Patrick Holford: banting is dangerous

Tim Noakes
Tim Noakes
Russel Wasserfall
Lately whether you are about talking food, health or sports you can be guaranteed the name Tim Noakes will feature in the conversation. The controversial professor from the University of Cape Town’s Sports Science Institute has ignited an eating rebellion which has seen thousands of South African’s converting to his “banting diet” with the zealousness akin to a cult following.

Read: 10 golden rules of banting

But herein lies the problem – Noakes’ new dieting regime is not designed for the average “South African-Joe”. It is a specific eating plan, intended for diabetics and those at risk of developing type-2 diabetes whose bodies have lost the ability to control their blood sugar levels, and not for the mainstream says internationally celebrated nutritional advisor Patrick Holford.

Read: What Tim Noakes eats

Holford who advocates a low GL approach to healthy eating – where slow-releasing carbohydrates are eaten together with proteins and a plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds, says the “banting” diet is not sustainable in the long term.

“The reason why this approach works is that these very low carb diets really do stabilize your blood sugar- and that’s the key. While it is a step in the right direction it isn’t enough to make a big difference in the long term. One step further is the low-GL diet, which factors in both the quality of carbs and the quantity, which has the net effect of stabilizing blood sugar but without the extreme restriction on carbohydrates,” says Holford.

“By eating a carbohydrate-free/very low diet, a diabetic may be able to kick-start the correct functioning of the pancreas which controls the levels of insulin in the bloodstream,” he said.

However Holford cautioned that this type of extreme diet is only advised for a few weeks and under strict medical supervision, as the very real risks associated with a very low-carbohydrate diet include breast cancer, decreased bone mass, added stress on the kidneys and low moods as we rely on carbohydrates for energy “to feel good”.

The Harvey/ Banting diet is not new and first made its appearance in 1861 when the low carbohydrate principal for weight loss was made popular by the successful weight loss of a hugely overweight undertaker named William Banting under the supervision of the surgeon William Harvey. It was then rediscovered and “re-invented” by Dr Robert Atkins in 1974 which saw people all over the world converting to the Atkins diet.

Here in SA, Noakes who discovered four years ago he is “carbohydrate- resistant” with a predisposition to developing adult-onset diabetes thanks to his genetics and to years of advocating a high-carbohydrate, low fat approach to health switched to the “banting” way of life and has reported a significant improvement in his health and is at his lightest weight in over 20 years. His book based on this personal journey called The Real Meal Revolution has reportedly sold over 100 000 copies and subsequently created a dieting-regime adopted by young and old throughout SA.

“The reason why this eating plan has been so extraordinarily effective in my case is because it matches precisely my particular biological needs,” says Noakes.

And in a further move, last week a study by Stellenbosch University declared the “banting” diet no more effective for weight loss than other diets. Published in the international PLOS ONE journal, the study reviewed the results of 19 international scientific trials which found that Noakes’ “banting” diet neither healthier nor better for weight loss than a balanced weight-loss diet.

Read: Tim Noakes' Eating Plan vs Balanced weight loss diets

Following the findings both the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA and the Association for Dietetics in SA together with various other health groups including the Scientific Advisory Board on Weight Management in the UK, of which Holford is a member, have issued warnings of possible health risks associated with this diet.

Noakes’ himself agrees that this diet is not for everyone and says that he has been misquoted by the media and mis-interpreted by people who are unhappy with the state of their health.

In a recent media interview he told health journalist Marika Sboros “What I have said is: it will benefit you, if you are insulin resistant – and in my view, most people are these days. I also say if you avoid processed foods, focus on fats, and eat real food from the green list (in The Real Meal Revolution), your health will benefit. If you are insulin resistant, it is absolutely clear you must reduce your carbohydrates or your long-term health will suffer. That applies to everyone. I’ve never said it any other way”.

His defence, however, seems to be falling on deaf ears as the “banting way” is sweeping through SA like a raging fire and causing concern among the health fraternity.

Holford reiterates “It is important for individuals to find the diet approach that works for them. The big downside of most low carb diets is their reliance on animal and dairy protein. A high intake of these is linked to increased cancer risk, especially of the breast and prostate. That is what makes me cautious of following low carb diets on a long-term basis”.

Holford goes on to say “I am not against low carb low GL diets. They have their place, but I see no evidence that they more effective than the low GL approach which is much easier to stick with in the long term, and plenty of evidence of potential risks, certainly long-term. In the UK the fad for low carb diets has been and gone, but in South Africa, it seems that Professor Tim Noakes' diet has really brought this approach to the forefront again”.

Holford was in SA in October 2014 presenting a series of seminars and Health Transformation workshops in JHB, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.

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