7 Historical Diet Trends & the Lessons they Taught Us

Over the years, many diet trends have come and gone. But whether they were based in folklore, primarily science-based or somewhere in between, historical diet trends have much to teach us. After all, by learning from the past, we can start to shape a more responsible future filled with science-backed nutritional advice and guilt-free narratives.
From cultural influences to nutrition-science discoveries, here are seven historical diet trends, and the key lessons they’ve taught us:

1820 — The Vinegar & Water Diet

Historical Diet Trends
Created by an English poet, Lord Byron, this diet trend was the first to use celebrity status as a catalyst for popularity. Long story short – Lord Byron severely limited his food consumption to stay slender and encouraged others to do the same.

In terms of nutrition, there’s little to learn from this scary 18th-century diet trend. However, it does provide perspective on the importance of consulting credentialed experts, not celebrities, when creating a nutrition plan. [1][2]

1917 — The First Calorie Counting Diet

Lulu Hunter Peters introduced the concept of calorie counting around this time when she published her book, Diet and Health, With Key to the Calories. In her book, she provided the calorie content in specific foods, as well as a calorie-based weight management plan. [2]
While counting calories may seem like the obvious answer for weight loss, various factors can impact the calories we consume. For instance, people absorb food differently, and estimated proportions are often inaccurate. Tracking food can be a helpful tool for some, but it’s not an exact science. Shift your focus to quality nutrient-dense foods that focus on fueling your body! [3]

1950 — The Cabbage Soup Diet

This diet – often considered an urban myth – involves the unlimited consumption of cabbage soup, and nothing else. However, the advised time-period to follow it seems to vary from source to source, but experts agree this diet trend is not a responsible method for overall health or weight loss. [2]
While the cabbage soup diet lacks real credibility, somehow it keeps popping up under different names (e.g., the military cabbage soup diet) at different periods throughout history. The takeaway? Be sure to check with a licensed professional before trying a new diet. [2]

The 1970s — Low-Fat Diets

The low-fat diet trend popped up in the late 1970s painting fats as a detriment to weight management and overall health. While inaccurate, the belief was fairly wide-spread during this time.
Low-fat diets helped us realize that our bodies require plenty of healthy fats to thrive. Low-fat diets lack essential nutrients, and dietary fat is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and help keep us full and satisfied. We also now know that certain fats, such as highly processed vegetable oils, may lead to an unhealthy omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio. [4]

The 1980s — Frozen, Delivered Meal Plans

In the 1980s advances in manufacturing and technology helped make frozen, home-delivered meal plans, like Jenny Craig®, popular. They offered a new type of service that made dieting more convenient than it had ever been before.
However, these diet programs didn’t typically offer meal options that weren’t a part of their program, making diet personalization difficult. The meals were also frozen and often highly processed. But we learned the importance of convenience, which decades later would help shape more innovative services with nutritionally-superior meals.

The 1990s — Low-Carb Diets

While low-carb diets were by no means invented in the 1990s, their mainstream popularity boomed during this time period. One popular, low-carb diet, the Atkins Diet®, had a huge hand in this historical diet trends popularity.
Low-carb diets showed us the benefits of watching our overall carb intake and the quality of carbs we consume. They also taught us to rely less on refined carbohydrates. A healthy, well-rounded diet includes balanced amounts of all three macronutrients: carbs, proteins and fats.

1999 — Detox Diets

Around the arrival of the new Millenium, detox diet trends carved out a name for themselves. Numerous detox diets came about during this time, such as juice cleanses, due to their reported ability to remove toxins from the body, and expedite weight loss.
Despite their popularity, there was never much scientific backing that detox diets removed bodily toxins. Plus, our body is already designed to remove toxins from the liver, bowel, urine and sweat. Sure, juice cleanses can help increase your vitamin and mineral consumption and decrease your consumption of ultra-processed foods. But those benefits can also be achieved with a well-rounded diet.



[1] www.bbc.com/news
[3] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

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written by

James Gardikas

James Gardikas

Contributing Writer