The Theory of Banting / Keto Food Lists

If you ever find yourself wondering which of the Banting / Keto Food Lists an ingredient should be on, I wrote this for you. 


The Banting / Keto food lists were created in 2013 during the writing of the original Real Meal Revolution. 

While Prof Tim Noakes was writing his scientific essay, Sally Ann and I were busy putting together the practical stuff. 

In my research for RMR, I had seen Pierre Dukan’s 100 All You Can Eat foods. This was a list of foods that you can eat with gay abandon and not get fat. In fact, those 100 foods are pretty much the Dukan Diet. 

I also worked in restaurants in the early 2000’s when the WWF, through the South Africa Sustainable Seafood Institute (SASSI), launched the SASSI list. The SASSI List was created to educate consumers about which fish they should eat to support the oceans. 

The green list is made of fish that are currently unthreatened. The orange list is a list of fish that are threatened, and/or require special notes about how they are caught, or what time of year they are caught. If a fish is on the orange list, it means that you should proceed with caution. The red list is a list of fish that you should simply not eat, for much the same reason the orange listed fish, but with a much firmer finger pointing at you saying ‘NO’. 

I was pretty fresh in the nutrition space, but the idea of a list of foods you could eat without getting fat, then a list of foods you should absolutely never eat, and a list of foods that you should eat with caution sounded like a useful tool to have in the book. 

I briefed this concept to Sally Ann, who then came up with the red list, the orange list and added a few additions to the green list (mostly Dukan’s 100 foods). 

Sally-Ann, being a hugely experienced nutritionist, had a clear list of foods that people should not eat. She was a massive Paleo and LCHF proponent, so her red list included strict Paleo exclusions, as well as all LCHF exclusions, and came quite naturally to her.

Sally and I had a TON of back and forth over the lists. She wanted dairy on the red list (because Paleo is dairy-free), but Prof was pro-dairy, se we put it on the green list. Booze is not healthy, but I insisted on having some kind of low carb alcohol on the green list, because I know people wouldn’t quit drinking to lose weight. That’s why the first print run included white wine and champagne on the green list. 

It went on. Lentils were red lists because of the anti nutrients. Beetroot was red listed too, because most people in SA eat it pickled in a vinegar and sugary syrup-type dressing.

A lot has changed since then. The current lists are quite different to the first edition.

I could go on about their creation, but the point is this – we were creating a ‘How To’ book for people who wanted to follow a very low carb, sugar free, gluten free, seed oil free and real food diet (real food meaning ‘not refined or highly processed’). That is the diet that Prof Noakes had been promoting. That was the diet that Sally Ann was an expert in. 

We dressed it up with cool recipes and lists and a scientific essay to support it so it came out as one slick package. During production, our editor called me to ask if there wasn’t a cooler name we could use for the diet. He thought LCHF sounded like a chemical (and I agreed) so I suggested we run a find-replace through the manuscript and change LCHF to Banting, in honour of William Banting, the first guy to properly promote a weight loss diet (his version was TOTALLY different to ours). 

Another subplot, was that we wanted people to stop supporting the food giants who sell the cereals and grains that make us obese and inflammed. 

In fact, one of the titles I proposed was ‘Against the Grain’. It was vetoed by Prof because that is what he titled the famous article he wrote for Discovery Magazine before he was catapulted into the media. 

The team was pretty clear that this was a book promoting REAL foods, so my final proposal was ‘Real Meals’. The team was mostly happy with that, but Tim insisted we include the word, ‘Revolution’. 

A revolution is defined as follows:

“a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system”

The system we are ‘overthrowing’ is multifaceted and ever-evolving. At the time it was mainly a combination of the food giants (who market and sell food that makes us sick) and the pharmaceutical companies (who market and sell drugs that treat the symptoms caused by the food we buy from the food giants). 

In summary:

The first point is, the Banting Diet is a low carb, sugar free, gluten free and seed oil free diet of real, whole foods. 

The second point is, the Banting / Keto food lists were created, much like the SASSI food lists, with numerous factors in mind including, but not limited to, carb count, nutrient density, ‘realness’, preparation uses, glycaemic load, anti-nutrients and more. 

The third point is the lists were a creative work, decided on and agreed upon by three or four authors in the production of a book that promoted a diet that they actually developed.

Doing the Banting / Keto Diet

To get into ketosis, you need to eat under 50g total or 25g net carbs per day, which would typically come from green and/or leafy vegetables. You get your remaining calories from fat and protein. 

We developed the Green List to make it possible for people to stay under 25g net carbs without tracking their meals or counting carbs, while still being able to eat delicious foods. It’s not an exact science, and in all likelihood, if you’re not eating a variety of different foods from the green list, you will miss the mark more often than not. 

If, however, you do eat different foods from the green list on a daily basis, it is likely that you will average out on target, and lose a ton of weight or reverse your diabetes.

The orange list is a list of foods that you can have, but in limited quantities, that if obeyed properly, you could enjoy some limited sweetness or hearty carby goodness, while remaining under the 25g net carbs per day. 

Even though we created the lists to make it really simple, the most reliable way to stay under 25g of carbs a day is still to track your meals using a meal tracker like ours, or FatSecret. In the real world, the colour of the list an ingredient sits on will not save you if you eat too much of it. That said, all you need to do is stay under 25g of carbs, and you can do that with bits and pieces of any ingredient. 

Is this Banting?

Any time you are eating real foods that are low in carbs, free from sugar, gluten-free, free from seed oils and free from grains – then you are most likely Banting. This means that you can BE Banting based on very loose constraints. 

But what about an ingredient? What makes an ingredient Banting?

The carb count can’t make it ‘Banting’ because too much of even the lowest carb vegetable can push one above 25g of carbs. 

The only constraints are that they need to be gluten free, sugar free, seed oil free, unprocessed, real foods that are not cereals or grains. 

Who’s Banting / Keto Food Lists do I trust?

That’s a great question. 

But, we do find ourselves in an awkward position. Tim has a new book with his own lists. Sally Ann has her own lists in her new book. And I have modified the original list with our team of coaches and dietitians over the years. 

It’s like the Beatles split up and Ringo, John and Paul each released their own new versions of ‘Come Together’. Now the poor fans are trying to figure out which is the ‘Real’ new version. 

There is no right answer for ‘Who’s list do I trust’.

I want you to be empowered. And, I believe that with the above info, you should have enough power to discern for yourself whether or not you’re truly ‘Banting’ or whether or not your community leader knows what they’re talking about. 

Yours with Power,