The real diet of William Banting that "cured" his obesity

I just bit the big financial bullet and, upon discovering that it is available in Kindle form, purchased William Banting's Letter on Corpulence on (it's only $2.99, or you can read it online at Eades' site which I found later, it's also available in full text here - ht C.Grashow).  I do not think there's a low carb diet book and/or author that hasn't at least referred to Banting's weight loss as the quintessential example of low carb in all it's glorious action.
"I am now nearly 66 years of age, about 5 feet 5 inches in stature, and, in August last (1862), weighed 202 lbs., which I think it right to name, because the article in the Cornhill Magazine presumes that a certain stature and age should bear ordinarily a certain weight, and I am quite of that opinion. I now weigh 167 lbs., showing a diminution of something like 1 lb. per week since August, and having now very nearly attained the happy medium, I have perfect confidence that a few more weeks will fully accomplish the object.
Few men have led a more active life - bodily or mentally - from a constitutional anxiety for regularity, precision, and order, during fifty years' business career, from which I have now retired, so that my corpulence and subsequent obesity was not through neglect of necessary bodily activity, nor from excessive eating, drinking, or self-indulgence of any kind, except that I partook of the simple aliments of bread, milk, butter, beer, sugar, and potatoes more freely than my aged nature required, and hence, as I believe, the generation of the parasite, detrimental to comfort if not really to health."
And so: 
The items from which I was advised to abstain as much as possible were: Bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes, which had been the main (and, I thought, innocent) elements of my existence, or at all events they had for many years been adopted freely.  {KL#108-110}
So it wasn't just carbs, it was also butter and milk.  Ahh but surely he was eating a ton of fat and calories?  Of course in the next paragraph:
These, said my excellent adviser, contain starch and saccharine matter, tending to create fat, and should be avoided altogether. {KL#110-111}
Of course the low carb advocates have always seized on this as advocacy of the first low carb diet.  
  • For breakfast, I take four or five ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork; a large cup of tea (without milk or sugar); a fit tie biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast. 
  • For dinner, five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato, one ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding, any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or Madeira - Champagne, Port and Beer are forbidden. 
  • For tea, Two or three ounces of fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar. 
  • For supper, Three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of claret. 
  • For nightcap, if required, A tumbler of grog (gin, whisky, or brandy without sugar) or a glass or two of claret or sherry.
I wonder about the proscription against pork and yet the mention of bacon as an option for breakfast, but adding up we have a maximum of 14 oz of meat (except pork), poultry, game or fish (except salmon).  He also ate 3-4 slices of dried toast (or equivalent) and a small amount of fruit (like half a small apple).  On top of all of this he consumed up to 7 glasses of wine (or spirits in the evening).

I put an approximation of this into and maxing out all serving sizes and here is the result:

Now that's a well balanced diet!  

Basically he was on a low carb, moderate fat, high alcohol diet.  This was apparently an improvement upon:
My former dietary table was bread and milk for breakfast, or a pint of tea with plenty of milk and sugar, and buttered toast ; meat, beer, much bread (of which I was always very fond) and pastry for dinner, the meal of tea similar to that of breakfast, and generally a fruit tart or bread and milk for supper. {KL 136-138}
So ... bread was a food Banting clearly was prone to overeating, and often with milk and/or butter.   He was likely not protein deficient, but not getting as much as when he ate some meat with each meal.  And if he was drinking this much on his new diet, he drank at least this beforehand including beer.  

Interestingly he didn't eliminate bread entirely.  He had up to 4 slices a day.  He lived to be 81 for what it's worth.

Why now? Well this letter was cited yet again in a recent "study" by Taubesian newcomer Tim Noakes, that was miraculously published in the South African Medical Journal.  I plan on blogging about that shortly and figured this made for a post on its own.

Editing in some classic quotes as I come across them:
I ought, "it seems," to have excepted veal, owing to its indigestible quality, as well as pork for its fattening character; also herrings and eels (owing to their oily nature), being as injurious as salmon.  {KL 350-351}
Step away from the bacon.
... not only should potatoes be prohibited, but parsnips, beetroot, turnips, and carrots.  
The truth is, I seldom or ever partook of these objectionable articles myself, and did not reflect that others might do so, or that they were forbidden. {KL 252-253}
OK ... take away a few grams of carbs for the carrots I used.  Silly me, I didn't realize they were so objectionable ;-)
I can now also state that eggs, if not hard boiled, are unexceptionable, that cheese, if sparingly used, and plain boiled rice seem harmless.  {KL 355}
Turned on to safe starches long before their time!  I wonder what's wrong with hard boiling eggs?  Use cheese sparingly ... but rice (plain, not drenched in butter) is harmless!   (Oh ... and no pork fried rice for you!)


