Under my byline

Meat the human beans

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 22 July 2007

William BantingThe Harvey-Banting diet is one of the earliest low-carb diets recorded

“Of all the parasites that affect humanity I do not know of, nor can I imagine, any more distressing than that of Obesity, and, having emerged from a very long probation in this affliction, I am desirous of circulating my humble knowledge and experience for the benefit of other sufferers…” Thus wrote William Banting in his bestselling pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, first published in 1864. Banting was a London undertaker, and so fat that he had to walk down stairs backwards. After years of trying to lose weight, he finally met Dr William Harvey, who set him a high-protein, high-fat and low-carb diet. It worked.

Banting notes that his obesity was not the result of unusual gluttony — he led an active life — but that “I partook of the simple aliments of bread, milk, butter, beer, sugar, and potatoes more freely than my age required”. Nasty remarks about his size in public and in crowded spaces led him to avoid “such circumscribed accommodation”.

Just as beans are bad for horses, Dr Harvey said, starch and sugar are bad for humans. So Banting called these food items the “human beans”, and gave them up. His daily diet was now meat — beef, mutton, fish, poultry, game — with coffee, sherry or brandy, a little cooked fruit.

He lost 46 lbs in 12 months. Acidity, indigestion and heartburn vanished, and (easy to imagine) he slept better. He concluded that “I am very much better, bodily and mentally… and, though at seventy-two years of age, I cannot expect to remain free from some coming natural infirmity that all flesh is heir to, I cannot at the present time complain of any.”

This is interesting as a very early example of a low-carb diet, and also because some of Banting’s observations were well ahead of his time. For instance, he noted that different people’s bodies respond differently to certain foods. He also linked several common ailments to obesity. In an age of quackery, he urged the obese to diet only under good medical supervision.

With India’s expanding economy go expanding waistlines — this you can see in any mall. Yet everyone has diet tips, and never hesitates to share them. They are today’s quacks. The causes of obesity are lack of exercise from childhood onwards, and superabundant “human beans”. Indian tourists abroad may soon start to hear nasty remarks, just as people once made fun of overweight American tourists in Hawaii shirts.


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