I just returned from the 1st International LCHF (low-carb high-fat) Conference in Cape Town, and this historic event will no doubt be a highlight of the year for me and the 600+ attendees. Not being much of an international traveler until now, along with a myopic US-centric view of the world, South Africa seemed a bit off the beaten path to travel just for a medical conference. However, this conference was far from typical.
Once I arrived, it did not take long to realize that Professor Tim Noakes and his supporters, with their energy and passion, have made LCHF (what they call “The Banting Diet” after William Banting) a diet revolution in South Africa. Banting is everywhere; in the markets, restaurants and bookstores: it’s a #1 best seller of all the books in South Africa week after week, under the title: The Real Meal Revolution. It’s even ahead of Fifty Shades of Grey, so that means Banting is officially SEXY! (according to event planners Karen Thompson and Jonno Proudfoot).
Clearly South Africa was the perfect location to convene. Speakers and experts gathered from around the world with one goal, to rewrite the book on nutrition, health and exercise performance.
The speakers, representing countries including the US, Canada, the UK, Sweden, South Africa and Australia, approached diet from different perspectives including scientific research, best evidence, obesity, insulin resistance, metabolism, cardiovascular risk, gut health, mental health, cancer, exercise performance, patient experience, ancestral and public/healthcare policy. The attendees even got to watch a private showing of the documentary Cereal Killers 2 – Run on Fat.
Here is a list of the speakers including their topics:
- Dr. Stephen Phinney: Exercise performance & LCHF research
- Dr. Eric Westman: LCHF research, clinical experience
- Prof. Timothy Noakes: Exercise performance & LCHF research, on a mission to change the world
- Dr. Jay Wortman: epidemiology, insulin, clinical experience
- Gary Taubes: health & science reporter, epidemiology, insulin, LCHF research
- Zoe Harcombe: Statistician, cardiovascular risk, can’t be fooled by the data
- Dr. Aseem Malhotra: Sugar, cardiovascular risk, public policy ambassador
- Dr. Ann Chiders: Nutrition, whole foods, mental health, ancestral perspective, clinical experience
- Dr. Andeas Eenfeldt: Insulin, obesity, clinical experience
- Christine Cronau: Nutritionist, whole foods, LCHF, challenging conventional wisdom
- Dr. Gary Fettke: Insulin, metabolic disease, cancer, whole foods
- Dr. Michael Eades: Ancestral perspective, LCHF, clinical experience
- Dr. Robert Cywes: Bariatric surgery, LCHF, clinical experience
- Dr. Jason Fung: Insulin, obesity, LCHF and intermittent fasting ambassador
- Dr. Peter Bond: Chief Medical officer Old Mutual, epidemiology, insurance, public policy
- Jimmy Moore: Patient advocate, LCHF experience, networking extraordinaire
- Dr. Jeffry Gerber: Cardiovascular risk, healthcare reform, clinical experience
- Marwan Abrahams: Executive general manager Old Mutual, epidemiology, insurance, public policy
- Donal O’neill: Cereal Killers movies
- Jonno Proudfoot: Organizer
- Karen Thomson: Organizer, Banting, Sugar Addiction – and it was her drive and inspiration that delivered the conference itself.
Personally I could not get enough of Prof. Tim Noakes. He is brilliant, passionate, well spoken, always smiling and most humble. He shared his story through two presentations, one of which discussed his career spent researching exercise performance and nutrition, specifically carbohydrate loading. His experiments provided much of the older, conventional evidence. Like most in the field, Prof. Noakes admittedly stuck with this parochial view of the carbohydrate-energy-performance paradigm for decades; this theory had been driven hugely by the profitable carbohydrate fuel and sports drink industries.
Although Prof. Noakes knew about some isolated cases where endurance athletes did well on high fat diets, his own discovery became clear after looking at the experiments from Dr. Jeff Volek, Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Eric Westman; these clearly demonstrated improved exercise performance, weight, and metabolic effects on LCHF diets. He then tried the diet on himself, recommended it to local athletes, and realized he had been giving the wrong nutritional advice all along.
Prof. Noakes became vocal about his discovery and has since received significant backlash from his opponents from within the university where he has built a career. In Noakes’ defense he points to the rigorous science of LCHF research today that adheres to the Bradford Hill principles. Previously, “the bar has dropped to the lowest level of scientific ‘proof’ conceivable” to support these unsubstantiated hypotheses of the past. There is too much pressure from industry to maintain the status quo, and we owe it to ourselves to do better scientific research and be willing to accept a more “cosmopolitan” view. The Noakes foundation has been created to study healthier eating.
Distraught by all the criticism, Karen Thompson had a vision to create this conference in support of Prof. Noakes and the speakers, without any financial incentive, came in support. The critics were invited with a free and open invitation to participate, yet they chose to officially boycott the event. To say the least, no one attending the conference was surprised.
I enjoyed discussing cholesterol and cardiovascular risk. Albeit a serious topic, most who know me understand how I like to interject a bit of humor into the discussion. As with my patients, my goal is to provide the evidence, discuss the unknown, and make the information easy to digest.
Most rewarding for me was a moment at the end of my presentation, when a kind and soft-spoken women approached me with questions relating to cardiovascular imaging. She then introduced herself as the daughter of a legend, the late great heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard, famous for performing the 1st successful heart transplant in the 1960’s. I was simply star struck to meet her and felt honored to discuss heart disease prevention with her. It turns out that the event organizer, Karen Thomson, is also the granddaughter of Dr. Barnard.
And here’s what the late Dr. Barnard had to say about prevention:
I have saved 150 people through heart transplantations. If I had focused on preventative medicine earlier I could have saved 150 million people.
Prof. Noakes opened the conference with this quote and it inspired and resonated throughout.
Another highlight was finally meeting my engineering friend and collaborator Ivor Cummins (The Fat Emperor) in person. Ivor, along with Emily Maguire, Darryl Edwards and Glen and Yael Finkel were instrumental in convincing me to attend. I’m glad I did. My patient Derick (a native South African) also traveled from Denver to be at the conference. Derick is proof that people are Banting in Colorado.
I also met lots of old friends and colleagues, as well as online contacts in the flesh – and I made many new friends along the way (a shout out to all). It was a privilege to hang out with all of the speakers, their spouses, and get to know them both professionally and personally. I also met many of the attendees and really enjoyed conversations with other health care professionals working locally in South Africa and from around the world. They all wanted to learn more about the power of nutrition. Speaking of food, the variety of meats (including Biltong) and seafood in South Africa were unlike the typical fare in the US. I am rather adventurous when it comes to finding nutrient dense foods. Typical items found on the menu included liver, kidney and bone marrow and I indulged with gusto. Yum!
Here are some more pictures and commentary:
Lastly thanks to the sponsor, Old Mutual, whose generous support made the conference possible. Imagine this conference in Washington D.C. – let’s say in 2017 as rumor has it. We will need a sponsor and could try to approach all the large US retirement investing and life insurance companies asking for money. What will we do when we get promptly turned down? Maybe ask Old Mutual.
Old Mutual is based in SA, and the UK recognizes that chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease are on the rise. They support initiatives addressing healthcare innovation. Although they do not officially endorse LCHF, they do consider it an innovative approach. This says a lot for their company, Prof. Noakes and the rest of the team that made this conference happen.
The entire conference will be available as an online summit at Real Meal Revolution. I can assure you it will be spectacular! Stay tuned.