Tim Noakes' high fat diet - the new standard?

‘I ran 70 marathons, I never smoked, I never drank alcohol and I ate a healthy diet and in spite of that still got type 2 diabetes – how does that happen?’ This is the question that baffled Tim Noakes, professor at the exercise and sports medicine unit at the University of Cape Town, and that led to him investigating and popularising the once-forgotten low carbohydrate, high fat Banting diet.

Noakes spoke at an HSRC seminar series organised under the analysis of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) polices in Africa (ANNPA) study. NDCs include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases.

Globally, the main NCDs are characterised as ‘lifestyle diseases’ caused by unhealthy diets, high blood sugar and physical inactivity – precisely what Noakes had avoided all his life. Yet, there he stood, fit as a fiddle and with a clean bill of health, overturning traditional concepts of what was regarded as a healthy diet.

Previously, Noakes had been a staunch advocate of high carbohydrate diets, advising athletes to load up on carbs before a sporting event. ‘When I realised that I had been hurting myself and others with the high-carbs diet, I had two options: hide and say nothing, or come out and say I got it all wrong, which I did and got demonised, resulting in me being called the Mampara of the Week!’ he told delegates.

Noakes is well known for his significant contribution to sports medicine and more recently, for the book that he himself says caused quite a stir, The Real Meal Revolution, which promotes eating fat and limiting carbohydrates for optimal health. The book has sold more than 160 000 copies.

During the seminar, he examined one of the chronic NCDs – diabetes – and addressed elements of prevention and control. The adoption of high carb, low fat diets after 1977 as the official global healthy eating plan, he said, had been followed by an apparently uncontrollable epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

For Noakes the solution was easy: people should eat real food, cook their own food and stop eating processed foods that could possibly induce over-eating in susceptible individuals. The cure for obesity, he said, was to reduce the consumption of highly addictive carbohydrate-rich foods.