Sandman said…
First post here, been a big fan and lurker after being seduced by the dark side of low carb diets and sites like yours have helped me pull away from the crap everyone is cashing in on lately. Just an observation but one could also argue this was a calorie restricted diet yes? At roughly 2,000 calories he was bound to lose weight eating whatever he wanted.
charles grashow said…

"The study has several potential limitations. First, all data are self-reported and were not verified but it is unlikely that all participants would fabricate this information. Second, there
is no record of exactly what each person ate. Third, all reports describe only short-term outcomes. To collect this information as part of an RCT involving 254 subjects would have been very costly."
charles grashow said…
With 110 grams of carb/day how could he be in ketosis?
Glenn Dixon said…
The Atkins induction phase is as close to zero-carb as you can get, and as I recall the weight-loss phase was around 10-20g/day to induce ketosis. At 100g/day this doesn't really qualify as LOW-carb. Moderate carb, maybe.

I also notice that Banting's new diet matches something my wife ran across the other day, evidently called the 'big breakfast' diet. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.
One of my blog followers (elisaannh) also did an analysis of Banting's diet and came up with numbers similar to yours. I don't know which software she used. Here it is:

"I entered Banting’s diet into my nutritional software and it came up to 1925 calories, 101gr carbs, 8gr fiber and 128gr protein, 34gr fat. I used 5.5 oz when he said 5-6 oz, and did add 3 oz brandy for his “tumbler” of grog which he said “if required”. The total oz for his wine and brandy is quite high, at 20! YUM!"

"I think the diet is a definite improvement over the diet in England at that time period. However, cooked fruit and bread are not necessary, and he doesn’t mention added fat, which I feel his diet is too low in. Perhaps the meat was well marbled, but I did use fish in the calc for his supper at 2 pm (beef and chicken were the other two meats I used to balance it out in the other meals). Prunes were used for the “cooked fruit from a pudding” and apples for his tea time fruit. Green beans were used for his vegetable."

Rob said…
Drinking yourself to sleep is not very pauper.
carbsane said…
Take out the alcohol and he'd starve ;-)
carbsane said…
Here is a link to Eades' blog about this.

Interestingly he states that if you cut the alcohol he would have lost weight faster, but in comments he seems somewhat baffled as to what butter was 150 years ago in the UK:
carbsane said…
His mentions of sleeping well on this diet were amusing. ;-)
charles grashow said…
Mark said…
Likely so, and given the true caloric value of ethanol is likely closer to 5.5kcal/g and is subjective suggests ones intake calorically could be less than expected with regards to energy intake and ethanol.

The point of this piece Evelyn I don't get, it was a low carb diet that apparently resulted in negative energy balance, hence weight loss, fat reduction will do the same. And no, take away the alcohol he would not have starved, that's very hyperbolic. I agree with and enjoy most of your posts but this one is a stretch.
carbsane said…
Thanks Sandman and welcome to the Asylum! Yes, one could argue that, and also that aside from the booze it was rather restrictive. Hardly the *luxurious* diet described by Atkins!
carbsane said…
My point is that he restricted other foods besides carbs, and ate more carb than most do. I don't consider veggie carbs (like the couple few grams in leafy greens, broccoli, etc.) to be "real carbs". So while he restricted sugar, he still consumed more than most on Atkins Induction, and he eschewed potatoes but did consume a fair amount of bread.

If you showed this diet to folks and asked them (1) to describe it based just on the diet (not on what he said the approach was), and (2) if it was healthy, most would not think "Oh that's the Atkins Diet"!

As to the post, I'm going somewhere with this ;-)
Mark said…
Gotcha, it's still a low carb diet. Adkins prescribed very low carb/ketosis for the very obese, not everyday joe walking around overweight, and didn't suggest ketosis but for limited time. That approach can have benefit for the right person but is limited to few IMO.
(been years since I read his book so some old guy memory going on here, plus I've never been obese, the subject/problem is intriguing)
Karin said…
Funny that he found carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips objectionable. It made me wonder what he was eating instead. I found this article on vegetables in the UK.

