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Low carb high fat ketogenic diets gain acclaim for epilepsy and weight loss

This woman may want to hold off biting into that lollipop.
This woman may want to hold off biting into that lollipop.
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

For decades, consumers have tried to bypass butter and steer clear of steak. Now, however, several low-carb studies have provided convincing evidence that saturated fat is not the enemy when it comes to weight gain and health. And leading the pack of low carb diet converts is Professor Timothy Noakes, reported the Times Live on July 23.

A sports scientist in Cape Town, Noakes has lectured, researched and written about the benefits of high fat low carb diets. He's become so known for his championship of the approach that some followers refer to the plan as the "Noakes diet."

Noakes is humble about his influence, saying, "It's because people have tried it and it works." He constantly is greeted by appreciative dieters.

"I cannot walk out of this room without someone stopping me and saying: 'Thank you, Dr. Noakes, I've lost 20kg on your diet.' Wherever I go, people stop me," said Noakes, who also receives emails and tweets of gratitude.

For those who feel that high fat low carb diets are too expensive, Noakes has the answer. "That's garbage. They haven't studied the facts."

Eggs, liver and sardines, for example, can provide inexpensive sources of protein. And Noakes is frustrated with those who ignore the studies and evidence showing that high fat low carb diets are best for obesity and conditions such as diabetes.

"So who is standing up for the poor? Show me the dietitian who is saying they shouldn't be eating chips and Coke and let's do something about it? No one," he says.

Cardiologist Lionel Opie, director emeritus at the University of Cape Town's Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa, disagrees that the high fat low carb diet is the best plan. "Where's the data, where are the studies, where's the evidence?"

In response, Noakes says, "He sticks to what's published in the scientific literature, and there's a whole bunch of information that is suppressed. Why? Because industry controls it."

For the true story, he recommends investigative journalist Nina Teicholz's book, entitled "Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese," which delves into the history of how low-fat diets and fear of saturated fat became the accepted approach for weight loss. "If you haven't read her book The Big Fat Surprise, you're clueless," says Noakes.

"We are being totally manipulated and controlled - by industry, by governments, by the pharmaceutical industry - to believe a particular way. And that is why I am criticised. Not because what I'm saying is not healthy, but because it threatens massive industries," he adds.

In addition to working for weight loss, a carefully designed type of high fat low carb diet known as the ketogenic plan can help children with epilepsy for whom drugs do not work. Now a new study is underway to see if that approach can be made more flexible, reported the Deccan Herald on July 23.

Anti-seizure drugs fail to work in 25 to 30 percent of cases. The ketogenic diet used in those situations involves high fats, moderate protein and restricted carbohydrates.

"In this diet, all the dietary elements are calculated in proportion. A ketogenic diet is specific to an individual child and requires extensive counselling of the family who has to be aware of what kind of diet the child would be given," said Sandhya Pandey, chief nutritionist, Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

But side effects and problems with sticking to the diet are causing some health experts to evaluate alternatives. "If a ketogenic diet continues for a long time, children find it unpalatable and families difficult to comply,” said Dr. Atul Prasad, senior consultant and director, department of neurology, BLK Super Specialty Hospital.

The current study will compare patients on ketogenic diets with those on a modified Atkins diet (MAD). "With research, there is the alternative option of MAD, which is less restrictive than a ketogenic diet. The advantage of MAD is that it allows unlimited protein and fat and does not restrict calorie or fluids,” said Dr. Sheffali Gulati, professor of pediatrics, chief of child neurology division.

The modified Atkins plan parallels the current version of the Atkins diet in some respects. Both diets require the restriction of carbohydrates, which means that children on such plans must learn to decline traditional treats such as birthday cake.

However, the newest rendition of the Atkins diet does not allow unlimited protein, said Colette Heimowitz, vice president of Nutrition for Atkins, in an exclusive interview.

Before, the diet "had only three to four cups of veggies per day, now you have eight to 10," says Colette. "We now know from research that consuming unlimited amounts of protein isn't the best approach, so it's limited to four to six ounces per meal."

In addition, in contrast to the modified Atkins diet for epilepsy, the traditional Atkins plan stresses healthy fats from foods that a child's palate might not enjoy. Examples include avocado and olive oil.