Cape Town - The Banting revolution is in full swing. And if city restaurants’ revised menus are anything to go by, Cape Town is ground zero.
Sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes says when he started supporting the low carb/high fat (LCHF) eating plan, he had no idea it would become this big.
“I’m overwhelmed by what’s happening. I never planned this revolution. I never set out to change the world, it just happened,” says Noakes.
Last week he addressed business owners who showcased their products which ranged from organic chocolates to carbohydrate-free breads and sugar-free cake.
Despite criticism from several health professionals, the sports scientist, who did an about-turn on diet, has been vocal and unrelenting in his support of the Banting diet.
He’s by no means alone. Thousands of people have bought his book The Real Meal Revolution and have applied it to their lives. By now, most Capetonians know someone who is either still “Banting”, or who has tried it.
Many Cape Town eateries now offer Banting-friendly breakfasts, desserts, and even fast food.
“They are responding to consumer demand. It’s adapt or die,” says Noakes.
Pretty soon it will be incorporated into one of the most unlikely products: pizza.
Robert Wilkinson, owner of Butlers, calls the no-carb creation the un-pizza. The base is made of cauliflower, Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella, salt, garlic and psyllium husk powder. Topped with salami, and with a slightly different base texture, it didn’t taste bad at all.
Wilkinson admits that the idea of a carb-free pizza is a bit controversial, but he doesn’t think it will completely replace the traditional offering.
While he hasn’t been very strict about it, Wilkinson has been following the diet himself and has lost 8kg since December.
“Today, carbs should be a treat, not a 24/7 lifestyle. Our aim is to get back to a more moderate approach to carbs,” says Wilkinson. The pizza has been tested internally, and will soon be available.
But they’re not the only big chain to buy into the idea. A few months ago, Kauai introduced cauli-rice to accompany meals. As the name suggests, it’s cauliflower based.
Noakes says the world needs to readjust its thinking about what constitutes a “balanced” meal.
“I had profound insulin resistance. It is the world’s most important disease. The current guidelines are a prescription for diabetes,” says Noakes.
Noakes estimates that up to 60 percent of the population is insulin resistant, and this ranges across age and sex barriers.
He doesn’t appear to put much stock in vegan and vegetarian diets. “The best vegetarian diet is one that cheats once or twice a week,” he says. Noakes describes the vegan diet as a “complete disaster”.
While he respects the ethical reasons behind this kind of eating, he says many vegetables are high in carbs, without the benefits of animal protein. He also warns that while low-GI potatoes are now available, they’re still no good.
“Potatoes are not low-GI. That is marketing. The GI really doesn’t matter – it’s how many grams of carbohydrates you eat each day that is critical. A high-carb intake from low-GI foods can also be damaging if you are severely insulin resistant,” he says.
Noakes has also warned against the perils of sugar, likening the addiction to that of alcohol and cocaine.
Jonathan Skorpen, a supplier of low-carb high fat produce, makes it hard to believe that his berry cheesecake and dark chocolate cake are devoid of carbs, wheat and sugar.
While these are technically safe to eat, Skorpen warns that it could cause a sugar relapse. “Do this for an occasion like a birthday. If you’re following the diet, enjoy it for what it is,” he says.
Whitney Wenztel, owner of 65 on Main, says the response to their Banting menu has been unprecedented. She was not among the businesses that showcased their wares, but says that since they tweaked the menu four months ago, the restaurant has been running out of seating space over weekends.
Among the specialities are the carb-free bread and breakfast wraps. In the beginning, they used recipes from Noakes’s book. But as the trend gained traction, their regulars started contributing recipes they made at home. The menu is changed every Monday.
Of course, they do still offer carbo-loaded meals. But Wentzel says the new menu outsells the traditional meals by far. To demonstrate the scale of popularity, she says last Sunday they had 165 people between breakfast and lunch. Of those, only 20 were not Banting.
Noakes is excited about the way it’s taken off in the city.
“Let’s change the nutrition of the world. In 10 years time, the world will remember it started in Cape Town,” says Noakes.
Noakes’ tips for eating out
* People need to read widely to be sure they understand how food is prepared and what it contains. The key is to focus on eating real food prepared on site. Then there is less risk that the food contains a range of preservatives. People must drive this process and demand that restaurants are accountable for what they claim.
* Side dishes: Ask what oil is used in the dressing. If it is polyunsaturated like vegetable oils, you are not doing yourself any favours. Stick with olive oil or the dressings made from saturated fats like butter, cream and coconut oil.
* Drink water and never eat desserts.
* Avoid the bread.
* Choose the fattiest food option. Karoo lamb is probably the best option as it has lots of fat and is certain to be from animals raised completely on their natural foods – the Karoo vegetation. I am wary of South African meat unless I am absolutely certain it is not grain-fed but raised on the land, grazing on the foods cattle are designed by their nature to eat. Fish would be the next option.
How they quit – a sweet story
Getting on the sugar-free wagon is not an easy feat. Ask Brian Berkman who lost nearly half his body weight to reach his goal of 80kg.
In 2011, Berkman weighed 153kg, had type two diabetes, high blood pressure and at his worst, took 23 pills daily.
Then he removed starch, sugar and alcohol from his diet; signed up with a cognitive behavioural therapist to help him develop strategies when faced with difficult eating situations and enlisted a biokineticist to improve his fitness.
“I needed to purge my body of its addiction first. Now I don’t even crave sweet and high-carb foods,” he says.
Berkman was obese for 44 years. It took him 18 months to shed the weight.
Tim Noakes, who says he and Berkman were profoundly insulin resistant and addicted to sugar, warns staying on the wagon is difficult. Noakes says he has to consciously stop himself from eating forbidden treats.
Noakes was pre-diabetic, while Berkman’s diabetes was out of control. They’re both within normal ranges now. Noakes says if they start eating sugar again, they’ll become diabetic again.
Since reaching his goal weight, Berkman’s activities include mountain biking, hiking and kayaking. Noakes runs 30km a week.