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America’s Weirdest Historical Fad Diets



If you’re familiar with trends like clean eating or intermittent fasting, you might think diet culture is hovering at peak weird. But extreme takes on eating are nothing new.

According to historian of medicine Louise Foxcroft, fad diets have been around since the 16th century, when a tell-all weight loss book by Venetian merchant Luigi Cornaro became a surprise bestseller with tips on extreme calorie restriction.

In her book ”Calories and Corsets: A history of dieting over 2,000 years,” Foxcroft describes how new media helped diet gurus capture larger audiences in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“There’s a whole diet industry that feeds on itself and feeds on consumers,” she told HuffPost. “And there’s an enormous amount of money to be made out of it.”

But for much of the past 200 years, dieting trends induced more eye rolls than scholarship. That’s a missed opportunity, according to Cornell’s Adrienne Rose Bitar, the author of “Diet and the Disease of Civilization.” “Diets,” she writes, “stand in for the bigger debate about history, salvation, money, power … and all the other ideas that make the world worth thinking about.”

Of the historical diets featured below, many have remarkable parallels to modern eating trends. Like modern clean eaters and juice cleansers, transcendentalist Bronson Alcott aspired to self-purification when he founded his short-lived vegan commune in Massachusetts in 1843. And as an industrialized America turned more sedentary through the 19th century, fears that men were losing their masculine edge gave rise to lumbersexual-like trends including beard-growing and big game hunting. In the early 20th century, Bernarr “Body Love” Macfadden tapped into that manly market with an all-milk diet that he traced to the era when men bought wives using cows for currency.

From wingnut meal plans to sex-starved vegetarians, these diets are just as quirky as whatever your friends are eating this week. We’ve lined up some favorites and asked registered dietitian nutritionist Jill Weisenberger, the author of ”Prediabetes: A Complete Guide,” to weigh in on whether you should trade your keto cookbook for a 19th-century food philosophy.

Dieters Against Masturbation
Next time you eat a graham cracker, thank anti-masturbation crusader Sylvester Graham whose signature whole wheat flour — graham flour — is the main ingredient. The minister and physician, who died at age 57 in 1851, believed in a vegetarian diet without white sugar, refined flour or spices, foods he saw as rocket-fuel for sexual urges. (Like many contemporaries, Graham thought masturbation led to mental illness.) While graham flour has lived on, it’s clear the preacher would detest the evolution of the use of its flagship product ― with its sensuous melted chocolate and marshmallow stuffed between two graham crackers, the s’more is less a campfire dessert than an oozing sex grenade.

Nutritionist says: “There’s nothing in here that horrifies me, but it’s more restricted than it needs to be,” Weisenberger said. She’s unfamiliar with studies that support Graham’s whack-a-doodle claims about masturbation.

Grade: C

Chewing And Spitting
If you’re tired of talking diets over dinner, call a Fletcherite. Since the followers of chewing-advocate Horace Fletcher — a.k.a. the Great Masticator — believed in champing their food at the rate of 100 bites per minute, they weren’t big on cross-table chat. According to Fletcher’s diet theory, you can shed pounds simply by chewing every mouthful to liquid then spitting out any remaining solids. As he wrote his 1899 diet book ”Glutton or Epicure,” Fletcher knew critics of his diet plan thought spitting food at the table was disgusting. But he handily dismissed their concerns: “This is merely a bugbear prejudice,” he wrote, “It has no good reason.”

Nutritionist says: “It would take all the fun out of eating, and it’s based on nothing,” Weisenberger said.

The Milk Diet
Fitness guru Bernarr Macfadden hit the turn-of-the-century diet scene with washboard abs and deeply questionable advice. He liked fasting and raw foods, but his strangest meal plan was simple — if nearly indigestible. Following a period of fasting, Macfadden prescribed an all-milk regime that he believed would restore health, heal injuries and clean the body cells of “organic toxins.” For every 25–30 pounds of body weight, Macfadden recommended about one quart of milk, topping out at a gut-cramping 28 cups a day.

