So often I have heard people say that Low carbohydrate diets are “just a fad”. For me, this is just another example of how little education most people, including most doctors have regarding nutrition and the history of nutrition research. In fact until the 1960’s most US physicians knew that low carbohydrate diets were the most successful way to get their patients to lose weight. Here is what Dr. George L Thorpe published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1957.
You can download the full text of Dr. Thorpe’s article here.
It’s interesting to note that Dr. Thorpe had figured out even then that it was the excess insulin secretion caused by a high carbohydrate diet that was causing the obesity in susceptible patients. Here’s how he stated it in this article. “If the carbohydrate intake is held well withing the capacity of the tissues to oxidize the pyruvic acid formed from it then all the carbohydrate ingested can be completely changed to carbon dioxide and water. Restriction of carbohydrate intake removes the stimulus to insulin production, so that the fat-storage activity of insulin will be held to a minimum. The anterior pituitary fat-mobilizing principle will then predominate over the fat-storing forces. Fat will be mobilized from the adipose deposits of the body, oxidized to ketones in the liver and circulated to the tissues in this easily combustible form”.
But the history of low carb diets goe back much father than that. In 1797 John Rollo a brilliant Scottish Military Physician published on his results of treating two diabetic Army Officers with a low carbohydrate diet. Low carbohydrate diets were the standard treatment of diabetes through the 19th century. Here’s a quote from a Medical Text from 1877 on the treatment of diabetes (62% of Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic).
So What Happened that Low Carb Diets Fell Out of Favor and Became a “Fad Diet”?
In the 1950’s the epidemic of Heart Disease was taking off. Many powerful figures were being struck down in their prime, most notably President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A theory had been going around based on animal studies since the early 1900’s that a diet high in fat and Cholesterol caused heart disease. In retrospect the evidence now strongly indicates that the cause of the heart disease epidemic was sugar consumption and smoking and that fat in the diet is actually protective for the heart but starting in the late 1950’s a crusade against fat in the diet was begun by Dr. Ancel Keys. Dr. Keys was a Doctor of Oceanography and after studying fish went back and got a degree in Physiology but never actually treated an obese or diabetic patient in his life. He was however an astute politician and a forceful and ruthless personality who led campaigns of ostracism and character assassination against anyone who opposed him. He, along with low fat leaning powerful politician Senator George McGovern pushed through the initial low fat dietary guidelines over the objections of many senior scientists. The New York Times Best Selling book, The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz tells this story with all major studies examined and explained. I had a chance to talk to Nina about it at Low Carb Brekenridge.
Since the implementations of the guidelines in 1977 the rate of obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed despite good evidence Americans have significantly reduced fat and increased carbohydrate as recommended by the guidelines. Over 2.5 billion dollars has been spent trying prove that a low fat diet lowers the risk of heart disease and all of the studies have shown no benefit and some cases an increased risk of heart disease. Nowhere in history before the 1900’s has a low fat diet been recommended for diabetes or prevention of heart disease. So in my opinion a Low Fat, High Carbohydrate is clearly the “Fad Diet” and one which definitely needs to fade into history.
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