By Marika Sboros
They revolutionised the health, nutrition and weightloss landscapes in South Africa with their blockbuster The Real Meal Revolution, published in 2013.
Now University of Cape Town emeritus professor Tim Noakes and Cape Town chef and businessman Jonno Proudfoot have taken the revolution to the shores of Great Britain with the launch of an international edition, published by Little Brown, and further afield.
It’s just in time, as the history and science behind LCHF seep into the global collective consciousness. Little Brown has also launched the book in Australia and New Zealand, and sold rights to Germany and the Netherlands. Proudfoot says the publishing house will be “selling global rights non-stop until The Real Meal Revolution is in every country that eats food”.
The environment in Britain is looking receptive, as media headlines warn of obesity and diabetes epidemics crippling the country’s National Health Service. Banting meals are popular on restaurant menus in London, feeding requests for “burgers without the bun”. Noakes is off to Europe for a flying visit soon to spread the message.
Back home in South Africa, the big red book has sold more than 200 000 copies so far, making it the country’s bestseller yet. It won the South African Book of the Year prize at the Nielsen Bookseller’s Choice Awards 2014.
Proudfoot says the real power of The Real Meal Revolution is that it isn’t just another diet and weightloss book. And it definitely isn’t a fad diet, despite Noakes’ detractors insisting it is.
It isn’t even a diet in the generally accepted sense, though it’s commonly called the “Tim Noakes Diet” in SA – and “Banting” (not strictly correctly; to understand why, read my Complete Idiot’s Guide to Banting).
The Real Meal Revolution posits a lifestyle based on a way of eating that is more than a century old, but that goes back “ages”, to what our primitive ancestors ate. (Hint: no highly-refined, processed, coloured, adulterated foods so far removed from their natural state, they don’t deserve to be called “food”.)
There’s no counting of calories, because Proudfoot says: “Our ancestors never counted calories, and they never got fat”.
The message of the UK edition is unchanged from the original: “Nutrition experts have been lying to us for decades,” says Proudfoot. “The reason they’ve given for why so many of us are fat (because we’re greedy and slothful – we eat too much, and don’t exercise enough) is simply not true.
“Science proves its carbs, not fat, that make you fat and unhealthy.”
The book’s USP lies in its unusual mix of ingredients: recipes, rigorous science, and an updated LCHF eating plan with advice and practical support real people need to sustain a healthy lifestyle, by Cape Town nutritionist therapist Sally Ann Creed. Creed, who has an Australian diploma in clinical nutrition, is a Paleo enthusiast (a diet based on wild, raw foods eaten during the Paleaeolitic period that includes more fruit than LCHF, but doesn’t favour dairy).
Proudfoot, a phenomenal chef, entrepreneur, adventurer, and extreme swimmer, who has an enduring passion for sports nutrition, has created recipes for breakfasts, main meals, sides and salads.
His ingredient list includes what one reviewer called “a mouthwatering roll-call of forbidden fruits: cream cheese, parmesan, streaky bacon, pork belly ribs, thick Greek yogurt, coconut cream … lashings of full-fat milk” – and butter.
The Real Meal Revolution promotes “real foods” only, Proudfoot says, from a “green” list. It includes pasture-fed meats, chicken and dairy products, organic wherever possible, and low-carb vegetables – green leafy vegetables, other veggies grown above ground. Veg you can eat to your heart’s content – literally and figuratively – include artichoke hearts, asparagus, avocados cabbage, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes.
“Red-listed” (excluded) are all the high-carb, refined, processed foods many of us have grown to love and crave: bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, other grains and sugar – all foods fingered as major contributors to global epidemics of obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes and related conditions, including heart disease.
Recipes are enough to induce euphoria in even the most discriminating palate, with a titillating blend of textures and flavours aimed at prevent feelings of hunger, sacrifice and deprivation.
“Fat is far more satiating than carbohydrate,” says Proudfoot.
And contrary to popular belief, vegetables are a big part of LCHF eating – he says it’s “hogwash” to say it is only about fat and meat.
The book is heavy on meat, fish and chicken, recipes, but vegetarians can find lots to eat (not vegans, who eschew all dairy). One of my favourite vegetable recipes is a sage and blue-cheese- roasted squash. And Proudfoot promises me faithfully that a vegetarian LCHF book is on his to-do list.
British lovers of bangers and mash can rest easy. One of The Real Meal Revolution’s subversive weapons is cauliflower mash – the perfect replacement for potatoes.
There’s also “cauli rice” – now available in Woolworths in SA Tesco’s in the UK – a cauliflower head put through a food processor to produce grain-like pieces that are quickly fried up as a tasty alternative to rice.
Tesco’s also now sells “courgetti” – a low-carb alternative to spaghetti made from spiralised courgettes that frie up in a minute (Woolies, are you listening?).
Proudfoot’s other “carb-free pastas” include a somewhat labour-intensive one made from eggs, cream cheese, psyllium husks and coconut flour for dusting. There’s a “lasagna” recipe. If you don’t have time or inclination to make carb-free pasta, he says you can use sliced aubergine or courgettes.