Nutritionist says: “What you would get from milk is protein, fat and carbohydrates, but you wouldn’t be getting any fiber or phytonutrients.”

Grade: F

The Fruitlands Diet
The proto-locavore, hardcore vegans of the Transcendentalist commune Fruitlands started each day on their Massachusetts farm with a cold shower, fruit plate and a glass of water. Along with a ban on slave-produced goods and animal products, the Fruitlands diet was meant to purge humans of animalistic qualities. That went beyond avoiding honey and eggs: Alcott also refused to fertilize with manure and avoided downward-growing crops like potatoes, beets and carrots. Those dirt-dwelling veggies weren’t compatible with the higher aspirations of the commune, which endured for just 7 months from 1843 to 1844.

Nutritionist says: “People have very weird ideas.” While Weisenberger points to studies showing benefits of avoiding animal fats, she’s concerned that the Fruitlands diet might not be nutritionally complete.

The Special K Diet

Celebrity dieters like Sojourner Truth and Henry Ford checked into what eventually became known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan for intestinal spring cleanings over the years. The facility also eventually came under the supervision of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

Like Sylvester Graham, Kellogg frowned on sex, alcohol and meat, and believed he could freshen up America’s intestinal flora with grains that were processed to facilitate digestion. The corn flakes he invented were dual purpose—their fibers would sweep guts clean, while the bland flavor was designed to calm overwrought sex drives. If that didn’t do the trick, Kellogg prescribed a pint of yogurt daily ― half as a snack, half as an enema.

Nutritionist says: “I don’t see anything super weird about it, but by having processed grain instead of intact whole grains you’re reducing particle size, and that’s an important aspect of gut health.”

Grade: C

While these might seem edgy for the petticoat era, Bitar believes most dieting movements — from the milk diet to made-for-Instagram clean eating — aren’t as novel as they first appear. “They’ll be like, ‘Eat grapefruits and do jumping jacks,’” she told MagPost, “but actually look at them and they’re really conservative.”

Bitar’s research suggests that many of America’s historical diets are just variations on a theme. “All these diets react to ideas of newness and industrialization and the obesity epidemic and moral panic.” Often, she says, dieting gurus grope for the comfort of an imagined past.

Bitar, whose most recent work focuses on lab-grown meats, is concerned that Americans are so taken with nostalgia that they might miss key opportunities for positive change.

“The idea here is to return to a state of nature,” Bitar said. “Americans are so conservative … that it really sort of forecloses newness and innovation. There’s only so many ways you can eat meat or not eat meat, or eat carbs or not eat carbs.”

That strikes Bitar as a limitation when it comes to transforming how America eats. “Diets are really reluctant to embrace new technologies,” she said. “If it’s just going to be more of the same that’s not actually good for our food system.”

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Food & Drink

Gluten-free asparagus, pea and herb tart recipe



Perfect for packing up and taking on a picnic

Perfect for packing up and taking on a picnic CREDIT: ROCHELLE EAGLE

Awonderful one-dish meal that is as delicious for dinner as it is for breakfast or lunch the next day. Buckwheat flour and ground almonds mean this pastry is gluten-free, while inulin hero asparagus is music to our microbiome. As inulin is a non-digestible prebiotic, it passes through our digestive systems unabsorbed, fermenting and fuelling the beneficial bacteria, and fighting off inflammation-causing parasites.

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time | Cooking time: 50 minutes




  • 115g salted cultured butter, chilled and diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 150g buckwheat flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 30g arrowroot
  • 1 ½ tbsp water, chilled
  • 1 tbsp unpasteurised…

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Food & Drink

Inside Mahatma Gandhi’s Search For The Perfect Diet



Mahatma Gandhi was known as many things: a peacemaker, an activist, a spiritual leader and a hero. The man, born Mohandas K. Gandhi, helped India gain its independence in 1947 and fasted to end widespread violence dozens of times. While society knows him as a role model for peaceful protest, Gandhi also spent his 78 years studying one personal passion: nutrition.

