William Banting: Does a 60-Gram Carbohydrate Diet Work?

Meat and Cheese Trays
Can you lose weight eating 60 grams of carbs per day?
Many people are doing exactly that!

WHO was William Banting?

Many low-carb advocates hold Mr. Banting up as the Father of low-carb diets, but low carb was alive and well as early as 1860. If so what made William Banting different?

This is his story.

When I started reading the book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes, I went to Jimmy Moore's low-carb forum (it no longer exists) looking for a summary to help me wade through the prologue.

Was William Banting the First Low Carber?
William Banting
Ate 60 Carbs a Day
I wanted to know what types of questions low-carb folks had been raising about that initial chapter.

But the summary for the prologue was noticeably missing, even though the summaries and discussions for the rest of the book were still available back then.

With nothing to guide me, I'm going take an in-depth look at William Banting, the results he got from eating a 60-carb diet, and what his published diet booklet teaches us about evidence-based knowledge, sharing, and caring.

Low-Carb Diets Were Alive and Well in the 1800s

I found it interesting that in the 1860s, it was well known that a diet consisting of exclusively meat, fats, and dairy would control Diabetes, although many medical professionals assumed diabetes was a kidney disease, due to the large amount of water patients lost on a daily basis.

It was only after researchers discovered that urine sugar increased after eating starches that a non-starch, non-sugar diet was created and used to treat diabetes.

In fact, a diet similar to Atkins 72 was what Johns Hopkins Hospital put their diabetic patients on during that time. It began with an essentially zero-carb diet (what Dr. Atkins would later call biologically zero) and contained:
  • 200 grams of protein per day
  • 135 grams of fat
  • and a pittance of vegetables 
Those vegetables consisted of a tiny salad or 3 tbsp of vegetables for dinner, and maybe a cucumber and celery salad for lunch. That's it!

The object of the starch-free diabetic diet was to get the patient to stop spilling sugar into the urine.

If the initial intervention was successful, then a patient was allowed to slowly add back in a small amount of sugar-free, starch-free carbs, at various intervals, until an individual patient's carbohydrate tolerance level was reached.

Sounds exactly like the Atkins 72 Diet Plan, doesn't it.

How William Banting Found Low Carb

I had never thought about what people did to try to control their diabetes before insulin was discovered and manufactured.

Maybe Dr. William Harvey hadn't either.

Man's Left Ear
Was William Banting's
hearing problem
due to obesity? 
It was due to a lecture of Claude Bernard, when Dr. Harvey was in Paris, that he started pondering all of this stuff and making connections between diabetes and obesity.

William Harvey was what William Banting called an Aura Surgeon. He was a specialist in the treatment of the ear.

Banting had gone to see him, not in regards to his weight, but for a hearing problem. Dr. Harvey thought Banting's hearing difficulties were caused by his obesity.

Dr. Harvey had come to believe that there was probably a link between diabetes and obesity, especially since a biologically zero-carb diet for control of diabetes produced the side effect of fat loss.

Dramatic fat loss.

So he recommended a low-carb diet as treatment for Banting's hearing issues, based on the current knowledge at the time regarding sugars and starches in food.

William Banting Writes a Low-Carb Diet Book for the Public, His Friends, and Associates

The diet was a complete success.

So successful, that William Banting decided to share his low-carb experience with others. He wrote a small pamphlet about his experience, detailing exactly what he did:

A Letter on Corpulence.

Banting's writing was pivotal in the dieting world because he was the first person to put the low-carb theory to the test, and then write about it for the public.

A testimonial, it detailed all of his:
  • unsuccessful fasts
  • exercise tricks
  • diets
  • and trying to sweat the fat off
William Banting felt compelled to lay out in full the weight-loss diet that finally worked for him.

What he wrote about, however, wasn't new.

Similar theories and ideas had been voiced and published by a few different individuals several years before.

Old Books, Worn
What Made William Banting Different?
He Wrote the Very First Low-Carb Diet Book!

