Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tim Noakes Diet: Banting made simple

UPDATED: Strictly speaking, it’s not correct to call Cape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes’ low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet ‘Banting’, but he doesn’t mind if you do. The eponymous William Banting was fat – a heavily overweight, ailing British undertaker, and he ate low carbs on the advice of Dr William Harvey in 1862. Banting lost weight and felt great. Harvey wrote about it, but under pressure from medical colleagues, modified the diet into high-protein, low-fat. German physician Dr Wilhelm Ebstein took it to Europe, and changed to high-fat, low-carb after realising the key was replacing carbs with fat, not protein, as fat reduced hunger more effectively. So it’s more correct to call Noakes’ diet  ‘Ebstein’, or ‘ketogenic’. Banting may stick in SA, where it is a culinary ‘revolution’, with Banting restaurants, meals and products popping up all over the place.

That has had some doctors and dietitians frothing at the mouth, and looking on Noakes as SA’s next ‘Dr Death’. President of the Association for Dietetics in SA Claire Julsing Strydom has reported Noakes to the Health Professions Council of SA for telling a mother on Twitter that good foods for baby weaning are LCHF – in other words meat and veg. The hearing is looking like the nutrition equivalent of the Spanish inquisition, as  orthodoxy seeks to silence Noakes and his heretical views once and for all. Whether they will succeed is anyone’s guess. What’s more certain is that Banting is going global , as evidence piles up in favour of its safety and efficacy to treat insulin resistance and for weightloss. Here, Noakes gives clarifying fundamentals, followed by an Idiot’s Guide to his LCHF diet. 

By Marika Sboros

tim-noakesCape Town sports scientist Prof Tim Noakes is in great shape. At 65, after four years on his low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet, his energy levels are stratospheric; his running has improved spectacularly.

“I don’t run as fast as I ran in my 20s, but I’m running faster and further in training, and with more enjoyment than I did 20 years ago,” he says.

He hasn’t gained a gram of the 20kg he lost in the first two years on the diet, and his health has improved.  Noakes has type 2 diabetes (it’s in his family history) and developed it despite religiously eating the recommended high-carb, low-fat diet for 33 years that experts told him would prevent diabetes. He could probably do without medication to control it, but prefers to have “perfect blood glucose control’’.

He sleeps like a baby and no longer snores – for which wife Marilyn is deeply grateful – and no longer falls asleep in front of the TV. All other ailments – recurring bronchitis, rhinitis, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastric reflux for which he was considering surgery – have disappeared.

Controversy still peppers his diet, with some saying it’s unscientific and dangerous – and so is Noakes.  The science for and against LCHF and Noakes was scrutinised by an international gathering of top LCHF scientists and researchers at the low-carb, high-fat summit in Cape Town  from February 19 to 22. Noakes hosted the event  with Karen Thomson, granddaughter of the late pioneering cardiac surgeon Prof Chris Barnard, and the cream of international LCHF medical and scientific experts on the speakers’ panel.

Here he clarifies terminology  of his LCHF diet, and gives an Idiot’s Guide to getting started:

Is your diet Atkins?

No, Atkins is higher protein than ours. Ours is high-fat, moderate-protein.

Is it Paleo?

No. Paleo is low in carbs, but not as low as we go. It excludes cereals and dairy, but includes fruit, which we don’t, except for some berries that are high in nutrition and low in carbs.

Is it Banting?

It’s probably more correct to call it Ebstein – after German physician Dr Wilhelm Ebstein who first made it high-fat. That was the diet Sir William Osler promoted in his monumental textbook: The Principles and Practices of Medicine, published in the US in 1892. Anyone who claims Banting or Ebstein diets are fads simply knows nothing about medical nutrition history. Nutrition did not begin in 1977 as our students seem to be taught.

Any weighing of food on your diet?

No. That’s a joke. You can’t predict accurately the absolute calorie content of foods when eaten by humans. You don’t know how many calories each person needs. The only way to work that out is by weighing yourself. If your weight stays stable, you’re eating the same number of calories you are expending. If you are lean, that’ll probably be the correct number of calories for your body and activity level. There’s no other way remotely accurate enough to measure your calorie needs.

