William Banting

William Banting (December 1796 – March 16, 1878) was a notable English undertaker. Formerly obese, it is also known to be a popular weight loss diet based on the intake of carbohydrates, especially those of a starchy or sugary nature. He undertook his dietary changes at the suggestion of Soho Square physician Dr. William Harvey, who in turn had learned of this type of diet, but in the context of diabetes management.

In the early 19th century, the William Banting family of St. James’s Street, London, was among the most prominent companies in the United States. As the Royal Household itself, the Banting family conducted the funerals of King George III in 1820, King George IV in 1830, the Duke of Gloucester in 1834, the Duke of Wellington in 1852, Prince Albert in 1861, Prince Leopold in 1884, Queen Victoria in 1901, and King Edward VII in 1910. The royal undertaking warrants for the Banting family ended in 1928 with the retirement of William Westport Banting.

In 1863, Banting wrote a booklet called “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public” which contained the particular plan for the diet he followed. It was written in the form of a personal testimonial. Banting accounted for all of his unsuccessful fasts, diets, spa and exercise regimens in his past. His previously unsuccessful attempts had been made on the advice of various medical experts. He then describes the dietary change which has finally been worked on, following the advice of another medical expert. “My kind and valued medical adviser is not a doctor for obesity, but stands on the pinnacle of fame in the treatment of another malady, which, is well known, is frequently induced by [corpulence].” (p24) His own diet was making meals, greens, fruits, and dry wine. The emphasis was on avoiding sugar, saccharine matter, starch, beer, milk and butter. Banting’s pamphlet was popular for years to come, and would be used as a model for modern diets. Initially, he published the booklet at his personal expense. The self-published edition was so popular that it was determined to sell to the general public. The third and later editions were published by Harrison, London. Banting’s booklet remains in print as of 2007, and is still available on-line.

The popularity of the pamphlet mentioned above is such that the questions “Do you bant?” or “Are you banting?”, still occasionally in use today, refer to his method, and sometimes even to dieting in general. In Sweden “banta” is still the main word for “being on a diet”. Scientist Tim Noakes popularized Banting in South Africa when he named his high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet after Banting.

Gary Taubes’ study of carbohydrates, Good Calories, Bad Calories, begins with a prologue entitled “A Brief History of Banting” and discusses Banting at some length. Discussions of low-carbohydrate diets often begin with a discussion of Banting.

Banting was a relative distant of Sir Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin. Banting’s body is buried with those of his wife and daughter at Brompton Cemetery, London, England.

Ketogenic diet, No-carbohydrate diet, Paleolithic diet, Vilhjalmur Stefansson

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