But this was the first time the information had been presented to Banting, and he wanted to make sure that it actually got into the hands of the public, his friends, and associates, and not held back for just medical authorities.

The booklet spread like wildfire because the diet worked.

Was William Banting's Diet Low Carb?

The fact that William Banting's diet worked is an important detail.

Many within the low-carb community hold Banting up as being a shining example of the low-carb lifestyle, but most of them don't actually understand what they are celebrating.

William Banting did NOT use the type of diet that the low-carb community would consider to be ketogenic today.

Most definitions of low carb describe it as being less than 50 carbs per day, and William Banting's Diet contained more carbs than that.

On top of what most people would consider low-carb foods, Banting's weight-loss diet also included:
  • 2 servings per day of dry toast (or a biscuit)
  • a bit of fruit (he had to leave the pastry behind)
  • and wine or distilled spirits
Much higher in carbs than a traditional low-carb diet, Banting's new menu resembled the old SugarBusters Diet, a low-glycemic plan that I followed in 2001.

Despite the higher carb level, and without counting calories, Banting was able to shed a pound of fat per week, which resulted in a total fat loss of 46 pounds in less than a year.

His experience points out that as long as your food choices are low on the Glycemic Index, (the dry toast was more like melba toast), 60 carbs a day is still low enough to reduce hunger naturally for those who are only mildly insulin resistant.

Yet, in 1972, in the book that kicked off the very low-carb diet phenomenon, Dr. Atkins firmly stated that 60-carb diets were not effective because they did not allow you to go into ketosis.

In Dr. Atkins' opinion:

These 60-carb diets were a step in the right direction, but at 60 grams of carbohydrate a day, you don't spill ketones into the urine.

"You see, ketones were thought to be undesirable by the doctors who devised those diets," he said. And even went on to define ketosis as "putting out ketones in the breath and urine."

He told the carbohydrate intolerant to rejoice when you enter the state of ketosis because "It is a sign that the unwanted fat is being burned up as fuel."

Many still believe these things today.

Why Did William Banting's 60-Grams of Carbs Per Day Work?

If what Dr. Atkins believed in 1972 was true, and ketosis or super-low levels of insulin are essential to the fat-loss process, then why did William Banting's 60-carb diet even work?

According to Dr. Atkins frame of reference, Banting wasn't even in ketosis.

Some health enthusiasts blame the food industry for the need to eat lower glycemic carbs. In Banting's lifetime, people might not have had the same degree of metabolic damage that you see today.

Today, there is the processed-food industry and their bliss-point manipulation, which causes food cravings and binge behavior.
Food has more chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides than it did in the 1800s. Plus food sensitivities, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and addictions are rampant throughout society.

It's not just about obesity anymore.

Others might argue that William Banting used his One Golden Shot to his advantage, like Dr. Atkins did, and never fell off the wagon.

There were several 60-carb diets in the 70s, which worked well for many. If it was one's first experience with a low-carb diet, and you took your dieting experience seriously, 60 carbs was not too many.

Many individuals managed to go all the way to goal weight on 60 carbs, and then worked hard to maintain it.

My Own View on 60-Carb Diets

I have a lot of respect for Dr. Atkins and his work. But, I do not believe any of the statements that he made above.

At the time he wrote those things, and when I first read them in 1975, I tried them out for myself. Over the years, after experimenting with different low-carb diets, I came to realize that none of the things he said are true.

They were simply his "best guess" at the time.

1) You CAN get into the state of ketosis eating 60 grams of carbohydrates per day.

When glucose is in short supply, the body has to make ketones to support brain function.

There is no getting around that.

The brain needs about 120 grams of glucose per day, so anything less than 120 grams of carbohydrate will put you into some degree of ketosis, provided the deficiency is chronic.

Man Thinking About Everything He Has to Do Today
Brain needs 120 grams of glucose per day.
If you eat less than 120 carbs, the liver has to
manufacture ketones to make up the difference.

