Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Nutrition Science, Research & Innovations

New research could debunk banting diet

Written by Wilma Stassen

Celebrity Professor Tim Noakes popular low-carbohydrate “banting” diet is neither healthier nor better for dropping kilos than a balanced weight-loss diet, according to a Stellenbosch University (SU) study released yesterday.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa points out that the fats promoted in Noakes’s popular The Real Meal Revolution cookbook are mostly “bad fats” like saturated animal fats like lard and butter.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa points out that the fats promoted in Noakes’s popular The Real Meal Revolution cookbook are mostly “bad fats” like saturated animal fats like lard and butter.

Published in the international PLOS ONE journal yesterday, the SU study reviewed the result of 19 international scientific trials.

As part of these trials, about 3200 participants were placed either on low-carbohydrate or balanced weight loss diets. Studies lasted between three months and two years, and measured the diets’ impacts on risk factors related to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The study showed that fad banting diets that drastically restricted carbohydrate intake in favour of fats resulted in weight loss by restricting caloric intake – not by lowering the amount of carbohydrates consumed.

“This study shows that when the amount of energy consumed by people following the low carbohydrate and balanced diets was similar, there was no difference in weight loss,” says lead researcher, Dr Celeste Naude, from the Centre for Evidence-based Health Care at SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Based on these findings the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa and other health groups are warning the public about the possible health risks associated with banting.

“Decades of research have shown the balanced diet to be safe and healthy in the long term, and along with a healthy lifestyle, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers,” says Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa CEO Dr Vash Munghal-Singh. “We do not have similar proof that a low-carbohydrate diet is safe and healthy in the long term, and some studies already point towards an increased risk of heart disease and death with low carbohydrate diets.”

Chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes develop over many years of exposure to risk factors,” she tells Health-e News. “The follow-up of the trials included in the review is no longer than two years, which is too short to provide an adequate picture of the long term risk of following a low carbohydrate diet.”

“Based on the current evidence we cannot recommend a low-carbohydrate diet to the public,” Munghal-Singh concludes.

Noakes stands by fad diet sweeping South Africa

[quote float=”right”]“Based on the current evidence we cannot recommend a low-carbohydrate diet to the public”

Carbohydrates comprise at least 45 percent of a balanced diet. Protein should make up between 20 to 35 percent of daily calories with the reminder being derived from fats.

A balanced weight loss diet restricts energy intake in each of these categories, while maintaining the recommended balance between carbohydrates, protein and fat. International research has shown that a balanced weight loss diet ensures dieters meet nutrient requirements and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.

But Noakes argues that a high fat and protein diet has been known to reduce hunger leading to less food intake and thus less energy intake. He argues this diet is the easiest to follow.

“Unless the diet takes away hunger it will not produce the change in lifestyle necessary to sustain weight loss,” Noakes told Health-e News. “Low carb (diets) take away hunger in a way that no other diet does, that’s why it is the easiest diet to follow and the most effective.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa admits that certain fat, particularly the mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, fish and certain seeds and nuts, are beneficial to heart health.

But the foundation points out that the fats promoted in Noakes’s popular The Real Meal Revolution cookbook are mostly saturated fats like animal fats such as lard and butter, which have linked to high cholesterol and in turn increased heart disease and stroke risks.

The Association for Dietetics in South Africa also stressed that there is no “ideal” weight loss diet and that individual factors need to be considered when giving nutritional advice.

According to the association’s spokesperson Maryke Gallagher, effective weight loss strategies should take into account personalised factors like health status, physical activity, attitude towards food and stress levels.

“These factors will all affect the outcome of any dietary strategy,” Gallagher says.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the 10 July editions of the Cape Times and The Mercury newspapers.

