Cape Town - Sport scientist Tim Noakes is making “outrageous, unproven claims about disease prevention” in advocating a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, says UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences.
This comes after MPs and staff at Parliament expressed support for the diet after Noakes spoke to them and warned about South Africa’s obesity “epidemic”.
But academics in the health sciences are worried that the diet has no real scientific evidence to back it up, Wim de Villiers, dean of the faculty at UCT, says in a letter to the Cape Times.
“The message it sends out to the public about healthy eating is cause for deep concern – not only regarding Parliament’s support for it as an evidence-based ‘diet revolution’, but sadly, the long-term impact this may have on the health of the very people they have been elected to serve,” says the letter, signed by De Villiers and three other academics.
De Villiers said that while the consumption of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet might lead to initial weight loss, there was “good reason” to believe it could result in nutritional deficiencies, and increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, constipation and some cancers.
Noakes, a professor at UCT, has hit back, saying the university has continually misrepresented his message about the diet.
“An outline of the scientific evidence for my position is presented in about 20 000 words in our book Real Meal Revolution.
“That work includes references to the most important scientific works supporting my interpretation,” he said.
De Villiers said that by promoting his diet as revolutionary, Noakes was vilifying the integrity and credibility of those who criticised the lack of evidence for the benefits of his diet. It was also contrary to UCT’s principle of academic freedom.
De Villiers said yon Sunday he advocated a balanced diet of foods from all food groups. The human body needed a range of nutrients to survive.
“Diets like Banting are, however, typically ‘one dimensional’ in focus. They promote increased intake of protein- and fat-containing foods at the expense of healthy carbohydrate-containing foods, and focus on adherence to a limited food plan,” De Villiers said.
Luzuko Jacobs, spokesman for Parliament, said Noakes had been invited on more than one occasion to speak about health and wellness. “We aim to offer a variety of speakers when it comes to the topic of wellness.… that he spoke in Parliament… does not mean we are entering into any kind of partnership with him.”
Noakes said a high-carbohydrate diet was detrimental to the health of people with insulin resistance.
“If that message is without scientific support, then the faculty has every right to cross the civil divide as it has now chosen – an action which, I suspect, is unprecedented in the history of the faculty and perhaps also in the history of UCT.”
He added: “Carbohydrate restriction in this group can be profoundly beneficial as it can reverse obesity and in some cases Type 2 diabetes mellitus – the two conditions that will ultimately bankrupt South African medical services unless we take appropriate preventive actions.
“If there is evidence for my position, then the faculty is guilty of failing fully to inform its past and present science, medical and dietetics graduates in a manner that should be appropriate for a faculty that considers itself a world leader.”