The History of Low Carb

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Low Carb Diets are extremely popular and they come in many different shapes and sizes. Lots of celebrities have also been associated low-carb diets, including: Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, Mick Jagger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Ben Affleck and Megan Fox.

The timeline below looks at where these diets came from, and the various types of low carb diets which have emerged over the years. Many of these diets are fads in my opinion; but some may work for some people in some contexts, as nutrition is so individual.

As this is an overview rather than a detailed review of each diet, I’ve added links, references and further information below the timeline if you would like to find out more about any of these diets. If you’re interested I have also written posts about the clinical uses for low carb diets and a brief history of ridiculous fad diets.  



Additional Information about the History of Low Carb: 

  • 776 B.C: Greek Olympic athletes were documented to have consumed meat-heavy high protein low carbohydrate diets (references: National Geographic link and M. Denke (2001) “Metabolic effects of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets”).
  • 1863 – 1869: The Banting-Harvey Plan – William Banting (A.K.A ‘the father of the low-carb diet) promoted a low carb diet for weight loss and optimal health in his “Letter on Corpulence to the Public” (references: Banting (1863) Letter on Corpulence to the American Public, and Groves (2002) “William Banting: Father of the low-carbohydrate diet” and Pogozelski et al. (2005) “The Metabolic Effects of Low-carbohydrate diets and Incorporation into a Biochemistry Course”).
  • 1880: Low carb high fat diets emerge in Germany (references: Schwartz (1986) “Never satisfied: a cultural history of diets, fantasies and fat” and SIRC Timeline).
  • 1921: The ketogenic diet is used to treat epilepsy in children – this low carbohydrate, adequate protein, high fat diet (3 – 4g of fat is provided for every 1g of carbohydrate and protein) can still be used today under medical and dietetic guidance for some children who don’t respond to epilepsy medication (more information available on: The Epilepsy Foundation – Ketogenic Diet and in this blog post). 
  • 1927: The Inuit diet promoted by the explorer Vihjalmur Stefansson is a 15- 20% carb diet based on the Inuit diets of Iceland and Canada (reference: Stefansson (1927) “The Friendly Arctic” and McClellan & Du Bois (1930) “Clinical Calorimetry – Prolonged Meat Dishes With a Study of Kidney Function & Ketosis).
  • 1935: The alkaline diet becomes popular – this unevidence-based diet is low carb as most starchy carbohydrate foods are classed as ‘acid forming’ (reference: Committee on Nutritional Problems (1936) “Food Fallacies and Nutritional Quackery”).
  • 1950: The cabbage soup diet – this extreme diet involves eating mainly homemade cabbage soup for 7 days (more information on this diet here and here).  
  • 1958: “Eat Fat and Grow Slim” by Richard Mackarness is published which promotes a low carb, high fat diet.
  • 1964: The drinking man’s diet emerges, which involves limiting carbohydrates to 60g per day, promoting high protein foods (including whale, raccoon and frog legs) and drinking a few glasses of alcohol with lunch and dinner; therefore exceeding current recommended alcohol limits! (more information on this diet here).
  • 1967: The Stillman diet (a.k.a. The doctor’s quick weight loss diet is published) is a low carb, high protein diet which promotes 6 small meals per day (more information here).  
  • 1972: “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” is published which encouraged foods high in protein and fat (more information on this diet here).
  • 1975: The Stone Age diet by Walter Voegtlin was published which encourages eating ‘like a caveman’ which was described as a diet high in meat and seafood, with moderate amounts of fruit and vegetables, and discouraged grains, dairy, added salt and sugar (reference:  Fitzgerald (2014) “Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us”).
  • 1978: The Scarsdale diet a moderately low carbohydrate diet (34.5% of daily energy from carbs) and a daily calorie limit of 850-1000 kcal per day (more information about this diet here)
  • 1980s: The Cabbage Soup Diet regains popularity under new names such as: the TWA Stewardess Diet, The Dolly Parton Diet and the model’s diet (more information here).   
  • 1985: Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner publish a paper called ‘Paleolithic Nutrition’ which supported the concept of the Stone Age diet from 1975.
  • 1992: the updated “Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution” was released which allowed slightly more carbs in the introductory phase than the initial diet in 1972 (22g per day instead of 5g) (more information here)The Alkaline Diet also made a comeback that year when when “One Sickness, One Disease, One Treatment” was published by Robert O. Young.
  • 1995: The Zone Diet emerges – a moderately low carb diet (40% of daily energy) which encourages thinking about starchy foods as condiments to only have in small amounts (see here for more information about this diet). 
  • 2002: The Stone Age diet makes a comeback with “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain (further info on this diet here). Also, Robert O. Young publishes “The pH Miracle” which further increased the popularity of the alkaline diet (more info on the alkaline diet see this blog post).
  • 2003: “The South Beach Diet” by Dr Arthur Agatston is published – this has different phases, starting with a low carb diet for 2 weeks, and progressing to a maintenance period which is moderately low in carbs and focuses on including foods with a lower glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) (more information about this here).
  • 2014: “I Quit Sugar: Your Complete 8-Week Detox Program and Cookbook”is published based the moderately low carbohydrate plan by Sarah Wilson (More information about ‘no sugar diets’ here)
  • 2015: “The Blood Sugar Diet” is published by Michael Mosely – a ‘low-carb mediterranean style’ diet with or without intermittent fasting days and the option of restricting energy intake to 800 calories per day. This diet is promoted for people with or at risk of type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome (see here for more information about low carb diets and diabetes, Diabetes UK have also released statements related to fasting, 800 calorie diets and low carb dietsFor more information on intermittent fasting diet see this blog post). The ketogenic (or ‘keto’) diet also regained popularity for weight loss, with books being published such as: “Keto in 28: The Ultimate Low-Carb, High-Fat Weight-Loss Solution” and “Butter & Bacon: Bacon & Butter: The Ultimate Ketogenic Diet Cookbook”.
  • 2017: The Pioppi Diet by Dr Malhotra is published – a low carb diet which claims to be based on the diet of the Italian village Pioppi (more info here). “Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet” is also released this year which claims to boost levels of the hormone dopamine by eating food which are high in tyrosine (which also results in a low carb diet, more information about this diet at the end of this article).  
  • 2018: Ongoing popularity of low carb diets for weight loss, such as the ketogenic diets. The DIETFITS study is also published which found no significant difference in weight loss when a low carb diet was compared to a low fat diet (see here for a full review of this study).



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Founder of The Food Medic

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Maeve has written extensively for NHD magazine over the last few years, producing a wealth of dietetic and nutritional articles. Always evidence based and factual, Maeve creates material that is relevant and very readable. She provides high quality work with a professional and friendly approach. Maeve is a beacon of high quality knowledge and work within the nutrition writing community; and someone NHD magazine is proud to work with.

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