Is your diet extreme?

Only in that it’s extremely low in carbohydrate – the one nutrient for which humans have absolutely no essential requirement. In 1977, when we were told to eat diets extremely high in carbohydrates, human health started to fail on a global scale. Moderation is a smug, puritanical word. No mammal eats in moderation. In nature all diets are extreme – lions eat only meat, polar bears mainly fat, panda bears only bamboo shoots, giraffes only acacia leaves. Balance is what has worked for each of these species for millions of years.

Is it right for everyone?

No diet is right for everyone. LCHF is best for people who are insulin resistant.

Critics say the Tim Noakes diet is dangerous because of  high saturated fat. Is saturated fat ever a health threat?

It can be, in the presence of a high carbohydrate/sugar diet that causes elevated insulin concentrations due to the excessive carb intake. Insulin directs an altered metabolism, with the formation of the damaging oxidised (LDL) cholesterol that is probably a key component in heart disease.

So what’s the key?

To eat a diet that keeps blood insulin and glucose concentrations low, because elevated insulin concentrations especially  are linked to long-term health problems. We say: eat what your appetite directs you to. Once you cut the carbs we think your brain will tell you if you need more fat or protein. It’s about finding the balance that works for you.

On to the fundamentals when starting on your diet – what to cut out?

Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, pizza, sugar, all grains and cereals, processed, packaged, boxed, adulterated foods, cakes, sweets, biscuits, fizzy drinks, all the addictive things. Anything sweet and starchy has to go – and low-fat foods.

What to keep in?

Fat and protein. You can eat fat in relatively unlimited amounts, but only moderate protein. A healthy high-protein diet for humans doesn’t exist. If your diet was 100% protein, you’d quickly get sick and die. You can’t really overdose on fat; it reduces appetite, and it’s the best way to get over sugar addiction.

What are good protein sources?

Start with eggs, full-fat dairy, cheese, yoghurt – good fallback foods. Fish and chicken – with the skin, not battery fed – and some meat, preferably organic, or at least pasture-raised, not from animals raised in feed lots and fed grains, because that destroys the meat’s quality. Meat’s not a main focus, but we like lamb because it’s fatty and pasture fed. Boerwors is fine, but without cereal in it, and bacon, preferably not very smoked.

And good fat sources?

Butter, cream – ladle meat and veg with butter; put cream in  tea or coffee. Coconut oil, very healthy, everyone should have two tablespoons of it daily.  Avocados. Nuts – almonds, walnuts, pecan nuts, especially macadamia nuts, they are like drops of fat – all tree nuts. Not peanuts or cashews. They’re legumes, not nuts.

Dairy can be problematic?

Only for people with diarrhoea, lactose intolerance, or who battle to lose weight – that happens mostly to women. It may well be that fat increases their hunger rather than satisfies it. We don’t know if it’s just an effect of saturated fat in some people. The easiest way to cut fat in that case is to cut dairy, and eat other sources of fat, such as oily fish, and avocado.

What about vegetables?

All vegetables have carbohydrates, but we recommend those with lowest carb, highest Tim Noakes Real Meal Revolutionnutrient content: leafy greens such as kale, it’s one of the most nutritious vegetables; also cauliflower, broccoli, they’re on our green list – (in The Real Meal Revolution, co-authored by Jonno Proudfoot, Sally-Ann Creed and David Grier).

Can you be a vegetarian on your diet?

Yes, if you eat dairy products, but we advise adding eggs and fish. Vegetarians who cheat can be incredibly healthy.

You can’t be a vegan on your diet?

Well, I know a vegan athlete, a former professional cyclist who eats 80% fat in his diet – lots of coconut oil and avos. It’s an extreme diet, but it works for him. Clearly his gut flora can handle it. I met someonewho eats only raw meat. We don’t know what the bacteria in their guts are doing, and how those bacteria might compensate for what we might perceive as intake “deficiencies”.

What carb-fat-protein ratio is best?

