Ask Tim Noakes about the diabetic diet

A big hello to the Sweet Life community!

Bridget here, the editor of Sweet Life magazine. I’m not sure how many of you have been following the Tim Noakes diet debate, but we’re about to get to the bottom of it for our Sweet Life readers.

Essentially, Professor Noakes has recently come out with research that proves that for many people, a high protein and low carb diet is much better for their health. Specifically for those who are pre-disposed to Type 2 diabetes. That is to say, cut out the carbs. You can read all about his opinions on carbohydrates here.

There have been many opinions on the matter, and the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology don’t agree with Prof. Noakes at all. The specialist physician there, Dr Stan Landau, said that “there is no evidence that low-carbohydrate diets are good for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes or people at risk. In fact, a low-carbohydrate diet can be harmful to them.” (You can see more of the CDE’s opinions here).

We decided to first let Prof. Noakes speak for himself, and then ask you, the South African diabetes community, what you would like to know about it. We’re going to interview Prof. Noakes and ask him your questions, then publish the answers in the August issue of Sweet Life magazine.

So here it is, what Professor Tim Noakes wants to say about diabetes and carbohydrates. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section of this page, or by emailing us.

My father died from the complications of adult-onset diabetes.   In all aspects of his life he was extra-ordinarily successful; the sole exception was in the preservation of his health.  His business acumen allowed my sister and I to be the first in the history of our family to study at University.  But all the medical knowledge I or indeed the physicians and dieticians who cared for my father had gained from our extensive training seems not have made any difference to the course and final outcome of my father’s disease.  Ultimately he died because his arteries failed him.  My conclusion 2 decades after his death is that the supposedly “heart healthy” high carbohydrate, low fat “prudent” diet that was prescribed to treat his diabetes made no difference to the progression of his disease.  In fact it might have exacerbated his condition.

In some ways I am different from my father.  I have been active all my life completing more than 70 marathons and ultra-marathons.  I have never smoked and drink alcohol only very sparingly – now almost never.  In common with most of my medical colleagues since 1977 I have actively followed the “prudent, heart healthy” high carbohydrate, low fat diet as advocated by my colleagues with nutritional and cardiological expertise.  Not for one moment did it ever enter my mind that I might be heading for the same fate as my father.  How could it possibly happen if I adhered to the best advice of my profession, based on cutting-edge science?

Imagine my surprise then when I discovered recently that I am pre-diabetic; that my fasting blood glucose and glycosylated haemoglobin concentrations are chronically elevated whereas worryingly, my fasting blood insulin concentration is low.   My father’s genes it would seem have triumphed over all the hard miles that I have run and the “heart healthy” diet that I have eaten for 33 years.  Mortified and determined not to follow the same path of my father’s illness, I determined to discover what was going on.  And what I needed to do to prevent the inexorable progression of my predisposition to full-blown adult-onset diabetes.    

Immediately I wanted to understand if my predisposition is really due purely to my genes.  Or is it perhaps due to something else that I have been doing wrong for the first 61 years of my life.  Is it possible that the orthodoxy I was taught at medical school and which has not changed much since I graduated 38 years ago, could be contributing to the problem?   I decided to use myself as an experimental model – just as I had used my training experiences in running to write Lore of Running.   Now more than 16 months into my experiment I have come to some quite firm conclusions.   These conclusions are not exclusively my own, nor are they novel.  In fact everything I discovered has been known for more than a 100 years, as explained in two books that are required reading for anyone who either (i) teaches nutritional science or (ii) has any condition that is associated with an excessive accumulation of body fat or is related to abnormalities in glucose metabolism.   

The problem as author Gary Taubes has identified in his monumental books Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why we get fat and what to do about it, is that this historic information has been replaced with a simpler explanation that was accepted too rapidly – before there was any evidence that it was in fact the healthiest diet for modern humans.


Read the other half of Professor Tim Noakes’ article tomorrow, right here on the Sweet Life community blog…

Written by Professor Timothy Noakes OMS, MBChB, MD, DSc, PhD (hc), FACSM, FFSEM (UK).
Discovery Health Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.

