What Is the Banting Diet?

banting diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Banting diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that eliminates all grains, added sugars, vegetable and seed oils, and any foods containing gluten. The four-phase plan encourages whole, unprocessed foods like non-starchy vegetables and animal protein, which may yield rapid and substantial weight loss results.

Low-carb diets are nothing new. In fact, they date back over a century. The first known low-carb diet is widely attributed to William Banting (1796-1878), an English undertaker who lost a considerable amount of weight by restricting sugary and starchy carbohydrates. Formerly obese, Banting authored the first published version of a low-carbohydrate diet that detailed his plan. His booklet, "Letter on Corpulence," was so popular that "banting" became a term for dieting, with an accompanying verb, "to bant."

Recently, the term "Banting" reemerged in the mainstream, particularly in South Africa, due to the work of Tim Noakes, co-author of "Real Meal Revolution." Noakes is a professor of exercise science and sports medicine, an athlete, and an advocate of the low-carbohydrate/high-fat approach to diet and weight loss. While the RMR Banting approach is based on Banting's original plan, there are some differences.

For instance, the RMR Banting plan is divided into four phases and provides a categorized list of recommended foods with suggested meal plans to make the diet easier to follow. It suggests an intake of about 5–10% carbohydrates (depends on the phase and a person's individual response to carbs), 15–20% protein, and 70– 75% fats. Sugar and gluten are completely eliminated. Other grains are very limited. Most vegetables and animal proteins are included.

While carb and calorie counting aren't required, the foods listed on the RMR Banting plan are detailed and fairly complex. It's not as simple as saying "eat meat, not grains." And the diet's proponents say you must follow the rules for life.

What Experts Say

"The Banting diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet that’s broken into phases. The diet claims people should 'never ever' eat certain foods, like gluten and canned fruit. Experts recommend skipping this diet, as the overly restrictive guidelines can lead to nutrient imbalances."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

In "Letter on Corpulence," Banting described avoiding bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and starchy vegetables: potatoes, parsnips, beets, carrots, and turnips. The Real Meal Revolution interpretation expands on Banting's original plan. In addition to being a low-carb, high-fat diet, the RMR Banting program includes a four-phase approach:

  1. Observation: Understand "what the food you eat actually does to you."
  2. Restoration: "Replenish nutrients and gut flora" by eating a medium-carb, sugar- and gluten-free diet.
  3. Transformation: This is the fat-burning stage, using a sugar-free, gluten-free, and low-carb diet.
  4. Preservation: This maintenance phase sticks with the sugar- and gluten-free diet, but adds "variable carb levels" depending on the individual.

What You Need to Know

William Banting advocated eating four slightly smaller than usual meals per day. But the RMR Banting program indicates that you should only eat when you are hungry and that you should eat mindfully, paying attention to your body's hunger cues so that you stop when you feel full (not when your plate is empty).

The RMR Banting diet classifies foods as "green" (eat as much as you want), "orange" (eat moderately; there are special rules about these for each phase), "light red" (eat "hardly ever"), "really red" (never, ever eat), and "grey" (it's complicated).

The RMR Banting diet is already gluten-free, so it works for people who cannot consume gluten. The guidelines suggest that vegetarians and even vegans could follow this plan, but it's unclear what vegan sources of protein would be compliant. Nuts and legumes are on the "orange" list and soy and pea protein are on the "grey" list.

The RMR food lists are long and not always intuitive. They are also subject to change, but you can download the latest editions on the RMR website, along with recipes and meal plans. 

In addition to the book, the Real Meal Revolution plan has a website that followers of the Banting diet can use for reference and online health coaches are available. There is also a follow-up book, "The Real Meal Revolution 2.0," written by RMR co-author Jonno Proudfoot.

What to Eat
  • Meat, seafood, and eggs

  • Most vegetables

  • Some fermented foods

  • Some dairy products

  • Certain oils

  • Herbs, spices and herbal tea

What Not to Eat
  • Any foods containing gluten

  • Gluten-free grains, grain products, and flours

  • Any foods containing added sugar

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Seed and vegetable oils

The compliant foods listed above include foods from the RMR "green" list and some foods from the "orange" list. The non-compliant foods include foods labeled as "light red" and "really red." Foods in the "grey area" include baked goods and sugar-free desserts that some people may deem are OK to consume as an occasional treat.

Meat, Seafood, and Eggs

The RMR program indicates that you can eat as many of these foods as you like. The exception is processed meats (such as bologna) and meats cured with "excessive" sugar.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Legumes

Most non-starchy vegetables are on the green list. Starchier ones, as well as most legumes and fruits, are on the orange list, meaning they can be eaten in small amounts during some phases and not at all during others.

Dairy Products

Butter, ghee, and firm and hard cheeses are all "green" foods. Milk, soft cheeses, cottage cheese, cream cheese, cream, and yogurt are all on the orange list. So are milk substitutes such as almond, rice, and coconut milk (not soy milk).

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are referred to as "fertilizers" on this plan. These include kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and naturally fermented pickles on the green list. Kombucha is orange.

Oils

While the original Banting plan didn't take a stand on oils (or many other foods), the RMR Banting version divides them into green and red like other foods. On the green list: avocado, coconut, macadamia, olive, and nut oils, if not heated.

"Red" oils include canola, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, and safflower oil, and "all industrial seed and vegetable oil derivatives" (like margarine).

