DURBAN 29-05-2013 Tim Noakes taking at DHS. Picture: S'bonelo Ngcobo

Cape Town - The humble carbohydrate has landed sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes in the middle of an online row.

The professor published a paper in the SA Medical Journal this week titled “Low-carbohydrate and high-fat intake can manage obesity and associated conditions: Occasional survey”.

It has attracted much criticism, as dietitians and others in the field debated whether the article deserved its place in the medical journal.

According to Noakes, the paper was inspired by the letters and anecdotes of “slimmer” and “healthier” dieters who had followed in his footsteps by cutting out carbohydrates.

Of these people, three were diabetics who claimed that Noakes’s low-carb, high-fat diet had cured them.

He tempered the findings by listing the limitations of the survey in his paper.

“First, all data are self-reported and were not verified, but it is unlikely that all participants would fabricate this information.

“Second, there is no record of exactly what each person ate. Third, all reports describe only short-term outcomes.”

Noakes told the Cape Argus that the paper was not proof that the diet worked but rather a platform to encourage debate and potentially jump-start and fund a clinical trial.

“It costs a lot of money, money I don’t have, but it is definitely something we need to research.”

His paper was attacked on social media. Former Mail&Guardian editor Nic Dawes tweeted: “How the hell did that get through peer review? Should be a scandal at the (Medical Journal).”

5FM’s resident medical expert Jonathan Witt tweeted: “Noakes is to medicine what Julius Malema is to politics, populist nonsense.”

By far the most vocal critic was UCT’s Jacques Rousseau.

The lecturer challenged Noakes’s methodology in an extensive post on his blog titled “Lessons in bad science”.

He said that he agreed a trial was needed, but that Noakes was actively encouraging people to follow a diet which had not been scrutinised in full, nor was there any long-term data to support it.

“These are no doubt all irrelevances to Noakes, even perhaps evidence of bias or conspiracy. After all, at the end of the day, the ultimate evidence is remarkably elegant: the thinnest person in the argument wins, and obese people can’t be right.”

The lecturer linked users to a tweet in which Noakes writes: “Obese dietitian from British Dietetics Association tells us on BBC News that Dr Aseem Malhotra’s (a fellow carb-cutting advocate) article is wrong. Will believe her when she loses weight.”

Noakes welcomed the backlash, claiming that a debate was one of the main aims of the paper.

“If anything, at least it has brought this to the fore and people are talking about it.”

He said the majority of the criticism came from people in the field who were unsettled by his research. - Cape Argus