Banting in a Nutshell

For around two years now, the term ‘Banting’ has been a buzz-word in South Africa, and – increasingly – the rest of the world. Made popular by the hugely successful book The Real Meal Revolution, penned by Tim Noakes, Sally-Ann Creed, Jonno Proudfoot and David Grier, ‘banting‘ refers to a diet comprising little (not no) carbohydrates, medium protein and higher-than-conventionally-recommended fat intake.

Ever the focus of controversy, there are those who are in favour of this way of living, and those who are firmly against it. It is my belief that the rights of everyone should be respected – so those who wish to adopt this lifestyle should be left to do so in peace, and those who are against it should refrain from ‘bashing‘ it with the passion and gusto that so dominates their side of the debate.

That said, I think it is the responsibility of both sides to practice restraint. Nobody likes that person who “bible bashes” their beliefs onto others, in much that same way that folks with specific beliefs do not relish having their beliefs criticized by those who do not share them. The parallels that can be drawn are endless. Moral of the story? Nobody wants to hear about your diet, so don’t tell them unless they ask.

What Exactly is Banting?

The premise of Banting is such: simple carbohydrates such as sugar, grains and white starches are bad, and that fat – contrary to popular dogma – is good.

Also known as ‘LCHF‘ (Low-Carb, High Fat), the Banting lifestyle advocates the consumption of good, healthy fats, namely from: coconut and olive oil, butter, cream, avocados, eggs and animals fats.

Deemed unhealthy fats, seed oils are firmly disallowed. So, if you’re adopting the Banting lifestyle (which I think you should), say goodbye to margarine, sunflower oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil amongst others. Why? Because these oils are polyunsaturated and have undergone a number of processes in their manufacture that have rendered them toxic and unstable. Learn more about this here.

Contrary to the common, misinformed perception – Banting is not a high protein way of eating. It is a low carbohydrate, medium (normal) protein, higher-than-previously-recommended fat, way of eating.

Like most ‘diets’ (any ‘Banter’ will be quick to tell you that that “banting is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!”) – the usual ‘junk’ foods are not allowed: fast food, fizzy drinks, sugar, sweets, cakes, chocolate, chips, bread etc.

Unlike most of those diets though, the Banting lifestyle also dictates that ‘pseudo-healthy’ foods get the boot: low-fat anything, soya products, wholegrain breads and cereals and fruit juice. Yes, fruit juice.

The Food Lists

The Real Meal Revolution sets out three lists of foods: the Green List, containing foods that can be eaten with fairly reckless abandon; foods that have 5g or less of carbohydrates per 100g. Then there’s the Orange List, detailing those foods that can be eaten occasionally and in moderation, which are higher in carbohydrates. Finally, the Red List contains those foods that may not be eaten at all. Foods on the Red List are either too high in carbohydrates, are highly processed, are not good for you – or a combination of all three.

Basically, Banting advocates that we only eat real food. That is, food that is as close to its original, natural state as possible. Think of the adage:

Real Food doesn’t have ingredients – real food IS ingredients!

Fat is not an ‘F-word’… anymore

Ok, so, in the face of decades of advice not to indulge in that tasty, unctuous thing called ‘fat’ – a lifestyle that encourages you not to trim your steak or go without the chicken skin would seem ridiculous.

The thing is, evidence is emerging that points to the fact that, actually, fat is good.

I encourage everyone reading this to go forth and research! Evidence is mounting that debunks the myth that fat should be feared, and that eating cholesterol will raise your bad cholesterol. In fact, ‘cholesterol’ is no longer just cholesterol – there are good types of cholesterol and bad types of cholesterol, and  the idea that eating cholesterol-rich foods will send you to an early grave becomes less plausible every day.

I highly recommend The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz, available here.

The high-fat proponent of the Banting/LCHF lifestyle is something that critics grip onto, but unfortunately, they’re merely trying to leverage a misconception in justifying the fear of fat.