What Dr. Atkins was searching for, and eventually created, was a diet that eliminated hunger and allowed him to eat without having to count calories.

He followed in the footsteps of the scientific research being done by Dr. Walter Lyons Bloom, who was looking into the metabolic effects of a zero-carb diet.

Atkins 72 was fashioned after Dr. Bloom's metabolic diet.

Dr. Atkins wanted to use the very same process that Bloom used to achieve excess ketones in himself. And looked for them in the same way Bloom did.

At that time, the Glycemic Index did not exist, so Bloom's research studies was what Atkins had to use. Since there was no blood test available that could look for ketones, Atkins went with the best detection tool available in the 60s and 70s.

2) It is NOT TRUE that you don't spill ketones into the urine eating at 60 grams of carbohydrates a day.

What spills over into the urine are simply excess acetoacetate ketones that build up in the kidneys.

Acetone is what is excreted in your breath.

Ketostix can only detect acetoacetate ketones, so if you're dumping beta-hydroxybuterate (the ketones that build up in your bloodstream), your urine test strips won't pick that up.

Dr. Atkins CCL (Critical Carb Level for Losing) was 35 to 40 total carbs per day, based on how many acetoacetate ketones he was overspilling into his urine. This was recorded in Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, the original Atkins Diet in 1972.

This level of carbohydrate intake allowed him to eat comfortably, without hunger, but that doesn't mean that there would have been no beta-hydroxybuterate ketones in his bloodstream at higher carb levels.

Nor does it mean that YOU can't be in ketosis at 60 carbs per day just because Atkins didn't spill ketones at that level.

On the popular Sugar Busters diet, I ate two servings of starchy carbs per day plus everything allowed on the Atkins Diet, and I was still able to go into ketosis eating that way. 

I also dropped 30 pounds in only a few months. 

I averaged about 60 carbs per day on the Sugar Busters Diet, so given the list of allowed foods that Banting stated in his book, his weight-loss diet was a minimum of 60 carbs, and quite possibly, even more.

At the very beginning of 2007, after having pulled myself back up from the vertigo attack I had in 2002 and taught myself to walk again, I decided to ease into the Atkins Diet by starting out at 60 carbs per day right after Christmas.

I was in ketosis and turning the Ketostix light lavender before I ever attempted to do an Atkins 2002 Induction. It took me about three days for ketones to start spilling over into the urine at 60 carbs.

3) Ketone testing strips DO NOT tell you what type of fat is being burned.

Within the low carb community, you'll run into people who tell you that if your ketone testing strips are not registering ketones, that means you are not eating enough fat.

This is totally off-base.

The whole idea behind going low carb is to force the body to burn its body fat for fuel, and not turn the sticks a particular color due to dietary fats. That's nonsense.

The ketone strips register the concentration of excess ketones being tossed away. This tossing is how the body protects you from ketoacidosis.

Ketone sticks do not measure ketosis.

They cannot tell you whether your body is burning dietary fat or body fat.

They only point to the fact that your body is breaking down triglyceride into fatty acids to fuel muscle, organs, and other body functions, but these triglycerides may or may not consist of unwanted fat.

If you eat all of the fat that your body needs to function within a 24 hours period, the liver won't need to draw upon excess body fat. You're already supplying everything the body needs!

How Did the Public React to William Banting's Booklet?

Attacks from the medical profession and agencies against William Banting and his claims were quite similar to the attacks made against Dr. Atkins, and the same attacks you see directed toward low carbers today.

There is really nothing new under the sun. The arguments are the same old tired position:
  • The diet is too restrictive; it's not sustainable.
  • The Atkins Diet is dangerous because it causes heart disease.
  • There are no scientific studies to back up low-carb claims.
  • Removing entire food groups from the diet is unhealthy.
And on it goes.

Some of the complaints have merit, but most of the arguments you hear these days are fed by the need to control what others eat. Marketing hype or stirring up controversy to gain higher ratings is also responsible for some of the flack.

