There is a lot of talk about Banting at the moment. Tim Noakes, The Real Meal Revolution (Visit the RMR website here), Ketosis are buzz words and you can’t buy cauliflower anywhere. It’s easy to see why people are curious: the doctrine of Banting debunks everything we’ve previously known about health foods; the recipes are delicious; and the guy propagating it isn’t scared of controversy.
So I had to try it? Right?
Almost ten weeks in and I am seven kilograms down. If it weren’t for Xylitol, I would miss sugar enormously. But only in my coffee. Which I have with whipped cream, by the way. Miraculously, carbs have completely disappeared from my radar, even when others are eating particularly delicious looking chips in front of me. Being insulin resistant (IR) and having polycystic ovaries means that I am a prime candidate for Tim Noake’s eating principles. But not everyone is. That’s one of the problems with this plan. Another is that it’s fffffffffffff… very expensive.
Yet wherever you go, people are trying it out. Some for a longer time, others for a brief interlude. Certain restaurants are trying to add it to their menus. Stores are re-organising their shelves and rebranding products all in a bid to get the consumers consuming more of the ‘green list’ approved foods. Support groups on social networks are filled with banter between those in the know and those starting out. Success stories abound and then there are those who simply can't understand why they aren’t getting skinny.
Once again a drastic feeding schedule with the simple premise that eating loads of fat and cutting out the carbs will equal a better looking butt. Why does healthy always seem to equal skinny?
A lot of people, even those who read the book, forget a lot of what Noakes is actually saying. Firstly, he doesn’t claim the eating plan is a ‘fix-all’ for anyone who is overweight and wants to shed a few pounds. Secondly, there is such a thing as too much protein; the Banting plan stipulates that your meat protein portion should never be larger than your palm (excluding fingers!) And finally, if you cut the carbs, cut the sugar, cut the protein portion but don’t add the fat, you simply won’t be eating enough to feel satisfied.
So when people say that they’re doing the ‘Banting thing’ but ‘not all the fat’ means that they're cheating somewhere else and they’re going to get hungry or not see the results their friends are seeing. It’s not possible without the fat simply because your body needs fuel. It will either burn carbs as it’s fuel of choice, or fat. You can train your body to burn fat. As an endurance athlete on a clip I recently watched stated, and I am paraphrasing here, eating carbs is like throwing paper on to a fire, while eating fat is the beautiful thick log waiting to burn. Carbs have been a swear word in various weight loss organisations for years. Every single dietician I know and have seen has told me to limit my carbohydrate intake. Even my gynaecologist has told me to do so. And not just because I am IR; because they bloat, they deposit sugars and they don’t sustain you for very long.
Yet we’ve also been told to carbo-load before sports events and to ensure that every meal has a carbohydrate portion. In South Africa, vleis, rys en artappels is the norm in most homes and it’s not just an adage – we really do have meat, rice and potatoes. Oh and maybe some butternut for colour. Plus heaps of gravy.
So Banting goes against everything we have been taught. Even the stuff Tim Noakes originally taught us. It is so contrary that when you start telling people how much fat you are adding to your food you can see them gag in revulsion. They stare at your stomach as though they are expecting it to burst its gates at any second and spew a deluge of curdled milk and cream. People say that it sounds too rich to eat. But I would venture a guess that those same people have never watched a show on BBC Food channel, where Heston will tell you that “fat is flavour” and Gordon will insist on cooking meat with fat still on, to add a depth of deliciousness to his dishes.
Banting food is seriously yummy. But here’s the catch – you don’t want to eat it. Well, certainly not all day, you don't.
I have a healthy breakfast; after being awake for a few hours because I have never been a morning person and breakfast time is chaos in our home. I have coffee with cream first and then later, something yummy and full of fat for breakfast. I don’t get hungry again for a long, long time. Many Banters will share the same sentiments. You see, we are burning massive logs in our fires, not much paper.
And my fire is seriously burning – I have far more energy and feel less bloated. I wish I had taken bloods before I started because my sugar levels seem to have dropped since the cravings at 4pm, 5pm and 6pm and straight after dinner have disappeared. I feel so much stronger when I exercise. It's ridiculous for me to even say that out loud, but I can tell that my body is 'performing' better. From eating bags of malted balls every night, my body has changed its desired poison to black mint tea. And for that, I feel a whole lot better. Or perhaps it is the fact that the toxin levels have dropped in their entirety. After being a perpetual dieter and nutrition ‘fundi,’ I have finally found what works for me.
Get to the weight loss part, Carrie. I hear you all saying.
Yes, I have lost weight. Anyone who ‘Bants’ properly will lose weight.
But Banting cannot be about weight loss. The idea that skinny = healthy should not be at the forefront of our minds. It should not be the only goal. Healthy = healthy. Lower blood sugar levels, prolonged energy, mental acuity and a general feeling of well-being is healthy. Going to the toilet regularly, having a glow in your cheeks that isn’t caused by angina, being able to eat a meal and not undo the top button of your jeans... these are all signs of being healthy.
Yet people are sharing frustrations on support pages in social networks for not losing weight fast enough. Folks are losing more than a kilogram a week, in some cases, but that seems to be irrelevant. The fact that Noakes never, for one second, advocates his eating plan as a ‘fix-all’ weight loss system suitable for all people, seems to have been missed. The Real Meal Revolution, the book that has stirred up a hornet’s nest started by an obese undertaker more than a century ago, suggests that people seeking a healthier way of life give the real meal movement a solid go. That means include the fat. And that is so incredibly contrary to everything we have learnt about diet and nutrition that most people are scared of even trying it.