About the author

Wilma Stassen

Wilma Stassen is a reporter at Health-e News Service. She focuses on non-communicable diseases. Follow her on Twitter @Lawim

9 Comments

  • Dear Wilma, As far as I understand from several sources is cholesterol problems associated with “broken” fat molecules, e.g. grow hormones in cattle brakes up the fat molecules (color of fat changes).In chickens it is even worse. I do not buy homogenized milk for the same reason. If one has cholesterol problems STOP eating the WRONG fats. The pills for lowering the cholesterol do NOT increase your live span, not eating the wrong fats does. Regards, Frits Ypenburg

  • Please direct me to the link for the original article on PlosOne. Additionally, a few questions: “low carbohydrate diets” are referred and termed “Banting”. These are not necessarily synonymous – did the “low carb diets” include a high fat element (+70%) as THIS is Banting? What outcomes were measured apart from body mass – as this is focussed on, but is hardly the most important health outcome that Noakes is highlighting when he talks about Banting as important for health benefits. Additionally, what was the insulin resistance or insulin sensitivity of the participants in these trials at the outset? Those who are resistant to insulin and thus greatly affected by carbohydrates would see benefit, those who are healthy and have a normal glucose response will not show great body mass loss as the chances are they don’t carry additional mass. What exercise were these groups doing? What medication were they taking? –> I’m sure all my questions would be answered by the original manuscript, unfortunately this article only links to the PloSOne site, at which point searching for “Banting” articles raises over 200 options.

    Articles such as this which do not consider the complexity of the argument or the two dietary plans serve only to mislead the public and do nothing to add to the knowledge base surrounding the debate. Use of the word “debunk” in your title is inflammatory (no pun intended!) as it suggests that Noakes is promoting “quackery” which he is patently not, if one takes time to read the studies and works he cites. Volek, Phinney, and more recently, Taubes, and Nina Teichholz’s Big Fat Surprise should educate one on the fact that this is not a “myth” to summarily “debunk”, but a serious option that has not been properly considered. What Noakes is asking is that this idea be given the time of day – and scientists and medical professionals should be open-minded enough to heed this challenge. Instead, what we are seeing are narrow-minded reactions and derision.

    High fat eating may not turn out to be the be all and end all. Nobody has said it will be. But what it and the scientists who are asking us to pay some attention to it DO deserve is respect and equal consideration.

      • Only 9 of the 19 studies reviewed in this study are actually the “high fat” version of low-carbohydrate diets. As far as I know the “Noakes diet” is the high-fat version.

        To interpret the study’s results the way it has been done on this site is therefor incorrect and misleading. If only the high fat version of lc diets formed part of the study the above reporting might have been defend-able. Even then the title might just as well have been ‘Review of studies on lc diets proves its safety’.

        I find it amusing that that study after study proves the safety of the lchf diet but there is often remarks similar to the “The follow-up of the trials included in the review is no longer than two years, which is too short to provide an adequate picture of the long term risk of following a low carbohydrate diet.”

        Is there an expectation that although these studies prove that lc diets lead to improved blood pressure, cholesterol etc. (at worst in the same way as a ‘balanced’ diet), that these indicators will over time somehow deteriorate?

  • I do see a problem with this research, which is that it classified ‘low carb’ as <45% of the energy in the diet. I doubt that any scientist or medic serious about this diet would call that low carb – they're rather looking at 20-50 GRAMS of carb per day. There's a few papers doing the comparison between very low carb and low fat, but until we see masses of it, the jury remains out.

  • Postscript: someone kindly forwarded me the manuscript, which is a good meta-analysis, well managed by the researchers, with a clear and honest methodology and clear outcomes. However, what the manuscript reports scientifically, and what is reported in the article do not match entirely. Hence, my comment is certainly not about the quality of the meta-analysis done by the scientists, but rather, about the interpretation thereof.

  • Thanks Laura – I’d managed to track it down 🙂 Emm – absolutely. Anything more than 50 g/day of carbs is not “Banting”, similarly, fat % lower than 70 % can’t really be termed “high fat”, and the meta-analysis included studies that did not achieve these parameters. Of particular note and it is well noted by the analysis’ authors was that of the studies included, nearly half (certainly five, with four additional) were sponsored by industry…. A red flag in this case!

  • And the Heart and Stroke Foundation is sponsored by several pharmaceutical companies (read: let’s protect our statin sales by sponsoring some ‘research’ “) as well as Sunfoil (read:”ouch, the move to butter is killing our margarine/veg oil sales, let’s sponsor some ‘research ‘”)