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Talking about a diet revolution

Published Dec 28, 2013


The Real Meal Revolution

Professor Tim Noakes, Sally-Ann Creed, Jonno Proudfoot and David Grier

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Quivertree, 2013.


Fat, we learn, is the body’s preferred fuel. Carbs are unnecessary. Therefore, the authors aim to “deconstruct the bad fat myth and return us to the attitude of ancient times when fat was prized”.

When one of South Africa’s most renowned sports science academics executes a 180º turn on previous dietary guidelines, it inevitably makes headlines.

Athletes along with thousands of health-conscious South Africans were initially stunned when Noakes announced that many of us, and particularly anyone genetically predisposed toward diabetes, seriously overweight or with high blood pressure, should avoid carbohydrates and increase their intake of fat and protein.

Several medical colleagues disagreed vehemently, both privately and publicly.

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In November, Noakes, adventure chefs Grier and Proudfoot, and nutritionist Creed launched The Real Meal Revolution at a series of lunches starring menus that illustrated their mantra, also known as the Banting diet, or low-carb, high fat (LCHF).

TSub-titled Changing the World, one Meal at a Time, the book is part dietary guide, part cookbook and part science where Noakes expands on human nutritional history, offering explanation and arguments on the causes of obesity.

He reports on his experiment in which 127 participants lost a total of 1 900kg on the diet and concludes that health-care practitioners have an ethical responsibility to offer Banting as an option “to any patient that qualifies”.

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Following a foreword by Gary Player who champions Noakes’ efforts to fight obesity and challenge convention without actually endorsing the LCHF (low-carb high-fat diet) – we meet the team.

Noakes, professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, followed the guidelines introduced in 1977 by the US Department of Agriculture for more than 30 years. This involved a high intake of carbohydrates, up to five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, and minimal fat. He took part in many marathons yet found his energy was diminishing and his weight increasing. Three years ago he adopted a diet that was the polar opposite, with astonishing results: not only did his energy levels rocket, but he lost 20kg and avoided the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Grier’s achievements as extreme adventurer have been well documented – running the Great Wall of China, the length of India and around South Africa’s coastline, partly to raise funds for his Miles for Smiles Foundation: he followed the LCHF eating plan throughout these athletic missions.

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Proudfoot became a convert when his girlfriend lost 19kg on the diet, and he followed suit with impressive results.

Creed is an Australian nutritionist who found that the diet helped her regain good health after years of suffering various disorders.

Mossel Bay man, states Noakes, was pretty healthy 195 000 years back, living on seafood, game and tubers. He regards the advent of agriculture as a major setback as we changed from hunter gatherers to pastoralists and an easier life. Today that produce has been refined to produce the processed food we consume in quantity.

The 1977 dietary recommendations were the start of another nutritional disaster, says Noakes, causing a global increase in obesity and diabetes.

The third negative factor, he maintains is the introduction of genetically modified foods which has resulted in fruit and vegetables with a higher sugar and carbohydrate content.

The LCHF recommends limiting carbohydrate intake to between 25g and 50g daily. Processed, pre-packed and fast food are no-nos. All sugar – including fructose – and all grain products are eliminated, along with legumes and pulses. (Ouch. What about fibre?)

Seed oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed) are replaced with “healthy saturated fats”. Extra-virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil are encouraged. (I know of one renowned cardiologist who says coconut oil is partly responsible for the high incidence of heart disease in India.)

Full-fat dairy products are prescribed. All soya products should be avoided with the exception of a little MSG-free soy sauce. The only vegetables excluded from the “green” list are high-starch items like potatoes and beetroot.

The diet is not vegetarian-friendly: animal protein is a major ingredient and includes salami and chorizo (yet processed meat is on the banned list). Recommended sweeteners replace sugar. Spirits, dry wines, coffee, tea and water are allowed. Most fruits on are on the orange (proceed with caution) list, and chocolate is on the red list.

While all of us could benefit from following this diet, Noakes suggests that lean athletes who are happy with their performance should continue to eat the diet that they prefer.

Chefs Grier and Proudfoot have done a great job in creating a range of Banting-friendly recipes, from breakfast through to dinner, with rich but mouthwatering creations. No desserts, I see, and critics would say it’s easy to present lip-smacking fare when you have unlimited use of ingredients like lamb, butter, cream and cheese.

But they also had to find substitutes for potato (cauilflower mash), bread and pasta (courgette ‘noodles’).

A couple of quibbles : the chefs maintain that beef and poultry used should be “organic “, adding, with regard to poultry: “All free-range means is that they’re not in cages, but they still walk around in massive pens and are given heaps of growth hormones.”

I can think of at least one producer of free-range chickens who will take exception to that statement.

And while on the subject, there is no mention of organic or free-range pork, an ingredient in many recipes, even though the producers of the so-called ‘new’ South African pork are being slammed by animal anti-cruelty organisations as employing cruel production practices. - Weekend Argus

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