Some of Gandhi’s diet choices were protest-based, such as fasting for days on end. Others tied back to his dedication to nutrition, including his distrust of processed foods.

According to Nico Slate, author of the new book “Gandhi’s Search for a Perfect Diet,” healthy eating was always part of Gandhi’s life.

“Gandhi’s interest in healthy eating started during childhood; his mother was a religious observer who fasted often and was careful about the foods she ate and served,” Slate told HuffPost. “He was a curious man, and like many parts of life, he had the desire to think deeply about his food.”

While Gandhi died over 70 years ago, his diet was well ahead of its time. Virtually all elements of Gandhi’s diets ― which raised eyebrows among his peers ― are commonplace, or even “fad diets,” today. Slate, who spent five years researching Gandhi’s history with nutrition, noticed a number of core themes.

Mahatma Gandhi takes his last meal before his fast at Rashtriyashala Ashram, Rajkot, in March 1939.
Mahatma Gandhi takes his last meal before his fast at Rashtriyashala Ashram, Rajkot, in March 1939.
Gandhi was skeptical of salt, then drastically changed his views
While Gandhi knew his favorite fruits and vegetables naturally contain salt, he steadfastly avoided adding any additional salt to his meals. According to Slate, Gandhi embarked on a salt-free diet in 1911, but he eased up over time after listening to his doctors. By the late 1920s, Gandhi welcomed a little salt ― no more than 30 grains per day ― into his diet.

California-based dietitian nutritionist Ashley Lytwyn agrees with Gandhi’s doctors.

“Salt is one of the electrolytes we absolutely need to function,” she told HuffPost. “We have a fear of salt in our culture, but if you’re eating a balanced diet, your body is naturally going to consume the adequate amount of salt.”

After understanding the importance of salt ― particularly for those working in the fields ― Gandhi went on to protest Britain’s hefty tax that made salt virtually unattainable for poor people in India. His 60,000-protester-strong Salt March in 1930 was integral to India gaining independence in 1947.

Veganism was too restrictive, so Gandhi gave up meat
Gandhi was born into a vegetarian household, but he always aspired to be vegan. He tried veganism as a young adult but, after suffering severe health issues, he was forced to change course.

“Experience has taught me that in order to keep perfectly fit, a vegetarian diet must include milk and milk product such as curds, butter, ghee, etc.,” Gandhi wrote in his book, “The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism.” “I excluded milk from my diet for six years. … But in the year 1917, as a result of my own ignorance, I was laid down with severe dysentery. I was reduced to a skeleton, but I stubbornly refused to take milk or buttermilk. … I could have had in mind only the milk of the cow and buffalo; why should the vow prevent me from taking goat’s milk?”

According to Lytwyn, highly restrictive diets such as veganism can be done, but they require vitamin supplements and nutritional planning.

“Nutrients like B12 can be tough to get with a vegan diet, and the iron in vegetables isn’t as bioavailable as iron in animal proteins,” Lytwyn said. “Even if he ate enough iron-rich vegetables, the body can’t always absorb what it needs.”

Gandhi eats breakfast with the viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, in 1947.
Gandhi eats breakfast with the viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, in 1947.
After he acc the need for goat dairy in his diet, Gandhi lived as a steadfast ― and healthy ― vegetarian. In fact, vegetarianism actually led to Gandhi’s true calling as a social activist.

“During law school, Gandhi had a transformative experience living with progressive vegetarians in London,” Slate said. “At first, he was terribly shy and not politically active, but these vegetarians had strong beliefs against imperialism and racism; they gave Gandhi the confidence to become an activist, speaker and writer.”

