Low-carb high-fat diets are more popular than ever. But naysayers have challenged this radical lifestyle. Is banting really better?
Fat is in and carbs are out – at least according to Professor Tim Noakes, whose release of the bestseller The Real Meal Revolution in 2013 stirred things up on a global scale. Noakes, an expert on running and the former advocate of carboloading for athletes, shocked the health community when he said he’d been wrong for years. He realised, through trying a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet, and reaping immense health benefits from it, that carbs are the enemy. In 2016, the Banting lifestyle is now a common choice for many, with Banting products readily available, and many restaurants offering Banting-friendly options.
The case for good health
The premise of Banting is that a ketogenic diet – a diet high in fats and low in carbohydrates – and only eating healthy, real, fresh foods without additives, is the solution for good health. Advocates of the programme believe a diet high in refined carbs, sugars, highly processed foods and vegetable oils causes high blood sugar, high insulin levels, hormone disruption and general metabolic disorder.
The main focus of Banting is to eliminate food that contributes to lifestyle disease, including refined carbohydrates, processed foods, grains, harmful additives and sugar. An online survey conducted by Resolution Health’s awards partner, Zurreal, showed that 66% of more than 700 respondents said a low-carb diet had helped their weight-loss goals in the long term. As much as 91% of people cited carbs as the number one enemy of those fighting the battle of the bulge, while 82% felt that sugar was a definite no-no for the weight conscious.
Is it safe?
We know that an excess of refined carbohydrates can cause excessive weight gain. They can also increase blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic diseases, says Sandi van Zyl, wellness programme manager at Virgin Active. But one of the main concerns with Banting is that saturated fat can include a list of negative health consequences, such as high cholesterol and heart disease.
‘There is evidence that neither cholesterol nor saturated fat is responsible for the diseases they have been blamed for,’ says co-author of The Banting Solution, Bridgitte Allan.
People concerned about eating too much saturated fat can replace their fats with healthy monounsaturated fats in the form of olive oils, olives, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Banting followers believe that carbs, particularly refined carbs and sugar, are the real culprits for obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Vegetable oils and their derivatives are also a contributing factor to heart disease. Noakes has said that with the consumption of carbs and sugar, arteries remain inflamed. Sugar is inflammatory, and because grains are turned into sugar by the body, carbohydrates foster inflammation in the body. Many advocates of a LCHF lifestyle report relief from these diseases in a relatively short time after adopting the Banting lifestyle.
In his book Banting Sucks, Dr Howard Rybko challenges the LCHF diet. ‘Banting takes into consideration
carbs and how they work but doesn’t fully understand insulin and the role it plays,’ he says. Rybko proposes a better way to deal with insulin management and scraps Banting’s preoccupation with carbs. He stresses that food intake is just as important as the mental approach and physical activities that accompany weight loss, and they all need to work together to be effective. Rybko says too much lean animal protein increases levels of growth-promoting hormones that lead to increased cancer risks as well as faster ageing.
Is balance key?
Despite the success stories and growing popularity of low-carb diets, experts are quick to warn that balance is key. Dr Jacques Snyman, owner of Zurreal, says we still don’t know enough about the long-term sustainability of low-carb diets. ‘No evidence has been brought forward regarding the safety of this diet for patients with specific chronic conditions,’ he says. ‘Diet alone can’t curb the rising epidemic of noncommunicable diseases. Greater
emphasis needs to be placed on promoting physical activity and making lifestyle changes,’ says Snyman.
Banting or not, weight loss alone improves markers of heart disease such as high blood pressure. In some
cases where Banting has led to weight loss, this has also been the case. Losing weight helps reduce the risk
for a range of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Snyman suggests consulting a professional before embarking on a specific diet, especially if you already suffer from a chronic condition.
Perhaps the solution is to maintain a balance, says Virgin Active’s Van Zyl. ‘Try to get the best of both worlds by not focusing on one nutrient alone. Focus on taking in plenty of wholefoods and healthy fats like olives, avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and omega-3-rich fish.’ Also try to limit your intake of refined sugary foods.
A diet that favours portion control, vegetables and fruit over high-starch meals, can only make for better health.
A simple solution
A diet is a temporary quick fix to weight loss, and on completion of your diet you return to your normal eating habits. But Banting is a lifestyle that offers a permanent solution not only for weight loss, but also for overall good health,
say authors of The Banting Solution, Bernadine Douglas and Bridgitte Allan. It’s quite simple to maintain a Banting lifestyle, says the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA).
There are a few important guidelines to staying on the LCHF track:
- Animal proteins like eggs, meat and poultry.
- Fats like butter, cheese, coconut oil and olive oil.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, macadamias and pecans.
- Low-carb vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin and cabbage.
- Grain-based foods like flour, corn, pasta, rice and breakfast cereals.
- Seed oils as well as hydrogenated oils.
- Sugar, confectionery and fruit juice.
- Fast and processed foods.
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas and beetroot.
- Artificial sweeteners.