It had this to say, "overcooked cabbage, cauliflower and sprouts are classic school dinner fare."

So, I would guess he was probably eating boiled cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. And probably not with butter on top either. Blech!
Jethro Bodine said…
Banting lost weight but he never reached a healthy BMI of less than 25.

He reached 27.8 which is still considered overweight.

His results are not something most dieters would want to emulate. Unless you want an excuse to down 4-6 pops a day!
lucyricardanon said…
Oh, FFS. He thinks people back then were confused about what they were eating because he's confused about the old terminology? Sweet butter just means it's made from fresh uncultured "sweet" cream, as opposed to sour. Sounds to me like Banting cut out butter because he was overeating the combination of bread and butter, so to reduce the temptation he cut out the butter and cut way back on the bread. This doesn't seem all that confusing to me. I could eat a ton of bread and butter, but I sure wouldn't want more than one slice of dry toast.
carbsane said…
Eades has said a lot of stupid things. Odd how nobody noticed for a long while!

Yep, I imagine all of the "failed" approaches limited his booze too much for his tastes and he didn't eat much dry toast.

I'm with you, unless it's a REALLY good bread fresh out of the oven, I can't eat much w/o butter.
eulerandothers said…
Doesn't this 'drilling down' of macronutrients still just get away from the calorie intake impact of a diet? It's interesting to imagine what people did way back before Big Data could be collected and analyzed, or in some culture or environment far removed from our own. But it's much more interesting to me why low-carb advocates do spend so much time dwelling in those time or those places - as an answer to why this time and this place is so troublesome for someone who keeps gaining weight (without reducing calories!)

2057 calories for a man's daily intake? Yeah, I can see losing weight with that. If Banting did not eat exactly the same food in those same quantities every day, he probably averaged that and did lose weight. It's called a diet, and it's also 'low-calorie' compared to what his intake was that got him to be fat in the first place. No mystery there - no secret revealed.

Actually, if he did eat EXACTLY the same food every day in the same quantities every day, he'd probably have gotten slimmer much faster (instead of dropping out the alcohol calories, as Eades noticed), just because monotony kills appetite just as surely as any drug.
Sanjeev Sharma said…
hehehehe ... One of the requirements to do "3 PhD equivalents" is to NOT READ YOUR CITES.
eulerandothers said…

Scroll to page 14, paragraph 2.

'ERS data suggest that average daily calorie intake increased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000. Of that 24.5 percent increase, grains (mainly refined grain products) contributed 9.5 percentage points, added fats and oils, 9.0 percentage points, added sugars, 4.7 percentage points, fruits and vegetables together 1.5 percentage points, meats and nuts together 1 percentage point, and dairy products and eggs together, 1.5 percentage point.'

Daily caloric intake, a ball-park estimate - AFTER waste and spoilage, etc., are taken into account- is 2700 calories a day. So we could all lose weight eating Banting's way, if that meant eating very close to 2,000 calories a day, his way. Also, if we just cut out around 700 calories of what we apparently eat THESE days in THIS country. Any old calories. Our way.

As the factbook reports, the calorie percentages contributed by added fats and oils are nearly equal to the percentages contributed by (mainly refined) grains but calories per gram for fat is twice the calories per gram for carbohydrates. As weight in grams (grains), then, we're eating a lot more (mostly refined) grains than added fats. Cutting grains out of the diet will take a nice slice out of that caloric intake pie, but so would cutting 'added fats.' Foods already contain fats (especially meat, and dairy, which already appear as percentages that aren't such heavy hitters, percentage-wise) so the percentage of calories provided by fat would go down, but fat would not go missing.

So why the approach that you have to reduce everything BUT the meat and the fat? That seems to work, by cutting calories, basically - despite the puzzling offer that you will be able to eat more calories of meat and fat and not reduce your calories (a nice trick somehow intimated in the 'don't count calories because calories don't count' mantra). But then, just reducing your calories, and living with the flexibility that provides (and the problem that CAUSES) would also work. As every single diet every proposed has shown!
carbsane said…
Actually, not really.

There is no LC diet that allows up to 4 slices of toast per day.

His diet would qualify as low fat or low carb by comparison to normal levels but that's besides the point. It is low calorie and suited to his desires -- e.g. his doc was the first to suggest he eat protein and drink wine and hold the rest to a minimum.
Bris Vegas said…
Quite easily because was physically active.

