Tim Noakes

By Marika Sboros

Prof Tim Noakes and his legal dream team must think all their birthdays have come at once. “Tim’s Angels”, the nutrition science equivalent of “Charlie’s Angels” in the hit TV series, are flying in to be expert witnesses for him in the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) hearing against him.

Proudly South African-Kiwi academic Dr Caryn Zinn joins British obesity researcher and public health nutritionist Dr Zoë Harcombe, and US science writer Nina Teicholz.  When the HPCSA’s Kafkaesque trial of Noakes resumes in Cape Town on October 17, I expect the HPCSA to try to clip Tim’s Angels’ wings.

All three are feisty, slender, glamorous women packing heavy scientific weaponry. Their big research guns aim straight at the heart of the HPCSA case against Noakes. The charge is unprofessional conduct for two tweets saying good first foods for infants are meat, dairy and veg. Go figure.

The HPCSA will want protection from these angels and it doesn’t come cheaply. I’m reliably informed that the HPCSA advocate has so far submitted a bill for R1million for services in trying to discredit Noakes and low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) science. More on that below.

Dr Caryn Zinn, one of Tim's Angels

Dr Caryn Zinn

Zinn is senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences. She is also a registered dietitian and director of a private practice.

She is a graduate of Noakes’ alma mater, the University of Cape Town, with an honours degree in dietetics and nutrition. Zinn also has a master’s degree in health science and a doctorate on  weight loss  from AUT.

While she is an expert in sports nutrition and LCHF for optimum athletic performance, Zinn also specialises in “diabesity”. That’s the term doctors have coined for the twin global epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

Zinn’s  publications this year include: The development and validation of a new survey tool: The first step to profiling New Zealanders’ eating styles and moving patterns in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health; and Hyperinsulinemia: Best management practice in Diabesity.

She is co-author with Prof Grant Schofield and chef Craig Rodger of What the fat: Fat’s IN, Sugar’s OUT.

In more than 21 years  as a nutritionist and registered dietitian, Zinn says she has “evolved alongside the research and science of nutrition”. She believes we  “got it all wrong with our existing high-carb, low-fat guidelines and need to rectify this moving forward”.

These days, she is a “whole-food” advocate. She believes everyone can benefit from eating foods that are “low(er) in carbohydrate and higher in healthy fat than current system guides recommend”.

Dr Zoë Harcombe

Dr Zoë Harcombe

Harcombe is a Cambridge University  graduate in maths and economics. Her doctoral thesis is on: An examination of the randomised controlled trial and epidemiological evidence for the introduction of dietary fat recommendations in 1977 and 1983: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Harcombe received a letter of commendation following the PhD award. Her thesis is a riveting read, a fascinating nutrition science “whodunnit”. She looks at why unscientific dietary guidelines are woefully inadequate, unscientific and still around.

She traces the history of the “diet-heart hypothesis” from when Russian pathologists originated it in the early 20th century. Dr Ancel Keys later took it further in the US.

Harcombe has concluded that the evidence available to the US dietary committees when the guidelines were introduced did not support the recommendations made. Significantly, she concludes that the evidence currently available offers “no additional support”.

Harcombe is co-author of a meta-analysis in the BMJ Open Heart in 2015. It shows that the dietary recommendations  the US introduced for 220 million US and the UK for 56 million by 1983 had no supporting evidence from RCTs to back them up. Her latest study on the topic is in the BJSM (British Journal of Sports Medicine in September. Click here to read an abstract of Evidence from prospective cohort studies does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis.



Teicholz is author of the international bestseller, The Big Fat Surprise. The book is regarded as a seminal contribution to the understanding of nutrition and disease and nutrition science politics. Especially relevant is that Teicholz documents the politics, personalities and history of how we came to believe that dietary fat would harm health.

Nina Teicholz

Nina Teicholz

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said all health professionals, doctors, and scientists should read her book. The Economist named it the number #1 science book of 2014. It  was on that year’s “Best Book” lists for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, among others.

Time magazine used it as the basis for its now iconic cover story in June 2014. Who can forget the rolled up butter and headline: Eat Butter. Scientists Labeled Fat the Enemy. Why They Were Wrong.

The Big Fat Surprise  is the first mainstream publication to make the full argument for why saturated fats –  found in dairy, meat, and eggs – are health foods.

Stanford University graduate Teicholz is the first journalist elected to Phi Tau Sigma, the elite US honour society for food scientists. The Canadian Senate invited her to give an hour of expert testimony in 2014. The US Department of Agriculture invited her in 2016 to give testimony on how to improve nutrition policy.

Thus, all “Tim’s Angels” are experts in all the major issues of the charge against Noakes.

So is the HPCSA really gearing up to clip Tim’s Angels’ wings? It refuses to say. That makes me think it will, though on what earthly grounds I can’t  fathom.

The HPCSA hasn’t needed any grounds to indulge in  wasting  a morning,  even whole days with objections. It has brought in an outside legal team for the February 2016 hearing. Johannesburg attorney Katlego Mmuoe and Cape Town advocate Ajay Bhoopchand don’t come cheaply.

But has Bhoopchand really submitted a bill for R1million for his services so far? My source for that is good. However, Mmuoe and the HPCSA refuse to confirm or deny it, which tends to make me think it’s true.

The HPCSA will want to see these lawyers earning their considerable keep. What better way than with time-wasting objections to Noakes’s expert witnesses and evidence.

Bhoopchand tried that at the February 2016 hearing with frequent objections to Noakes’ own evidence. He elicited exasperated comments from Pretoria advocate Joan Adams, chair of the Professional Conduct Committee hearing the charge against Noakes.

Adams said it made no sense to accuse Noakes of giving unconventional advice, then deny him the opportunity to present evidence showing his advice is not unconventional.

Expect the same from Adams if Bhoopchand does what I expect: tries to clip Tim’s Angels’ wings.