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From Lucky Strikes to protein shakes: 100 years of fad dieting – NCC Linked

Nov 16th, 2019

At best, the fad diets of the 20th century were laughable attempts for industries to sell their products or Hollywood stars to get back in the spotlight. At worst, these fad diets distorted peoples body image and led to lasting negative health effects.

Some of the most clearly harmful fad diets were those of the early 20th century, like the smoking diet, which recommended smoking cigarettes to suppress hunger. This diet was popularized during the 1920s by a Lucky Strikes marketing campaign with the infamous tagline, reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet. Although nicotine is an appetite suppressant, it is now common knowledge that cigarette smoking is one of the deadliest life choices one can make.

Another horrifying diet originating in the early 1900s was the tapeworm diet. According to BBC News, this diet suggested that its followers swallow pills containing beef tapeworm cysts, which would grow and absorb food inside the hosts intestines. Although the tapeworm would absorb food, it could also lead to side effects like headaches and vision problems or more serious diseases like meningitis. The dieters would then take more pills to rid themselves of the tapeworm, but these negative health effects would last.

As nutritional knowledge has increased, fad diets have not become tamer. The 1980s, in particular, were a breeding ground for eccentric diets. Among the most amusing diets of the 80s were the cabbage soup diet, which recommended its followers eat a diet consisting of primarily cabbage soup, the Beverley Hills diet, which suggested eating nothing but fruit for the first ten days of the diet, and the diet pill diet, which involved swallowing a magic pill that would make extra weight disappear.

Alongside these niche diets, a larger societal trend toward low-fat foods emerged in the 1980s. This fad was based on studies connecting high-fat diets to high levels of LDL cholesterol. However, it turned out that many of these studies were inaccurate. As professor of chemistry June Russell explained, we had been told for years that fat was really bad for us and now it turns out that a lot of studies that came out were paid for by the sugar industry. In response to these phony studies, companies removed fat from their products and added sugar to make up for lost flavor, just as the sugar industry wanted.

This low-fat craze lasted well into the 1990s, but today, nutritionists know that a moderate amount of fat is an important part of a healthy diet. This new knowledge has led to a slew of new fad diets that wholly embrace fat, like the ketogenic diet. Russell warns that these new high-fat diets could be just as dangerous as the low-fat diets of the 1980s, saying we dont really know the risks because nobody has ever lived for an extended period of time on those diets.

Russell is also skeptical of another current fad: the high-protein diet. As she stated, we dont need that kind of protein. If you eat healthily, Americans get way more protein than they ever need. Although many think that eating protein shakes, protein bars and other high-protein food is necessary for health or muscle-gain goals, we could find out in the future that these high-protein foods are just as harmful as fad diets of the past.

Despite the popularity of some fad diets, this approach to dieting is highly ineffective. Dieters jump from one extreme diet to another in search of better health or lower weight, but these extremes are just not sustainable. As Russell emphasized, any highly restrictive diet is bad for your health because it could prevent you from getting the essential nutrients you need, throw off your metabolism and encourage yo-yo dieting. Rather than dieting, Russell suggested, you just have to change your lifestyle in order to get healthy.

In hindsight, we know that achieving good health does not require swallowing tapeworms, eating pounds of cabbage every day or cutting out fat entirely. Rather than desperately searching for the perfect diet, we need to fuel our bodies with a wide variety of nutritious foods, while indulging in moderation, to enjoy health and happiness for years to come.


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From Lucky Strikes to protein shakes: 100 years of fad dieting - NCC Linked

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