90 Years After Being Discovered, the Ketogenic Diet is Making an Epic Comeback

Ten years ago, few people would have bought into the idea that a high-fat, low-carb diet would do anything other than raise your cholesterol and foil all your attempts at losing weight. Today, most people probably know of someone in their network who has had some measure of success with either the paleo diet, Atkins, or the ketogenic diet.

CNBC.com recently ran a story on the growing popularity of an “extreme high-fat diet” among body hackers in Silicon Valley. News of the widespread acceptance of the ketogenic diet by the world’s brightest, most-talented, most well-educated minds presents a huge win for the weight loss industry, and a definite boost to keto’s credibility. It seems the next big diet fad has officially arrived.

How Eating Fat Worked Wonders

Why are people so fascinated with the ketogenic diet? One word: fat.

Since 1965, when the sugar industry first “persuaded” Harvard researchers to refute rising claims that sugar was dangerous (New York Times), Americans have been led to believe that fat, not sugar, is the primary cause of their health woes.

A half-century later, it may be that sugar was the primary culprit all along, which means the rich, delicious, suddenly nutritious meats and dairy products that people have been avoiding for the last 50 years may be the fastest way back to optimal health.

The ketogenic diet works by removing the one thing from the standard American diet with which most people seem to struggle, and that is sugar. More than just refraining from having a slice of cake at the office party, or overdoing it with milk and cookies at night, ketogenic dieters virtually eliminate sugary foods from their diets altogether and restrict their overall intake of carbohydrates.

That means no potato chips and no potatoes. It means the normal staples of a health diet, including carrots and sweet potatoes, whole grains, bananas, and other fruit, are almost completely removed from dieters’ meal plans. They are replaced with low-carb, fatty foods like nuts, avocado, eggs (with the yolks), fish, meats, unsweetened yogurt, and cheese.

The ketogenic diet essentially turns the old-fashioned food pyramid on its head so that carbohydrates are at the top of the pyramid to use sparingly and the fats and oils that once occupied the tip of the pyramid now make up the foundation upon which the daily diet is built.

The Original Medical Use of the Ketogenic Diet

The true appeal of the ketogenic diet seems to be that it has delivered positive health results in treating actual diseases of the body for the last nine decades. The keto diet was designed in the early 1920s by Dr. Russell Wilder as a symptomatic treatment for medicine-resistant cases of epilepsy in children.

Prior to the discovery of the keto diet, Hugh Conklin, an osteopathy student under early 20th century health guru Bernarr McFadden, had considerable success treating epileptic seizures with fasting. It was noted that the three compounds produced by the liver during Conklin’s fasting regimen were also produced in people who ate high-fat, low-sugar diets. These three compounds — acetone, β-hydroxybutyrate, and acetoacetate — are called ketone bodies. Dr. Wilder named the high-fat, low-carb diet that produced these ketone bodies the ketogenic diet.

The sidebar here is that the ketogenic diet is both safe and effective for children, which is a powerful statement, since 1 in 3 children in the US is considered overweight or obese (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) and 208,000 young people under the age of 20 have diagnosed diabetes.

How Eating Fat is Working Wonders Today

The ketogenic diet worked well in the 1920s and 1930s as an “established and effective non-pharmacological treatment for epilepsy” (Gasior, Rogawski, Hartman). Its widespread use for the treatment of epilepsy simply went out of style when the general public discovered anti-seizure medications could produce similar results some of the time without as much effort.

The ketogenic diet continues to show promise as a treatment for such diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Its disease-modifying and neuroprotective qualities may have the ability to keep victims of traumatic brain injuries and strokes from having permanent brain damage.

Keto dieters are populating the web with their testimonials of how the ketogenic diet helped them lose weight quickly, get mental clarity, eliminate the need for diabetes medications, kill sugar addictions, and increase their endurance during long-distance running. These are the success stories that have convinced thousands, and possibly millions of people, to adopt the ketogenic lifestyle.


Farr, Christina. “Silicon Valley’s Elite Are Flocking to an Extreme High-fat Diet in Hopes of Living Longer.” CNBC. CNBC, 29 Apr. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

Gasior, Maciej, Michael A. Rogawski, and Adam L. Hartman. “Neuroprotective and Disease-modifying Effects of the Ketogenic Diet.” Behavioural Pharmacology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2006. Web. 03 May 2017.

Mandal, MD Dr Ananya. “History of the Ketogenic Diet.” News-Medical.net. 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 03 May 2017.

What the $60 Billion Weight Loss Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Washington Monthly. 26 May 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

O’Connor, Anahad. “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat.” The New York Times, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017 .

Overweight & Obesity Statistics | NIDDK.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 03 May 2017.

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