Guest Blog by Professor Timothy Noakes – A comment on ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ and ‘Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It’

I have been reading Gary Taubes‘ books on nutrition and health – Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It.

It is clear to me now that carbohydrate intake is the factor driving the obesity/diabetes/ heart disease/ metabolic syndrome epidemic globally. Taubes explains how this was known up to 1970 and then was lost as the “fat causes heart disease/diabetes” message came out.

I have proved to myself that in my genetic pre-diabetic state my body fat mass is entirely regulated by my carbohydrate intake. I have lost 15kg of fat (looks like I have lost no muscle) by switching from a “healthy” high carbohydrate diet to an “unhealthy” one comprising 55-60% fat, 30% protein and 5-10% carbohydrate (about 80g CHO per day) diet.  Thus I have proved that my body fat mass is inversely related to the fat content of my diet – the less fat I eat, the fatter I become.

The explanation is that my fat cells are profoundly insulin sensitive and store fat (and according to the Taubes hypothesis cause hunger and reduced energy expenditure in voluntary exercise) whenever there is a trace of insulin around. Removing insulin removes the break, the fat cells release the stored fat and hunger disappears and the desire to be physically active increases – this is the Taubes hypothesis that was the standard theory between 1920 and 1970.

Taubes’ book suggests that the idea that dietary fat is bad for your health is another myth that is fueled by those who draw up the US Dietary Guidelines, aided and abetted by the carbohydrate industry who do not want the alternative truth to be realized.  There may also be little appetite for Big Pharma to allow it to be known that simply by reducing their carbohydrate intakes all those at risk of diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome might be able to cure themselves without medication – a frightening thought for the industry.

You, Mr Editor, are lean whilst eating a high CHO diet because:

  1. You have muscles that are not insulin resistant so that you store most of the CHO in muscle and;
  2. Your fat cells do not respond to the insulin effect by storing fat. Probably you have a signalling defect on a genetic basis in your fat cells.

Your genetic abnormality allows you to eat as much CHO as you wish whereas my insulin intolerant muscles and hypersensitive fat cells causes the opposite effect.

I am also running faster than I have for 20 years and my body shape looks identical to pictures I have of myself when rowing for my University 40 years ago at age 22.  I am looking to break 50 minutes for 10km running in the next 3 months – an improvement of about 25 minutes on times I was running when eating the high carbohydrate diet that I (used to) and others still do advice for athletes.

Anyone who has unsuccessfully tried to lose weight in the past by cutting fat and calories and trying to eat less should know that that approach is utterly ineffective since, in a homeostatically regulated system, all this produces is hunger.  For those who are predisposed as am I, the key is to keep circulating insulin concentrations as low as possible.

If Taubes is correct, then the advice that we should reduce the fat in our diet and replace it with carbohydrate might just be the single greatest public health disaster of the past century (since it has led to the global obesity epidemic).

Rather than dismissing this blog as random mutterings may I suggest that readers either (i) read Taubes’ books or (ii) experiment on yourself or (iii) better still as I have done, do both.  You might just be astonished and angry that something considered to be so complex and inexplicable is actually really so very, very simple.

Dr. Timothy Noakes is a Sports Physician, Exercise Physiologist and Discovery Health Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town and Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

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  • Chris Westerkamp

    I'm confused by the angry tone, is this in response to an unfavorable review, and is there a link to that unfavorable review?

  • Prof Tim Noakes

    Absolutely no anger intended.  The Editor is a very good friend and it was just an explanation of why he is lucky to be so lean when he eats what he wants.  Maybe it was jealousy that he does not carry the genes that make diabetes likely when a high carbohydrate diet is eaten.

  • Paul Simpson

    If you read Taubes' book, you are left wondering whether much of what you've been told and then told patients has been wrong, hence the tone presumably. It's certainly an interesting read, and it was reviewed in the BMJ.  It's titled “The Diet Delusion” in the UK rather than “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

  • Paul

    Here is the opposing view: http://www.skeptic.com/eskepti

    And there is a study showing that it is the calories, and not the composition, that determines weight loss:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pu

    The concept of satiety is correct, but to say that carbohydrate intake is driving obesity is the same as blaming gravity for your death when you jump off a bridge…  It's still over-eating, and maybe a higher protein/fat diet is a MEANS to help achieve lower calories, but let's not kid ourselves that it still comes down to calories.

  • M Joines

    The other great health disaster of the 20th century being our need for more vitamin d than has been thought big pharma again? suppresing the knowledge, so as to make populations unwell to sell us more drugs. Realy interesting piece thanks.