Gandhi was a label-checker who loved raw, unprocessed foods
Like many health-conscious Americans, Gandhi avoided foods with ingredients he couldn’t pronounce. When companies began importing vegetarian alternatives to India’s popular ghee (clarified butter) in the 1930s, many thought he’d accept them without question. Gandhi quickly proved them wrong.

“Since ghee alternatives were made in a factory, Gandhi came out strongly against them,” Slate said. “He wanted simple foods with simple ingredients. If you gave him one of today’s vegan protein bars with 25 obscure ingredients, he wouldn’t eat it.”

Yet again, Gandhi’s diet was ahead of its time; the high trans-fat Vanaspati ghee is notoriously unhealthy. Gandhi expressed concern in his book “Diet and Diet Reform”: “In reality ghee is pure animal product. One thoughtlessly uses the expression vegetable ghee or Vanaspati, but it is a contradiction in terms. Vanaspati as an article of diet is a very poor substitute for ghee. It not only lacks absorption by the human system, but has no vitamin potency.”

Lytwyn fully agrees with Gandhi’s simplistic approach to food but notes that times have changed, and so have our eating schedules.

“Some foods are best served simply,” she said. “Take oatmeal. It’s a beautiful complex carb that tastes delicious ― why alter it? At the same time, people need alternatives in today’s fast-paced culture. If it’s between skipping a meal or eating a granola bar, I’d say eat the granola bar. You need to nourish yourself.”

Fasts were key to Gandhi’s political and nutritional diet
While Gandhi’s fasts altered the course of history ― including his famous 1948 “fast unto death” for peace in Delhi ― he also fasted for religious and nutritional reasons. Gandhi fasted dozens and dozens of times, including his longest stretch of 21 days.

As a specialist in eating disorders, Lytwyn urges dieters to rethink today’s newfound fasting craze, particularly given its focus on weight loss, not activism.

“Gandhi’s nonviolent approach was moving and impactful,” she said. “But, as I’ve seen with many clients, fasting can cause those predisposed to eating disorders to spiral out of control. If you’re excessively restricting yourself, of course your body will overcompensate with a fast-then-binge cycle.”

Gandhi, who was known to love fruit, receives a coconut in front of his hut at Sevagram Ashram in January 1942.
Gandhi, who was known to love fruit, receives a coconut in front of his hut at Sevagram Ashram in January 1942.
Gandhi avoided sugar, but couldn’t give up this one “sweet”
For the most part, Gandhi kept sugar out of his diet, but he had one major exception: fruit. He loved fruit. In fact, while he was successfully restrictive when it came to processed or refined sugars, the strong-willed Gandhi had trouble curbing cravings when it came to “sweets” like mango.

“Gandhi tried hard not to eat too much of anything; he thought enjoying food too much would distract him from his spiritual goals,” Slate said. “But Gandhi was human. One time he received this crate of fresh mangoes as medicine for a group of patients he was helping and he just entirely gave in.”

Gandhi, known for restraint against cravings, ate several mangoes before sharing them with his patients. He lamented his overindulgence in a letter.

“Mango is a cursed fruit,” Gandhi wrote in 1941. “It attracts attention as no other fruit does. We must get used to not treating it with so much affection … but they the patients will all get some as we have three boxes.”

While Gandhi did give in to cravings, he didn’t respond by throwing away his diet. He acknowledged it, lamented it and moved on. Lytwyn urges her clients to do the same.

“When my clients have an overeating episode, I tell them to learn from it and let it go,” she said. “We don’t have to hold onto this one experience as a moral judgment of ourselves. There’s really no perfect way to eat, and trying to achieve perfection will drive us mad. It’s all about moderation.”

Food is different for everyone, and Gandhi accepted that
According to Slate, Gandhi didn’t push his strict diet and nutritional beliefs on peers. He wrote about his food experiments in letters and books, but humbly acknowledged that he didn’t know everything and openly listened to others’ findings.

While not directly related to his diet, Lytwyn believes this is Gandhi’s greatest food lesson of all.

