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Before there was Dr. Atkins, there was Jean Brillat-Savarin

March 2, 2010 | 11:51 am

If you thought low-carb diets were a relatively recent fad, check out “The Physiology of Taste” by Jean Brillat-Savarin. The French lawyer, who also studied chemistry and medicine, was the first to extol the virtues of consuming fewer carbohydrates in a 1825 treatise:

“Here I intended to have given a little treatise on alimentary chemistry, and to tell my readers, to how many thousands of hydrogen, carbon, etc., may be reduced the dishes that sustain us.”

AtkinsNearly 40 years later, an obese undertaker named William Banting renewed the idea after he lost a great deal of weight following a low-carb diet. Eager to share his success, he published his “Letter on Corpulence” in 1864. Its popularity turned “Banting” into a synonym for “dieting.”

These and other tidbits are compiled in a spiffy new dieting timeline put together by the American Dietetic Assn. in honor of National Nutrition Month (which began Monday).

The oldest diet on the list is Lord Byron’s water and vinegar diet, which dates to 1820. It involves mixing a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water (and perhaps a bit of honey to make it more palatable) and drinking the concoction before meals. It was re-introduced to Americans in the 1950s and continues to have adherents today, according to

Other neat factoids include:

  • Graham crackers were invented by the Rev. Sylvester Graham to encourage people to eat the whole grain, high-fiber wheat flour he considered healthier – and morally superior – to white flour.
  • The Sleeping Beauty Diet involved being sedated for days, making it easier to fast.
  • The idea of losing weight by counting calories didn’t come along until 1917.

You can peruse the entire timeline here.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: When Dr. Atkins began promoting low-carb diets – this book was published in 1972 – the idea was already almost 150 years old.