The focus on diet in diabetes management extends as far back as history can document. The ancient Egyptians first described diabetes in ‘Ebers papyrus’ in 1500 BC as “too great emptying of urine” for which a diet high in carbohydrate (wheat, berries, honey and grapes) was prescribed. The idea that a high carb diet was the best treatment for diabetes continued for thousands of years, Dobson in 1776 recognised that the sweet material found in the urine of diabetics was sugar, and so, not surprisingly, prescribed sugar and honey to replace what was lost.
It wasn’t until the late 1700s and early 1800s, that a link was formed between a reduced carbohydrate intake and improved outcomes. In 1797, John Rollo advocated for a diet based on fat and rancid meats – not particularly appetising!
The French had a better idea, in 1780 de N’Edats was able to analyse the carbohydrate content of a number of foods, allowing scientists and doctors a better understanding of the content of certain foods. In 1841, Bouchardat capitalised on this and introduced a glutenous bread (49% protein) to try and improve dietary variety – the first real 'diabetic food’. Lower carb vegetables were also allowed like spinach, artichokes, cabbage, lettuce, asparagus and green beans, and, for some reason, only men were allowed 1 ½ (700mL) pints of claret per day – sounds a bit unfair if you ask me!
In 1891, Dr Robert Saunby added saccharine the first artificial sweetener, to the ‘allowed foods’, which would no doubt have improved the palatability of the diet tremendously.
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