In 1861, English surgeon William Harvey helped a clinically-obese undertaker called William Banting achieve dramatic weight-loss and improve a number of related health conditions by cutting back on refined carbohydrates. The eating plan, known as the Harvey-Banting Diet, became standard treatment in nearly all major European and North American medical establishments until the late 1950s, when it was replaced by its complete opposite – the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet which subsequently became generally-accepted practice.
Dr Robert Atkins rediscovered the low-carbohydrate, grain-free, high-fat approach in 1974, and in a sense both Paleo and “Banting” as we know them today are extensions of his work. Both take a holistic lifestyle approach to weight loss, promoting a complete change in long-term eating behaviour rather than a “quick fix” solution. Both encourage you to choose only real foods that look like what they are, and to cook them from scratch; both recommend paying more attention to your body, eating only when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full and avoiding snacking.
As we all know, Banting has taken South Africa by storm, mostly thanks to the work and writings of Tim Noakes since 2009 and the publication of his best-selling book The Real Meal Revolution in 2013. Noakes proposes wholesale transition to a high-fat, medium-protein, low-carb way of eating: absolutely no sugar, no grains of any kind, no high-carbohydrate vegetables and no – or extremely little – fruit, with strong emphasis on natural fats and moderate (not excessive!) amounts of protein, mostly from animal sources. Once you get the addictive sugar and carbs out of your diet, says Noakes, your brain will automatically regulate the number of kilojoules you need and your body weight will return to what it’s meant to be.
The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman, Stone Age or hunter-gatherer diet, is based on the idea that the human body is not designed for consuming large amounts of processed foods high in sugar, sodium and refined carbs and that ignoring this fact is the cause of our rapidly-increasing rates of “diseases of civilisation” like obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes. A Paleo eating plan consists of relatively high levels of strictly natural fats, lots of vegetables, moderate amounts of protein mostly from animal sources, and low to moderate levels of carbohydrates found naturally in whole foods like (some) fruits. Sugar, with the exception of small amounts from natural sweeteners like honey and agave, is banned.
Apart from a slightly different attitude to fruit (you’re allowed more on Paleo than you are on Banting), the most obvious difference between the two approaches is in respect of dairy products. Strict Paleo proponents forbid dairy altogether, on the grounds that historically-speaking it’s a relatively recent addition to our diet. The Real Meal Revolution, recognising that full-fat dairy is a good source of saturated fats, proteins and carbs, allows for limited careful consumption of butter, milk and yoghurt, preferably unprocessed versions, unless of course you experience specific intolerances to dairy – these can include bloating or other digestive problems, sinus conditions and sore joints.
In the end, there’s no doubt that changing your way of eating – and the quality of the food you consume – can significantly improve your health and greatly enhance your energy levels and overall quality of life as well as helping you lose weight. Both Paleo and Banting can bring major successes in these areas. Perhaps the most important lesson to take from both is to learn to pay more attention to our bodies and to eat more mindfully.
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