I’m a retired professor of exercise and sports science from the University of Cape Town. I studied medicine and then I went into sports science and had a very productive life as a sports scientist. During that period, I wrote a book called “Lore Of Running” and that did extremely well and is a highly rated book. At the time, we were doing a lot of studies of carbohydrates and exercise and we were receiving funding from the carbohydrate industry and therefore we were a little biased towards the value of carbohydrates.
One day, I opened my emails, and there was an advert for a book called “The new Atkins for a new you”, written by a Dr. Eric Westman, who I knew well through the literature that was co-written with Phinney & Volek, whom I also knew. I realized everything I’d written in the last 33 years and practiced personally, looked like it was wrong because in the book, it says there were 150 studies showing the benefit of low-carbohydrate diets, which was the opposite to what I thought. As a result of going on Dr. Westman’s low-carb diet plan, I’ve done extremely well. With my blood test today, it would be difficult to make a diagnosis of diabetes, but I am taking medication so that kind of confirms that I do have type 2 diabetes.
I realized that I could either ignore my findings and ignore Westman’s work and just not admit it, but I couldn’t be that dishonest because I’d written this book that’s been widely read around the world. Many people followed it and they will have followed the idea that you should eat a high carbohydrate diet and if they’re insulin resistant like myself, they’re going to develop type 2 diabetes.
Farewell to grains
After about four months, I wrote an article in which I said farewell to the grains, or something to that effect. That was the start of a lot of anger towards me. Eventually, the media came and spoke to me and said, “Dr. Noakes, you used to say we must eat lots of carbs, and now you’re saying we must avoid carbs, what’s your problem? Why can’t you get it right? what’s the truth?” People started criticizing me publicly in the media, and many of my colleagues started to do it as well.
The Real Meal Revolution
Eventually we got to write this book, “The Real Meal Revolution”, and it was the quickest written book in my life. Normally I’d take years. One book took ten years to write and sold about ten copies. We wrote this book in about five weeks and I wrote a chapter on the science of low-carb diets, proving that there’s no evidence for the low-fat diet that I’d followed religiously for 33 years. The book was published and became an overnight sensation in South Africa. We estimate that there are 250,000 people who buy books in South Africa and we sold 250,000 books, which meant that every single person who reads books in South Africa, had read this book.
The Banting Revolution
As a consequence of that, “The Banting Revolution” (inspired by William Banting) took off in South Africa. The consequence of my book was that many South Africans started to change and it went viral throughout the country. We estimate that there are probably two or three million people who adopted this diet. That made many people very unhappy, particularly the dieticians of South Africa, and the email evidence we have is that they decided that they were going to take me out in some way.
Sometime in February 2014, I tweeted a mother who asked a question with regards to mothers and babies and it’s very important to understand that the question is a “we” question, not an “I” question. She asked should she continue on the banting diet if she’s breastfeeding and if it has a bad effect on her baby. I said no it didn’t but I ended by saying the key is to wean onto the LCHF diet.
Within six or eight hours, I had been reported to the health professional council of South Africa who looked out for disgraceful behavior and promoting dangerous ideas on the internet or social media. For seven words, the case was brought against me and we have now been through three years of a trial and 26 days in court and a very argumentative story this was meant to be an investigation, a hearing where the committee would listen to both sides of the argument and then make a decision, but the reality was never like that.
It was the goal to find me guilty, so I presented five and a half days of testimony and I was cross-examined for three and a half days. I had these three wonderful expert witnesses, Nina Teicholz from New York, who’s the author of “The big fat surprise”, Dr. Zoe Hart, and Dr. Karen Zinn.
Dr. Zoe Hart presented evidence that one of the key documents used to charge me, the Nordea meta-analysis, which came from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and Cape Town, my own University, contained 14 material errors and when you corrected those 14 material errors, the conclusion was the opposite of what the authors had projected. It turned out that correcting those 14 errors, showed that the low-carb diet out-performed the low-fat diet.
At the end of 12 days, we’d given all this evidence which included 6,000 pages of scientific documentation, showing the low-carb diet was the way to go and that all the science supported it. Eventually, on April the 21st this year, we had the final report, and advocate John Adams, who was in charge of the committee that reviewed my behavior, gave a 10-point ruling and we won every point 10-0, so I was finally free to believe that I was ok and I wasn’t going to be charged with misdemeanors.
Unfortunately, the health professional council, because they lost 10-0, decided that they were going to appeal all ten rulings. I knew that I had to write a book about this trial because that was the only way I could get rid of it out of my own mind. I started responding to, for example, the Heart Foundation of South Africa, after it came up with a long document saying that we have to eat polyunsaturated fats and that saturated fats are dangerous.
Nutrition on trial
With my new book, I’ve now given people the evidence and I’ve done that for every criticism I’ve taken in the media over the last five or six years. Every one of them is scrutinized and answered, that was my contribution to the first part of the book. During the trial, I was really fortunate that I met Marika Sboras who is an investigative journalist and one of the last remaining investigative journalists in South Africa.
She started to question why they were attacking me as an individual, and not the facts that I was presenting. She began to question whether there was a smear going on to discredit me and my message.
She supported me and she developed her own website, http://foodmed.net/ and she started reporting on what was happening to me in the trial and I realized that Marika was right. She was able to put all the bits together in a jigsaw such as where the smear came from and who was involved and why they were involved, she put it all together.
That’s a large part of the book and then I’ve got two chapters, about 25,000 words, on the science of low-carb diets and the evidence that when you give humans high-carbohydrate diets, the outcome is obesity and diabetes. My book is called “Nutrition on trial.” I’m the first medical scientist in modern times to be prosecuted for his opinion and it shows how we have slipped in academia, that you no longer learn to present your own opinions.
The Noakes Foundation
After getting so much money from the Real Meal Revolution, I decided that I didn’t want the money, I’d rather put it into a foundation because I always did that with all the money that I’ve got from writing over the years. I put it in two trusts and those trusts fund research, because I knew that when you start writing about something controversial, the first point they’re going to tell you is that you only do it for the money, but actually I do it because I like to communicate. We formed the Noakes foundation with the goal to fund research of the low-carb diet and that’s gone extremely well.
We’re also setting up a Nutrition Network because we’ve realized that many people criticize doctors for not doing the right thing. The reality is often they don’t do the right thing because they simply don’t have the knowledge in South Africa, and they’re honestly scared that the same could happen to them that happened to me, and they don’t have time to put aside to fight the case, and they may lose their ability to practice medicine. So we’re going to empower our doctors and nurses and hopefully a few dietitians with this advice.
The third component which will feed off both of them is our Eat Better South Africa campaign which came about as a result of the criticisms of the Banting low-carb diet plan being too expensive. It’s not. You can live on a low-carb diet in South Africa for $3 or about R30 a day.
I’ve come to this realization that our chronic ill health is because of the way we’re eating and that we’ve got to get back to eat real food so it’s been a huge privilege to share this.