A low-carb, high-fat diet from 1953

Calorically unrestricted diets

Here’s a nice read: How to treat obesity with calorically unrestricted diets. It’s written by the medical doctor, A.W. Pennington, who inspired Dr Robert Atkins to lose weight in a similar way. This paper is dated 1953, ten years before Atkins tested it and two decades before his book “Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution” was published.

Dr Pennington’s plan is a moderate low-carb diet that still allows for a little bit of potatoes or fruit. Sixty years later it should still work fine for most people. There’s no need to voluntarily restrict calories and starve.

If this is a fad diet it’s weird that it keeps outperforming its competitors, decade after decade.

I have one major objection, I would not recommend restricting salt when on a low-carb diet. It has no benefits and increases the risk of side effects like dizziness and fatigue.


  1. ThatWriterChick
    No greens... no above-ground vegetables... I'd have a tough time with this.
    Reply: #2
  2. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD Team Diet Doctor
    Yes, there are better ways to do it. Not bad for a sixty-years-old plan though. And I'm happy that there's been SOME progress since 1953! ;)
  3. Daniel Ferreira
    i still eat onions, but i do keep my carbs i eat @30g a day. i would not doubt anyone could be called "low carb" at 50-100g a day.
  4. Valerie
    You write "it should still work fine for most people."

    Do you have any evidence sustaining that claim?

    I am not aware of any long-term study that shows most people (more than 50%) reach their desired weight (or anything close) on that kind of plan (or any other for that matter).

    Replies: #5, #6
  5. Daniel Ferreira
    i reached my desired weight, dropped from 215lb (i lift weights was 18%bf, and used to think carbs where the by all the only way to get stronger, i did get strong and so did my rolls) to 180 lb (12%bodyfat) 3 months, doing strict Keto. Started keto 11/11/11
    today i weight 195lb so i gained weight after going on a cruise, i am 11%body fat percent.

    Point is, it works if you work, if you hate it, and have a negative attitude from the beginning, it will most likely not work for you

    I personally came in with a positive attitude, and it has been working since Nov 2011 till today.

  6. Bernardo
    Valerie. You will never have a long time clinical study like that because that would be expensive as hell and nobody wants to invest in that, since there isn't much to be gained for big farma/grains (in $). I think that is the best plan we've got right now and one of the reasons a lot of people don't stick to it is because they have everyone around them telling them they are crazy and are gonna die (and that there isn't any long-term study). It should benefit most people. Actually I think just reducing refined carbs and increasing fat would already kill obesity as an "epidemic" in the US and most parts of the world.

    I don't need to mention that I'm also a success story. For what I observe, the people around me that don't stick to it, don't do so because of social pressure and the availability of carb-based food in every social event (small and big). Exceptions become the rule and progress is lost. With traditional low-calorie diets, there is no progress. It's an eternal struggle that has a psychological and physiological cost (that I was tired of paying everyday and every hour).

    Reply: #17
  7. Jan
    I have been living the low carb high fat lifestyle for five years now. I started with this change of lifestyle because my husband,who is a type 2 diabetic, found that by lowering his carbohydrate intake down to around 50 carbs a day and by eating good quality foods meat, fish, vegetables such as spinach. kale, cauliflower, healthy fats like butter, avocado, etc his blood sugar level could be controlled using minimal medication. I chose to eat the same and quickly discovered how much healthier I felt. For us it was and still is a lifestyle not a diet and we would not go back to eating processed foods.It is always interesting to read articles be they current or from some years back there is always something to learn.

    All the best Jan

  8. Doc´s Opinion
    Many physicians are reluctant to recommend a low carb high fat diet, even for people with obesity and/or the metabolic syndrome because such diets often raise total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol. This is probably the main reason why the medical community has been having a hard time accepting this approach.
    It can be useful to look into individual cases on how lipid profile and metabolic parameters are affected by the LCHF approach....http://www.docsopinion.com/2013/07/24/low-carb-and-cholesterol/
  9. John M
    Dr. Einfeldt, thank you again for all your efforts on this site. I've lost 85lbs so far eating LCHF over the last year, and can't imagine ever going back to the Standard American Diet. This artilce is a great read! I hope everyone clicks the link to it. I'm amazed that some of the works cited are actually from 100 years earlier. This is proof that an LCHF diet has been tried and test for more than 150 years!
  10. jaymaster
    A little over decade later, it made it into a book!


