Noakes hits back at research rebutting his own – is it all worth it?

Tim Noakes
Professor Tim Noakes

While human genome decoding that can tell you what kind of diet works best for you is an imminent reality, Professor Tim Noakes and his detractors are still hard at it debating the research for and against his controversial banting, or low-carbohydrate high-fat dietThe Human Genome Project of Dr Craig Venter, together with our family medical history, has revolutionised individually tailored medicine by identifying what kind of diseases we’re most at risk for and what kind of exercise and nutrition we’re each best suited to – not to mention which medicines our genetic make-up makes us allergic to [pharmaco-genomics]. One-size-fits-all formulas will soon be a thing of the past, putting ‘Bell Curve Medicine’ upon which so many medical aid funding models have relied on for so long, in the shade. Banting may work well for you, but really not so well for me, so this diet versus that may soon become an absurdity. In the meantime, clashes over the integrity of opposing scientists work and claims of conflicts of interest still dominate the headlines when it comes to diet. The latest salvo comes from Tim Noakes, an A-rated scientist and never one to stand back and be scientifically pilloried, and colleague, Dr Zoe Harcombe, a British health nutritionist’s critique of allegedly faulty Cochrane review research conducted by their Stellenbosch University critics. It’s all about gravitas and scientific integrity, both of which the duo question when it comes to their Matie colleagues. There are no real winners in such clashes as technologies like human genome decoding come along and quickly render it all irrelevant, though the ignominy of being called a public health threat will rankle for years to come with the genial and well-meaning Prof Noakes. – Chris Bateman

By Isabelle Coetzee

Cape Town – Professor Tim Noakes, known for his controversial low-carbohydrate high-fat diet, has criticised researchers who have claimed that a balanced diet delivers the same results as a low-carbohydrate diet.

In a recent article co-published with British public health nutritionist Dr Zoe Harcombe, Noakes said 14 errors were found in the research his critics from Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town had conducted.


He said the researchers, who published their work in Plos One, did not abide by their own research criteria.

Stellenbosch University defended its researchers.

“When these 14 material errors are corrected, the conclusion of the paper is reversed and the low-carb diet outperforms the high-carb diets for weight loss,” Noakes told News24.

Conflict of interest

Noakes pointed out that Professor Marjanne Senekal, of the University of Cape Town, did not declare that she has received funding from the International Life Sciences Institute which is funded by Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Pfizer.

Therefore, he believed there was a conflict of interest.

Read also: 10 reasons to love or loathe Tim Noakes and Banting

The researchers, however, said this study was funded by the South African Medical Research Council and the Effective Health Care Research Consortium.

They also said that the senior authors had more than 20 years of experience and had published more than 100 reviews on a variety of respected platforms.

According to Stellenbosch University, “The researchers rigorously applied the international gold standard of research synthesis, namely the Cochrane review process, which lends the greatest level of credibility to their results.”


Zoë Harcombe
Zoë Harcombe

In an email response to News24, Harcombe argued: “Cochrane is a methodology. It needs to be used accurately and honestly and in good faith to achieve the results it should produce. Cochrane methodology should enhance the reputation of a paper. This paper has managed to impair the reputation of Cochrane.”

Noakes insisted that regardless of the methods used, if the data were transposed incorrectly from the original scientific papers, it would be inaccurate.

The study did not analyse the effects of a low-carb diet because the carbohydrate intake used in the study was 35%, rather than the recommended 5% a low-carb diet should consist of.

Noakes said the research was inaccurate because all participants in the study consumed the same amount of calories.

“This negates a key advantage of the low-carbohydrate diet, which is to produce satiety at a lower calorie intake, thereby increasing weight loss without hunger,” Noakes said.

Stellenbosch University said a formal response to the points of contention Noakes and Harcombe had raised would be submitted to the South African Medical Journal. – News24


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