ST121108(11) White bread and butter.Picture:Bonile Bam

Durban - Professor Tim Noakes, one the country’s leading sport scientists, has appeared in the media a lot recently advocating a low-carb, high-fat diet.

Noakes is not afraid to challenge entrenched beliefs, and his stance has created controversy among health professionals.

In principle, what he is advocating is nothing new, having been previously described in the Atkins, Paleo and Dukan diets.

He challenges the wisdom of eating a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, saying it is not having the desired health effects on our population; if anything, it might even cause obesity.

The seemingly simple question of what constitutes a healthy diet – what we and our children should eat to live long and active lives – does not seem adequately answered by what we are generally told.

Fifty years ago a small fraction of the world’s population was obese or had diabetes. Something has changed dramatically since then and today we are more overweight than ever before – more than 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese and our children are not spared (a recent Discovery Vitality survey showed 25 percent to be overweight or obese).

So what changed?

It would seem that two factors played a leading role in this – we were told to eat more carbohydrates and less fat, and our consumption of sugar specifically increased. In the past 50 years, consumption of butter in the US has gone down 38 percent and sugar intake has gone up 41 percent.

During this time, the increase in the number of overweight people seems to mirror increased carbs and decreased fat consumption.

Listening to conventional dietary advice has changed eating patterns, yet more people are getting fatter. And with the increase in obesity, incidences of related diseases such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, liver disease, cancer and gall bladder disease have increased.

One thing all parties agree on is that ingesting a significant load of refined simple carbohydrates, which are rapidly digested and absorbed, causes a spike in insulin that drives glucose into the muscle and liver and converts the excess blood sugar to fat. It is also this continuous spiking of insulin levels that ultimately leads to heart disease and diabetes.

Instead of being confused by the debate, we need to know there is one simple fact that everyone agrees on: our families eat too many carbohydrates, especially refined ones like sugar, white bread and rice.

If you want your children to grow up to be healthy adults, reduce these types of foods and cut out fizzy drinks, sports drinks, juices, breakfast cereals, crisps, biscuits and sweets. Add more protein to their diets in the form of fish, meat, chicken and eggs, with plenty of vegetables thrown in.

As for Noakes, don’t burn him at the stake just yet.

The more I research this topic, the more I believe our eating habits are going to change significantly in the next decade or so.

However, there is still a lot of solid research that needs to be done to find the solution.

Noakes may or may not be right – but at least he is challenging conventional wisdom, and the result, I believe, will be more research that will uncover the truth. - The Mercury

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* Dr Glen Hagemann is president of the SA Sports Medicine Association and director of the Discovery Sharksmart Programme.