People-at-large also have a tendency to believe almost anything they hear that comes from an authoritative source, even if it's hypothesis, theory, or an individual opinion.

If opinion, theory, or hypothesis is repeated enough times, people will begin to believe those ideas to be fact.

This is why there are so many myths, misconceptions, and lies being taught within the low-carb community. Hypothesis has been stated so many times that the community has swallowed those ideas completely.

Today, the original opinions have grown so large, they literally fuel the entire low-carb movement.

Unfortunately, most of the things taught within the low-carb community about low-carb diets, why they work and how they work, are complete fabrications.

It's a big mess right now, and just continues to get worse as new ketogenic authorities pop up with new theories and opinions. People are defending and fighting for low-carb magic as if their very lives were at stake.

Lately, I've been rereading the archives here at Kickin' Carb Clutter and trying to update the older posts with more accurate information, but I keep discovering new things. I keep running into information that destroys more and more of my low-carb fantasies.

I've come to the realization over the past couple of days that much of what I still believe about low carb isn't accurate.

What Do You Really Want?

It seems to me that the bottom line here is that the science behind low carb is only of interest to a select few.

Most of the time, people just want to know what worked for someone else and whether or not there's a chance that diet might work for them.

This was the perspective that William Banting was coming from  when he wrote his low-carb booklet:
  1. Here's what my doc learned in Paris.
  2. Here's what he suggested that I do about it.
  3. It worked.
  4. I lost my body fat.
  5. I regained my hearing.
  6. Maybe it will work for you too.
I can understand a certain amount of hesitancy, where the unknown is concerned.

Something new is presented to you, or something with a slight twist as in Banting's case, and it isn't known what the long-term effects of following such a revolutionary diet regime might be.

You don't know how your body will react to carbohydrate restriction.

Caution is not a bad thing.

But at the same time, I believe that personal anecdotes and the sharing of experience are essential to cut through the misconceptions and fantasies, to see reality, and discover what those effects -- for better or worse -- might be.

Personal anecdote and experience has value, regardless of what those who only believe in science-based evidence say.

If William Banting hadn't chosen to come forward and share his n=1 experience with following a 60-carb low-glycemic diet with the world, how many of us would still be obese and ill today?

If low carb isn't for you, check out our sister blog:

Life After Low Carb - This blog focuses on healthy living at a 60 to 120 gram carb level, but also includes information on the old Weight Watchers diets, mindful and intuitive eating, and other moderate-carb diets. Readers include Weight Watchers members, those interested in just eating healthy, and those transitioning from low carb to a balanced diet.


  1. Great post, as usual! I always thought that William Banting had it pretty good, being able to shed his weight while drinking so much alcohol *grin*. I have been re-examining my beliefs about low carb diets as well. I can absolutely attest to the fact that the diet completely reversed my lipid profile for the better as well as helped reverse some of the neuropathy in my feet from type 2 diabetes, but it has never been effective enough for me to ever come near to my goal weight (and I could never, ever turn those damn strips any colors!). That being said, it certainly is a great place to come to from my previous diet of crap (golden arch junkie), and it launched my awareness of the link between diet and health so many years ago. I also find it disillusioning that some of the low carb gurus that have been blogging for so many years still aren't thin even though they also have better health (not naming any names, lol). I think there is still much to be learned about damage to our metabolism which could have been caused by anything in the environment, not necessarily just poor diet choices. I wish I had thousands of dollars to run tests on myself to look for things like heavy metals, etc. Sorry for such a long response - you always give me a lot to think about... thanks for the post!

    1. Long responses are definitely appreciated! Things are not as simple as the diet books make it seem. However, processed foods have really messed folks up I think. When I was younger, a Banting type diet worked extremely well for me. But those mindless days are over I'm afraid.

  2. Hi Vickie! I have been reading your blog a lot these past weeks, trying to make sense of low-carbing, but I am getting more and more frustrated and disappointed with the "diet".

