A VERY BRIEF HISTORY ON THE EVOLUTION OF THE LOW CARB/ANCESTRAL EATING MOVEMENT

A quick disclaimer before we begin – this is purely from my own perspective! I have mentioned some people below who have been of influence to me in some way and who I believe to be key to this story. Just because I have mentioned them does not mean I am endorsing them. I am likely to have missed some important figures out, so please forgive me if I have missed one of your favourites. Perhaps add a comment with why you think they should be included?

Many of us grew up, and had our views instilled about healthy eating during the Keysian era. The Seven Countries Study, which was started in the 1950’s and is famously attributed to Ancel Keys, proposed the Lipid Hypothesis which, put simply, attributes the cause of heart disease to high levels of lipids in the blood which was theoretically affected by the amount of saturated fats people eat.
In the 1970’s we saw the rise of the food pyramid, variations of which also demonised fats and recommended increasing the amounts of whole grains that people eat. There is plenty of information on the internet about how this came about – follow the money from lobbyists etc, but I won’t go into this here.

Suddenly many of the foods that people had eaten for generations were now considered not just bad for us but down right evil. With the iconic cover of Time Magazine in March 1984, bacon and eggs became a “heartattackonaplate”. We were advised to switch butter for table spreads and margarine, as much fat was trimmed from meat as possible and it was recommended that vegetable oils should be used to cook with – but only when necessary. This spawned the rise of the non-stick fry pan along with its non-stick utensil cousins and the breeding of heavy-breasted chickens and “trim” pork.

time-mag-march-1984

At one point I can remember feeling highly virtuous about not having any fats, oils or even eggs in the house at all at and I never put butter or marge on my whole grain bread or used salad dressings unless they were low fat. And don’t mention salt – that stuff will kill you too!

Strangely, even after following all this advice, people continued to die from heart attacks, become obese. Type 2 diabetes was on the rise. Statins were introduced to try and combat high cholesterol levels and drugs such as Metformin to help stem the type 2 diabetes epidemic.

Gradually the Lipid Hypothesis has started to fall apart and both the general public and science were starting to look in other directions. Science began to question if it isn’t fat - what is causing all of this? Enter the new bad guy on the block– carbs and by further distillation – sugar!

Queue the maverick Dr Atkins – author of “Dr Atkin’s Health Revolution” (aka The Atkins Diet) first published in 1988. This completely turned all the approved advice about dieting on its head. Although inspired by previous work, the Atkins programme was at the forefront of the modern movement in low carbohydrate diets and continues to be a topic of heated discussions. People were successfully losing weight, lowering cholesterol and reversing type 2 diabetes by following this programme.

There are several variants that tweak the fat and protein macros around, including Drs Mary and Michael Eades “Protein Power” published in 1996. By 1999 the cover of Time magazine had even forgiven eggs.

If Atkins sparked a fire, The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, first published in 2001 started a revolution. Rather like a Hoover being another name for a vacuum cleaner, the Paleo Diet has come to be a catch-all label for the general public for the low-carb/keto/ancestral eating movement (although different players will say theirs is not like Paleo because…). Interestingly enough, many people associate this diet with body builders and over eating protein, but when you actually read Cordain’s book he recommends moderate amounts of lean protein in line with guidelines plus he strongly advocates eating a lot of veggies. Eating unprocessed foods is the underlying message of most of these plans. Yes, there are loads of arguments about what Paleo people actually ate, because yes, they had different foods around back then and it depended on where they were living. However, I prefer to not get caught up on the name and see it as a metaphor for eating foods in as natural state as possible including lots of lovely veggies, keeping grains to a minimum just like we did before the agricultural revolution and eating natural fats and oils that either come naturally with protein (grass fed and free range), or are easily pressed from their source (i.e. not highly processed grain and seed oils – I’ll talk about healthy fats another time).

Arguably the low carb/ancestral eating movement has gained the momentum it has by growing up alongside the internet. Some have written books, but the most up-to-date take on this evolving field of Ancestral Eating can be found on their websites. Internationally, people including Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Gary Taubes, Robert Lustig, Melissa Hartwig and Jack Kruze have huge followings – each with their own take on Ancestral Eating, Low Carb High/Healthy Fat, Ketogenic or Paleo diets. We also have our own NZ flag bearers including Professor Grant Schofield et al of “What the Fat” low carb health fat fame (one of my favourite diet books BTW, as it is written for Kiwis).

Interwoven with this story we cannot forget another giant in the Ancestral Eating realm – Dr Weston A Price, a dentist who travelled the world in the first half of the 1900’s studying indigenous populations and their health (incidentally he found some of the best teeth in Maori who ate a less industrialised diet at the time). The Weston A Price Foundation is dedicated to continuing his work with research and education about healthy eating.


So where are we at today? “Confused!” is what a lot of people say. We have conflicting advice coming from a number of sources including the Ministry of Health, a veritable plethora of health gurus and the media who sensationally pick out pieces from research articles for click bait (you know the ones – coffee will either kill you or help you live forever depending on the research and who is reporting on it!)

Nutrition truly is an evolving field. There is now the recognition that our metabolisms are way more complicated than the simplistic idea of “calories in vs. calories out” for weight management. Many people have turned their lives around with low carb/ancestral eating and exercise. Some though, still cannot lose weight or don’t see the improvements to their health that they anticipated. This may be because there are other individual factors at play, including disrupted hormones and/or endocrine system, stress and potentially auto immune conditions. The growing understanding of the Neuro-Endocrine-Immune link is beginning to show just how complicated things can get (I’ll write more about this in the future too). I know this from my own personal experience and it is what inspires me to keep learning more about this topic.

If you cannot get the results you are looking for, then seeing a professional who can help you by taking the time to look at your health history and then recommending an individualised plan tailored for you can be a great approach to take.

As always, this is general information and not to be taken as direct advice. For a more personalised approach, either click the “Book Now” button to book a consultation with me or contact your local registered Naturopath or other Health and Wellness professional.

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