Where Did The Keto Diet Come From?

where did keto come from

The keto or ketogenic diet, to give it its full name, really came to prominence in the last couple of decades. First, as Atkins in the early 2000s, then as a (sort of) variation in the paleo diet, before becoming mainstream just as its own name. But where did the keto diet come from?

What Is The Keto Diet?

The keto diet is a high fat, very low carb diet, with a moderate amount of protein.

It varies from person to person, but the most common ballpark figures I have seen are that 80% of your calories should be from fats, 15% from proteins, and 5% from carbs.

Your carb sources tend to mainly be non-starchy vegetables, and whatever limited amounts of carbs you may find in other food sources.

One of the big advantages of it is that it is incredibly easy to understand, there aren’t many complicated rules like some other diets have, and you know what you can or can’t (or should or shouldn’t) be having while following it.

Where Did The Keto Diet Come From?

To understand the history of the keto diet, we have to travel back to ancient Greece, around 400 BC.

The Ancient Greeks realised that fasting was an effective treatment for epilepsy. At the time the belief was that epilepsy was a supernatural occurrence, but that is beyond what we need to know here.

The royal physician at the time, Erasistratus, was quoted as saying:

One inclining to epilepsy should be made to fast without mercy and be put on short rations.

So fasting as a method of treatment for epilepsy remained prominent, for millennia.

The first modern studies on fasting as a treatment for epilepsy began in 1911 when it was found that a very low calorie, vegetarian diet was effective in managing epilepsy.

Further studies in the US throughout the 1910s and 1920s cemented this principle.

From Epilepsy To Weight Loss

From a clinical point of view, up to this point, the keto diet was looked at as an epilepsy treatment and its usefulness in weight loss wasn’t really examined.

For that, we need to fast forward to 2 time periods.

First, we need to visit the period just after World War 2, where a chap named Alfred W Pennington had been studying diet and nutrition, which incorporated the studies we touched on above.

He was brought in as a consultant to DuPont, to explore why their employees were not able to lose weight. He put them on a very low carb diet, and on average, the employees that followed his diet lost 22 pounds in 3 and a half months.

So we know where low carb and keto started to be looked at as a weight-loss tool.

From here, we move to the 1960s, and Dr Robert Atkins – yes, that Atkins. He was following his own successful, but stressful medical career but was putting on weight.

He came across the study carried about by Pennington on low carb diets for weight loss, and had great success with it.

That was in the 1960s, and his first book, The Atkins Diet Revolution, was published in 1972. It became popular from its release.

I mean its title at its original release was “Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution: The High-Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever” so who wouldn’t be tempted by that?

From The 1970s To Today

The diet saw some mild success in the 1970s, but then throughout the 80s and 90s, it seems like there was a collective agreement to demonise all fats and encourage everyone to drop their fat intake and up their carbs.

I haven’t found what the specific root cause of this shift was, but I am going to go on a limb and say it was something like food manufacturers carried out a study, the study said fats are bad, and marketing, media, and the government jumped on the bandwagon.

So low carb and Atkins faded into the background for a while.

The third edition of The Atkins Diet Revolution was published in 1999, and this is probably the one that brought low carb diets into the mainstream again.

I can’t figure out what exactly caused the diet to take off the way it did this time, but I suspect part of that will have been the fact that this was the first time it was published in a time when the internet was taking off, so it had something to spread the word of it, and it was completely different to everything else out there recommending calorie counting and low-fat diets.

I even tried it around 1999-2000 when I was still a teenager desperately looking for a weight loss solution without needing to put in hard work.

It reached its peak in 2003-2004, and then slowly started to drift off again, but low carb would never fade away like it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Around this time, Crossfit started to grow in prominence and the paleo diet or caveman diet seemed to come with it.

The paleo diet isn’t low carb strictly speaking – you can follow a high carb paleo diet as well. But generally, it is still on the low side as you eliminate virtually all of the most common carb sources that feature in a modern diet.

Around this time it also started to branch off – you had paleo, you have low carb which is not many carbs but not as extreme as Atkins or keto which is largely the same as the Atkins diet. (I am sure someone will correct me on that at some point.)

And that is roughly where we are with the keto diet today. It is a well-known and prominent diet that is in the mainstream.

The Keto Diet And Weight Loss

Based on my own experience, the keto diet can work for weight loss. For me though, it only worked short-term.

And there are some things to be mindful of.

When you switch from high or moderate carbs to low carbs, you can expect a quick initial drop in weight. That will be predominantly water weight.

Carbs are a source of glycogen, which is a fuel source that gets stored in your muscles. Glycogen can hold water.

So when you shift to low carb, your body is not topping up the glycogen, so stored water will flush out of your system.

So you will lose weight, but how much of that will be stored body fat is a separate question.

But that is pretty much it. Studies have found that a low carb or keto diet doesn’t have any greater impact on fat loss than a normal calorie-restricted diet.

There are some other downsides. You are much more restricted in what you can eat.

And if you do have a few carbs while you’re in ketosis, you will feel sick and bloated for a little while.

What Is It Like Living With The Keto Diet?

As I mentioned, after that big initial drop, it’s not that different to other diets in terms of results. But if you don’t enjoy flexible dieting, counting calories, or tracking macros, it has principles that are easy to follow.

If you are someone that truly enjoys carbs – processed or natural – it will be incredibly challenging to stick to. So if you factor in that it’s not any more beneficial, keto isn’t worth doing, if you feel comfortable controlling your overall food intake.

If however, you’re someone that really enjoys meat, eggs, dairy and nuts – then it is going to be much easier to stick to.

Most keto followers I have seen said they don’t count calories, but part of me suspects that where they are losing fat, they are still in a calorie deficit.

Fats naturally tend to be more satiating and filling – if you have a spoonful of peanut butter, it will be a lot more calories than a spoonful of rice, but you’re much less likely to want to go back for more spoonfuls.

So even if you are following keto and not counting calories, there is a good chance that a sense of satisfaction from the food you are having is stopping you from snacking.

Are There Other Health Benefits To Keto?

I’ve already talked about how it’s been used for epilepsy. There are some studies on how it affects diabetes, but let’s look at your overall day-to-day lifestyle.

For blood pressure, there is some evidence that keto is one of the better performing diets when it comes to managing blood pressure, especially in diabetics.

And as far as blood sugar goes, the American Diabetes Association does suggest reducing carbohydrates for people with type two diabetes.

Based on that, if you have some level of insulin resistance or issues with blood sugar, generally reducing your carbohydrates, even if not eliminating them to the extent of the keto diet, might still have some benefits.

Please do speak to a doctor or medical professional before actually acting on it.

In terms of your overall energy levels, your body is going to feel fatigued as it transitions from using carbs as fuel to using fats as fuel, but after that transition period, keto followers don’t seem to notice that big a difference.

Having said that, for endurance events or if you prefer longer bouts of exercise, carbs are a more efficient and quicker-released fuel source so your body is more likely to fatigue more quickly when deprived of glycogen. It may take some time to adapt.

Also bear in mind halitosis – your breath will stink with keto, and “keto breath” is definitely a thing.

And lastly, carbs tend to be the most prominent source of fibre in our diets. If you cut those out, expect some level of constipation. Your body will gradually adapt, but expect to feel that in your gut.

where did keto come from

So That’s Where Keto Came From

From fasting for epilepsy back in 400BC through to the 1900s, where it transitioned over to weight loss after World War 2, through to the modern-day prominence of low carb and keto eating patterns.

I am not partial to any single diet – if you love low carb and it works for you and you’re happy with it, stick with it. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s absolutely fine too.

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