    And it's a great book too. I highly recommend it.

  11. GP
    We all probably agree that sugar is bad in most cases. Eating animal foods with all the fat is the way the go. But we know that sugar tastes so good in a lot of natural products. We also know that a lot of people can eat a relatively high-sugar diet and still maintain a low body fat percentage. They probably just have a better sugar tolerance which helps them mitigate the bad effects of it.

    But do you think this is all genetic or it can be changed through food, exercising or whatever. Can we do something that will help us lower the bad effects of sugar. For example I've listened to a study which states that iron overload can worsen the body's ability to deal with sugar.

    Also I'm not completely sold on the idea that we should not eat sugar. I mean, why has man developed sweetness receptors and why does sweet food taste so good and addictive if it is poisonous to the body? Shouldn't we be like some animals which can't taste sweetness at all in this case?

    Reply: #13
  12. FrankG
    Did you read somewhere that you should not eat sugar? Where?
    Reply: #14
  13. GP
    Come on, you get my point.

    What is your opinion? One banana is OK, ten bananas are bad? Where do you set the limit? When carbs do more good than harm and vise versa. Why does sugar have different effect on different people? Can you improve your body's response to sugar?

    Reply: #15
  14. FrankG
    Obviously I don't get your point.. why else would I have asked that question? LCHF does not mean a blanket ban on sugar so why say it?

    I agree that individuals can have different tolerance levels for dietary carbohydrates in general and that we are not adapted as a species to handle the rapid influx of glucose and fructose in so much "western industrialised food" that is overloaded with simple sugars and refined starches.... these have never been a natural part of the human diet. Occasional wild honey, fruit, greens and uncultivated root vegetables in season sure. But some of us are so metabolically broken that even these are now off limits.

    If you catch on early enough you may be able to avoid such long-term or permanent damage but it is all about dose, length of exposure and individual genetic makeup... if you hold your hand near a flame for a short time it might feel a little warm, a bit longer and the skin may go red, a bit closer and for longer and you may get blisters that take a day or two to heal -- unless you keep repeating the process before it has a chance to heal... keep this up for long enough and you end up with permanent scar tissue that will never heal -- stop early and you might fully recover, but your skin will never build up a tolerance to fire.

    Our ancestors ate cake and sweets on special occasions only. Not every day.

    Reply: #16
  15. murray
    For me it makes sense to keep in mind the seasonal nature of food supply. Once hominids moved into the savannah, carbohydrates, notably fruit, would be in abundance in summer and early autumn. That would be a great time for hominids to overeat and gain fat for the leaner seasons ahead, when food supply would be more animal based. Look at bears, eat like mad in late summer and then go ketogenic all winter. So attraction and addiction to sweetness makes sense--spend a few days eating an entire fruit-laden tree before the fruit rots, before other animals get the fruit and before the fruit season ends.

    Insulin in many orders of animals signals growth and reproductive mode, and its absence putting the organism into a conserve and repair mode. It makes sense that human metabolism would not deviate drastically from this pattern, or that the pattern would remain latent and respond to environmental cues.

    Of course what differs now is that there has been a recent upsurge in the year-round availability of high sugar input. Sugar is not acute poison because we had recently adapted to seasonal sugar binges. Even more recent cultural history limited sugar binges just to festival occasions, especially during the winter months--Christmas/Saturnalia, Valentine's, Easter.

    So it may be too categorical to say sugar yes, sugar no, without accounting for the difference in consumption patterns.

    Reply: #18
  16. Valerie
    Bernardo, your "It should benefit most people" is much more humble that the original "it should still work fine for most people." Thank you for that.