Depends on how sick you are. If you’re diabetic, we say 20% to 30% protein, 60% to 70% fat, 5% carbs. The sicker you are, the more fat you need, because fat is insulin neutral. The more insulin resistant you are, the more fat you can eat, because even when the pancreas fails, fat is the only fuel you can metabolise safely without requiring insulin. It’s perfect for blood sugar control. We don’t tell people how many grams to eat, except for carbs – around 25g if you are really sick.

What about alcohol?

It’s a toxin, and slows weight loss on our diet significantly. We say: first lose the weight, and  reintroduce alcohol in small amounts if you must. The diet is a fine line. If you don’t fall on the right side of the fat, protein, carb ratio, just one apple, a beer or two glasses of wine will put you on the wrong side, and you will not enjoy the benefits you should from cutting carbs.

No sweet ‘cheat’ treats at all?

A small piece of dark chocolate is fine, but many people can’t eat just one small piece  – like smokers who can’t have one cigarette. The key is to get sugar out the diet. People don’t understand how addictive sugar is, or what it actually is – not just sucrose, the white stuff, also high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in processed foods. That’s what I classify as sugar, the really addictive one. If you can get people down to 25g of carbs a day for a few months with no added sugar, the brain no longer searches for sugar. That’s what makes our diet so successful.

And best snacks?

Nuts, biltong, cheese, coconut – I love coconut chips best of all. And fullcream yoghurt.

How often should you eat?

Depends on how sick or obese you are. I’m diabetic, so in my opinion the less frequently I eat the better. I eat a big breakfast, snack a little at two in the afternoon and eat dinner at seven.

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  • Johan Kruger

    Our family does this diet but not absolutely strictly. Worked wonders. Particularly cutting out gluten so rye, etc..

  • MyTwoCentSense

    No, as oats are a grain, and for the most part, carbs. Not only are we not built as humans to process grains like cattle and horses, we lack the enzymes. The worst thing is, the plant themselves (i.e. grain plants) give off chemicals to protect themselves from being eaten that we cannot see. With all the pesticides and GMO over the last 100 years, they have mutated, and these chemicals are extreme now. If you could see inside your intestines, it would look like sunburn, but as you do not have nerve endings there, you cannot feel it so readily. More than 90% of the population is allergic to any wheat or grain-based product, regardless of what the USDA promotes. Ditch the porridge, eat full fat yoghurt and berries with some honey. If you are more curious, there is a great book about why you should not eat wheat and wheat products called ‘Wheat Belly’. Also, read up a bit on primal or paleo eating here at Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple: Drink the full fat milk, if you need it, better would be yoghurt.
    Hope this helps!

  • MyTwoCentSense

    That is complete rubbish, and you are repeating internet crap! Dr.Atkins died at the ripe old age of 72, and he died from the results of a fall, not something connected to eating meat. His doctor said he had the heart and arteries of a very fit 25 year old man. His way of eating (in this since diet – not meaning something you try and quit to go back to the same nonsense from before) is what made him so healthy. Do your research, and stopping repeating BS. As for Dr Noakes, his diet is not Atkins, and he never “dragged” Dr. Atkins name in the mud. He is just stating scientific fact, as you do as a published “sports scientist”, who read and tried many things, and then adjusted then to suit himself. This means that he lost weight, and kept it off by increasing the fats. So, Noakes does not have a “temporary place in the sun”, he created something that works. Have you even tried it? Think about it, our bodies were created to burn fats, not carbs.

  • BahnStormer

    Firstly, Italy does have obesity… especially for those that indulge too much in pasta/pizza… But really: Go to Italy and see what actual Italians eat, not the American TV depiction of Italian Americans…. Italian food consisting of “lots of pasta / pizza” are American perversions of Italian “antipasta” (starters)… proper Italians will have a small starter of pasta (probably only a couple of table-spoons of pasta), before tucking into grilled steak/fish and a large salad…. probably a lot more oregano/garlic/olive oil than you’re used to, but otherwise very familiar… Italian pizzas are almost unrecognisable, especially compared to the American style deep-pan slabs of bread. The proper Italian pizzas are very simple and very nice, but Italians normally have them as small snacks / bar food, not a staple food group.