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14 thoughts on “Ask Tim Noakes about the diabetic diet

  1. I have been doing low carbs high fat since late last year after Dx in June last year with T1. It is working very very well. Have done a lot of reading and seems right and for me works.

  2. I’m a T2 diabetic for the last 2years, but I have trouble to get my diabetes under control, no matter what I eat or drink it’s or high or low but never “right” for a diabetic.
    For the last 4months my sugar levels stay in the high 19 – 22.
    I get a needles and pin feeling in my face when it’s that high.
    What can be done about that?
    My GP tolt me to ingrease my insulin with 2 units every 2nd night till I see my sugar to stabelise, nothing yet.
    I was interested in the CDE program but it seems my medical is not part of this program.
    How els can I get into this program?



  3. I am a type 2 diabetic. I have been following the low carb/high fat diet since March 2012. My HBA1C has decreased to 5.4%. My triglyceride to 1. My cholesterol to 4.8. I have run my 5th Comrades this year. Instead of sugar from 15km onwards, I took biltong fat sliced in thin slithers with extra salt. I have improved my best time with almost 30min. and ran the two halves in almost the same time. I finished feeling strong. I have lost 10kg of body weight. I feel good. If this diet is supposedly unhealthy, why are all these indications of a healthier person present?

    I will urge anyone with a real desire to improve their diabetes and heart disease to at least consider the wisdom of Gary Taubes as proclaimed by Prof. Noakes. The current wisdom has in my opinion failed (at least) me.

    Don’t just accept the opinion that fat is unhealthy and will lead to your untimely death. Give it a try.



  4. I first read about this in a recent Men’s Health, and I have to agree with the logic. I’ve been a type 1 for 4 years and have always noticed the effect of overdoing the carbs. I try to limit my carb intake, and like Pieter, have never felt better in my life. Everyone needs to try for themselves, but my thinking is that cutting carbs makes you lose weight, which opens the door to a far more active, happier and healthier lifestyle!

  5. I have been following the Atkins diet for 2 months now and have lost 10Kg and my body fat is down from 23.5 to 16.3. My retorical question is – will I be able to complete the Comrades in Silver medal time next year, keeping my lifestyle with 30 to 40 grams of carbs a day and without any carbo loading before the race? Note I have done 7 Comrades marathons with my last one about 12 years ago and my best time at 7h39m.

    I await the Professor’s response and am prepared to make myself available for further research, especially towards the 2013 Comrades totally dedicated to the Atkins Diet. I am willing to experiment with putting in regular long distance training while being on a 40g a day carb intake.

    Much obliged

  6. Young (28yrs old) nonobese (55kg) insulin resistant marathon runner, with no family history. What am I doing wrong or is this somehow connected to my genes?

    Currently very low sugar diet and gluten free, however my symptoms have started increasing and recent blood tests reveal high insulin (increased from initial diagnosis in 2010). Although my weight appears to have plateaued for a year, I cant get rid of centimetres (around my waist) that I wish I didn’t have to run around with.

    I would love for someone to help me determine which and how much (g) carb to take whilst training for a marathon?

  7. I’ve been type 1 diabetic for 16 years and decided to try a low carb high protein/fat diet in Nov last year, after hearing about it through Crossfit. In this community we call it the “Paleo” diet.

    Best decision I’ve ever made.

    My sugars are looking great, my health is good, I’m feeling good and I would recommend anyone who wants to take control of their diabetes to try it. Essentially it’s all about just eating REAL FOOD, not the high carb, refined, nutritionless food that comes in a box!

  8. I had to lose weight in a two week period to fit into a suit for my sons wedding,so I went onto a protein diet.I lost 7kgs in the two weeks and my suit fitted me nicely.I would recommend it to others with the provisio that you have your cholesterol and triglycerides taken before and later in say six months time so that you can ascertain whats happening to your heart

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