Banting is not telling people to eat fat in isolation, nor does it recommend eating too much fat.

The message about Banting and fat is simple: don’t fear it. There’s no need to go off and load your plate with bacon, butter, cheese, cream and oil instead of veggies and greens. Rather, if the recipe calls for cheese – or if the skin is still on the chicken – don’t remove it.

It won’t kill you.

Banting is saying: “enjoy your food!”. Include the avo and the olives in the salad, leave the tasty rind of fat on your steak, have the bacon and the eggs – and enjoy it! But, give the toast and mashed potato a miss.

Eating fat fills you up, and keeps you satiated (full, satisfied) for longer. Ergo, eating fat with your meal – even though you’re not eating the bread, rice, pasta or potatoes – will ensure that you are satisfied, and means a longer gap between this meal and the next.

Less food, more nutrition, more energy – it’s a win-win-win!

The average Banting-friendly dinner plate would look like this: a medium portion of protein (a piece of chicken or two with the skin on, or a palm-sized steak, fat included) and plenty of green-list veg (a nice leafy salad with avo, olives, feta – or some creamed spinach). Think stiry-fry, seafood, cauliflower-cheese, bacon and eggs, biltong, cheese, roast chicken – the list goes on, and soon enough, you realize that Banting isn’t about restriction at all. There’s none of the hunger or misery that is typical of other ‘diets’ – and the differentiating factor, is fat.

What are the Common Benefits?

Medical professionals, academics, banters and non-banters alike are all crying out for long-term trials and extensive research into the long-term effects of Banting. Those who believe in the science underpinning the Banting Lifestyle want this research to prove what they – and hundreds of thousands of South Africans and others around the globe, already know: it’s good for you.

Those who have tried the Banting lifestyle, properly, will testify to it’s incredible effects on their health. Here are some of the common benefits you’ll hear them rattling off with great excitement:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Improved skin
  • Improved concentration
  • Improved sleep
  • Decreases in allergies, hayfever and fatigue
  • Improved immune system efficiency
  • Decreases in headaches, joint aches and gout

It seems that the more people you ask, the more this list grows. In short: there is nothing to lose in giving Banting a go. It appears that you only stand to benefit from this lifestyle. Historically, low-carbohydrate diets have been prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy, diabetes and polycystic ovarian sydrome (PCOS).

I have battled with bad skin all my life. At age 12 I was described by our GP as being “the perfect candidate for roaccutane”, which for pubescent, insecure little me, was a crushing blow. Now, having tried roaccutane and every other prescribed treatment imaginable – not to mention all of the kind aunties telling me about the “fantastic creams” they have at home whenever I went to a braai or birthday party – I’ve found that eating this way has been the only thing that has helped. I now have clear, beautiful skin, at last.

Recently, I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS. It is the world’s leading cause for infertility, and what causes it is unknown at this point in time. 22 years old and staring down the barrel at hair loss, facial hair growth, central obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes (which is in our family), infertility and even ovarian cancer – I have turned to Banting to try and mitigate my risk while I’m still young. I will definitely be posting about this in the coming months.

In short…

The ball is in your court. As the only person who can actually control what goes into your mouth, the decision is yours and yours alone. I encourage doing some further research – mostly because the information available is interesting, and exciting! Also, because Banting should be viewed as a lifestyle change and not a diet or a ‘quick fix’, so any commitment should be undertaken with as much understanding as possible. The more you know, the easier it is to make the change.

There are a number of Banting Facebook Groups, full of people who are willing to help and inspire others, and share their own stories about how these small lifestyle changes improved their lives.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the discourse surrounding Banting and the LCHF debate. Tim Noakes and fellow advocates of this lifestyle have always maintained that it is not a one-size-fits-all thing; it’s not for everyone. It is my hope that anyone thinking of adopting Banting does so excited and informed, joining the ranks of those who have used it to regain control of their health issues, and become happier people for it.