“We have this cultural obsession where people project their diet and fitness onto others, but if you look at different cultures, they’re not on this never-ending quest for thinness,” she said. “If you gave five different people the same foods and the same exercise plan, they still won’t have the same body at the end of it. We need to embrace our bodies as they are, rather than changing or altering them to the ideals and pressures others project on us.

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Food & Drink

When To Use A Blender vs. A Food Processor



In the grand pantheon of Important Kitchen Appliances, the blender and the food processor both claim prime positions. And indeed, these pieces of equipment share many similarities: They’re both motorized and designed to mix ingredients together.

However, contrary to popular belief, these two appliances aren’t totally interchangeable. While certain foods can be equally well-made using either machine, blenders and food processors have structural differences to make them each uniquely suited to specific culinary tasks.

The Difference Between These Appliances
The short story: A blender is typically better for foods that will end up mostly liquid, whereas a food processor is better for foods that will end up being mostly solid.

Blenders and food processors both use blades and motors to accomplish their tasks, but the particular mechanisms of each device are crucially different. According to Bon Appetit, the motor of a blender is typically more powerful than that of a food processor, which creates the silky-smooth texture so characteristic of blended foods. However, blender blades “are not super sharp. In fact, they’re basically blunt objects.” Because of this, blenders are better for handling liquids and creating smooth textures.

A food processor, on the other hand, uses “ridged and razor-sharp” blades, which allow them to slice through thicker and more substantial foods. This, plus the addition of accessories like a shredder blade, allows a food processor to accomplish a number of tasks such as chopping and shredding.

Best Foods For The Blender
Cocktails, Smoothies And Sauces

When combining liquid ingredients to create a smooth, luxurious beverage or sauce, the high-octane motor of a blender is your best friend

“A blender is best for liquids and a food processor is better for more solid ingredients. Having said that, the very powerful blenders like Vitamix and Blendtec will literally pulverize hockey pucks and iPhones,” said Atlanta-based chef Virginia Willis, author of “Secrets of the Southern Table.”

“Blenders are great for mixing liquids and making sauces. The conical shape directs everything to the blades at the bottom. Also, since [the blender pitcher is] so deep, it’s less likely to overflow. The blades of a blender aren’t that large or sharp ― what mixes things up is the powerful motor,” Willis explained.


Blenders can mix up any number of delicious sauces, but the brunch staple and eggs Benedict MVP known as hollandaise particularly benefits from the textural consistency provided by serious blender motors.

“Nothing has changed the brunch game more than powerful blenders,” said culinary director Jeremy Kittelson of the Edible Beats restaurant group in Denver. “Cooks used to have to sweat over double boilers for what seemed like forever, only to often end up with a broken hollandaise and then get yelled at by the chef and have to start all over again. No more ― one only needs to heat clarified butter and put their egg mixture in a blender for perfect hollandaise.”


Whether you’re whipping up a veggie puree to serve alongside a protein or emulsifying fat into a pureed soup, a high-quality blender can aerate the mixture, resulting in a silky texture with an indulgent mouthfeel.

“I use [a Vitamix Vita-Prep blender] for pureeing soups or vegetables because it whips air into our purees, especially when we emulsify a fat into them,” said executive chef Mike Sheerin of Taureaux Tavern in Chicago. “Using a blender gives [the purees] a mayo-like consistency without all the calories.”

The motor speed of a professional-grade blender also contributes to this tool’s ability to finely process fruits and vegetables, according to chef de cuisine Geoff Lee of Byblos in Miami Beach, Florida. “The blender is capable of spinning the blade at a higher RPM than a food processor, which works well for breaking down items into their finest possible state. For example, I’ll use a blender when making my signature, a roasted red pepper puree,” Lee told HuffPost.

