The dangers of following the professor’s nutrition advice

Here in South Africa we have a world renowned professor of exercise and sport science Professor Tim Noakes (Noakes). He is the author of the book “Lore of Running”.

I am reading Scott Jurek’s fantastic book “Eat and Run” and even in this book he references research by Prof Tim Noakes.

A couple of months ago, I was planning on doing my first 32km run and wanted to understand how much water I needed to consume on the run. As with most concepts unknown to me, I Googled it. I was quite surprised how many running sites all over the world references Prof Tim Noakes. The dude definitely knows about running and the science of sport, there is no doubt about that!

In 2012, Noakes made an announcement that he now believes that a high protein/high fat diet is the healthiest diet to follow. The horror! Gone are the days of shameless carbo-loading before a long running or cycling event!
He has even made the statement that everyone should tear the nutrition section out of Lore of Running because he does not believe that a low fat/high carbohydrate diet is good for athletes.

Noakes big fat mistake

Some articles about his theory

  • Heart disease theory
  • Novel dietary ideas – in this article, he mentions the foods that he recommends you eat. Baring the fruit (which you should only eat occasionally and some leafy green vegetables), there is no fibre in the diet. Oh man, can you imagine the constipation! No wonder you will lose weight, you will feel so sick and blocked that you will not feel like eating…
  • Tim Noakes on carbohydrates – in this article, he does admit that this diet is not for everyone “However those who can metabolise carbohydrates efficiently and who have always been lean despite eating a high carbohydrate diet may not benefit in any way from this eating plan. I would not advise any athlete who is lean and quite happy with his or her weight and performances to change to this eating plan since it might not make a difference and might even be detrimental.” – yeah right, it is not for anyone that wants to avoid type 2 diabetes or want to severely overload their kidneys with all the unnecessary protein
  • Against the grains

It seems like many people are excited about this announcement because people love hearing good news about their bad habits.

Just because you have lost some weight, it does not mean it is an indicator that you are healthy; if that was the case, then using cocaine, or undergoing chemotherapy should also be considered as feasible methods of losing weight. Surely by now, we have all realised that all weight loss programmes are not made equal. You should always look at the long term effect of the diet on your overall health and whether it is sustainable in over a long period (i.e. the rest of your life) and benefit your overall health at the same time.

I would like to comment that I do agree that all processed foods such as potato crisps, French fries, pizza, pasta, pastries, sugary fruit juices, cookies, cakes, etc. are not whole foods and should be avoided where possible. The key to eating healthy carbohydrates is to stick to whole foods. If you are going to eat packaged foods, the basic rule should be that the food should only include ingredients that you actually understand (or that your grandmother will recognise, or that a 5 year old can pronounce), identify as food (there are no E927 trees), and where possible not have much more than 5 ingredients listed on the package. Whole foods such as potatoes, all root vegetables, whole grains and brown rice (to name a few) are healthy carbohydrates.

Fortunately many people in the medical profession have responded to his claims and have specified how irresponsible it is to make statements like he has about high protein/high fat diets.

Replies from specialists in the industry

  • Noakes goes too far – Heart disease
  • Doctors warn on Noakes’ diet theory – it causes a huge risk for coronary heart disease!
  • The dangers of high-protein slimming diets – a build-up of ketones can cause all kinds of damage to vital organs such as the liver and kidneys. The build-up deranges the body’s balance of acids and alkalines, causing a condition called acidosis.
    When the levels of ketones in the body reaches dangerous proportions, the dieter finds him- or herself in the same kind of state as a diabetic who hasn’t used any insulin. Unless immediate treatment is applied, he/she can slip into a coma, which may result in death
  • 5 Negative high protein diet effects – Osteoporosis, strain on kidneys, contribute to Cancer, cause damage to internal organs, nutritional deficiencies

This is not a response to Noakes’ new theory, but it reiterates the dangers of high protein diets

In addition to the above referenced articles, if you look at some of the most successful people in the medical/health industry (with proven track records in helping people get healthy AND staying healthy), the statements made by Noakes are really very irresponsible and dangerous.

Further to the replies posted above, I thought I’d include some articles that I feel really explain and justify that a low fat, whole-foods plant based diet is definitely the healthiest diet that can safely be followed by normal people and ultra-athletes alike:

  • A guide to healthy weight loss: Three weeks on a low-fat vegan diet gets you on the road to your healthy weight goal – Of the many ways to lose weight, one stands out as by far the most healthful. When you build your meals from a generous array of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans—that is, healthy whole foods plant-based choices—weight loss is remarkably easy. And along with it come major improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and many other aspects of health. The message is simple: Cut out the foods that are high in fat and devoid of fiber, and increase the foods that are low in fat and full of fiber.
    This is an easy, affordable and healthy lifestyle and there are only benefits to this way of eating. Everything benefits, even the environment and animals. It is totally a win-win-win lifestyle.
  • Atkins diet alert – A resource for physicians and laypeople with questions and concerns about high protein diets. If you are going to read only one of the links on this post, this one possibly has the most concise information available.
    The Expert opinions section – provides references to some of the leading experts in the industry
  • High protein, low carb diets – reiterates the risks linked to high protein diets