  • Happy ol’ Git

    Google Professor Time Noakes. Basically, to start, cut out all starch, such as potatoes, grains, pasta, bread, etc. Most important, sugar! Sugar is a drug, and you will crave it for a couple of days, so do not put temptation in your way! Clear out your grocery cupboards! Do not eat anything that says low fat, that means high sugar. Make your own sauces and Mayo. Don’t eat anything processed. Have a portion of meat, plus green vegetables. Have cream sauces, grated cheese over your veg. It’s a very easy diet and you will never be hungry. Take your own lunch to work, but remember, no bread, and definately no Profits, It contains caramel! Maybe a piece of Matzo, but only one, or a Ryvita, with tuna or egg mayonnaise! Watch the belly fat disappear, and see how good you will feel!

  • Happy ol’ Git

    I have never seen such ignorance as has been shown during this discussion! Make sure of your facts before posting!

  • Happy ol’ Git

    Tim Noakes did not misguide people deliberately! He honestly thought he was giving the best advice, and followed the same regime himself! He has apologised, and admitted that he was wrong. More than most of his colleagues are prepared to do!
    I sympathise with your loss, having lost a beloved partner after almost 50 years together.

  • Happy ol’ Git

    Absolute rubbish! Atkins died at age 74. He slipped on an icy sidewalk and banged his head. He was in a coma,for some time, and his organs shut down. Get your facts straight!

  • Lilyann51

    They eat dry cheeses and lots of vegetables. Very little meat.

  • Lilyann51

    Because I have a severe chronic pain condition, I discovered through painful experience that my body feels so much better on a low carb, high fat way of eating. Recently, due to the temptation of Holiday sweets, I went through a relapse and ate my weight in carbs. I literally could not get out of bed due to the pain, but even worse, the sugar causes depression. I cried my eyes out simply watching commercials where the son comes home and smells coffee perking! Who wants to live like that? Not me! Please accept my gratitude Prof Noakes, and keep up the lifesaving work!

  • WimsThePhoenix

    Wow, look who could not be bothered to READ the fricking article.

    He gave himself diabetes with a HIGH CARB diet, Mr Lego Dummy man.

  • Ronelle Mollentze

    Is there anyone that have a basic mealplan to start with? It all sound very confusing and I don’t know where to start!

  • kulends

    I agree!!! Even Noakes, started on this one and saw results. Instead of being grateful with the Atkins diet being his guideline, he needed to reinvent something and discredit Dr Atkins. Its amazing how far people would go to have that “temporary place under the sun!”

  • silasozzie

    stick with it. you are doing great.

  • silasozzie

    he died of complications following a blood clot on his brain secondary to a head injury from a fall.

  • silasozzie

    slivers darling, slivers… snakes slither… 🙂

  • Karen Hong

    Since you broadcast this,
    then you should continue to inform that his cardiac arrest was caused by cardiomyopathy which
    is actually caused by a deteriorating
    heart muscle and not caused by poor diet. He was also 72!

  • Lynette Rall

    Get your facts straight – uninformed comments can do a lot of damage – Atkins suffered cardiac arrest in April 2002, leading many of his critics to point to this episode as proof of the inherent dangers in the consumption of high levels of saturated fat associated with the Atkins diet. In numerous interviews, however, Atkins stated that his cardiac arrest was not the result of poor diet, but was rather caused by a chronic infection.[9] Atkins’ personal physician and cardiologist, Dr. Patrick Fratellone, confirmed this assertion, saying, “We have been treating this condition, cardiomyopathy, for almost two years. Clearly, [Atkins’] own nutritional protocols have left him, at the age of 71, with an extraordinarily healthy cardiovascular system”.

