The terminology “low-carb” wasn’t really coined until around 1992 when the USDA announced America’s model food pyramid included six to eleven servings daily of grains and starches. However, low-carb dieting dates back more than 100 years before the trendy Atkins diet to 1864 with a pamphlet titled Letter on Corpulence written by William Banting, as close to the first commercial low-carb diet as you could get.
Banting had suffered a series of debilitating health problems due mainly to being overweight or “corpulent”. He searched in vain for cures to his weight problem, which many doctors at that time believed to be a necessary side effect of old age. He also tried eating less but he continued to gain weight and have various health problems. He could not understand how the small amounts of food he was eating led to his weight problem:
“Few men have led a more active life – bodily or mentally – from a constitutional anxiety for regularity, precision, and order, during fifty years’ business career, from which I had retired, so that my corpulence and subsequent obesity were not through neglect of necessary bodily activity, nor from excessive eating, drinking, or self indulgence of any kind, except that I partook of the simple aliments of bread, milk, butter, beer, sugar, and potatoes more freely than my age required…”
Many contemporary Americans on the go may recognize Banting’s previous unhealthy daily diet:
“My former dietary table was bread and milk for breakfast, or a pint of tea with plenty of milk, sugar, and buttered toast; meat, beer, much bread (of which I was always very fond) and pastry for dinner, the meal of tea similar to that of breakfast, and generally a fruit tart or bread and milk for supper. I had little comfort and far less sound sleep.”
Just substitute a Pop tart, doughnut or muffin with coffee and plenty of cream and sugar for breakfast, a fast food burger and fries with a super-sized soft drink for lunch and a frozen pot pie or pizza for dinner followed by dessert and you can see how Banting’s diet was so much like the typical fast-paced modern day Americans.
When his physician placed these items on a “forbidden foods list,” Banting lost 50 pounds and 13 inches in one year. He kept it off, living a long and much healthier life.
His new diet plan consisted of a number of meat dishes and he listed it as follows:
“For breakfast, at 9.00 A.M., I take five to six ounces of either beef mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork or veal; a large cup of tea or coffee (without milk or sugar), a little biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast; making together six ounces solid, nine liquid.
For dinner, at 2.00 P.M., Five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, herrings, or eels, any meat except pork or veal, any vegetable except potato, parsnip, beetroot, turnip, or carrot, one ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding not sweetened any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or Madeira- Champagne, port, and beer forbidden; making together ten to twelve ounces solid, and ten liquid.
For tea, at 6.00 P.M., Two or three ounces of cooked fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar; making two to four ounces solid, nine liquid.
For supper, at 9.00 P.M. Three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of claret or sherry and water; making four ounces solid and seven liquid.
For nightcap, if required, a tumbler of grog (gin, whisky, or brandy, without sugar)-or a glass or two of claret or sherry.”
So great were the changes in his appearance and health that his friends and acquaintances began to notice and just like today wanted to know what diet he was on. Most important of all Banting could feel and see a difference himself.
“I am told by all who know me that my personal appearance greatly improved, and that I seem to bear the stamp of good health; this may be a matter of opinion or friendly remark, but I can honestly assert that I feel restored in health, “bodily and mentally,” appear to have more muscular power and vigour, eat and drink with a good appetite, and sleep well. All symptoms of acidity, indigestion, and heartburn (with which I was frequently tormented) have vanished. I have left off using boot-hooks, and other such aids, which were indispensable, but being now able to stoop with ease and freedom, are unnecessary. I have lost the feeling of occasional faintness, and what I think a remarkable blessing and comfort is, that I have been able safely to leave off knee-bandages, which I had worn necessarily for many years, and given up the umbilical truss.”
His how-to dieting book became very popular and was translated into multiple languages. However, over time it was abandoned.
Banting noted in Letter on Corpulence that a common health paradox of our time did not exist in his. This was the paradox of obesity, widely believed to be a problem of excess, among the poor. The poor of the 19th century could not afford the refined sugary foods that cause weight gain. But poor people of the 21st century sure can today.
In a recent Associated Press article titled, “Health Paradox: Obesity Attacks Poor”, the reporter noted that many poor families are stretching their food dollars by purchasing unhealthy processed and refined foods. Of one family Barbassa wrote,
“During winter, jobs are scarce, so Caballero feeds her husband and three children the cheapest food she can get: potatoes, bread, tortillas… As processed foods rich in sugar and fat have become cheaper than fruits and vegetables, the poor in particular are paying a high price with obesity rates shooting up, followed by diabetes.”
Unfortunately for the Caballero family, these cheap staples are bad for their health. Fresh meat, low-starch fruits and vegeta-bles may be more expensive and have a shorter shelf life, but they are definitely worth the price in saved medical expenses and
Throughout the years, as “calories” became known, variations of counting them were included in dietary solutions. And a variety of other issues were explored like how many of which foods should be eaten and how frequently.
While Banting’s diet eventually fell out of favor, low-carb diets did begin appearing again in the 20th century. The most famous of these are the Atkins and Scarsdale diets that came to popularity in the 1970s. While Scarsdale has a set 14 day meal plan that must be followed and greatly restricts calories, the Atkins diet allowed for unlimited calorie consumption as long as those calories were from protein, fat and vegetables and carbs intake was kept low.
Atkins and Scarsdale fell out of favor in the 1980’s as the U. S. Department of Agriculture encouraged the consumption of grains and grain products with the USDA food pyramid.
It was only in the 1990’s that we began to see a return to low-carb dieting that seems to be more than a fad. It’s a lifestyle! As more and more people realize the weight loss and other health benefits that are available to people who eat low-carb, the number of diets and stores that sell specialty low-carb products continue to rise.
In a nutshell, most low-carb diets carry the same basic premise: that too much of simple, refined carbohydrates leads to over overproduction of insulin, which leads to the storage of too much fat in the body. This fat storage is especially prominent around the middle.
While there are degrees of difference among the many diets, they all agree on the negative effects that excess insulin production have on our systems.