There seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there on the health and safety of the Banting / Low carb high fat / Tim Noakes diet for fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding. As we embark on this meal plan, I am looking for answers as much as I am savouring the food. At the end of the day, I have to work out nutrition that will be healthy for me and nurturing for both Nicky and new life.
To understand why we are doing this diet, I will list my motivations.
1) My husband is diabetic. If you read “The Real Meal Revolution” it says that carbohydrates drive up your blood glucose concentration. So reducing them can help. In the ten days of this diet his blood sugar levels have stabilised and he has lost some weight (1.9kg) too.
2) My reservations about fat and heart disease were given another perspective by this article: The cure for heart disease and the great cholesterol lie. Dr. Dwight Lundell, a heart surgeon, says he says the reason heart disease is a problem is because of inflammation of the artery wall.
What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Quite simply, they are the overload of simple, highly processed carbohydrates (sugar, flour and all the products made from them) and the excess consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean, corn and sunflower that are found in many processed foods. Take a moment to visualize rubbing a stiff brush repeatedly over soft skin until it becomes quite red and nearly bleeding….I have peered inside thousands upon thousands of arteries. A diseased artery looks as if someone took a brush and scrubbed repeatedly against its wall. Several times a day, every day, the foods we eat create small injuries compounding into more injuries, causing the body to respond continuously and appropriately with inflammation.
3) There are a lot of success stories out there, and bloggers are writing about it. Sharon van Wyk, the Blessed Barrenness, has lost a lot of weight and is still losing.
Having looked at some motivators, let’s now examine some information regarding this diet and our reproductive processes.
1) According to this study, a low carb, high protein diet improved outcomes for IVF patients. Those whose daily protein intake was higher than 25% had better outcomes for pregnancy and live births.
2) Inè Reynierse, the blogger behind “Low carb is lekker” has documented her twin pregnancy on the diet. She pointed out that a lot of recommendations that you think are good are actually bad because they are loaded with sugar e.g. low fat fruit yoghurt has 80% sugar. Two slices of wholegrain bread have six teaspoons of sugar. She also has a list of what you need during pregnancy from wellnessmama.
3) A post on Breastfeeding Magazine cautions against a low carb diet because in the early stages of the diet when carbs are omitted, the fat burning stage of ketosis could be dangerous for your baby. They recommend that you only do the diet after baby is six months and starting solids or start the diet gradually. Since Nicky is two years old and I am still having carbs for breakfast, I guess I’m good.
A few years ago I wrote a post which listed requirements for fertility so I thought I’d go through that and check how the Banting diet rated.
1. No alcohol. Not an issue for me since I hardly ever have any, but I’ve noticed the odd cup of white wine in the food. RMR (The Real Meal Revolution) p 50 has a “drinking disclaimer”: they say while dry wines, most spirits, low energy beers and a few other drinks are ok from a carb perspective, alcohol is toxic and there are a lot of bad things about it. So if I really wanted to remove it from some of the meals I could. But I certainly don’t drink the stuff neat.
2. No caffeine or coffee. Coffee is listed as ok in Low Carb Living for Families and part of the shopping list on Low carb is lekker. For me, coffee is pretty easy to eliminate (except of those sleep deprived days.. okay who am I kidding, I am sleep deprived every day… maybe it will be harder than what I thought…) We are having rooibos with xylitol.
3. No sugar. I think all diets universally say cut down on the sugar and this one is no different. What is useful about this one is that they advise to use xylitol or stervia rather than the other sweeteners out there.
4. No dairy. THIS is my biggest issue with the Banting diet. There is a lot of cream, yoghurt and cheese. I have decided not to have the Saturday pizza any more because it is so loaded with cheese. In RMR they do say if dairy does not affect your weight, stick to full fat products. They say on pg 51 “Although dairy is good for you, it does contain carbs and can be a stumbling block. In your Banting begining, perhaps avoid eating too much dairy. Butter is still good!”
In the RMR meals I see there is a lot of cream added to the food. In Low Carb Living for Families there is more cheese (e.g. the pizza). For me I don’t mind adding the odd bit of milk to food but overdoing on the cheese is too much.
Why is dairy so bad for fertility? It has artificial components that mess up your hormones and if you are lactose intolerant it is hard to digest. It also creates a “dampness” or mucus that hampers your energy flow and creates stagnation. (Angela Wu – Fertility Wisdom).
5. No wheat. Since we’re cutting out carbs, wheat would definitely be off the list.
At the end of the day you want to eat fresh food instead of processed junk, and RMR helps with that.
I had a look at Angela Wu’s food suggestions. She looks at food from an Eastern perspective. She believes it is important to have food that will create a “warm womb”. In other words, you want to eat cool/ neutral/ warm foods and not the extreme hot or cold ones.
If you want to know which foods to steer for, stick out your tongue. Mine is pale, which means I have a cooler constitution. A red, cracked tongue means you are overheated and have a warm constitution. Purplish means you are stagnant. One of the things I really liked about my homeopath / acupuncturist Dr P was that he would always look at my tongue and ask about my cycle before sticking needles in me. He seemed to value the feedback my body was giving, which is important.
So I have to bump up the heat. Ginger and garlic are extreme hot foods, but she says cooked the ginger will aid digestion and garlic will help for its antibiotic properties. Lamb is also great for a cooler constitution. These foods are very present in the RMR. Garlic is in just about everything (the kind you have from the actual garlic, not your spice bottle) and I grated ginger for the chicken tikka masala (p146). All on the warm list are these vegetables: bell peppers, chives, onion, parsley. Button mushrooms and cauliflower are cool, and white mushrooms are cold, but I reckon there are enough hot foods to balance it out.
Warm meats are beef, chicken and turkey, while lamb is hot. Eggs and dairy are neutral. Yoghurt is too cold. I feel that too and much prefer my warm oats for breakfast. Ocean fish are cool but at least not cold. And you can spice them up!
For more on her book I think you should just read it!
And now back to that recipe book that started all this. I’ve just read in this week’s YOU magazine that “The Real Meal Revolution” co-authored by Tim Noakes, two other chefs and a nutritionist has now sold 100 000 copies. It certainly challenges conventional food beliefs. After cooking from it for a week I will say it was definitely tasty, but it is written by chefs. This means at times you have to put your stew in the oven for two and a half hours or marinade your lamb for half an hour. Few are quick! They are labour intensive. Delicious, yes, but also time consuming.
So what is my conclusion?
For my husband, it is definitely working. For myself, I still want to have my oats for breakfast. It’s too soon to see if this diet will work for me. I might have to tweek it a bit and reduce the dairy and change up a few things. But for now the food is really tasty and I feel like we are on the right track to health.