Last week, Brad Brown interviewed Professor Tim Noakes about his controversial Low Caeb High Fat diet on episode 12 of RunTalkSA. It was an incredibly informative and interesting interview that challenged the way we think about nutrition and sports nutrition.
The Low Carb high Fat Diet is not new; although in the past few years it seems to have become increasingly popular with people defiantly sitting on either side of the fence.
Professor Noakes may be able to back up his claims with studies and success stories, but science is hardly black and white. Especially when dealing with such a personal and complex issue that is diet and nutrition.
Whilst, it may not be a diet I follow and certain statements made, I do not agree with, there were many things he did discuss and has discussed in previous interviews and writings that I do agree with and apply to the way I approach food.
When it comes to new diets and ways of thinking, the masses are very quick to harp onto a catch phrase or grand statement made and relate that one line to the whole idea. When doing so, we are at risk of turning ideas into broken telephone and either tainting something inherently good as bad, or elevating something bad as good.
Despite how you may feel about the Low Carb High Fat diet as a package, there are many aspects of the diet as discussed by Professor Noakes that can be applied to everyone’s lives and ring true no matter which diet you choose to follow.
Low Carb High Fat: What is it?
The Low Carbohydrate High Fat diet is a diet which severely restricts ones intake of carbohydrates (eliminating sugars) and is heavy on fat consumption (and often protein)
It is a diet that is most beneficial to people who, like Professor Noakes, have a family history of Diabetes, pre-diabetes or are carbohydrate intolerant. This means that their bodies do not store carbohydrates, which causes an over secretion of insulin which becomes toxic and increases the fat content of the liver, causing diabetes as well as other diseases.
Professor Tim Noakes, as he stated, follows an extreme version of the Low Carb High Fat diet, as he has diabetes which has to be monitored very closely. He thus has removed certain foods such as bananas, potatoes, rice, cashews, peanuts and desserts from his diet; whereas other LCHF followers may still allow them in on occasion. Instead he eats a diet made up of eggs, fish, meat, nuts, leafy vegetables, apples, berries, dairy and coffee and tea.
What you can take out of the Low Carb High Fat Diet
1. We over consume carbohydrates and processed foods
Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient needed for growth, development and everyday functions. The amount of carbohydrates needed is where the debate often comes in.
Carbohydrates tend to be cheap and easy to prepare and eat, making them a go-to meal and snack choice for most people.
Processed foods tend to be carbohydrate and sugar filled, making them a poor nutritional option.
According to Professor Noakes, one should only be eating 25-200g of carbohydrates a day. As a diabetic he falls into the lower end only consuming 25g of carbohydrates daily.
Important to note is that whilst there may be virtues in a low carbohydrate diet in terms of health benefits and weight loss. A low carbohydrate diet like the LCHF diet does not mean no carbohydrates.
The amount of carbohydrates needed is determined by a person’s level of activity – you need more carbohydrates when you train more often & with greater intensity.
Professor Noakes also says that individuals with a BMI* of less than 23 can handle more carbohydrates than others as their bodies are able to properly use the carbohydrates. The amount needed is a personal choice and needs to be determined by experimenting until you reach the optimal level.
2. Full fat is better than Low fat
Low fat products – such as yogurt and nut butters remove the healthy fats and replace them with sugars instead. While this may cut down on the calories, it is also cutting down on the nutritional value of food. A full-fat product will satiate your hunger much better than a lower fat product because it is richer in taste and more nutrients dense.
3. Proteins keep you fuller for longer
One of the reasons we are told to always include proteins into meals is because they are more filling and keep you satisfied for longer. This enables you to eat less without going hungry, which filters into weight loss and weight management.
4. Diet and exercise are interrelated not exchangeable
That old saying ‘you can’t out exercise a bad diet’ is true. Diet and exercise are both important and complimentary to a healthy lifestyle. Whilst they do impact each other – eat badly and your performance will suffer; eat well and your performance will be enhanced; one cannot replace or over compensated the other.
When it comes down to weight loss, diet matters more than exercise. You cannot eat badly, exercise excessively and expect to lose weight.
In addition, while exercise has positive impact on disease prevention, your diet is more critical, especially when dealing with hereditary diseases such as diabetes.
5. Nutrient Density is more important than Calorie counting
While a cupcake and handful of nuts may equal the same amount of calories, the nuts will have a better impact on your body. That is because they contain more nutrients and will satiate you for longer.
A cupcake will cause an insulin spike and make you hungrier than you were before. This is because your brain knows when it is receiving nutrients and signals to your body that you are full. Calories may be equal when it comes to numbers, but the effects they have on your body are anything but equal.
6. There is no one universal ‘perfect’ diet & food isn’t evil
There are more diets making the rounds, than there is time to try them out. Most cut back or completely eliminate certain foods eschewing them as “evil” and the reason for all your ills. And for those who follow that diet with success that may be true.
Gluten is not bad for you, gluten is bad for those people with celiac disease who get an immune reaction when they eat gluten causing inflammation and destruction of the small intestine’s inner lining
Dairy is not inherently bad for you, but it is bad for those who are lactose intolerant meaning their bodies are unable to digest lactose – natural sugars found in dairy.
Carbohydrates are not evil, but to a person who is insulin resistance they can be harmful
Vegans consider meat, fish, eggs and dairy as bad for you; Vegetarians are against eating any type of animals; Paleo followers turn their heads away from “modern day foods” like grains, beans, gluten, processed oils and dairy.
They are not right and they are not wrong. They are simply following a diet plan that is right for their personal circumstances and appropriate for the way their body processes certain foods.
In the end what we all have to realise is that in a world where we fight for equal rights, no one’s bodies were created equal. We are not all the same. Our bodies do not work in the same way and they certainly don’t react the same way to the same foods.
7. Supplements are so named, because that is what they are – Supplements
Supplements should never take the place of real food. They are meant to be used in addition to a proper diet and used during those times where you cannot get the nutrition your body needs through real foods.
When used in the correct way, there are benefits to taking supplements whether this is in the form of a daily multi vitamin or recovery shake after a strenuous workout. The problem lies not within the product but within the use.
Even within rigid diets like the LCHF diet, there is room for people to adapt it to their personal circumstances by adding those foods which their bodies react well to or eliminating those that do not.
Before embarking on a major lifestyle and diet change, rather than extract a catch phrase like ‘Carbs are bad for you’ and start applying it to your life without research and understanding, it is best to consult a physician to make sure that no matter what you choose to eat, you are giving your body exactly what it needs.
Tell us where you stand on the LCHF debate in the comments…
Born Fitness: Do Carbs Make you Fat?; Improvism: Why “Clean Eating” is a Myth”; Runner’s World: Novel Dietary Ideas; RunTalkSA: Prof Tim Noakes on the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) Diet – Run Talk SA Episode 12; The Science of Sport: The Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet debate and Deviant Thinking; The Health Fanatic: Q & A with Tim Noakes on LCHF, Endurance Sport and Surfing!
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.