It really all is happening in South Africa. A few years ago Tim Noakes who is Professor of Sports Science at Cape Town University discovered that he has developed Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). This was despite the fact that as a marathon runner he was physically fit. Furthermore he had followed the conventional dietary guidelines which advised limiting the consumption of fat, especially saturated fats (SFAs) and eating plenty of complex carbohydrates.
As a consequence, he examined the scientific research in order to try to understand why he was suffering from T2D and what steps he might take to overcome the condition. Much to his surprise he concluded that the rationale which was used to formulate the Healthy Eating guidelines was fundamentally flawed. The origin of the guidelines was in the USA during the late 1970s. While there were many critics at the time, the momentum generated by those who supported the case for reducing fat/SFA was so powerful, that all opposition was simply swept aside. Because the guidelines were incorporated into the official policy, it was almost impossible for any researchers to obtain funding for studies which might raise questions about the validity of the policy. Nevertheless there have been individuals who have persistently voiced their opposition, notably Uffe Ravnskov (1) and colleagues in The International Network of Cholesterol Sceptics (THINCS). More recently the weaknesses in the “cholesterol theory” have been highlighted in books by Malcolm Kendrick (2), Gary Taubes (3) and Zoe Harcombe (4). A further contribution was made this year by Nina Teicholz (5) with the publication of “The Big Fat Surprise” which has had an enormous impact.
As a result of what he had found out, Tim Noakes decided that he had to admit (as I have had to do myself!) that his acceptance of the established guidelines was a mistake. In mitigation I should say that the mistake we had both made was to have faith in the official bodies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and to trust that the policies were firmly based on sound science. Sadly it is now evident that this faith was misplaced. Certainly I have now learned to appreciate that these issues are not determined by people who are independent, objective and competent. In reality powerful persuasive individuals can have undue influence not to mention the financial vested interests of those involved in the key decisions.
As a result of his discoveries, Tim made changes to his own personal diet and very quickly realised that by reducing his intake of carbohydrates he was able to control his T2D. In fact he found that he could only tolerate a very small amount of carbohydrates.
Tim was so convinced of the significance of his new understanding that he decided to go public and to share his knowledge and insight with the general public in South Africa. He has also been very active on the social media which means that his ideas and information are now accessible globally.
In combination with a few colleagues, he has produced a book entitled “The Real Meal Revolution” (6), which explains his current thinking on Healthy Eating and how it can be put into practice. The book classifies foods as Green, Orange or Red indicating the frequency with which they can be consumed and also includes a selection of recipes. The term “Banting” has been used to describe a diet which conforms to the principles laid down in the book. This is derived from the experience of William Banting, a London undertaker, who was so seriously overweight that he could not bend down to tie his shoelaces (7). Having tried various ways to lose weight, he eventually succeeded with a diet based on meat, fruit and vegetables but avoiding sugar and starchy foods. He wrote a pamphlet, which proved to be very popular. By all accounts those who followed the advice managed to lose weight.
Originally 3,000 copies of the book were printed but the demand has exceeded all expectations. To date over 160,000 copies have been sold and it has been the top seller in South Africa for over 20 weeks. Clearly it has struck a chord. The obvious explanation is that the readers are finding out for themselves the diet works and that there is an obvious effect very soon after changes are made.
The book explains how the push to reduce fat/SFA following the formulation of the US dietary Guidelines in 1977 was the direct cause of the epidemics of obesity and T2D which has occurred in many countries commencing about1980. On the other hand, there is sound scientific evidence that a diet which is high in fat and low in carbohydrate can reverse T2D and reverse many of the risk factors for heart disease. In addition, most of those who switched to a Banting diet also lost weight.
The basic guidelines are as follows:
- Avoid all processed foods
- No sugar
- No grain products
- The oils to use should be extra virgin olive oil or virgin coconut oil but do not use seed oils such as rape seed oil, sunflower oil. The dangers of oils which are high in omega-6s are explained here (8)
- Carbohydrates should be from vegetable sources. Some oats and rye may be used sparingly but avoid other grains
- Dairy products are fine but the full fat versions should be used.
- All soya products should be avoided.
There are numerous case studies which confirm that the effectiveness of diets based on these principles, have enabled people to recover from serious disabilities. It is also relevant to point out that this approach also works very well with athletes and that the advice to load up with carbohydrates does not stand up to scrutiny. Ron Clarke who set 18 world track records in the 1960s effectively used a Banting type diet.
There are details of how the diet is effective in overcoming many diseases/conditions. Examples include:
- T2D is caused by excess glucose in the blood, which stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Persistent high levels of insulin damages various body organs which can result in a range of chronic diseases. It follows logically that this can be prevented/alleviated by reducing the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet. The book refers to 14 patients who had succeeded with this approach. This fits very well with other case studies where similar success has been achieved (9)
- The Banting approach definitely works for those who wish to lose weight but it is essential to ensure that the carbohydrate intake is kept to a minimum
- Cancer cells can only function effectively if they have a constant supply of sugar. On a Banting diet there will be virtually no sugar. The healthy cells will adapt so that they can utilise fat. The cancer cells are not capable of doing this so will not survive.
