Most people think of the Atkins diet when they hear the phrase low-carb. Indeed, Dr. Robert C. Atkins is the author of a number of low carbohydrate ketogenic diet books. The first one was published in 1972, and his pioneering efforts revolutionized the dieting world we see today. For everything that you hear; however, Dr. Atkins did not create low-carb dieting.
William Banting published pamphlets in the 1860s extolling the health benefits of the low carbohydrate diet he was put on by his medical advisor, Mr. William Harvey, F.R.C.S. The basic tenet of his diet was to consume as little as possible bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes due to his belief that these contained starch and saccharine matter, which tended to create fat. Mr. Banting found that his indigestion disappeared, his umbilical rupture was cured, he lost 50 lbs, his sight and hearing were surprising for a man in his 70s, he slept better at night, and he basically felt in better health than he had for the previous 26 years of his life. Mr. Banting revolutionized dieting in his time, and he received thousands of letters from readers thanking him and telling him how his low carbohydrate diet had changed their lives for the better.
The Johns Hopkins University and Mayo Clinic devised a diet to treat epilepsy in the 1920s. The diet requires high fat consumption and a low intake of carbohydrates in order to induce ketosis. They studied how the diet worked with children who were unsuccessful in treating their epilepsy with medication, and they found that 55 percent of the original patients remained on the diet and 27 percent had a greater than 90 percent decrease in their seizures. There were some children who had no seizures for two years while on the diet, and they appeared to be cured of the epilepsy even after stopping their low-carb ketogenic diet.
Walter Lyons Bloom and Gordon Azar did a study in 1963 comparing carbohydrate restrictive diets to fasting diets. They concluded that eating a diet adequate in calories, protein and fat, but deficient in carbohydrate, resulted in weight loss similar to that of fasting patients.
The first truly popular low-carb diet was popularized in the book The Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet by Dr. Irwin Maxwell Stillman in 1967, and the low carbohydrate revolution began. The diet consisted primarily of protein sources like meat, fowl, fish and eggs while curtailing the consumption of carbohydrates to close to nothing. The book sold 2.5 million copies from 1967-69 and large numbers of people lost a lot of weight on this controlled carbohydrate diet.
Dr. Robert C. Atkins opened his practice as a cardiologist in New York City in 1960. When he was in his 30s and overweight, he ran across a 1963 article by Bloom and Azar. Their article said you do not have to go hungry to lose weight; instead, you can lose weight by cutting back on carbohydrates. This convinced Dr. Atkins to try the diet, and to his amazement it worked very well. After his success with the diet, he began recommending it to his patients and found that not only did they lose weight; other health problems they were fighting with either had greatly improved symptoms or went away completely. These included high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, heartburn, diabetes, acid reflux, and arthritis. The vast majority of his patients also reported that they slept better, had more energy, got sick less often, and basically felt better overall.
Dr. Atkins published his original book, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, in 1972; however, the revolution was off to a slow start. His low carbohydrate diet countervailed what had been taught in the mainstream medical institutions and was attacked by the likes of nutritionists, dieticians, physicians, and the Journal of the American Medical Association; however, other doctors were also now aware of the connection between carbohydrates, disease and obesity.
In 1983 Dr. Richard Bernstein, a type 1 diabetic since the age of nine, opened his highly controversial clinic to treat diabetics with a very strict low carbohydrate approach to the disease. Bernstein’s ideas were ridiculed at first by the medical establishment, but the low-carb revolution picked up steam.
In 1992, Dr. Richard Heller wrote his first diet program called The Carbohydrates Addict’s Program for Success: Taking Control of Your Life and Your Weight, which blamed high carbohydrate consumption for the increased obesity being found throughout the USA. He found a fast growing audience for his ideas as the revolution continued to grow.
The first edition of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution was published in 1992, and another came in 1999. These two editions sold over 10 million copies and the editions combined to become one of the 50 top selling books of all time.
The year 1999 was a breakthrough year for low-carb practitioners and the low-carb revolution steamed full speed ahead. Dr. Richard Bernstein published his book Diabetes Solution, and it was an instant hit selling upwards of a million copies. Today the latest 2003 Edition has a preface by none other than the president of the American Diabetic Society, quite a victory for a man who when he first preached his controlled carbohydrate approach to the disease was regarded as a crackpot and eccentric by the American Medical Association.
Also in 1999, Dr. Richard Heller teamed up with his wife, Dr. Rachel Heller and Dr. Frederic Vagnini to publish The Carbohydrate Addict’s Healthy Heart Program: Break Your Carbo-Insulin Connection to Heart Disease, a newer version of his first book that documented very clearly the relationship between high carbohydrate consumption and the plethora of Syndrome X diseases as well as, of course, obesity. This book and several related ones by this group of authors sold and continue to sell millions of copies.
One low-carb diet; however, was much more successful and popular with the public than the others; that was Dr. Robert Atkins’ diet. Literally millions of people succeeded in losing weight and improving their overall health by following the programs put forth in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.
Dr. Atkins nutritional approach spread primarily by word of mouth as people successful on the diet introduced it to others. The medical establishment was stubbornly against the Atkins approach and tried their best to discredit it. The debate over the Atkins nutritional plan grew into a roar as millions tried and succeeded losing weight and improving their health while the experts claimed it was wrong and could not be done. The real testament as to the validity of Dr. Atkins’ program is that while a large majority of the medical & nutritional establishment claimed his diet was just plain wrong, the number of people following the program continued to grow at a faster and faster pace as successful individuals motivated and encouraged their friends and others to try the Atkins Nutritional Plan.
As more and more people found the diet worked for them, other successful low carbohydrate diets quickly followed such as The Zone, Sugar Busters!, The No-Grain Diet, and The South Beach Diet, to name a few.
The revolution took off at amazing speed when Dr. Atkins published an updated version of his book, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, in 2002. The new edition incorporated slight changes in his program based on his last 30 years of research. This edition of his book was soon followed by a plethora of published research findings validating the weight loss and health benefits of a low carbohydrate diet. Some people in the groups that previously attacked his diet were now considering the possibility that low carbohydrate consumption was a safe, effective way to lose weight and eat for life.
Now millions of people are doing Atkins, and the revolution has skyrocketed. Companies have begun putting out a myriad of low carbohydrate foods, which have quite literally flown off the shelves. More and more restaurants are providing low carbohydrate menus or net carbohydrate counts on their existing menu items. Even fast food companies have jumped on the bandwagon with low carbohydrate hamburgers, wraps, and breakfast bowls.
What the future holds for low carbohydrate diets is anyone’s guess. They have entered the mainstream, and the results of current research will certainly have a major impact on the continued acceptance of low carbohydrate diets. I am certain that Mr. Banting would be pleased to see the low-carb revolutionized world of today.
by Elleth Faewen