Dr. Manny Noakes

by Charles Platkin, PhD

She leads the Clinical Research Unit, where she is involved in the management of clinical dietary trials that aim to explore the effects of different foods, diets, supplements, and pharmaceuticals on health. CSIRO has a long standing reputation for being an authority on a range of health, food and dietary matters.

A couple of years ago when a spate of new diets were gaining large coverage, Dr. Peter Clifton, the Director of the Clinical Research Unit, received numerous enquiries from dieticians who were concerned that high protein diets were being promoted, though evidence seemed scant.

Dr. Noakes and her team embarked on a major study to see if there was anything in the anecdotal reports. The results clearly showed health benefits and significant weight loss from a diet higher in proteins and low in fats. And the Total Wellbeing Diet was born.

Diet Detective: Tell us how you got to where you are now.

Manny: Pursuing things that I am passionate about.

Diet Detective: Define and discuss failure.

Manny: Failure is not learning from your mistakes and being crippled by defeat.

Diet Detective: Is there anything about yourself that you’ve changed your mind about in the last 20 years?

Manny: I have learned to accept who I am, my likes and dislikes, and not feel that my differences from others should be minimized or not expressed.

Diet Detective: What’s the next major item on your “to-do” list?

Manny: To write a major research grant application.

Diet Detective: Define individual responsibility and how you react to adverse situations.

Manny: Individual responsibility is pretty self explanatory! My reaction to adverse situations is initially to withdraw and reflect. I reassure myself that there are always ups and downs and after every down there is an up. I also reassure myself that things could always be worse!

Diet Detective: When do you have time to think about your mistakes, mishaps, achievements, and minor victories; in other words, do you have any reflective time for yourself of your career?

Manny: Yes, I travel a lot for work, so long plane journeys are often a great time for reflection.

Diet Detective: What is your most influential story, fiction or nonfiction, from a film, book, magazine, newspaper or parable? Explain its impact on your life? What’s you’re favorite saying?

Manny: I absolutely loved “Angela’s Ashes” a wonderful story of growing up in poverty and adversity and how one may or may not deal with that. The emigration to New York from Ireland reminded me of my migrant background and how adversity can often lead one to strive harder for a better life. My favorite saying is: “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Diet Detective: Was there a defining moment in your life when you made a decision that changed the course of the rest of your life forever?

Manny: There are lots of them, but making the decision to undertake a PhD later in life would have to be one of them.

Diet Detective: What’s the most bodacious chance you’ve ever taken?

Manny: I’m generally not a “bodacious” chance taker! Making the decision to author a diet book certainly was one though.

Diet Detective: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself? What’s the biggest lesson you haven’t learned?

Manny: Biggest lesson — what I think has as much validity as what others think, even though it may differ from popular opinion. I haven’t yet learned to keep my mouth shut when I have an emotional reaction to an issue. It can result in less than a reasoned diplomatic response!

Diet Detective: What keeps you going (your motivation)?

Manny: The notion that what I do in some small way can help to change the way people eat and improve their lives. My passion for food as well as nutrition and my past struggles with my eating habits and weight has given me the desire to learn more about this area.

Diet Detective: How do you stick to your diet on days when you really don’t want to? What are techniques you use to stay on track?

Manny: I have learned to like to eat in a particular way which keeps my weight in check and provides excellent nutrition. If an occasion arises that the food available is different, I don’t worry too much about it but do watch the amounts. I often order extra steamed vegetables with meals to keep the meal volume high, calories low and slow down my eating.

Diet Detective: If you could eat one forbidden food whenever you wanted without gaining weight, what would it be?

Manny: Gelati!

Diet Detective: What dessert do you dream about?

Manny: I’m not that obsessed with desserts to dream about them!

Diet Detective: If there were one healthy food item (something you love) that you had to eat every day, what would it be?

Manny: Eggs.

Diet Detective: What do you think is the most important thing that makes or breaks a diet for someone?

Manny: Convenience. If it requires too much effort to both figure out what to eat and then preparing the food, it won’t work.

Diet Detective: How did you come to your conclusions about weight loss and dieting?

Manny: Personal experience, the research we have done and talking to thousands of people and hearing their experiences with weight management.

Diet Detective: Do you think that failed attempts have influenced your approach to dieting? How have past struggles helped you find a system that works for you?

Manny: Of course. For me, having found an eating plan that makes me feel satisfied and has some structure is important. Approaches that say “You can eat anything as long as it is low in…..” would never work for me as I would still eat too many calories!

Diet Detective: Have you dealt with weight issues personally?

Manny: Yes, I was obese as a child.

Diet Detective: What’s the best book about health that you’ve read?

Manny: I can’t think of any, most books have lay information so I prefer to look at research papers on PubMed.

Diet Detective: What are your two favorite health magazines?

Manny: I don’t read health magazines but I do contribute to them occasionally.

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?

Manny: There is no such thing really, but Milk would be close. Meat and fish would also be up there based on nutrient density.

Diet Detective: What physical activity do you do to keep yourself in shape?

Manny: I have a treadmill at home which I use. I also do a lot of incidental activity, If I see stairs near escalators, I take the stairs. Housework on weekends can be quite physical as not much gets done during the week!

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite healthy recipe or cooking tip? If so would you share it?

Manny: This is one of my favorites served with a pile of steamed vegetables:

Baked Chicken Breast Stuffed with Parsley Lemon and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

4 chicken breasts
2 shallots finely sliced
150g low fat ricotta
1 lemon zest and 1 tablespoon juice
¼ cup flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
8 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Pre heat oven to 350 F.

Make a long incision through the center of each chicken breast with a sharp knife being careful not to cut through to the other side. In a bowl mix shallots, ricotta, lemon, parsley and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper then cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Spoon tablespoons of mixture into each breast then wrap in prosciutto and pin with toothpicks to secure.

Heat the oil in an oven proof frying pan over high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 4 minutes on each side then place in the oven for 10 minutes to cook through.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain? What food did it replace? Was that an important food in your diet, since you ate it so often?

Manny: Greek yogurt is a great calorie bargain! It is a sensational substitute for cream on fruit salad and tastes luxurious! For a 60g serving, cream provides about 225 calories whereas the yogurt provides about 73 calories.

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