It is evident that the impact in South Africa has been enormous. Restaurants which serve Banting menus have sprung up all over the place. Tim is in demand to speak to large audiences. He has even been invited to meet some of the politicians in the South African Parliament so it will be interesting to see if there are any policy initiatives there. If so that could be a breakthrough because the vast majority of countries which devised a nutrition policy have essentially followed the lead of the USA. What is undeniable is that the conventional approach simply has not worked. In fact it has failed spectacularly and has undoubtedly contributed to the current public health problems as demonstrated by the increased incidence of T2D and obesity.
By contrast, there is now overwhelmingly evidence that the Banting approach does work and that for most people who have tried it, results as shown by weight loss are evident within a matter of weeks. Nevertheless I must stress that weight loss per se is probably welcomed by most people, the benefits to health in terms of reduced risks to many diseases is of much greater significance.
It is therefore inevitable that awareness will continue to grow. It will be fascinating to see how quickly other countries learn from the experience of South Africa.
“The Real Meal Revolution” is to be launched in the UK sometime in February 2015. For those who are interested, there is lots of information on the website at http://realmealrevolution.com/
The Banting approach can be summarised with the following ten commandments:
- Eat enough animal fat
- Eat enough vegetables
- Don’t snack
- Don’t lie to yourself
- Don’t over- or under-eat
- Don’t eat too much protein
- Be alert
- Avoid too many fruits and nuts
- Control your dairy
- · Be strong!
There is also a selection of recipes which demonstrate how to prepare dishes which are tasty, attractive and comply with the advice. Examples include:
- Coconut bread made from almond flour, coconut flour, golden flax seeds, salt, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, xylitol, coconut oil and apple cider vinegar
- Beef goulash soup made from butter, onions, carrots, celery ,garlic, pepper, beef mince, mushrooms, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, thyme, tomato paste, bay leaf, tinned tomatoes, chicken stock, Greek yoghurt or sour cream and parsley
- Scotch eggs made with pork sausage, onions, parsley, sage, salt, pepper and butter.
Finally here are some examples of the foods in the different categories.
GREEN which are very low in carbohydrate content and so there is no limit on the amount that may be consumed. Eggs, fresh meat, high quality sausages, cottage cheese, cream, butter, olive oil, coconut oil, duck fat, pumpkin seeds, pecan seeds, all green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.
ORANGE which contain a medium amount of carbohydrates (between 6 and 25%) and should not be consumed in excessive amounts. Apples, bananas, blackberries, gooseberries, grapes, oranges, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, cashew nuts and butternut squash.
RED which contain lots of carbohydrates and should only be eaten occasionally. Flour, bread, cakes, biscuits, couscous, rice, pasta, thickening agents, all processed foods, fruit juice, potatoes, legumes, beetroot, peas, parsnips and of course sugar in any shape or form as well as any foods which has sugar as an ingredient.
It should be stressed that this advice must be followed for those who suffer from T2D or the condition known as Insulin Resistance, which means that the sensitivity of various organs in the body has been impaired. However there is no doubt that everyone who reduces their intake of carbohydrates is likely to benefit from improved health and also prevent the deterioration which invariably happens eventually in those in those whose habitual diet has a high carbohydrate content.
It is important to introduce the changes gradually so that the body can adapt to utilise fat as a source of energy instead of the carbohydrates. The initial period may be difficult but provided the discipline is maintained this can be achieved quite quickly. Experience shows that a noticeable reduction in body weight can occur within a week or two of commencing the new regime. For those who are on medication to control blood glucose there is a danger of hypoglycaemia (ie the blood glucose becomes too low) unless the dosage is reduced. Hence assistance may be needed on glucose monitoring.
I am absolutely convinced that this approach is correct. There is a sound scientific basis which simply does not exist for the conventional recommendations. This is confirmed by my own experience, that of friends and numerous case histories which are readily accessible on the internet. Although Tim Noakes argues that it is all or nothing, my approach would be to start out by making changes to your regular diet and keep making adjustments based on what is acceptable to you personally and what is being achieved. Ideally you should be able to have blood samples analysed occasionally to assess progress. Total cholesterol is not critical so look at triglycerides, HDL cholesterol and glycosylated[VW1] [VW2] haemoglobin.
- U Ravnskov (2009) “Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You” GB Publishing: Sweden
- M Kendrick (2007) “The Great Cholesterol Con” John Blake: London
- Gary Taubes (2007) “The Diet Delusion” Vermillion: London
- Zoe Harcombe (2010) “The Obesity Epidemic” Columbus
- Nina Teicholz. (2014)“The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” Simon & Shuster: New York