Marika Sboros: more science to show Tim Noakes is smart on fats, carbs

UPDATE: Still think Cape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to carbohydrates and saturated fat? Think again. A small but significant new study by US scientist Dr Jeff Volek, a  world-renowned expert in low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) research, is more proof that Noakes is on the right dietary path. Not for everyone of course, but then Noakes has never said his diet is for everyone, despite what his critics claim he said. Like Volek, Noakes believes no diet can ever be a ‘one size fits all’, but that the science behind LCHF is compelling in certain medical conditions, including for insulin resistance and diabetes – and personalised nutrition as medicine is often the answer instead of drugs. Noakes also demolishes a new Harvard University study that appears to show porridge and whole grains, not Banting, are key to long life.  MS

By Marika Sboros

Tim NoakesIf saturated fat had a tongue, it could speak volumes about what it feels like to be demonised by scientists, academics and vested interests in the food industry. Cape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes (pictured) could tell us about that and more.

Noakes  has been, and still is, demonised for  changing his mind  a few years ago on the role of carbohydrates in the diet in favour of a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF, also known as Banting) diet for people who are insulin resistant or diabetic.  Now a small but significant study by US scientist Dr Jeff Volek helps to explain why Noakes does indeed have science on his side to support his LCHF diet.

Volek, professor in the department of human sciences at the Ohio State University, is a world authority on LCHF research. He has conducted over 250 studies, and works closely with another international LCHF expert, Dr Stephen Phinney, the Harvard and Stanford trained physician scientist and nutritional biochemist, and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California, Davis, who has spent 35 years studying diet, exercise, fatty acids, and inflammation. The two have collaborated on books including The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, and the New York Times best sellerThe New Atkins for a New You.

Volek and Phinney have become firm friends with Noakes, after their formidable body of research and belief in the power of personalised nutrition as medicine prompted Noakes’ to make the about-turn on carbohydrates a few years ago, that so infuriated his critics.

Phinney will be in South Africa to speak at the first international LCHF conference to be held in Cape Town from February 20 to 22, 2015.

Jeff Volek, Stephen Phinney
Prof Jeff Volek, left, and Prof Stephen Phinney. Picture courtesy of Ohio State University

Volek’s latest study published  in the journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) One shows that increasing saturated fat in the diet does not does not lead to increased levels of saturated fat in the blood, while increasing the amount of carbohydrates raises the levels of a fatty acid associated with diabetes and heart disease.

The research follows another important study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in March,  by US and UK scientists, showing that the link between saturated fat and heart disease was “not statistically significant”.

That study by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, Erasmus University Medical Centre and Harvard School of Public Health, and was funded by the British Heart Foundation, Medical Research Council, Cambridge National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre and Gates Cambridge.

Volek is quoted in a university press release on his latest study saying  there is “widespread misunderstanding about saturated fat”, and despite population studies failing to find a link between dietary saturated fat and heart disease, dietary guidelines continue to advocate restriction of saturated fat.

“That’s not scientific and not smart,” he said. “But studies measuring saturated fat in the blood and risk for heart disease show there is an association. Having a lot of saturated fat in your body is not a good thing. The question is, what causes people to store more saturated fat in their blood, or membranes or tissues?”

Volek’s study its own could be enough to prompt UCT academics to apologise to Noakes for personal and professional attacks on him – and orthodox dietitians to consider more seriously the science on diet to reduce serious chronic disease. But, as Noakes knows all too well, there’s just no satisfying some people, especially those who are wedded to conventional scientific wisdom.

Here’s more on what Volek’s latest study shows:

From Agence France-Presse – Long-derided saturated fats – associated with an array of health problems such as heart disease – have caught a break when research revealed their intake could be doubled or even nearly tripled without driving up their level in a person’s blood.

Carbohydrates, meanwhile, are associated with heightened levels of a fatty acid linked to increased risk for diabetes and heart disease, the same study showed.

“The point is you don’t necessarily save the saturated fat that you eat, and the primary regulator of what you save in terms of fat is the carbohydrate in your diet,” senior author Dr Jeff Volek of Ohio State University, said in the report.

To conduct the study, which appeared in the journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) ONE, scientists put 16 participants on a strict dietary regime that lasted four and a half months. Every three weeks their diets were changed to adjust carbohydrate and total fat and saturated fat levels.

The scientists found that when carbs were reduced and saturated fat was increased, total saturated fat in the blood did not increase, and even went down in most people. The fatty acid called palmitoleic acid, which is associated with “unhealthy metabolism of carbohydrates that can promote disease”, went down with low-carb diets and gradually increased as carbs were re-introduced, the study said.

An increase in this fatty acid indicates that a growing proportion of carbohydrates is being converted into fat instead of being burned by the body, the researchers said.

“When you consume a very low-carb diet your body preferentially burns saturated fat,” Volek said.

“We had people eat two times more saturated fat than they had been eating before entering the study, yet when we measured saturated fat in their blood, it went down in the majority of people,” he said.

The finding “challenges the conventional wisdom that has demonised saturated fat and extends our knowledge of why dietary saturated fat doesn’t correlate with disease”, Volek added.

By the end of the trial, participants saw “significant improvements” in blood glucose, insulin and blood pressure and lost an average of 10kgs (22 pounds).

“There is widespread misunderstanding about saturated fat. In population studies, there’s clearly no association of dietary saturated fat and heart disease, yet dietary guidelines continue to advocate restriction of saturated fat. That’s not scientific and not smart,” Volek said. – © 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

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