    However, your assumption that low-carb failures happen only because people don't actually stick to it sounds exactly like any other diet evangelist. You have the solution, the one solution, and if it doesn't work for someonee, it's because they're doing it wrong.

    You also claim that you had no progress on low-calorie diets. Well, I could just say that it is because you didn't stick to it. Starvation is miserable (and I agree that it is not a solution), but it does lead to weight loss.

    I think experts in obesity should clearly recognize that their method (whatever it is) has a very large failure rate, instead of claiming that "it works fine for most people" or that "slim is simple" or that "eating healthy will take care of your weight problem" or...

  17. Frankg
    Very much agreed Murray. Indeed it has only been within my lifetime that we have gone from my only ever seeing oranges as a christmas treat to fresh berries being available in Mid-Winter.
    I also agree with the observation that building up fat stores just prior to a long lean Winter makes perfect sense for the effect that insulin driven by sugar from fruits etc... is a usesul role
    Reply: #19
  18. murray
    Yes, I remember getting in my Christmas stocking every year a couple of Japanese mandarin oranges wrapped in pale green tissue paper and it was a thrill. We had oranges and shortbread cookies for a few days and it was special.

    I put Mandarin oranges in our kids' stockings and they were unimpressed. Why are there oranges in our stockings?

  19. Anna Dawson
    A lot of people you can't vegetables on a low carb diet. This is a false! I also used to believe in this myth before consulting the expert dietician on online USA doctors.A lot of vegetables are very low in carbohydrates and they are essential to our diet for the vitamins and minerals they contain.On the atkins diet the amount of vegetables is limited only by the carbs they contain. So you have to keep trac, and you can eat a lot of something like celery( 2.4g carbs per 100g serving) but less of broccol( 4g net carbs per 100g serving).
  20. Shirley B
    I find the best way to know if I'm keeping my carbs at a proper amount is by testing my blood glucose. If I keep my carbs at 120 or less a day, with my oral diabetes med., my blood glucose stays well within normal range. If I cut out too many carbs, it dips down into the 70's and of course if I consume too many carbs, I reach the 120's and I know I need to be more cautious. I have to say, since starting the low carb diet, I am no where near as hungry as I used to be. I have tried all sorts of diets in the past and I was always hungry. My scale doesn't work properly so I cannot say a specific number of pounds I have lost, but in the past 6-7 weeks I notice changes in the way my clothes fit, I am less tired most of the time and people say they already see a big difference in my face and neck area.
  21. Elizabeth
    I was having nocturnal leg cramps after a few months of LCHF. I tried magnesium supplements and they did not help so I stopped them. I started on LCHF 6/15/15.
    Last week, I was talking to a friend who was trying the diet and she was getting terrible headaches. I recommended increasing her salt. It did not help her, but in the process, I remembered that low salt can cause muscle cramps. I increased my salt and the leg cramps went away.
    We get a lot of salt on the Standard American Diet without adding more to our food. When we eat LCHF, adding salt is important.
  22. Lee
    that's funny just posted a reply and it appears to have disappeared into thin air hmmmmm.
    anyway in case it never comes back heres my question how much Bacon per meal is too much or should I say the correct amount
    Reply: #24
  23. Apicius
    I eat the amount of bacon I want until satiated. I don't physically limit the amount of bacon, I eat until satisfied. By eating an LCHF style way, your body will regulate itself within a satiated limit.
    Reply: #25
  24. Lee
    thanks for the info I thought I was eating way to much, I just love the stuff :)
    Reply: #26
  25. Apicius
    When I started LCHF, I'd eat loads of bacon, because I didn't touch it for decades (after following asinine advice from "experts" telling me to eat low fat, avoid saturated fats, and count calories). But after a few weeks of eating lots of bacon (and losing weight) I got back down to eating only approx two slices per meal...because I no longer felt deprived. When the "bacon ban" was lifted, I didn't feel so compelled eating so much of it. Today, I eat approx two slices per sitting, and it makes me smile. I'm satiated, and I know next time, I won't be restricted. It's amazing.

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