    I am in no way overweight, weighing around 52-52,5 kg for many years (but now around 54 kg), for a 163 cm height, but I have been trying to lose those 2 kg for a long time. What's more, my stomach has always bloated a lot after pretty much every meal, so I thought I'd give intermittent fasting a go to see if at least my morning could be made more bearable (as I coudn't stomach porridge anymore or bread!) and maybe lose those kilos. I did that and have for a long time kept to it, with absolutely no change in my weight! In addition, my stomach might still swell up, even with just a green tea for breakfast!

    Then about 11 months ago, after reading about LCHF online and reading Annika Dahlqvist's book on the diet, I thought I'd try eating like that too, mostly to see if giving up sugar and grains could help with bloating, but also seduced by all those accounts of losing weight. As I only had a couple of kilos to lose (by this time my weight was mostly 53 kg, it had crept up without my changing anything I ate) I thought it would be a breeze! I didn't count calories, ate meat and veggies with butter and cream and generally liked the food, although I have trouble eating so much fat.. I managed to reach 51,5 kg and was delighted, but it was short lived and all the kilos lost came back. It seemed that the more I read about the diet and tried to find new recipes, then harder and more confusing it got. And also less efficient.

    Since then I have tried many different approaches to low-carbing, including Atkins 72, when my weight went down a bit, but now it's up again, to its "normal", fluctuating between 53 and 54. What's worse is that I have become obsessed with counting calories and carbs (through myfitnesspal), tried to stay very low with them for longer periods and eat no more than 1200 calories a day, often less, and still nothing seems to happen. I also weigh myself twice a day.. I take my mesurements too(my thighs have always been me "problem" area), especially since after a holiday or longer weekend when I eat carbs, etc, I seem to baloon up again (carb creep and water retention?). I mostly fit into the same clothes, but the scale shows 54 kg most of these days. :( I also constantly struggle with constipation.

    What is even more worrying is that I have not had my period for two months, when before it came regularly every month (except at the beginning of low carbing when it was once late 2 weeks), not to the day, but normal anyway. Now for the past week I have tried to re-introduce some fiber in my diet to help with constipation(I think I suffer from IBS-C that has been plaguing me since childhood), by eating chia seed puddings, flax seeds, and eating carbs too, normal carbs, like a potato, more veggies (have been eating meat, eggs and lettuce for a while now) and even sugary desserts!

    I really am desperate and don't know what I can do!

    Thanks for reading and I apologize for the long story!


    1. There is NO low-carb magic. Low carb works like every other weight-loss diet works, by calorie deficit.

      The advantages are that the higher protein content of the diet blunts hunger and carvings, making it easier to eat at a caloric deficit, and since you're burning predominantly fats for fuel, triglycerides drop, enabling Leptin to communicate properly with the brain.

      However, if you are normal weight, or nearly so, you are not insulin resistant and don't produce Leptin in the same quantities as those who are severely overweight. What that means? There is no advantage of going low carb over any other diet.

      Low carb is designed for those who are insulin resistant.

      The important thing here to understand: 52 kg is underweight for your height. And 54 kg is slightly less than "normal" weight for your height. You body is defending the small fat stores it currently has.

      Bloating is due to gluten intolerance and/or untreated celiac disease OR another untreated food intolerance like dairy OR Candida and/or Small Bowel Overgrowth.

      Intermittent fasting is designed for those who have stalled part way to their goal weight, and need a way to further reduce calories without having to count them. Unless you're eating a pound of steak at that one sitting, it often provides less than adequate protein nutrition.

      Since you are already at a normal weight, the body will interpret any type of fasting as starvation.

      This is why you didn't see any body composition changes by switching to 1 or 2 meals a day. Your body simply corrected the energy imbalance by shutting down non-essential-to-life systems (such as your monthly period), slowing down digestion (constipation), and finding other ways to refill your liver glycogen stores.

      You body is trying to tell you that its starving.