Desserts in sugar-free The Real Meal Revolution are mostly to be found under breakfast menus: Coconut Hotcakes and Strawberry Compote and my favourite, Avocado and Raspberry Shake. There are also appetite-suppressant “fat bombs”: a Hot Chocolate Fat Shake made from full cream milk, butter, coconut oil, coconut cream with cocoa powder, and Bullet Coffee – butter and coconut oil added to a cup of good coffee – could sound revolting, but tastes absolutely delicious.
And if you were French in a past life, or consider a life without crêpes a life not worth living, Proudfoot feeds Gallic souls with Coconut Crêpes. These require some consummate “pastry cheffing” skills, but Proudfoot says they’re “brilliant with fresh fruit, berries and cream, or savoury with anything from crispy duck to quesadillas”. (If you don’t know what quesadillas are, I also had to look them up: “Mexican-style stuffed pancakes, like toasted sandwiches, made with two tortillas sandwiched together with a cheese-based filling”.)
Noakes, Proudfoot and Creed say benefits of eating their LCHF foods include: weight loss, better blood glucose and insulin readings, enhanced athletic performance, increased mental focus, better sleeping, and better health all round.
Who could ask for more?
Well, there’s one more not-so-small matter: the science to back up all the claims. It’s there, for anyone willing to see it in the book’s final chapter by Noakes, titled A Scientific Justification For Banting.
Sadly, many doctors and dietitians aren’t, for idiosyncratic reasons. Chief among those, says Noakes, is “cognitive dissonance” that keeps them clinging to dogma despite compelling evidence to the contrary.
And while the book is Proudfoot’s brainchild, he says it was Noakes who added the word, “revolution”, and proved prescient.
The book deserves the title because it is subversive, scientifically and nutritionally. It has so violently rattled medical and dietetic cages, so deeply disturbed hearts and minds of many orthodox doctors and dietitians, that it precipitated a barrage of vicious attacks on Noakes that continues to this day.
Noakes easily makes a “real meal” of critics who say he and his diet are “killers”. In the book, he destroys “fat phobia”, and undermines the scaffolding on which official dietary guidelines are built – yes, the same ones British obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe revealed in the BMJ Open Heart in January to be without scientific foundation when they were imposed on an unsuspecting American public in 1977, the UK in 1984, and the rest of the world thereafter.
The book also radically destabilises foundations on which the low-fat, high-carb industry is built, and makes its massive profits.
In it, Noakes makes a “real meal” of dangerous myths doctors and dietitians still peddle about diet and weight loss: that carbohydrate foods are essential to humans (turns out they aren’t); sugar isn’t additive (it can be as addictive as heroin and cocaine in some); saturated fat makes you fat, clogs arteries and dramatically increases risk of heart attack and stroke (the discredited diet-heart hypothesis); that your body has “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and lowering it is always a good idea.
The latter is a particularly dangerous myth, that has allowed drugmakers to make massive profits from cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. Noakes calls statins “the single most ineffective drugs ever invented”; Scottish medical doctor Malcolm Kendrick decimates them in The Great Cholesterol Con.
In The Real Meal Revolution UK edition, Noakes devotes closer attention to the role of insulin, and makes an important clarification on page 248: “Eating a diet rich in protein and fat but poor in carbohydrate produces a specific human metabolic profile – insulin (carbohydrate) resistance (IR).” I read and reread that sentence many times, assuming an error, as I had so far understood IR to be from excessive carbohydrate intake only.
Noakes explains in an email that it’s correct, and is a “deeper meaning” pointing to the complexity of bodily metabolism (and all bodily functions):
Insulin resistance can be both benign or a killer, he says: “Insulin resistance induced by a high-fat diet is good because it is stable, biologically appropriate, reversible, and spares glucose for use by the brain.”
Progressively increasing insulin resistance causes hyperinsulinaemia from repeated daily exposure to too much carbs. It is “a quite different condition” and bad, says Noakes, and leads to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
“If you are insulin resistant but keep your insulin low by not eating carbs, you’ll be perfectly healthy, because it is not insulin resistance on its own which kills; it is hyperinsulinaemia.”
So there you have it, straight from the scientific horse’s mouth.
Like all good revolutions, The Real Meal is ongoing. The international edition builds on science documented in other bestsellers that go against the grain (pun unintended) of conventional medical and dietetic “wisdom”: Why We Get Get Fat, and Good Calories Bad Calories (released as The Diet Delusion in the UK) by award-winning US investigative science journalist Gary Taubes, and the groundbreaking The Big Fat Surprise by another US investigative science writer, Nina Teicholz.
The international Real Meal also gives the authors an opportunity many would wish for but rarely get: the chance to look back on a published work and change lots of things. And while the book has all the recipes in the original, Proudfoot has refined some, and been able to reshoot all the photos.
“We were able to bring more vibrant light to some photos and restyle some of the shots that bugged us from round one,” he says.
The UK publishers have edited the original text to suit a more international audience. It’s something of a relief too that Noakes’ chapter on science is more reader-friendly, and accessible, with diagrams that are easier for the lay person to understand.
There are the usual provisos and caveats. The authors don’t say the diet is for everyone, or a magic bullet to cure all ills, weight or otherwise. They do say The Real Meal Revolution is about “getting comfortable with the idea “that everything you thought was unhealthy, is not” – and vice versa.