Feebearing - Cape Town - 140716 - Tim Noakes does a talk on the evolution of exercise. It forms part of the 17th World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology currently on at at the CTICC. REPORTER: SIPOKAZI FOKAZI. PICTURE: WILLEM LAW.

Cape Town - Sugar and vegetable oils are the main drivers behind the burgeoning obesity and lifestyle diseases among black South Africans, says UCT sports scientist, Professor Tim Noakes.

Noakes, who now is known for his protein-rich, high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet, said while this population had for many years survived on carbohydrates as their staple food and did not suffer diseases such diabetes and certain cancers, their disease burden started spiralling out of control when they added sugary foods to their traditional diets.

He was speaking at the 17th World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology held in Cape Town this week.

“Today the sickest people are within this population… mostly the poor. They have diseases they never used to have because they added sugar, refined carbohydrates and chemically-extracted oils to their traditional diets,” he said.

But given the amount of physical activity done by poor South Africans, including walking to catch public transport and manual labour, this population shouldn’t be ill were they to eat protein-rich and low-carb diets.

But a Stellenbosch University study, released last week has disagreed with Noakes’s claims that low-carbohydrate diets result in more weight loss. The study, published on the online medical journal Plos One, showed that people who ate a balanced diet, including carbohydrates, experienced similar weight loss as those on the low-carb, high-fat diets known as “Banting”.


This week Noakes remained unapologetic saying the study didn’t bring anything new, and did nothing to stem the “obesity crisis”.

While Noakes was convinced that the healthiest diet was the high-fat, protein-rich one, he conceded that some populations fared well on carbohydrate-rich diets.

“It is a fact that there are populations that will survive as long as they eat traditionally prepared foods, which in some cases are carbohydrate rich. But generally those who eat protein do even better,” he said.

During his lecture on evolution, exercise and diet, Noakes said all medicine, including diets, should be based on human evolution. But over the years this evolution-based diet had been manipulated when the US changed its eating guidelines during the late 1970s and encouraged a high-carb diet, giving rise to obesity and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases.

He said evolution proved that humans were designed to run as they had to hunt animals for a living, and survived on high-fat diets as they hunted the fattest animals and preferred the fattest part of the animal including brains, tongue and bone marrow.

“As humans we have evolved as a highly athletic species… with long legs, lower-limb springs, reduced body hair and unmatched sweating capacity. All these human characteristics favour superior running ability, especially in heat, as we had to chase animals for a living.

“Even today we need to remain physically active, but this won’t protect us as long as we still consume foods that are so high in carbohydrates.”

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Cape Argus