Public fed a 'diet of deceit'

31 October 2013 - 02:01 By KATHARINE CHILD
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins can help ward off brain shrinkage and Alzheimer's, scientists say.
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins can help ward off brain shrinkage and Alzheimer's, scientists say.

The public has been fed lies about nutrition for more than 36 years, University of Cape Town Professor Tim Noakes said yesterday, claiming that most nutritional advice today was "anecdotal".

Speaking at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Noakes thanked his audience - most of whom had a medical background - for a chance to defend "myself as a scientist".

In news reports last week, Noakes was himself accused - by UCT colleagues and several academics - of bad science, and making claims based on anecdotes rather than clinical trials.

The storm followed an opinion piece by Noakes that was published in the South African Medical Journal.

It was filled with stories of sick or diabetic patients who had become healthy and lost weight after adhering to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.

Academics accused him of using these stories to promote his ideas in the style of an "evangelist" rather than a medical professional who used clinical trials and data to provide the best advice.

One, UCT academic Jacques Rousseau, said Noakes was encouraging a cult-like devotion to a high-fat diet that no long-term data has shown to be safe.

But Noakes said yesterday that the current dietary guidelines have been in place since 1977 and these were not supported by scientific evidence either.

The wisdom of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is also "anecdotal", he said.

Noakes said the guidelines were developed by the US Department of Agriculture while it was promoting the maize industry. He said that, soon after the guidelines were published, obesity levels in the US increased.

"Why was the US Department of Agriculture writing health guidelines?" he asked.

Noakes said there are 150 trials defending the high-fat diet for people who are diabetic, overweight or suffer heart problems.

People at risk of diabetes should avoid bread, pasta and rice, says Noakes.

Johannesburg doctor Gail Ashford, who specialises in HIV, defended Noakes.

"It is easier for doctors to dismiss the man, than to actually engage the content. It's very inconvenient to engage with the material.

"It will change the way we practise medicine," she said.

A book by Noakes and three other people, called Real Meal Revolution, is due to be launched on November 20.