History of Low-carbohydrate diet

Some anthropologists believe that early humans were hunter-gatherers consuming diets high in both protein and fat and mostly low in nutritive carbohydrates (although their diets would have been high in fiber). Indeed some isolated societies exist today which consume these types of diets. The advent of agriculture brought about the rise of civilization and the gradual rise of carbohydrate levels in human diets. The modern age has seen a particularly steep rise in refined carbohydrate levels in Western societies.

In 1863 William Banting, an obese English undertaker and coffin maker, published "Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public" in which he described a diet for weight control giving up bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer and potatoes. His booklet was widely read, so much so that some people used the term "Banting" for the activity usually called "dieting."

In 1967, Dr. Irwin Stillman published The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet. The "Stillman Diet" is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet. It is regarded as one of the first low-carbohydrate diets to become popular in the US. Other low-carbohydrate diets in the 1960s included Air Force Diet and the Drinking Man’s Diet. Austrian physician Dr Wolfgang Lutz published his book 'Leben Ohne Brot' (Life Without Bread) in 1967. However it was hardly noticed in the English speaking world.

In 1972, Dr. Robert Atkins published Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution which advocated a low-carbohydrate diet he had successfully used in treating patients in the 1960s (having himself developed the diet from an unspecified article published in JAMA). The book met with some success but, because of research at that time suggesting risk factors associated with excess fat and protein, it was widely criticized by the mainstream medical community as being dangerous and misleading, thereby limiting its appeal at the time. Among other things critics pointed out that Dr. Atkins had done little real research into his theories and based them mostly on anecdotal evidence. Later that decade, Walter Voegtlin and Dr. Herman Tarnower published books advocating the Stone age diet and Scarsdale diet, respectively, each meeting with moderate success.

The concept of the glycemic index was invented in 1981 by Dr. David Jenkins. This concept evaluates foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels—with fast digesting simple carbohydrates causing a sharper increase and slower digesting complex carbohydrates such as whole grains a shallower one.

Low-carb diets since the 1990s
In the 1990s Dr. Atkins published Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution and other doctors began to publish books based on the same principles. This has been said to be the beginning of the "low carb craze." During the late 1990s and early 2000s low-carbohydrate diets became some of the most popular diets in the U.S. (by some accounts as much as 18% of the population was using a low-carbohydrate diet at its peak) and spread to many countries. These were noted by some food manufacturers and restaurant chains as substantially affecting their businesses (notably Krispy Kreme). This was in spite of the fact that the mainstream medical community continued to denounce low-carbohydrate diets as being a dangerous trend. It is, however, valuable to note that many of these same doctors and institutions at the same time quietly began altering their own advice to be closer to the low-carbohydrate recommendations (e.g. eating more protein, eating more fiber/less starch, reducing consumption of juices by children). The low-carbohydrate advocates did some adjustments of their own increasingly advocating controlling fat and eliminating trans fat. Many of the diet guides and gurus that appeared at this time intentionally distanced themselves from Atkins and the term low carb (because of the controversies) even though their recommendations were based on largely the same principles (e.g. the Zone diet).  As such it is often a matter of debate which diets are really low-carbohydrate and which are not. The 1990s and 2000s also saw the publication of an increased number of clinical studies regarding the effectiveness and safety (pro and con) of low-carbohydrate diets (see medical research).

After 2004 the popularity of this diet trend began to wane significantly although it still remains quite popular. In spite of the decline in popularity this diet trend has continued to quietly garner attention in the medical and nutritional science communities.