  • Barry

    Hi Tim

    There has recently been some deep criticism of Taube's hypothesis. While the insulin/carb/obesity relationship is very plausible on the surface, there are appears to be a few oversights. Would be interested to get your opinion of thishttp://wholehealthsource.b…

    Barry  

  • Jml

    Thanks Tim for a great article. Surely makes you think. I want to know what about all the scientific research that shows high carb during endurance exercise improves performance. There are so many studies.

  • Taubes' work is outstanding.  Just take a look at the Good Calories – Bad Calories  Book – took him 5 years to write and he reviewed the literature of the last 100  years. 65 pages of references + annotations on many pages. His article in New York times Mag. in 2002 “What if it  It's All Been a Big Fat Lies? is a classic and started the discussion. The best reference book any nutrition consultant could have. 
    I have been and advocate for 12 years. See http:www.leanseekers.com

  • Interested

    I am also interested in knowing what Mr Editior had written preceeding the Noakes commentary.

  • I would love to read Taubes books… Please reply to this comment with where I might be able to find them at a good price 🙂  Thanks in advance

  • Atheists please don’t bite my head of. Hi Dr. Noakes. I wonder if you guys realise how close to biblical feeding this diet is. Hve been on it for 1 month and 2 days and am doing really fine. I find it kinda pleasurable – nobody believes me. In Prov 25:16 God says that that too much honey will make you sick. Another thing: Everytime God sent out troops for war and even when the israelites had to do the great trip from Egypt they were told to slaughter lambs, eat their fill to the brim (didn’t say anyting about  adding roast potatoes or yorkshire pudding) so that they may have great strength the following day. Well, I never! I think that’s wonderful! I started this diet cold turkey (that’s not a pun) and really stuck to it. On the 10th day I got as sick as a dog. A tiny piece of biltong through me right over Niagarra falls. Ketosis?? dunno… next day I had a tiny tot of long life custard and a bit of cream on top. Husband insisted I do this. Crikey Moses that was nice, but never again. And then I was fine again and to this day I’m on “the diet”. I didn’t have to lose weight but lo and behold I did too. I have a goodly feeling about this. Gonna stick it out. Thanx again. I notice you’re getting some flak from lots of dieticians who are promoting the high fibre grains. For now I’m not doing a single grain. Am carrying a tiny sterilised meds bottle with me full of extra virgin and bit of lemon juice, and at restaurants I pour it on when the meat or fish is on the dry side. I don’t trust that they all carry the real cold pressed stuff even though they offer it. So there. Strength to you all – love the book.

  • Dear Dr. Noakes

    I want to thank you personally for bringing your diet to
    South Africans with such a wonderfully endearing smile always on your face.
    Thank you for recommending to me that even I (with heterozygous familial
    hypercholesterolaemia) should go onto the diet. Now I have not seen in the
    whole of cyber kingdom a single person with FH who had been on this diet,
    suffice to say.

    But I did go on it 4 months ago. You talk straight and have no qualms in admitting
    when you think you’ve made a mistake. (My son, a molecular biochemist says
    that’s the mark of a true scientist). SO… after 4 months meticulously following
    the New Atkins diet (as you recommended in your book) and under much duress from my
    family who were dead scared that I was going to drop any moment (my elderly mom
    begged me to stop), yesterday, paralysed with fear, I went to have a lipogram
    done.

    This morn I get a call from my wonderful GP and he is
    thoroughly astounded. My LDL while on lipid lowering drugs has never been below
    8 to 8.8. Our family don’t tolerate statins. We contract rhabdomyolises very
    quickly on all of them, so we take fibrates and ezetimibe. I digress… and what
    was my LDL? An astounding 5.0. My total cholesterol was 6.6 and being always
    Hypertrigliseraemic as well, THOSE have normalised out beautifully. Have to
    mention I still took my pills like you recommended. It’s a good lipid day for
    me. I am elated.

    I do get lots and lots of cramps, and have not yet found a
    remedy what with extra potassium and magnesium – it’s still there and quite
    worrying. They are severe. But my lipids! My goodness I feel like singing. What
    say ye Dr. Noakes? Thank you so very much, once again – I am a fan!

    PS. Oh and suddenly the rest of my hypercholesterolaemic
    family members are asking ME for “the” diet. My doc said to me this morning,
    the numbers don’t lie, so there’s no argument. Any small tip re. cramps from
    you perchance?