Some risks/side effects of a high protein/high fat diet

  • Brain fog – It is widespread scientific knowledge that when a person is deprived of carbohydrate, their liver converts organ and muscle protein to glucose for the brain’s energy needs, and also fat to ketones for compensation when the brain can’t get enough glucose
  • Kidney failure – too much protein puts a strain on the kidneys, which can make you more susceptible to kidney disease
  • High cholesterol/Increased risk of high blood-fat levels (most animal based foods are high in fats) – this increases your risk of developing heart disease, stroke and cancer
  • Risk of deficiency diseases – cutting out fruits and vegetables can never be a good idea
  • Osteoporosis and kidney stones – high protein diets have been shown to cause people to excrete a large amount of calcium in their urine – over a prolonged period of time, this can increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones
  • Cancer – by avoiding carbohydrate-containing foods and the vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants they contain it increases the risks of developing cancer
  • Constipation – there is no fiber in eggs, meat, diary – dietary fiber is only available in plant-based wholefoods
  • Headaches
  • Bad body odour and bad breath

As a last point, a satirical article was written from a cow’s perspective of Noakes’ new theory –  “…“extremely unhealthy for cows”. According to a spokescow, research has shown that every single cow exposed to the high protein diet ended up dead. “Usually on a paper plate, next to some potato salad.”…”

So, run, run as fast as you can past all the fatty, unhealthy animal based foods and rather focus on delicious, healthful vegetables, fruit, leafy green vegetables and grain & legumes.

Related posts

Humans are natural plant eaters


12 Responses to The dangers of following the professor’s nutrition advice

  1. Adolfo Neto says:

    I do not agree with “run as fast as you can past all the fatty, unhealthy animal based foods and rather focus on delicious, healthful vegetables, fruit, leafy green vegetables and grain & legumes.”
    Just saying.

  2. Paul says:

    Do you have any evidence to support the link between high protein diets and kidney problems and the risk of cancer being increased by following a high protein/fat diet?

    • Hi Paul,
      I am not in the health industry and cannot provide any of my own evidence (other than my own experiences of following a whole-foods, plant-based diet). I have just tried to gather some information on the topic, since I have had a number of people ask me about it. All the information that I have posted have links associated with it and they all have references (and evidence) linked to their findings. I specifically tried to reference sites that have been published by specialists in their industry. If you refer to many of the books mentioned on my blog, they all have done extensive research and have found that animal-based protein definitely increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, kidney problems, diabetes, obesity, etc. (Dr T Colin Campbell, Dr Neal Barnard, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr Pam Popper, Dr John McDougall, Dr Alan Goldhamer, Dr Joel Fuhrman, Dr Michael Klapper, Dr Jeff Novick and many more).

      There are some differences in opinion about the amount of plant-based protein that is required for a healthy diet (e.g. Dr Fuhrman believes that higher protein levels are more acceptable than believed by some other doctors mentioned above). It seems like the general consensus is that the protein requirements are approximately between 10% – 20% of your daily calories should be protein. More than that may not be healthy either. They all seem to agree about the dangers of animal-based protein.

      I have one post relating to information about fats. Again, I reference other sites. The Jeff Novick clip embedded in the post is really quite informative and very entertaining to watch. Looking at the post now, it does seem to be a bit light on information. I will certainly add more information about fats, based on the latest articles I have read. Dr John McDougall, Dr Pam Popper and Dr Caldwell Esselstyn provide a lot of information about any form of fats in your diet.

      I hope I have answered your query (or at least have provided some key names that you can use to search for more evidence). If required, let me know, and then I will gladly add it to my list of future posts that will include more information and hopefully references that provide a lot more evidence of the facts.

  3. ericj076 says:

    Noakes doesn’t recommend high protein. His advice is high fat, moderate protein, low carb. So no kidney/osteoporosis risk.

    Brain fog goes away once brain is adapted to using ketones. If you deprive someone of *calories* they will break down muscle. But if you simply restrict carbs and allow sufficient fat that does not happen.

    The cancer scare is silly. You still eat lots of veggies and some fruits.

    Headaches? Huh?

    The cholesterol / heart disease relationship is very questionable. Look at world health data – many countries with high chol have low heart disease rates. No good patterns there.

    Also look at blood work for those on high fat diets. Small particle LDL (the current “bad” particle) usually goes down. Triglycerides go way down.

    • Hi Eric,
      Thank you for your feedback. I have reread the articles based on Noakes’ theory. In the Runner’s world article – Novel dietary ideas, he lists the food choices that he restricts himself to: eggs, fish, meat, dairy, mainly leafy vegetables, very occasionally fruit. I interpreted it as primarily protein and fat. I will definitely read up more about fats before I comment on this further. From all the details I have read in the past, and as I have mentioned in my previous reply, my understanding is that where possible, all fats should be avoided.
      (However, I am huge lover of avocado pears so I do make an exception to that rule whenever avocados are involved in the equation.)

  4. Charl says:

    unlikely that the cow which died as a result the lchf diet ended up on the same plate as potato salad. no to potato

  5. Henry Simpson says:

    You damed if you do and damed if you don’t they all lies both ways every one talks and present articles for those who pay them

    • Noted. With most of the experts whose opinions I value, they specifically state that their research is not sponsored by any big industries. I would like to believe that.
      It is true that the meat and dairy industry spends obscene amounts of money to fund research that produces results in their favour. There is not as much research funded by the potato/broccoli industry 😉

  6. Todd Baum says:

    Dr. Noakes may be a little ahead of your understanding of the scientific literature, particularly when it comes to the saturated fat myth perpetuated by the food industry, medical, and government institutions. I think the two of you may be closer on this topic than you think. Clearly you are misunderstanding some of his views.

    • Hi Todd, thank you for your feedback. I have no doubt that Prof. Noakes is way ahead of my understanding in many aspects when it comes to nutrition. However, the layperson (like me) may interpret his findings in a totally different way, and I feel there are health risks associated with increasing the amount of fat (any form of it), animal-based protein and reducing your intake of whole-food based carbohydrates and fruits in your diet.

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