Tim Noakes Pic Armand Hough

Aly Verbaan

PURE, white and deadly. Sound like a drug? It is. It’s sugar. That is one of the resounding messages to come out of the final day of a four-day health convention at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) that ended last night.

Seventeen speakers from around the world presented the case for the low-carb, high-fat diet, including Professor Tim Noakes on the famed Banting diet and the need to replace carbohydrates with fat.

Event organiser Karen Thomson, the granddaughter of heart surgeon Professor Christiaan Barnard, said yesterday although not as intense, a sugar high is comparable to a cocaine rush and should be viewed as an addiction.

She has first-hand experience of both, having spent nine months in rehab coming off alcohol and cocaine, only to replace one addiction with another. “I stopped taking drugs and started overeating instead. And it was much easier to become addicted to sugar because it is everywhere, all the time, and it’s socially acceptable.”

According to Thomson, unstable blood sugar can closely mimic bipolar and mood-affective disorders.

When she heard Noakes talking about sugar and fat on the radio last year, she decided to organise the Old Mutual Health Convention in order to give Noakes a platform from which to defend himself. “I started out with four doctors who were prepared to speak free of charge, but it turned into the biggest convention of its kind ever held, with 17 speakers and a capacity-packed, 620-seater auditorium,” Thomson said.

In a similar vein, cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, from the UK, accused the food industry of “spiking” our food with hidden sugar, making it impossible to avoid it: “We have neither information nor choice on the matter.” Malhotra advocates that governments tax sugary drinks and subsidise healthy alternatives that are low in carbs and high in fat.

Dr Stephen Pninney, of the US, said that ketogenic diets cost the state a fortune in the long run and that it would be in the interests of governments to find a dietary solution for the poor, who mostly exist on the two absolute no-no’s: sugar and flour.

Dr Andreas Eenfeldt, of Sweden, said that one shouldn’t have to waste willpower on diets. He explained that it’s no coincidence that the prevalence of obesity and type-2 diabetes has shot up in the last 30 years since the dietary guidelines started in the 1980s advocating high-carb, low-fat diets, which have been found to be lacking in any scientific evidence.

Noakes said our diet was the reason so many people are depressed. “Carbohydrates make you unhappy. Govern-ment must stop subsidising grains if it doesn’t want to bankrupt itself through the nation’s health problems. Bread is cheap now, but we will pay in the end.”

Noakes also believes the Western diet to be responsible for TB.