      Here's the thing. At normal weight, the body is only going to let you burn so much muscle tissue before it corrects the problem because muscle burning is dangerous - it's a threat to life. You aren't necessarily burning fat when your weight drops. It can be water fluctuation or muscle loss.

      To burn stubborn fat pockets (if that is what we're really talking about here), it takes a very carefully plotted out diet and exercise routine designed to provide "more than adequate" protein and essential fatty acids because the leaner you are, the harder the body will fight to protect its fat stores. Your protein requirements are higher than average, not lower.

      Your body is doing exactly what it was designed to do: save your life from the diet craziness.

      So first, take a deep breath.

      Second, I am not qualified to give dietary advice to those at normal weight.

      Third: GO TO http://www.bodyrecomposition.com

      That is where you'll find what you're looking for.

      Read Lyle's stuff, the same as you've been reading mine. Join the forum, and read that too. He has a book on getting rid of stubborn fat pockets, as well as several other diet topics, but they are not cheap. They are, however, SAFE. He's qualified to give you advice. He knows his stuff. He doesn't mess around.

    2. Thank you for your lengthy and in-depth answer, Vickie! You might be right and I should have perhaps never even got started with low carb, but thanks to it I did discover that I have gluten sensitivity and that I do better eating more protein. I actually started eating a bit more for the past couple of days, including sugary carbs (Christmas in nearly here!) and I am actually not feeling any worse. I even weigh 53,5 kg this morning!

      My period hasn't unfortunately returned.. I tried to read about starvation, etc, but many on the web think it is a myth? I don't know what to believe, but I know what is happening in my body!

      Weight-wise, I am most comfortable at 50 - 52 kg, I am very small framed (wrist measurement about 13 cm) and any weight gain shows! Perhaps the secret to going back to my old weight, if not actaully to 50, is to stress less and eat more protein and vegetables? I suppose I can only try!

    3. Minnesota starvation study was done during one of the major wars. It talks about all of the symptoms of real starvation.

      Starvation "mode" is considered a myth because if you have plenty of body fat, the body can use that fat to make up part of your calorie deficit. If you don't have a LOT of excess body fat (you don't), the body will simply make adjustments to your metabolism. It will shut down non-essential processes and systems, like your period.

      Recovery from real starvation takes 2 to 5 years, depending on how long you've been in that condition and how severe it was. I had celiac disease and Graves disease at the same time, so mine was pretty severe.

      Gluten intolerance (celiac disease or gluten sensitivity that affects the digestive system) causes inflammation and villi destruction. The inflammation and blunted or missing villi make it difficult to impossible for the body to absorb nutrients, so you go into real starvation.

      I understand the comfort thing. I'm currently much too heavy for comfort. My right knee has swollen to twice its size again, as it does whenever I weigh too much. I can't get down on the floor with my grandbaby, and it causes serious pain just to get down on my knees and scrub the tub.

      Worrying about a few pounds "showing" when small, is a whole other thing. That's about body image. It's a result of how you feel about yourself. It's also driven by fear of what others might think.

      Stress will keep cortisol high. But so does going very low carb. You definitely need to relax and understand that shaving fat when you only have a few kg to lose takes lots of patience. Due to the small calorie deficit, it will take a while to accomplish.

      It's the calorie deficit that drives weight loss, not the amount of carbs you eat, but if you're already small, and have gluten problems, then a high protein diet is definitely essential.

      Vegetables are great for bulk (keeps you full), nutrients, and they are super low in calories. So the Rapid Fat Loss Diet (by Lyle McDonald) consists of mostly lean protein and vegetables. It's low carb by default only.

      If you try to do what you're suggesting, make sure you take some fish oil for essential fatty acids. In addition, shaving body fat will cause Leptin to tank within a few weeks, so you should only diet for 6 weeks at a time. You have to take a maintenance break in between diet rounds to let your body reset its Leptin level. And go by what your body "looks" like, and not what the scale says.


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