How it all started –the history of a high fat diet.
A high-fat, low carbohydrates diet is nothing new. In fact, this diet it’s been around for hundreds of years especially used by people who lived in difficult weather conditions like very cold weather. Studies have shown for example that the Inuit people who live close to the North Pole have been on this kind of a diet all their lives and surprisingly they are much healthier than us, who live an easy life and have access to all kinds of foods. The Inuit people only eat what they catch throughout the year and in the summer they get some plants and vegetables they can gather.
The story of a high-fat diet started back in 1906,when records show that Vilhajalmur Stefansson, who was a Harvard trained anthropologist, decided to live for one year in the Canadian Arctic with them and eat only what they ate for a year. Eating the fish and caught food in the Arctic, approximately 75% of the calories came from fat and despite that, they had no health problems and neither did Stevenson who later on vowed to eat only meat and drink only water, upon his return to New York City.
Of course,the medical world was outraged by his choice but he insisted that this lifestyle it’s healthier than anything else and he proceeded to eat everything from an animal including the meat, fat, bone marrow, brain and organs which he said contains all the vitamins he needs. After a few years of doing that, blood tests showed that he was perfectly healthy with no high blood pressure, no fat stored on the body, no negative side effects at all.
Based on these results, and after running studies,a few medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Cornell University started using a similar diet high in fat and low in carbs to treat children with seizures. Again,the results were incredible and for several decades using a ketogenic diet many patients became seizure-free. Later on, when the pharmaceutical companies started creating seizure medication, that became the preferred treatment 4 seizure patients and the ketogenic diet almost disappeared.
In the 1950s, a biologist and pathologist Dr. Keys from University of Minnesota introduced the theory that there is a direct correlation between fat intake and heart disease and he pursued to start a few studies to demonstrate this theory. He pushed the idea that fat is bad and eventually he concluded that saturated fat is the worst enemy for health because it causes heart disease. The argument was that high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease and saturated fats and animal meats increase the cholesterol. The result was that worldwide different medical associations and food-related government agencies went along with his reports and fat was branded as a killer.
So if we can’t eat fat anymore, something needs to replace those calories in our daily meals. Therefore,the new low fat high carbohydrates diet was believed to be the healthy option. Following this pattern, food companies saw an opportunity to create and introduce to the consumers low fat versions of normal foods and new oils and butter spreads to combat the traditional fat which was now deemed as unhealthy.
And that is what we believed and most people ate for the last almost 70 years. Until a few years ago, when the big surprise came from the results of 50 year long studies. Instead of affirming what all of us believed to be true, and were told since we were born and that is that fat is killing us, the studies concluded that heart disease rates did not go down in the last 50 years by avoiding fats. In fact, when they compared our health today with the average health 50 years ago, it was clear that the numbers for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, dementia, and other conditions have increased drastically. Therefore,the new studies broke the direct correlation between fat and heart disease.
Medical doctors, dietitians and nutritionists, are agreeing more and more that bad sugars and refined carbs are in fact the true cause for obesity and heart disease and not fats as we’ve been told. In fact, they also agree that certain fats are very healthy, and the right fats can be critical for our bodies in order to function properly. Even though these new results were published in the last few years, the return of the ketogenic diet did not happen overnight as a response to them. In fact, a version of the keto diet, as we know it today,became very popular in the 1970s when Dr. Robert Atkins introduced it as the Atkins diet.
I tried the Keto diet back in 2003 or 2004 and I think I lasted a day and a half before I caved and fell into a plate of nachos followed by a deep dish pizza and some biscuits and canned soup. Clearly I didn’t have research on my side back then, but now after living mostly Keto since early in the year – I can say this is a reasonable and sustainable way to live and while I MISS some of my carbs, I’m armed with all the tools and knowledge to have success this time around and going forward.