Tim Noakes takes Banting to the SA townships


In a Cape Town township, Nasreen Riley cooks up butter-fried chicken livers in a full-cream tomato sauce as part of the controversial "Banting" diet, mostly eaten in wealthier suburbs.

The Banting Diet which involves cutting out bread, rice, pasta and sugar – in favour of meat, butter, cheese and cream – is now being introduced to South Africa's poorest neighbourhoods where obesity is a major problem.

"A lot of my clothes are now baggy. My skin has got better. People compliment me; they can see the difference," said Riley, a 42-year-old office administrator, who has lost 7 kilograms in eight weeks.

Behind the drive to spread Banting is Euodia Sampson, a South African actress and TV personality who is a strong supporter of the diet, and Professor Tim Noakes, author of the Real Meal Revolution.  

Earlier this year, they linked up with a gym group in Cape Town's township of Ocean View and signed up 40 volunteers.

Read: Ocean View tries out the Banting lifestyle

"My main mission was to get rid of the idea that it's an elitist diet because of the cream and the steaks and the cheeses," Sampson, 46, said.

"What Banting is for me is going back to the way our grandparents and great-grandparents ate."

Buying food for the diet can cost just R30 a day per person, and the programme wants to show that it is affordable using cheap meat cuts such as livers, kidneys, pancreas, brains, bone marrow and pig trotters.

Read: Low-carb Banting recipes

"The diet is in fact the diet of our ancestors," Noakes told AFP.

"It's what we used to eat well before processed foods came along, before the industrial diet was forced upon us (and) they said we must start eating lots of carbohydrates in the form of cereals and grains."

Read: What our ancestors ate

Health risks of Banting

There are fierce critics who say that Banting, which has a huge following in Europe and the United States, is a crash diet that doesn't produce long-term weight loss and could have health consequences because of imbalanced nutrients and high meat consumption.

Professor Tess van der Merwe, a Pretoria-based endocrinologist and obesity expert, says that a high fat diet can cause diabetes, heart disease and liver cirrhosis, and has been linked to cancer.

She criticised Noakes for trying to "influence a whole subset of the population... who may be desperate for any form of help, which makes them vulnerable and gullible.

"For a household face to go and influence a whole subset of the population to almost follow him in a slave-like manner; I have a huge moral problem with it," she said.

Affordable and accessible to lower income groups

A few streets from Nasreen Riley's house, Darrol Fowkes, 42, an unemployed father of two, has lost 10 kilograms in five weeks on the Banting plan.

He breaks two raw eggs into a glass, adds fresh cream and gulps it down.

"That's my breakfast, and I can go for the whole day (without eating)," he said.

"I have tried every type of diet... and it didn't work, but this one, I can feel it is working."

The Ocean View Banting club, which is an informal group with no membership fees, meets twice each week at the gym, and also exchanges messages on Whatapps and Facebook to share recipes and encouragement.

After eight weeks, many said they have lost weight or even gone off their blood pressure and diabetes medication – though not always with the permission of their doctors.

Obesity crisis in SA townships

Sampson and Noakes now plan to introduce the diet in other Cape Town townships, including Delft and Lavender Hill, some of the city's most disadvantaged and crime-ridden areas.

Township residents often have bad diets, with chips, cornmeal porridge, bread and parboiled rice supplemented by cheap fast food.

According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa is the fattest nation in sub-Saharan Africa, with one in four people being obese.

"Banting is really making a connection point with these ladies," said Samson, who is a motivational coach and therapist as well as an actress.

"Most of them remember when we ate real food. We drank full cream milk and people used fat. So it wasn't difficult to convince these ladies. Banting is not a diet, it is a lifestyle.

"We want to spread it throughout South Africa."

This radical eating plan is named after William Banting, an Englishman who first popularised it in the 1860s. Other variations include "the Atkins diet" named after US cardiologist Robert Atkins in the 1970s, and the "Paleo diet" – also based on supposedly ancient eating habits.

Noakes hit back at his critics, saying they don't understand how nutrition-induced diseases are ravaging South Africa's poor.

"They don't go out into the community to see what's happening; they are not the people sawing off the legs of diabetics in hospitals. Heart disease is a minor problem... the (real) problem is diabetes," he said.

"These women went on this diet... they started to get healthy.

"But most importantly they felt better, and for the first time in their lives they took control, and that is what they really felt empowered by."

Read more:

10 golden rules of Banting

Why you may not lose weight on the Tim Noakes Banting diet

Could the Banting diet help with ADHD?

Image: Shutterstock

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