  • Dear Dr. Noakes.

    I want to thank you personally for bringing your diet to
    South Africans with such a wonderfully endearing smile always on your face.
    Thank you for recommending to me that even I (with heterozygous familial
    hypercholesterolaemia) should go onto the diet. Now, suffice to say, I have not seen in the
    whole of cyber kingdom a single person with FH who had been on this diet. 

    But I did go onto it. You talk straight and have no qualms in admitting
    when you think you’ve made a mistake. (My son, a molecular biochemist says
    that’s the mark of a true scientist). SO… after 4 months meticulously following
    the New Atkins (as you recommended in your book) and under much duress from my
    family who were dead scared that I was going to drop any moment (my elderly mom
    begged me to stop), yesterday, paralysed with fear, I went to have a lipogram
    done.

    This morn I get a call from my wonderful GP and he is
    thoroughly astounded. My LDL while on lipid lowering drugs has never been below
    8 to 8.8. Our family don’t tolerate statins. We contract rhabdomyolises very
    quickly on all of them, so we take fibrates and ezetimibe. I digress… and what
    was my LDL? An astounding 5.0. My total cholesterol was 6.6 and being always
    Hypertrigliseraemic as well, THOSE have normalised out beautifully. Have to
    mention I still took my pills like you recommended. It’s a good lipid day for
    me. I am elated.

    I do get lots and lots of cramps, and have not yet found a
    remedy what with extra potassium and magnesium – it’s still there and quite
    worrying. They are severe. But my lipids! My goodness I feel like singing. What
    say ye Dr. Noakes? Thank you so very much, once again. I am a fan!

    PS. Oh and suddenly the rest of my hypercholesterolaemic
    family members are asking ME for “the” diet. My doc said to me this morning,
    the numbers don’t lie, so there’s no argument. Any small tip re. cramps from
    you perchance?

  • oh and one more thing, when I’m not on the meds my number goes up to 12 and 13.

  • Dr Noakes and Garry Taubes, how good it is to see these names appearing together.

    Is the liver not the first organ to become insulin resistant? If so then judging CHO tolerance by waist line is possibly like waiting for a tooth decay to result in pain.Food quality is of paramount importance so while some may do well on moderate amounts of CHO, where it comes from is a very interesting question.

    Bagel anyone?

  • Dr Noakes and Garry Taubes, how good it is to see these names appearing together.
    Is the liver not the first organ to become insulin resistant? If so then judging CHO tolerance by waist line is possibly like waiting for a tooth decay to result in pain.Food quality is of paramount importance so while some may do well on moderate amounts of CHO, where it comes from is a very interesting question.
    Bagel anyone?

  • Hi Dr Noakes
    I have a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which i discovered about 9 yeas ago. Since then I have gained about 40kgs and apparently most women who get this disease become obese as it changes your metabolism and your hormones completely.
    It also takes about 10 times to longer to lose weight even with exercise and healthy eating. As a doctor explained it to me if I eat one slice of bread its like eating 10 slices of bread (half a loaf of bread). As it is a syndrome you get other illnesses that comes with this syndrome such as Insulin resistance, diabetes, heart, liver and other problems. My mom was diagnosed with diabetes in her 50’s so I am a strong candidate to also get it apparently.
    Would this diet be helpful to lose the weight and would you recommend exercise with it?
    Thanks
    Tish Thelen

  • I think we’re just beginning to touch upon the real reason people get fat. And those reasons don’t have to break the laws of thermodynamics.

    The point that Dr Noakes, and Taubes, makes is that many many people have tried losing weight/fat on calorie reduction diets/fat reduction diets, and failed. Time and time again. What many people also notice is that when they eat a low carb diet they spontaneously also want to eat less food. Which means they then eat a diet that naturally has a calorie deficit, rather than deliberately creating a diet with the intention of cutting calories. Of course, this would then lead to weight loss/fat loss. The point is that what you eat has a very strong effect on how you want to eat. Some people can go low fat and feel great. Good for them. Some people can go low carb and feel great. Good for them.

    The problem is that the current dietary guidelines don’t allow for such things to happen, we are all advised to eat low fat and that should work for us all. But it doesn’t.

    My 2pennies worth.
    George Adventures In Health

  • Hi Thelen,

    Short answer, yes. Low carb diets TEND to help people with PCOS.

    The other thing you want to look into doing is a weights based progressive and evaluated resistance training program.

    Hope this helps,
    George Adventures In Health