    Dr. Patrick Fratellone treated Dr. Atkins from 1999 until 2002, and also worked with the doctor at the Atkins Center. He says Atkins suffered from cardiomyopathy, a chronic heart weakness. But this condition, he says, was caused by a virus—not his diet: “I was his attending cardiologist at that time. And I made the statement… When we did his angiogram, I mean, the doctor who performed it, said it’s pristine for someone that eats his kind of diet… Pristine, meaning these are very clean arteries. I didn’t want people to think that his diet caused his heart muscle – it was definitely a documented viral infection.”[14]

  • Ahron Gropper

    Hi i can’t find anywhere if mustard oil is allowed in banting can anybody help

  • Pheasantry Bed Breakfast

    can i have porridge oats with full fat milk

  • James Kaufmann

    Actually Italians in Italy don’t eat “a lot of pasta”. In Italy pasta is a starter, a small serving with a sauce. Mains is meat and vegetables, lots of amazing healthy vegetable dishes slathered in olive oil.

  • Bernard Ingram

    No William, just think. Do carbohydrates have more calories than protein or vitamins? Please do not answer. For you are a lost soul.

  • Niki Seberini

    The recipes are outstanding! I interviewed Prof Noakes about banting and his book “The Real Meal Revolution” and what I found interesting was his comment that this is a way of life, not a diet. He also said that this way of eating is not for everybody and that it works best for insulin intolerant individuals. Take a listen:

  • william

    ive cut out all bread rice potatoes coke and sugar I am very overweight and have lost 21kgs in a year.

  • Shimon Tomasz

    Yes Jules, a Noble prize.

  • Jules

    Nobel prize for Noakes who misguided people for decades with his high carb diet, and inadvertently caused the early demise of many (including my spouse who was a comrades runner)?

  • rooinek seun

    You comment reflects your ignorance.

  • Zingisani

    Hey Gary
    Do you know of anyone who has done a cost evaluation or something of this diet ka Tim? I just wanna compare to my monthly groceries.
    Just drop their link if you can please.

  • infamouscrimes

    He gave himself diabetes with his high fat diet. Get a clue people! His plan is the opposite of health. Have fun dying, low carb fatties.

  • karie


  • April Peter

    Atkins is totally high-fat. But since poor Dr. Atkins’ name has been dragged through the mud by vegans and the FDA, I see why Tim Noakes (and others) finds the need to distance himself. I, however, will always be proud to show solidarity for Dr. Atkins and the Atkins diet, because he has improved my life immeasurably.

  • April Peter

    I guess you’ve never been to Italy. Italians eat tons of meat and cheeses and seafood, and they leave the pasta and pizza for silly tourists.

  • lilanie

    last night a made my regular pasta sauce… onions / mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes.. with fresh basil and crea, and for the pasta we sliced two aubergines (eggplantes) into fine slithers and quickly stirfried it in olive oil – divine! can also use eggplant to make lasgana – a lot like mousaka…

  • Gary Maggz

    Eggs aren’t expensive and anyways, it’s a medium protein diet so people eat less meat than they normally would.

  • bookworm

    This diet DOES WORK! We have 1 type 2 diabetic & 1 Celiac with hypothyroidism, who embarked on this program 4 years ago in February 2010. Lost a minimum of 17 Kgs. We eat a lot of cheese which definitely does stave off hunger pangs. Before we went onto this LCHF way of eating, the diabetic was on the program given by the doctor which included whole wheat this, and whole wheat that, 5 servings of fruit per day and, of course, lots of low fat this and that. The diabetic was permanently hungry, would eat anything that they could put their hands on and was packing on the weight – until doing the same sort of research that has been done by Tim Noakes and we went on the program. Now there is no diabetic meds being used, and following a blood test the thyroid meds had to be halved and stayed that way! We can also confirm that energy levels definitely went up along with sense of wellness!

  • John Mason

    I follow a similar WOE, but don’t see any benefits in eating plants.

  • Grant

    With the high cost of meat and proteins, it makes it very difficult for households on limited budgets to follow such a diet. Would be awesome if we could get a concise guide on low cost foods to eat in order to follow such a diet.

  • Travis

    Rarely have I seen such an accurate headline, or such an honest description of the type of people who “Bant”.

  • Reid

    My wife and I got a great recipe book for Banting, can’t wait to give it a try. However we are also keen on exercising more. We got nothing to lose, other than fat lol