast milk. Key is to ween [sic] baby onto LCHF."
Bhoopchand acknowledged that Noakes is an ''extraordinary South African'', and that the misconduct allegation does not detract from that.
The charge against him is over alleged unprofessional conduct, because during January and February 2014, he gave scientific and medical nutritional advice, without being qualified to do so.
Noakes is better known as a sports scientist who advocated a high carbohydrate diet.
He subsequently changed his mind, in favour of LCHF.
Noakes' legal team was set to reply to what was heard in the matter and April 21 has been set down for judgment.