In an interview about her book, "Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda," Carolyn de la Peña tells the University of Carolina Press that Americans have been dieting since at least the 1920s. There is plenty of evidence to prove this. The 1950s and 1960s had a particularly massive explosion of dieting fad products on the market. These diets were sometimes effective when used as directed, but others were dangerous and downright disgusting.
Metrecal -- 1959
Metrecal was the trailblazer in liquid meal replacements. It was created by C. Joseph Genster of Mead Johnson & Company in the late 1950s. The diet product came as a powder to be mixed with water, and was made of powdered skim milk, soybean flour, corn oil, vitamins and minerals. Dieters drank four 225-calorie servings daily of the “nauseating" drink, as "TIME" magazine reported a Dallas dieter to have said. The taste was so horrendous, many users were reported to have mixed the drink with liquor. While some did lose weight, the dieting fad didn’t last long and was replaced by other meal replacement drinks that tasted better.
No-Cal Beverage --1952
Another 1950s' diet product is No-Cal soda. It was the first no-calorie soda launched in 1952. It was originally created to meet the needs of diabetic patients. Advertisements for this beverage showcased movie stars such as Kim Novak to sell the product. At the time, sugar-free food and beverages were desirable due to the growing popularity of dieting, and consumers flocked to retailers to buy the product. Unfortunately, No-Cal couldn’t compete with the larger soda companies, like Coca-Cola, which launched their own versions of no-calorie beverages. No-Cal went out of business, although recently No-Cal has resurfaced and is being marketed as a drink that invokes a “feeling” of the past.
Knudsen Diet 225 -- 1966
A liquid 1960s' diet product was the Knudsen Diet 225. Much like Metrecal, each serving was 225 calories, hence the name of the drink. It was created in 1966 by Knudsen Creamery Co. and said to have been the first 1960s' diet product drink to be made with real dairy.
Saccharin -- 1950s and 1960s
The first known artificial sweetener was discovered by accident by Constantine Fahlberg in 1879. It is not metabolized in the body for energy and doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Initially, as many diet products, it was used for diabetic patients. During the diet explosion in the 1950s and 1960s, saccharin was used to sweeten diet beverages as a way for consumers to watch calories.
- University of Carolina Press: Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners From Saccharin To Splenda
- TIME Magazine; Americana: The Theory of Weightlessness
- Bowling World: Nation’s First Diet Soda Makes A Cool Comeback
- Newspapers.com: Knudsen Diet 225 -- OCR Text
- Elmhurst College: Saccharin - The Oldest Sweetener
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images