Cake And Pastry Batters

In another instance of blender aeration coming to the rescue, these devices are perfect for making light, airy and smooth batters for cakes and pastries. “Blenders are awesome for batters for the same reason [that] they’re great for smoothies: blender aeration,” explained Chicago-based chef and blogger Mila Furman of Girl and the Kitchen. “Whipping air into the batter creates a beautifully fluffy mixture.”

Baby Food

It’s difficult to think of an edible item that requires a soft and even texture more than baby food. Luckily, parents interested in prepping their baby’s sustenance from scratch will find a very functional friend in their blenders.

“My wife and I used our blender for making homemade baby food for our daughters,” said executive chef Ethan McKee of Urbana in Washington, D.C. “It’s super easy, saves a ton of money and gives you total control of the ingredients that go into it.”

Worst Food For The Blender
Cauliflower Rice

Using cauliflower as a keto-friendly swap for grains continues to grow in popularity, but if you want to transform this veggie into a rice substitute, it’s definitely not a task best performed with a blender. According to Taste of Home, cauliflower contains more moisture than you might expect, and when you drop florets in the blender and turn on the motor, the water inside the vegetable leaks out and leaves you with a “soggy” result.

The solution? Try a food processor instead, as the larger blades and less-potent motor will give you a consistent, rice-like texture without unnecessary dampness.


Best Foods For The Food Processor
Pie And Biscuit Dough

While blenders work beautifully for pastry batters in need of aeration, heartier doughs like the ones required for breads, pie crusts and biscuits achieve their sturdy texture thanks to the blades of a food processor. “A food processor is good for making pie dough and biscuit dough because the blades are very sharp,” Willis said.

Pasta Dough

Making pasta dough in a food processor simplifies the process and saves you time. “I use my food processor to make fresh pasta dough,” said executive chef Molly McCook of Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth, Texas. “It significantly cuts down on the prep time and helps keep a more consistent product. Different cooks might mix by hand at different strengths and speeds, but by using a food processor, you can achieve the same combinations each time, and consistency is crucial in a restaurant setting.”

Breadcrumbs, Chopped Nuts And Chopped Veggies

If you need a significant quantity of breadcrumbs or chopped produce of any kind, a food processor will keep the process moving efficiently and will provide you with a consistent product with a perfect fine-grain texture.

“I use food processors to chop and grind dry ingredients as fine as possible (like a powder). Items like breadcrumbs, nuts and coconut are best chopped in a food processor,” said chef Wayne Elias, a Los Angeles-based chef with significant experience cooking for large Hollywood festivities like Elton John’s Oscar party and Steven Tyler’s Grammy party.

“A food processor is the perfect tool when you need something that requires a large quantity of mincing,” noted chef de cuisine Tom Kaldy of Artisan in West Hartford, Connecticut. “For instance, at my restaurant, Artisan, we make a vegetable ‘risotto’ in which the vegetable we are using, whether it be cauliflower, broccoli, etc., acts as the ‘rice’ part of the risotto. In this situation, hand-chopping would be too time-consuming and would actually produce a less consistent result than a food processor blade. A blender would not be able to continuously chop the ingredient consistently, and the effort may even cause the blender to seize production.”

Textured Dips And Spreads

If you’d prefer a dip or a spread that isn’t completely smooth and pureed, you’ll want to avoid the blender. The food processor, on the other hand, will break the ingredients down and combine them while still allowing them to retain some rustic texture.

“I use a food processor instead of a blender when I want to obtain a chunky texture instead of a smooth, liquid one,” said chef de cuisine David Wang of Boleo Rooftop in Chicago. “I often use a food processor to make guasacaca, a Venezuelan guacamole, so the ingredients stay a little chunky.”

Worst Food For The Food Processor
Pureed Soup

Because the vessel of a food processor is typically more shallow than the pitcher of a blender, using a food processor to puree a larger-form dish like soup will require a great deal of time and effort, while a blender can accomplish the same task in a fraction of the time. “When pureeing soup, a food processor will work, but you will have to do it in batches,” cautioned Willis.

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