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Nineteenth century low-carb diet advice

September 20, 2006

From The Physiology of Taste (1825), by Brillat-Savarin:

But my readers of both sexes will exclaim, “Oh my God, how cruel
the professor is. He has at once prescribed all we like, the white
rolls of Limet, the biscuit of Achard. the cakes of … and all the
good things made with sugar, eggs, and farina. He will spare
neither potatoes nor macaroni. Who would have expected it from a
man fond of everything good?”

“What is that?” said I, putting on my stern look which I call up
but once a year. “Well, eat and grow fat, become ugly, asthmatic
and die of melted fat. I will make a note of your case and you
shall figure in my second edition. Ah! I see, one phrase has
overcome you, and you beg me to suspend the thunderbolt. Be easy, I
will prescribe your diet and prove how much pleasure is in the
grasp of one who lives to eat.”

“You like bread? well, eat barley–bread. The admirable Cadet de
Vaux long ago extolled its virtues. It is not so nourishing and not
so agreeable. The precept will then be more easily complied with.
To be sure one should resist temptation. Remember this, which is a
principle of sound morality.

“You like soup? Eat julienne then, with green vegetables, with
cabbage and roots. I prohibit soup au pain, pates and purees.

“Eat what you please at the first course except rice aux
volailles and the crust of pates. Eat well, but circumspectly.

“The second course will call for all your philosophy. Avoid
everything farinacious, under whatever form it appears. You have
yet the roasts, salads, and herbacious vegetables.

“Now for the dessert. This is a new danger, but if you have
acted prudently so far, you may survive it. Avoid the head of the
table, where things that are dangerous to you are most apt to
appear. Do not look at either biscuits or macaronies; you have
fruits of all kinds, confitures and much else that you may safely
indulge in, according to my principles.

“After dinner I prescribe coffee, permit you liqueurs, and
advise you to take tea and punch.

“At breakfast barly–bread is a necessity, and take chocolate
rather than coffee. I, however, permit strong cafe au lait. One
cannot breakfast too soon. When we breakfast late, dinner time
comes before your digestion is complete. You eat though, and eating
without appetite is often a great cause of obesity, when we do so
too often.”

Drink every summer thirty bottles of Seltzer water, a large
glass in the morning, two before breakfast and another at bed–time.
Drink light white acid wines like those of Anjon. Avoid beer as you
would the plague. Eat radishes, artichokes, asparagus, etc. Eat
lamb and chicken in preference to other animal food; eat only the
crust of bread, and employ a doctor who follows my principles, and
as soon as you begin you will find yourself fresher, prettier, and
better in every respect.

–Can anyone say “low-carb”?  Perhaps it really is the answer…

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