Noakes spreads Banting message to Parliament

Prof Tim Noakes

Prof Tim Noakes

By Marika Sboros

South African MPs could soon be “Banting” – as low-carb, high-fat is known in that country.  Certainly, many  look as if they need it.

Parliament’s Wellness Unit invited Cape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes to talk on diet and nutrition this week. Here’s a peek at what went down: 

Media reports said Noakes left with “a few converts”, among them Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli. Tsenoli was quoted as saying: “I know when something makes sense, and what (Noakes) says makes sense to me.

“We want healthy MPs and staff, and being healthy is what the Tim Noakes’ story is about,” he said.

Those comments will send Noakes critics’ blood pressure spiraling into the stratosphere. There will be more venom spewing out of their mouths. Of that, I’m sure. I’m  not sure when the backlash will begin, or from whence it will come. But come it will.

Noakes, who heads the University of Cape Town’s Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, is probably expecting it. Critics have attacked him relentlessly since he changed his mind on carbo-loading nearly four years ago. They reserve special vitriol for his promotion of  low-carb, high-fat LCHF eating.



The phenomenal success of his  Real Meal Revolution book, with more than 100 000 copies sold in six months, has only further infuriated his critics. That’s despite Noakes not profiting personally from it. He has ploughing back all the R500 000 profits into the Noakes Foundation that is dedicated to independent research nutrition.

The kindest thing critics say about him is that he is misguided and irresponsible. At worst they say he’s a quack and a killer who flouts the Hippocratic oath.

Johannesburg cardiologist Dr Anthony Dalby, the most recent medical specialist to join the anti-Noakes brigade, says Noakes and his dietary advice are “criminal”.

Why so much opprobrium  heaped on just one head – and distinguished one at that?

After all, Noakes is a medical doctor and a world-renowned, A1-rated scientist, with diet and nutrition as his special areas of expertise. And  many big names in medicine and science internationally  say the same things he says.



It’s hard for anyone to argue convincingly these days for  high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) eating to treat or prevent serious disease. Not that that ever stops some doctors and dietitians from doing just that. Millions of people have followed those recommendations globally for more than three decades now. Many have grown sicker and fatter. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes rates have gone through the roof.

Millions of people have followed those recommendations globally for more than three decades now. Many have grown sicker and fatter. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes rates have gone through the roof.

You’d think that alone would be enough to stop doctors and dietitians recommending an eating regimen that has demonstrably done so much harm. You’d be wrong.

Real Meal RevolutionI don’t mean to suggest anyone who does so is certifiably insane. However, doctors and dietitians who do so, meet the definition of insanity. In recommending  low-fat, high-carb diets for obesity and diabetes,  they do the same thing over and over and expect the same result.

Noakes’s critics like to say he’s  mad and “losing it”. Yet he has never said his diet is right for everyone. Nor does he say it is a magic bullet to cure all ills, despite detractors claiming otherwise. Journalists and others regularly misquote him even when they haven’t even spoken directly to him.

Noakes does say his diet helps people lose weight quickly and safely. He  says it’s particularly helpful for people who are insulin resistant, which in his view is most people these days. The global epidemic of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes tends to support that.

And Noakes  has references for the solid science backing up his claims. All it takes is a willingness to see. But as Upton Sinclair once said:  “It’s hard to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

It’s probably lucky that gone are the days when most people consider doctors to be omniscient god-like creatures. Noakes reasonably expects people to do their own research, try things out – including his diet –  and make up  their own minds.

Mostly, it seems to me, the attacks keep coming because Noakes is challenging orthodoxy. And orthodoxy, by definition, does not like a challenge.Noakes is unrepentant.

Nina TeicholzHe  is presenting  compelling scientific evidence showing that the diet-heart disease hypothesis is dangerous, unproven dogma. Food and drug companies don’t like the message that saturated fat does not cause heart disease after all. Or that it doesn’t make people fat.

Noakes says the evidence for his views has been around for years. Scientists have deliberately hidden for a vatierty of reasons. That can sound like a conspiracy theory –  until you read two remarkable research works. One is by American investigative journalists Gary Taubes, in Why We Get Fat;  the other by Nina Teicholz in The Big Fat Surprise. I’ve yet to meet one Noakes critic who has read either of these books or is prepared to.

Noakes  isn’t the first to experience the harsh consequences of going against orthodoxy

Media reports have quoted  The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa “warning” against Parliament adopting Noakes’s nutritional approach. The foundation says if MPs “continue eating what they eat at Parliament, and then add more fatty foods, things will only get worse”.

The Foundation has got that right, but for the wrong reason. It won’t be because of the saturated fat in the food. You don’t even have to speak to Noakes personally to know that isn’t what he is advising.

That is precisely why the Wellness Unit invited Noakes to call. It doesn’t want  to keep doing the same thing over and over and over – making the same unhealthy food available – and expect different results.

So, with bated breath, I wait for yet another backlash against Noakes to begin.