In South Africa's poorest neighborhoods where obesity is a major problem, people are cutting out bread, rice, pasta, sugar and feasting on meat, butter, cheese and cream.
Nasreen Riley from Cape Town, cooks up butter-fried chicken livers in a full-cream tomato sauce as part of the controversial "banting" diet often seen a preserve of the middle-classes.
Advertisement"A lot of my clothes are now baggy. My skin has got better. People compliment, they can see the difference," said Riley, a 42-year-old office administrator, who has lost seven kilos (15 pounds) in eight weeks.
Behind the drive to spread the banting word is Euodia Sampson, a South African actress and TV personality who is a strong exponent of the diet, and Timothy Noakes, an outspoken professor who specializes in nutrition.
Earlier this year, the pair linked up with a gym group in Cape Town's township of Ocean View -- which was established under apartheid rule, far from the coast -- and signed up 40 volunteers.
"My main mission was to dispel the fact that it is an elitist diet because of the cream and the steaks and the cheeses, which seems to be a middle-class, upper-middle-class way of eating," said 46-year-old Sampson.
"What banting is for me is going back to a way that our grandparents and great-grandparents ate."
Buying food for the diet can cost just 30 rand ($2) a day per person, and the program is keen to show that it is affordable using cheap meat cuts such as livers, kidneys, pancreas, brains, bone marrow and pig trotters.
"The diet is in fact the diet of our ancestors," said Noakes.
"It's what we used to eat well before processed foods came along, before the industrial diet was forced upon us (and) they said we must start eating lots of carbohydrates in the form of cereals and grains."
But there are fierce critics who say banting -- which has a huge following in Europe and the United States -- is a crash diet that does not produce long-term weight loss and could have health consequences due to its imbalanced nutrients and high meat consumption.
Professor Tess van der Merwe, a Pretoria-based endocrinologist and obesity expert, said that a high fat diet can cause diabetes, heart disease and liver cirrhosis, and has been linked to cancer.
She criticised Noakes for trying to "influence a whole subset of the population... who may be desperate for any form of help, which makes them vulnerable and gullible."
"For a household face to go and influence a whole subset of your population to almost follow him in a slave-like manner, I have a huge moral problem with it," she said.
A few streets from Nasreen Riley's house Darrol Fowkes, 42, an unemployed father of two, has lost 10 kilos in five weeks on the banting plan.
He breaks two raw eggs into a glass, adds fresh cream and gulps it down.
"That's my breakfast, and I can go for the whole day (without eating)," he said.
"I have tried every type of diet... and it didn't work, but this one, I can feel it is working."
The Ocean View banting club, which is an informal group with no membership fees, meets twice each week at the gym, and also exchanges messages on Whatapps and Facebook to share recipes and encouragement.
After eight weeks, many said they have lost weight or even gone off their blood pressure and diabetes medication -- though not always with permission of their doctors.
Sampson and Noakes now plan to introduce the diet in other Cape Town townships -- including Delft and Lavenderhill, some of the city's most disadvantaged, crime-ridden areas.
Township residents often have bad diets, with chips, cornmeal porridge, bread and parboiled rice supplemented by cheap fast food.
According to the World Health Organization, South Africa is the fattest nation in sub-Saharan Africa with one in four people obese, and poor black women have the highest prevalence of weight problems.
"Banting is really making a connection point with these ladies," said Samson, who is a motivational coach and therapist as well as an actress.
"Most of them remember when we ate real food. We ate full cream milk, people used fat. So it wasn't difficult to convince these ladies. Banting is not a diet, it is a lifestyle."
"We want to spread it throughout South Africa."
The radical eating plan is named after William Banting, an Englishman who first popularized it in the 1860s.
Other variations include "the Atkins diet" named after US cardiologist Robert Atkins in the 1970s, and the "Paleo diet" -- also based on supposedly ancient eating habits.
Noakes hit back at his critics, saying they fail to understand how nutrition-induced diseases are ravaging South Africa's poor.
"They don't go out into the community to see what's happening, they are not the people sawing off the legs of diabetics in hospitals. Heart disease is a minor problem... the (real) problem is diabetes," he said.
These women went on this diet... they started to get healthy.
But most importantly they felt better, and for the first time in their lives they took control, and that is what they really felt empowered by.
You May Also Like