TIME magazine vindicated fat in June this year. Read the TIME magazine article here Other scientific journals have done so before and since, but it doesn’t matter that we have been given all kinds of evidence that tells us that fat is okay to eat because for the last thirty years (at least) science has made us believe that low-fat and fat-free is the way forward. Words like cholesterol, heart disease, blood pressure and cancer are bandied about linked with the risks previously believed to be associated with a diet high in animal fat. Yet, when you speak to grandparents, even parents, they remember cooking bacon in lard and eggs in bacon fat and roasting potatoes in goose fat. It (Low Fat High Carb) is something, as stipulated in The Real Meal Revolution and other sources, that started recently and has also never been properly researched. How could it have been if it has only been around for thirty or so years?
Banting followers are suddenly in restaurants demanding salads and crap-free veggies. They are standing in isles reading labels on previously unsuspicious ingredients that are now shown to be loaded in sugar and cornstarch. They are buying cauliflower by the truckload and developing ways and means to eat vegetables that make your stomach grumble just by looking at it. If you follow the guidelines strictly, your portions will be smaller, your protein intake will be lower (as most of us overdo the protein component of our meals) and you will think of sugar and refined carbs as poison. Any dietician will agree with these ‘rules’ as a good set of nutritional values to follow.
It’s the fat that’s the problem and it is where everyone seems to be bumping heads. Pro-banters are pro-fat; anti-banters are vehemently against it. I wondered, when I started Banting, how can you shed fat if you are adding so much of it to your diet? Until I thought about the concept of fuel. The fire analogy given above is perfect, but if that still doesn’t do it for you, then how’s this one:
If your body were a car, you would be either a diesel or petrol model. You don’t get a duel engine, certainly not in common place. If you put diesel into a petrol engine, the engine will seize. And vice versa. According to Noakes, and those in agreement with the Banting principles, most humans are fat-fuelled engines; yet we live in a world that provides carbs as it’s primary fuel source. Plates of old were always more than half filled with carbohydrates and ingredients that were dramatically different to the way nature intended. I remember Dr Oz once saying something about taking your grandmother grocery shopping with you and asking her to identify things that look like food; these days we get cheese in tubes on the dry shelves and eggs in bottles? Potato that comes in a packet and is similar in taste and texture to sawdust! With the huge increase in cancers, eating disorders, obesity, diabetes, lethargy and general ‘not-well-ness’ there has to be some link to the fact that the planet seems to believe that synthetic, low-fat or fat-free is better. But is simply can't be. Read the labels.
Low-fat almost always equals a stabiliser, a dangerous sweetener, a thickener… not pure or clean or the way nature intended. And if you are a fat-fuelled engine, which Banters would argue that you probably are, you are depriving your body of the fuel it needs. A ‘normal’ diet comprises of high volumes of carbs (read sugar)and low-fat everything else; often too much meat, too little salad and definitely not enough fat. You can imagine going to a pump station, putting some petrol into your diesel engined car, then a little diesel which has been watered down, and perhaps a little paraffin for good measure. There is no way you would be able to drive anywhere.
What Noakes and the Banting followers advocate is that you find your fuel – in it’s cleanest, purest source, then stick to it. In interviews, the often-misconstrued professor has stated that not all of us can survive on only twenty to thirty grams of carbs a day. We each need to find the right balance. What you lack in carbs, you need to make up in fat though. That’s the most important part. And it needs to be good fats: avos, olives, olive oils, fish oils, nuts and nut oils, BUTTER!
Essentially, I understand why people are getting their knickers in a twist about Banting. The Real Meal Revolution is a book that has caused as much stir as Atkins and South Beach Diets combined. It is contrary to what we accept and have been taught is normal ‘healthy’ eating in so many ways. So if you think it’s a load of crap, I understand why. But if, like me, you are insulin resistant, suffer from polycystic ovaries, have ALWAYS carried extra weight and feel hungry even after a plate full of pasta, consider Banting as a mind-blowing alternative. Quit the sugar. Quit refined carbs. Look at cauliflower with a whole new pair of eyes. And if you stick to it, you will feel better every day.
The cost of Banting seems to be prohibitive, but that’s when folks are trying to keep up with asparagus and artichokes instead of eating cabbage and spinach. Certain veggies will cost a whole lot more; especially those out of season bought from stores where imported goods are kept. The desserts are (so far,) unpalatable; there is only so much coconut one person can be expected to eat. As for meat, Noakes advocates trying offal as an option, (Yuck!) or cheaper, fattier cuts of meat. And of course, remember to reduce the portions. So it needn’t break the bank. But, if you live on phutu and samp, I understand why this menu seems exorbitant, and these are concerns the Banting dieticians and chefs will need to address. The other is lactose intolerance; on Banting (unlike it’s ‘real food’ cousin, Paleo,) if you don’t have dairy, you’re up the creek in many ways. So get to it, guys!
Would I advocate Banting? Yes.
To anyone? No. But you won't know until you try.
Do I feel better for it? Definitely.
Have I lost weight? Plenty.
Is it for the rest of my life? I damn well hope so, because I feel great.
Where do you start? Cut the sugar. Cut refined carbs. Eat food in it’s simplest form. Buy an avocado and some cauliflower.
When should you start? Right now.