It claims “a lack of conclusive evidence” for health benefits of LCHF diets long term. These diets emphasise “an increased intake of animal [saturated] fat” that may present “a real risk for heart disease” and are likely to cause nutrient deficiencies.
The association also says because LCHF diet are costly, most South Africans can’t afford them and this will “worsen food security, especially in resource-scarce settings”. It claims LCHF diets “pose a significant threat to environmental sustainability”.
US surgeon, carnivore and elite athlete Dr Shawn Baker vehemently disagrees. His mother was born in Benoni and he spent time in SA as a child. “I remember how much I enjoyed the biltong,” he says.
Critics of animal food-based diets depend largely on epidemiology, Baker says, which is “fraught with confounding data and is largely meaningless with regard to being able to draw any conclusions”.
Stanford University professor of medicine Dr John Ioannidis is more scathing. He has called nutritional epidemiology “a scandal” that should “just go to the waste bin”.
The few randomised controlled trials on meat and saturated fats do not demonstrate negative effects, Baker says. Animal studies are “limited in ability to demonstrate causation of disease applicable to humans”, he says.
Daily, he sees patients putting diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, psoriasis and depression into remission on low-carb, ketogenic and meat-only diets. Osteoarthritis commonly disappears while digestion improves.
“Commonly, high blood pressure returns to normal and insulin levels fall as we see evidence of inflammation disappearing both clinically and in laboratory studies.”
Many people, including athletes, lose weight and put on muscle after adopting LCHF carnivorous diets, he says.
Among these is All Blacks rugby star Owen Franks, who has stated that he is becoming bigger, leaner and stronger than he has been yet. “Watch out, Boks,” Baker warns.
In his practice, he started cancelling surgeries as his patients’ pain disappeared on LCHF. That brought him into conflict with his hospital administration, creating a 30-month battle that is close to resolving.
Baker started on a low-carb, ketogenic diet after studying older and historical scientific observations about meat and physical performance. He noticed improvements in his body composition and health but still had minor issues — tendon and joint pain.
He accepted these as a normal consequence of ageing and being a high-level athlete.
In late 2016, he did a full 30-day carnivorous trial to test for improvements to his athletic performance. He felt good on it and all residual joint aches and pains vanished.
“I was pretty shocked by that and, after a brief period where I returned to my usual ketogenic diet, the joint pain returned,” Baker says. He went back onto a carnivorous diet.
US science journalist Nina Teicholz documents research for a carnivorous diet in her best-selling book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. It’s a seminal work that has ruffled medical and dietetic establishment feathers and shaken nutrition science foundations.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition called it a “historical treatise on scientific belief versus evidence” and an “example of how limited science can become federal policy”.
Teicholz presents a 1928 experiment that Icelandic explorer and ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson and a fellow explorer conducted. They locked themselves up in a hospital for 12 months, subjected themselves to a carefully monitored laboratory environment and ate nothing but meat.
Doctors expected both to die. Both survived and thrived.
The Noakes Foundation says its Eat Better SA outreach programme proves that LCHF diets don’t have to be expensive.