In Victorian times virtually EVERYBODY did massive amounts of physical activity. It was considered quite normal to walk 10-20miles every day. Francis Dalton mentioned a colleague who often walked from London to Cambridge (55 miles) because he couldn't afford to hire a carriage.
Bris Vegas said…
In fact butter was different in Banting's time. It was made by gently boiling milk in shallow pans to coagulate the (casein) proteins. The clumped milk protein was skimmed off ('skim' milk) and used as pig food. The pan was allowed to cool. The cream floated to the surface and could be churned to make butter.

In the late 1870s hand-cranked centrifugal milk separators were developed by Alfa-Laval. This eliminated the tedious boiling and skimming processes - and put millions of milk maids out of work.

Milk is now separated by ultra-filtration at the processing plant. The fat, liquid and protein components are then recombined to exact proportions according to the desired formulation.

Until the arrival of refrigeration in 20th century virtually all milk was made into butter or cheese. Very little liquid milk was actually consumed (contrary to the Ancestral Health community claims)
carbsane said…
While interesting, this would mean that butter was still the FAT. So Banting significantly cut his fat caloric intake along with carbs cuz he liked his bread and milk and butter.
carbsane said…
It's pretty doubtful he was in ketosis given his ethanol ingestion and the fact that his carb intake was "actual carb" (e.g. starch) and not "getting your carbs from veggies like lettuce and cucumbers"
carbsane said…
Exactly. What is so difficult about this? Do we have to turn into neurotic everything-aphobes to spontaneously reduce intake?
lucyricardanon said…
There's a local farm here that used to sell not only real butter, but lightly pasteurized (having read "The Enduring Chill," I refuse to hop on the raw milk bandwagon) non-homogenized milk. The cream on top of that milk was some tasty stuff. Anyway, as Evelyn points out, the butter is still mostly fat.
Gavross said…
Dont forget the types of carbs eaten by the upper classes at the time were entirely different to the carbs consumed by the working classes. When Banting refers to bread the chances are hes referring to refined white bread which was often sweetened with sugar, quite often it resembled cake which was a staple if the rich. As for the masses they would chow down on hard dense bread full of an assortment of unrefined ingredients such as rye, wheat and often bean flour.

At the time it was very much a case of:

- Rich=Highly palatable readily available foods plus little exercise= fat

- Poor= 1 or 2 meals of unpalatable unseasoned food consisting primarily of dense bread, potato and vegetables plus hard graft= Trim
charles grashow said…
Could someone please help me out here?

I don't understand why nutritiondata calculated 2057 total calories. When I do the math , I get 1284 calories. Why the discrepancy?

(According to any basic nutrition textbook, fats provide Fats provide 9 cals/gram, proteins and carbs = 4 cals/gram. I disregard "calories" from fiber since we don't digest them, even though our gut bacteria can produce some short chain fatty acids that give us a little energy).

It's probably just something minor I'm overlooking.

Tsimblist said…
It looks like nutritiondata has a 4th category called alcohol that accounts for the rest of the calories.
carbsane said…
Yeah, he drank a ton of booze ;-)
David Petros said…
Yes, it seems that Banting was actually following "The Drinking Man's Diet" where alcoholic beverages contain 0 (zero) calories :-) or is that :-/
However, in the real world, we all know that to be different! A Beer Gut comes from more than an enlarged and/or cirrhotic liver. It is also fat! Fat from calories and carbs in alcohol... I wonder if this fact is found in any basic nutrition textbook?
carbsane said…
Nutrition texts do not acknowledge calories in alcohol.

< /sarcasm > ;-)
Francois De Ridder said…
Not totally true from his letter:
"Total loss of weight in 12 months.. 46 lbs.
I have subsequently lost 4 lbs. more"

BMI 25.3 That is almost 25 :-)
Francois De Ridder said…
Thank you for this.
I think by using different fruit and vegetable combination the total Calories will differ with a few hundred up or down. What I find interesting is that Banting is pulled into the LCHF argument. I must be total blind( I know I am stupid) but I get lower carb(avoiding sugar) from the letter. In fact it looks like he avoid fat.
I believe the success he had was eating +- 2000Cal a day
My two cents
Unknown said…
THE 3 WEEK DIET is a revolutionary new diet system that not only guarantees to help you lose weight — it promises to help you lose more weight — all body fat — faster than anything else you’ve ever tried.
Diets & Weight Loss