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Phased plan allows customization

  • No carb or calorie counting

  • Encourages listening to internal hunger cues

  • Some online sites provide access to a health coach

Cons
  • Restrictive

  • Lacks sufficient evidence

  • May not be sustainable

Pros

  • Customizable: Different bodies react to food, and especially carbohydrates, in different ways. The phases and "sometimes" foods outlined in the RMR Banting approach are meant to help followers determine what amount of carbs, and which foods, work best for weight loss and maintenance.
  • No Counting: Some food tracking might be helpful to analyze that ideal level of carbs and how the body responds to different foods. But in general, the Banting plan does not rely on specific carb or calorie counts. It is all about the types of food consumed.
  • Hunger cues: Followers of the program are guided to listen to internal cues to guide them to eat when hungry and stop when they feel satisfied.
  • Online coach: Subscribers who pay for certain online courses have online access to health coaches for guidance and support.

William Banting claims he lost 50 pounds on his diet. And the RMR website features testimonials and success stories from advocates. But that doesn't mean this diet is right for everyone.

Cons

  • Restrictive: Nutritionists warn against diets like these that cut out so many foods. It's not easy to adhere to such a specific set of parameters for the long term. Even in the "preservation" or maintenance phase, many foods (including all whole grains) are still off-limits or nearly so.
  • Lacks evidence: While research shows that low-carb diets can be effective for weight loss, there is not a lot of scientific research supporting the Banting approach, specifically. One study did show that hypothetical low-carb, high-fat meal plans could be made nutritionally sound and support weight loss.
  • Sustainability: Since long-term evidence supporting low carb diets (in general) and the Banting diet (specifically) is lacking it unclear whether or not this type of diet is sustainable for the long-term. In fact, a recent research review of studies involving low carb diets have mentioned that lack of sustainability is a key pitfall of this eating style.

Is the Banting Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Banting diet has a lot in common with other low-carb plans. But some emphasize replacing carbs with fat, while others focus more on protein.

For instance, on a ketogenic diet, the ranges of carbs, protein, and fats are about the same as Banting. While they are not expressly banned, grains and many fruits are pretty much out since carb limits are so low.

As with Banting, the focus is on meats, fatty fish, and less-starchy vegetables. The paleo diet is about 20% carbs (more than Banting), 40% fats, and 40% protein (significantly more than Banting). As with the other low-carb plans, sugars and grains are out; legumes and processed foods are, too. Dairy is limited. Since the carbohydrate allotments are so low on these diets, followers will have to reduce their intake of vegetables, which could lead to nutrient deficiencies.

The Sugar Busters diet suggests eating about 40% carbs from high-fiber, low-glycemic foods), 30 percent fats, and 30% protein. Rather than strictly cutting carbs, Sugar Busters cuts out foods with a high glycemic index. That means whole grains are OK, but refined carbs (such as in white bread) and added sugars are not, making it potentially more sustainable than Banting.

Current dietary guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggest eating a well-rounded diet that includes protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products. The Banting diet as interpreted by the Real Meal Revolution plan eliminates whole grains and limits dairy products and some fruits, which is contrary to federal guidelines.

In addition, the USDA advises that added sugars should not exceed 10% of daily calories. This aligns with the Banting plan since it eliminates added sugars. However, this does not account for foods containing naturally occurring sugars such as fruit, which a part of a balanced diet. The Banting diet allows for some low-sugar, low-carb fruits in moderation.

While the USDA no longer sets a limit on total fat consumption, current guidelines do advise limiting consumption of saturated fats to less than 10% of daily calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends even less, around 5–6% of daily calories from saturated fats. Given the high-fat nature of the Banting diet, it could be easy for some people to exceed the recommended limit. Saturated fats are found in many common foods including butter, ghee, coconut oil, fatty cuts of meat, bacon, sausage, cheese, and sour cream.

For a healthy, sustainable approach to weight loss, experts recommend consuming around 1,500 calories a day, but this number varies based on a number of factors such as age, sex, weight, and level of physical activity. Though there is no calorie counting on the Banting diet, many people benefit from monitoring their caloric intake for both weight loss and weight management. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories you need each day to meet your goals.

The Banting diet restricts nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains and suggests higher fat intake than what is often advised. Depending on the individual circumstances, this type of eating plan is generally not recommended by nutrition experts as a sustainable, long-term way of eating most of the time.

Health Benefits

Though the Banting diet lacks sufficient scientific evidence, some small studies have indicated a potential for weight loss.

For instance, a 2019 study compared very-low, low-, and moderate-carbohydrate diets (all with high fat). Results showed that only about half the participants, across all three groups, were able to complete the 12-week diet, and of those, the low and moderate carb groups were better able to stick with the number of carbs the diets allocated them. All three groups showed similar amounts of weight loss and other positive health indicators.

But another study found no difference in weight loss between a low-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet and a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet in a small group of patients with type 2 diabetes.

Health Risks

Short-term weight loss is common on low-carb diets, but studies show that similar diets like keto are not a sustainable weight loss solution. It can be challenging to cut out entire groups of foods and to continue eating this way indefinitely.

The average American consumes more than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fats, which health experts warn is too much. The Banting diet is very high in fat, which could put some people at risk for developing heart disease.

In addition, research shows that people following low-carb diets often develop nutrient deficiencies in minerals like iron and magnesium,which are found in whole grains.

A Word From Verywell

If you are considering the Banting diet, it's a good idea to educate yourself with books and other materials. But more importantly, check with your doctor first, especially if you have any health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Your doctor's insight about diet and your health will help you make an informed decision about what eating (and exercise) plan is best for your body.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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