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University of Cape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes proves many things, including that there’s no use having a mind if you can’t change it. Change it he did in spectacular fashion a few years ago, over the role of cholesterol and saturated fat in heart disease. He says they are not the heart-health demons we’ve been led to believe they are; and bread and cereals – the biblical staffs of life – along with rice, pasta and refined carbohydrates, are not paragons of healthy virtue. Noakes infuriated orthodox medical and dietetic establishments, and the sporting world, for views many considered irresponsible in the extreme. One newspaper headline even suggested Noakes was ‘the Malema of medicine’. He remains unrepentant with solid science by his side. Evidence is mounting that an excess of carbohydrates is the main driver behind globally skyrocketing rates of chronic diseases of lifestyle. Noakes’s latest book is a health journal and collection of recipes for delicious, low-carb dishes co-authored with three other experts. It makes a meal of the mockery he has garnered up to now. Kim Louise attended a talk by Noakes. Here’s what she left with. – MS
By Kim Louise
He has been called a faith-healer, a liar, and a quack – and those aren’t even the worst of the name-calling thrown at UCT sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes. After lifting the lid on sugary cereals, high-carbohydrate breads and grain-rich pastas three years ago, Noakes has slowly gained as much notoriety as fame as the expert on low-carbohydrate, high-fat eating.
Such an eating regimen is known as “LCHF” or “Banting eating” – referring to William Banting, the obese, upper middle class funeral director in England in the 19th century who has become known as the real low-carb, high-protein pioneer.
Along the way, Noakes stepped firmly on the toes of cardiologists and traditionally trained dieticians after eschewing the low-fat, high-carb “food pyramid” approach, in favour of a way of eating that left them metaphorically scratching their heads. And despite having once been an ardent advocate of carbo-loading for marathon runners, Noakes rattled the sporting world by being the first to admit that he was simply mistaken.
The basis of Noakes’ theory is that we’ve all been misled to believe several things: firstly, that a low-fat diet is the healthiest way of eating; secondly, that a high-fat diet will result in obesity and heart disease; and thirdly, that we should avoid butter, cream and animal fat in favour of margarine, seed oils and lean protein.
Noakes now advocates a high-fat, high-quality-protein, sugar-free and carb-free diet, because he says it is a healthier way to eat. It will leave us feeling fuller and more satisfied, resulting in curbed hunger pangs and thereby, reduced food consumption, he says.
Noakes has also charted the history of nutrition beliefs, pointing out that the most influential studies on which the conventional nutritional belief system and official recommendations are based, are funded by multinational corporations that make exorbitant profits from food products such as margarine, seed oils and sugary breakfast cereals. Basically, as Noakes explains, we’ve all had the sugary wool pulled over our eyes, to benefit the rich (getting richer) and to poison the obese (getting fatter).
Noakes has this to say: heart attacks as a result of clogged arteries are not caused by fats – as in full-fat yoghurt – entering the arteries, plugging up the system and leading to certain death. In short, he states, fat of this kind cannot and does not enter the bloodstream, and does not lead to clogged arteries. He also puts forward the notion that the obesity epidemic is caused by one thing: high-carbohydrate diets.
It’s a simple enough formula, as he puts it: carbohydrate intake causes glucose levels to rise; the pancreas secretes insulin to lower glucose levels and, as a result, prompts fat cells to store and accumulate fat. It is at once a simple, but also very technical hypothesis. Noakes has a caveat: attempting a LCHF diet and continuing to eat carbohydrates will result in “ballooning”.
And so, to take science to the masses, Noakes, along with Cape Town nutrition therapist Sally-Ann Creed and chefs David Grier and Jonno Proudfoot, has successfully published an unusual recipe book, The Real Meal Revolution. Part cookbook, part health-journal, the book has, to date, sold over 40 000 copies in its first print run in December, and is enjoying unbridled success, entering its second run of print.
It fully explains Noakes’ theory, and provides a formidable collection of LCHF recipes, to follow the Banting diet. My favourites include cauliflower mash, home-made LCHF milkshakes (“fat shakes”), and roasted bacon-fat cherry tomatoes. The book also gives a detailed list of green (acceptable), orange (eat these in moderation) and red (avoid at all costs) foods, which makes following the diet relatively easy.
Proudfoot and Grier have ensured that R5 from each book sold goes to Miles for Smiles (milesforsmiles.co.za), a cause close to their extremely fit hearts. (Proudfoot is also an open water swimmer, and Grier an extreme athlete and adventurer, and one of the first to run the length of India from the most northern temple in Srinagar to the most southern temple, Kanyakamari.)
The team remain level headed and committed to their cause in the face of their biggest critics.
For the skeptics, my advice is this: if you are strongly against the LCHF movement, order a copy or download the eBook, and read it from cover to cover before coming to a conclusion. After all, as Noakes quotes American historian, professor, attorney, and writer Daniel Joseph Boorstin, who died in 2004: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”
- Kim Louise is a Johannesburg-based lifestyle journalist, media executive and Rhodes University graduate.
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