The Ketogenic Diet seemingly appeared out of nowhere a few years ago, taking the dieting community by storm. From Instagram fitness influencers to talk show hosts and cooking shows, suddenly, Keto was all the rage. It might surprise you to learn that Keto isn’t novel and, in fact, took decades to hit the mainstream. While it might be popular today, Keto has been around since the early 1920s.
Over the years, as nutrition science has evolved and we’ve learned more about diet’s impact on the mind and body, Keto re-emerged as a weight loss diet. Here’s a look at the history of the Keto Diet from its earliest inception to what it looks like today:
1916: American osteopaths Bernarr Macfadden and Hugh Conklin explored fasting as a way to treat epilepsy. They put patients on a “water diet” that seemed to have amazing results: as many as 50% of people saw a dramatic reduction in seizures.
1921: Following the success of Macfadden and Conklin’s fasting approach, American endocrinologist Rollin Woodyatt tested the metabolic levels of patients undergoing the “water diet” and found that in each, the liver was producing high levels of acetone, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate: ketones. These ketones signaled a starvation response from the body, which was responsible for the reduction in seizures. Woodyatt compared this to metabolic levels in those undergoing a high-fat, low-carb diet and found similar levels of ketones, thus establishing the earliest grounds for the Ketogenic Diet.
1960: Roughly 40 years after the discovery of the Ketogenic Diet, researchers identified medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) as a primary producer of ketones, laying the groundwork for a more informed and refined Ketogenic Diet.
1971: Researcher Peter Huttenlocher created the foundation for the modern Keto Diet. By devising a strategy where 60% of dietary intake came from MCTs, he established the 60-30-10 model for macros (fat-protein-carbs). Over the years, this has since been refined to 80-15-5, or a proportionate variation.
2013: Keto enters the mainstream as bloggers, podcasters and athletes draw parallels between its starvation response and the ability to lose weight while building lean muscle. Notable names such as Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, Oprah and others all promoted the diet and welcomed health experts onto their platforms to talk about it.
1911: The earliest recorded studies of the Keto Diet are undertaken in France, where researchers used a high-fat, low-carb diet to simulate the effects of potassium bromide—a common epilepsy treatment at the time. Potassium bromide caused degenerative effects on the brain and cognition, which prompted researchers to look for an alternative. The study was very small, including only 20 people, and wasn’t rigorous by any stretch.
Today, Keto is one of the biggest, most popular diets in the world. More than that, it’s become a lifestyle for those who want to live longer, healthier, more rewarding lives. What started as a treatment for epileptics has become a way to bio-hack your body into burning a leaner, more effective energy source: one that leaves you looking slimmer, thinking clearer and feeling better.
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