‘Banting’: Noakes spreads the message to MPs in South Africa

Prof Tim Noakes

By Marika Sboros

Lechesa Tsenoli
Lechesa Tsenoli

South African MPs could soon be “Banting” – as low-carbohydrate, high-healthy fat eating 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 give a talk on diet and nutrition this week. Media reports said that Noakes left the event 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 are likely to leave a sour taste in the mouths of Noakes’ many critics. Medical doctors, particularly cardiologists and endocrinologists, believe that an LCHF diet it bad for hearts and blood sugar levels.

A maverick at heart

Noakes, who heads the University of Cape Town’s Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, is something of a maverick in nutrition circles. He is probably expecting a backlash for his talk to Parliament.

Certainly, critics have attacked him relentlessly since he changed his mind on the benefits of carbo-loading for endurance sports nearly four years ago. They appear reserve special vitriol for his promotion of  LCHF eating regimens.

Click here to read: Noakes makes a ‘real meal’ of his critics 

The phenomenal success of  the Real Meal Revolution, of which Noakes is one of four co-authors, and 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 ploughed back all the R500 000 profits into his eponymous Noakes Foundation . His vision for the foundation is as an institution devoted to independent research into optimum nutrition for health and wellbeing.

LCHF diet ‘criminal’?

The kindest thing his critics have to say about him these days 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, has even branded him and his dietary advice as “criminal”.

Why so much opprobrium heaped on just one head?

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 what he is saying about the benefits of LCHF for hearts and blood sugar levels is nothing new.

Click here to read: The Idiot’s Guide to LCHF and Banting

It’s hard for anyone to argue convincingly these days that conventional high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) diets really are best to treat or prevent serious disease. Millions of people have followed those recommendations globally for more than three decades now. Many have grown sicker and fatter. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer rates are rising globally.

Definition of insanity

You’d think the rise in rates alone would be enough to make doctors and dietitians rethink conventional dietary advise.  You’d be wrong. They give new meaning to the definition of insanity.

I don’t mean to suggest anyone who does so is certifiably insane. However, 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 that he’s mad, bad, “gone rogue” and is “losing it”. Yet he does not promote LCHF diets as any kind of magic bullet to cure all ills.

Noakes does say that the diet that he promotes helps people lose weight quickly and safely. He also says that’s 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 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.”

Doctors are not gods …

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 read the research themselves, try things out – including his diet –  and make up their own minds.

But 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 that the evidence for his views has been around for years and that some 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, Why We Get Fat.  The other is by Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise. I’ve yet to meet one Noakes critic who has read either of these books from cover to cover or is prepared to.

Of course, Noakes  isn’t the first to experience the harsh consequences of going against medical orthodoxy

The real risk

Media reports have quoted  The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa “warning” against Parliament adopting Noakes’s nutritional approach. The foundation says that 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 will get worse but that 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 the backlash against Noakes to begin.


1 Comment

  1. Prof Tim Noakes is right. I am 78 and stopped medication for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gastric reflux disease, and cholesterol after three months of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) eating and resultant weight loss. I commenced it in November 2015 and contrary to my GP’s advice. Genetic evidence of heart disease and high blood pressure required medication for 14 years and diabetes for seven years. I stopped medication on my own volition after dropping 8kgs to 73 kgs in January 2016 and substantiating my decision with a daily record of blood pressure and glucose readings from 21 November to 25 January – at my GP consultation. Considering my evidence and health status, my doctor agreed to support my decision, requesting a further two months of test readings to consolidate the facts.

    A year has passed and my blood pressure readings remain normal to low (128/74, 118/68 , 130/73) Pulse consistent between 59 to 65 and Glucose 4.6 to 5 and all this without medication. So I conclude that the prescribed medication over all the years was merely compulsive and of little or no value to me. Further loss of weight to 67 kgs with LCHF was and remains the deciding factor. I am with Prof Noakes. I have also not had a cold or flu since 1995 and continue in good health.

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