What Is the Banting Diet?

In This Article

Close up of fresh seafood salad in lettuce cups
Close up of fresh seafood salad in lettuce cups. Getty Images/Trinette Reed

Low-carb diets are nothing new, but if we go way back, over a century ago, we can find the originator. William Banting (1796-1878) started a low carbohydrate diet at his doctor's behest after struggling with obesity. The diet Banting advocated would be familiar to anyone following a low-carb diet today, emphasizing meats, vegetables, and fruits, and avoiding sugar and starch.

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

Background

Banting is at once a person, a diet, and a verb. Banting is usually credited with authoring and promoting the first published version of a low-carbohydrate diet, after he cured himself of obesity. He wrote a booklet called "Letter on Corpulence" which became extremely popular, to the point where "banting" was a term for dieting, with an accompanying verb, "to bant."

Recently, the term "Banting" has become popular again, particularly in South Africa, mainly due to the work of Tim Noakes, 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. But this differs from Banting's approach.

How It Works

In his booklet, Banting described eating four meals a day and avoiding bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and starchy vegetables: potatoes, parsnips, beets, carrots, and turnips. Noakes' interpretation expands on William Banting's plan significantly. In Real Meal Revolution (RMR) and on his website, Noakes advocates a low-carb, high-fat diet and a phased 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 to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Meat, seafood, and eggs

  • Most vegetables

  • Some fermented foods

  • Some dairy products

  • Certain oils

  • Herbs, spices and herbal tea

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Any foods containing gluten

  • Gluten-free grains, grain products, and flours

  • Any foods containing added sugar

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Seed and vegetable oils

The RMR Banting diet classifies foods as "green" (eat as much as you want; the compliant foods listed above), "orange" (eat moderately; there are special rules about these for each phase), "light red" (eat "hardly ever"), "really red" (never, ever eat; the non-compliant foods list above is from both "red" lists), and "grey" (it's complicated).

Meat, Seafood, and Eggs

Noakes says to eat as much of these 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

Noakes calls these "fertilizers" and includes kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and naturally fermented pickles on the green list. Kombucha is orange.

Oils

While Banting 1.0 didn't take a stand on oils (or many other foods), this Banting 2.0 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).

Recommended Timing

William Banting advocated eating four slightly smaller than usual meals per day. Noakes says 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).

Resources and Tips

Noakes has two books plus a website that followers of this diet can use for reference. The RMR food lists are long and not always intuitive. They are also subject to change, but you can download the latest editions at the RMR website, along with recipes and meal plans.

Modifications

The RMR Banting diet is already gluten-free, so it works for people who cannot consume gluten. Noakes says that vegetarians and even vegans could follow his 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.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Phased plan allows customization

  • No carb or calorie counting

Cons

  • Restrictive

  • Little scientific evidence

Pros

Customized

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 users 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.

William Banting successfully lost 50 pounds on his diet. And the RMR website features testimonials from happy users. 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 hard to live within such a specific set of parameters. Even in the "preservation" or maintenance phase, many foods (including all whole grains) are still off-limits or nearly so.

Little Evidence

There is not a lot of scientific research specifically supporting the Banting approach. One study showed that hypothetical low-carb, high-fat meal plans could be made nutritionally sound. But another 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.

A third small study compared very-low, low-, and moderate-carbohydrate diets (all with high fat). Only about half the study 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 did show similar amounts of weight lost and other health indicators.

How It Compares

You will notice similarities between the Banting diet and other low-carb plans.

USDA Recommendations

The USDA suggests eating a balanced diet that includes protein, fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy products. The Banting diet, especially as interpreted by Tim Noakes in Real Meal Revolution, eliminates or sharply limits several of those food groups.

Similar Diets

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.

Banting Diet

  • Macronutrient makeup: The Banting plan (at least as outlined in Real Meal Revolution) is about 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates (depends on the phase and each person's individual response to carbs), 15 to 20 percent protein, and 70 to 75 percent fats.
  • Food choices: Sugar and gluten are completely eliminated. Other grains are very limited. Most vegetables and animal proteins are included.
  • Practicality: While carb and calorie counting aren't required, the RMR food lists 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 their rules for life.

Keto Diet

  • Macronutrient makeup: Ranges of carbs, protein, and fats on a ketogenic diet are about the same as Banting.
  • Food choices: 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.
  • Practicality: You'll need to be able to at least keep an eye on the carb counts in your food to make sure you're within your limits. And it can be hard to transition from a carb-heavy, traditional American diet to one that concentrates on fats instead. Short-term weight loss is common, but the jury is out on long-term sustainability.

Paleo Diet

  • Macronutrient makeup: The paleo diet is about 20 percent carbs (so more than Banting), 40 percent fats, and 40 percent protein (again, significantly more than Banting).
  • Food choices: As with the other low-carb plans, sugars and grains are out; legumes and processed foods are, too. Dairy is limited.
  • Practicality: The lists of "yes" and "no" foods are shorter here and easier to grasp. And there is no calorie counting. But it's challenging to cut out big groups of foods and to continue eating this way indefinitely.

Sugar Busters Diet

  • Macronutrient makeup: The Sugar Busters diet creators suggest eating about 40 percent carbs (but these should from be high-fiber, low-glycemic foods), 30 percent fats, and 30 percent protein.
  • Food choices: Rather than strictly cutting carbs, the Sugar Busters diet examines the glycemic index of foods and cuts out those that are highly glycemic. So whole grains are OK, but refined carbs (such as in white bread) and added sugars are not. Most fruits and vegetables are permitted, but certain ones believed to be highly glycemic are disallowed.
  • Practicality: This diet is more nutritionally balanced than some other low-carb plans, and doesn't require counting carbs or calories. So it may be easier to follow. But experts say cutting out otherwise healthy foods (like bananas, pineapples, and many root vegetables) isn't necessary.

A Word From Verywell

If you are considering the Banting diet, educate yourself with books and other materials first. But also, see your doctor before starting any new diet, 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.

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