Two salmon fillets on a bed of salad

What is the Banting diet?

What is the Banting diet and is it safe and effective for weight loss? What can you eat on the diet? And who shouldn’t try it? We asked a nutritionist.

If you’ve ever considered following a weight loss diet, make sure you have all the facts first. Here, nutritionist Kerry Torrens takes a look at the Banting diet.

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What is the Banting diet?

Unlike most weight loss diets, the Banting diet has a long history, first prescribed as far back as 1862, it was adopted by an obese patient called William Banting. The first of many low-carb programmes, the Banting diet promotes the use of fat stores as fuel. Buoyed on by his weight loss success, William Banting wrote a pamphlet, now thought to be the first diet book, to spread the word about this low-carb/high-fat (LCHF) approach to shifting stubborn pounds.

More recently a South African scientist, Tim Noakes, has adapted the original Banting diet and documented his version in a book titled the Real Meal Revolution.

How does the Banting diet work?

The original diet included four meals a day which comprised protein such as meat or fish with a restricted carb portion of about 25-30 grams, plus one piece of fruit as a snack or pudding. Unsurprisingly, bread, beans, butter, milk, sugar and potatoes were heavily restricted.

Tim Noakes’ revised the original Banting diet into four distinct phases designed to lead the dieter to a new pattern of eating. The updated version has more than a passing resemblance to the keto diet, it continues to restrict carbs to 5-10 per cent of daily calories, with 65-90 per cent from fat and 10-35 per cent from protein. The plan is set out as follows:

Phase 1: observation – for one week you continue to eat your existing diet, without change, but you keep a comprehensive food diary to help you recognise how your body responds to the food you eat.

Phase 2: restoration – for the next 2-12 weeks, depending on how much weight loss is needed, you follow a restoration phase which is designed to restore gut health and acclimatise you to the Banting way. During this phase you’ll start to follow the food lists, avoiding all foods from the red and light red lists and relying on those on the green and orange lists. By sticking to the food lists you won’t need to calorie count or control your portion sizes.

Phase 3: transformation – this phase goes one step further, with the aim being to achieve ketosis. This is the toughest stage and the one closest to the original Banting diet. You will be required to stick only to the green list of foods. Lasting for as long as it takes you to reach your goal weight, you’ll also be encouraged to implement lifestyle modifications including exercise, intermittent fasting and meditation.

Phase 4: preservation – the final phase lasts indefinitely and starts as soon as you reach your goal weight. The phase is more flexible, allowing the re-introduction of some foods, such as those from the orange list. By now you’ll have a better understanding of the foods which work for you and your weight maintenance, allowing you to personalise your plan and sustain your weight loss goals.

What foods can I include on the Banting diet?

 The Banting diet encourages you to avoid highly processed foods and eat more whole foods, whilst limiting gluten, starches, dairy and caffeine.

The foods you can eat without restriction are documented on the green list and include food such as:

  • Vegetables including leafy greens, cruciferous veg, onions and shallots, rhubarb, mushrooms and fennel
  • Fruits including lemon and lime, tomatoes and olives
  • Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and cheese
  • Fermented foods including kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut
  • Fats such as avocado, butter, ghee and cream
  • Condiments including vinegar, soy sauce or tamari
  • Caffeine-free drinks including herbal teas, flavoured and plain water

The 0range list includes foods which are nutritionally good for you, but which the diet believes should be eaten in moderation, at least until you reach your weight loss goal. These include foods such as:

  • Nuts
  • Dairy including milk, yogurt and soured cream
  • Fruits including apples, banana, berries and oranges
  • Vegetables including beetroot, squash, sweetcorn, carrots and potatoes
  • Legumes and pulses
  • Fermented foods such as kombucha
  • Drinks including caffeinated tea and coffee

What foods do I need to avoid on the Banting diet?

 The diet restricts starchy, processed and sugary foods and has two ‘red’ avoid lists. The light red list includes foods you should hardly ever consume, examples of these include:

  • Smoothies and juices
  • Treats and chocolate including dried fruit, honey and high-cocoa chocolate (over 80% cocoa)
  • Gluten-free grains such as oats, quinoa, rice and buckwheat
  • Flours including gram and rice flours

The red list includes the foods you should never eat. Examples of these include:

  • Fast food, chips, foods with added sugar as well as sweetened condiments including ketchup
  • Sweets – all confectionery and non-dark chocolates, jam, golden syrup
  • Gluten – barley, couscous, orzo, rye, semolina, spelt and wheat
  • Grain-based foods such as breakfast cereal and crackers
  • Dairy-related – coffee creamers, commercial cheese spreads, condensed milk and ice cream
  • Fats – processed spreads, corn oil, margarine and sunflower oil
  • Processed meats – highly processed sausages and meats cured with sugar
  • Drinks – energy drinks, soft drinks, commercial juices and milkshakes

What are the potential benefits of following the Banting diet?

Studies suggest that when we significantly restrict the carbs in our diet we stimulate the body to use fat for energy, this appears to have a number of beneficial effects including:

  1. Weight loss – because the diet promotes fat burning, weight loss and improvements in body mass index (BMI) may be achieved, with men being especially successful;
  2. Better energy – fat burning preserves muscle energy, and as a result may enhance exercise performance and endurance;
  3. Better blood sugar control thanks to reduced fasting insulin levels, which may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes;
  4. Reduced risk of heart disease due to lower levels of fats (triglycerides) and cholesterol circulating in the blood stream, which may also have a beneficial effect on blood pressure;
  5. Improved appetite control – reduced levels of triglycerides appears to have a positive effect on the hormone leptin, which allows us to get back in touch with our hunger signals;
  6. Improved sleep – this may be an indirect benefit from weight loss or may be because LCHF diets appear to promote a brain chemical called adenosine which helps regulate sleep.

The new Banting diet may have additional benefits over other LCHF diets because it combines a number of dietary strategies, including practicing intermittent fasting, mindfulness and making lifestyle changes to support your new eating plan.

Is the Banting diet safe to follow in the long-term?

 Although William Banting went on to live as a slim man for a further two decades, there’s no formal evidence on the safety of the Banting diet when conducted long-term. There’s also limited human evidence to support the safety of LCHF diets in general and especially over a long period. Extended use of a LCHF plan may potentially put lean body mass at risk and may increase calcium loss, which impacts bone health. Clearly more studies are needed to clarify the implications of following such a plan over the medium- or longer-term.

Following a diet which restricts food groups can make compliance challenging, this may be especially relevant for vegetarians or vegans. Banting restricts foods such as whole-grains and limits legumes, nuts, dairy and some fruits, all of which have a proven record for helping to reduce the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers and, of course, form the foundation of a lot of vegetarian diets.

Who shouldn’t follow the Banting diet?

It is advisable to refer to your GP or healthcare professional before starting any new dietary regime especially if you are under 18 years old, elderly, have a pre-existing medical condition or are on medication.

Last words

The updated Banting diet offers a dietary toolkit combining a number of weight loss strategies which are over and above the main LCHF plan. These include intermittent fasting, exercise and mindfulness and may help set you up for weight loss success. That said, whilst adopting the plan’s principles it would be wise to follow a moderate rather than low-carb diet, doing so is likely to offer a more sustainable approach to healthy weight management.

If you are considering attempting any form of diet, please consult your GP to ensure you can do so without risk to health.


This article was published on 4 Jan 2021.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a BANT Registered Nutritionist® with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

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