Gayelord Hauser: Wisdom From The Man Who Led Me To Low-Carb

To Gayelord Hauser, who started it all.

So reads the dedication in my first book, How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds. Who was Gayelord Hauser?

Gayelord Hauser, one of the first “health food” advocates, is considered by many to be the father of the modern nutrition movement.*His personal story is compelling: As a boy, he had tuberculosis in his hip, and despite the best treatment then available, he was considered terminal. He was sent home to his native Switzerland to die. There, an old man, seeing the boy eating rolls and coffee, reportedly told him “If you keep on eating such dead foods, you certainly will die. Only living foods can make a living body.” Hauser started eating fresh, whole foods and recovered with remarkable speed. Thus began a lifelong passion for nutrition, and a career.

Hauser counseled movie stars, including Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Grace Kelly, and Paulette Goddard. He convinced Greta Garbo to give up vegetarianism, insisting on quality protein at every meal. His advice was sought by royalty, including the Duchess of Windsor. He helped aging television stars regain their waistlines. He wrote many books and lectured extensively. He introduced yogurt, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses, and other health food store staples to a white-bread-Coca-Cola-and-Crisco America.

Gayelord Hauser was right about a lot of things: the value of animal protein and fresh vegetables, the dangers of refined, concentrated carbohydrates, the evils of hydrogenated (trans) fats. He was wrong about some others, most notably the idea that polyunsaturated vegetable oils are more healthful than animal fats. But there is little question that the diet Hauser advocated was vastly more nutritious than that of the average American in the first half of the twentieth century. I have no doubt those who took his advice enjoyed better health.

New Treasury of SecretsAnd it was reading one of Hauser’s books – the one lying open on my desk as I write this, Gayelord Hauser’s New Treasury of Secrets, originally published in 1951 – that seventeen years ago gave me the idea of going low carb. It’s the first place I heard of William Banting (though Hauser misspelled his name “Banning”), author of the first mass-market diet book in the English language, outlining a low carb diet. It’s where I first read of Kekwick and Pawan, the British researchers who demonstrated that the macronutrient makeup of calories eaten dramatically influences the number of calories burned. It is where I read the sentence “Carbohydrates are the fat person’s poison,” and thought “Geez, nothing else is working. May as well give it a try.”

There’s another piece of wisdom from Gayelord Hauser I’d like to share with you. He wrote that in the 1930s he met Ann Astaire, the mother of the immortal dancer Fred Astaire. She asked Hauser if he thought it was possible to remain healthy and young by willpower. His answer was wise:

“Not by willpower. Those are the middle-aged men in bright neckties, the women who turn girlish in their fifties… trying to look young by force, as it were. I think being youthful is a matter of wanting to be youthful, steadily, all day, every day.”

Wanting to, steadily, all day, every day. Think about this in conjunction with weight loss. People “go on a diet” with, yes, willpower. They start in a great burst of enthusiasm, but one can only keep up that sort of intensity for so long. These folks are Legion, and I know I have, in the past, been one of them. They – we – go on a diet, lose weight in time for a wedding, a vacation, a reunion, or, in my youth, the first day of school in the autumn, only to fall by the wayside and gain the weight back.

What changed for me at the age of nineteen, when I “got nutrition” like other people get religion, was that I wanted, more than anything, not to be thin, but to be well, to feel well, and to stay well. I have wanted that every day since. I want to be well today, and I want to be well tomorrow, and I want to be well decades from now. I plan to be the spryest damned centenarian anyone’s ever seen. I want the doctors shaking their heads and wondering how the heck I do it.

Don’t get me wrong; I care about my weight. I’m as vain as the next girl, and vainer than some. But the wellness is paramount, with healthier body weight being just one marker of that wellness.

It has been thirty-four years since I got nutrition. My course has had ups and downs, most notably my unfortunate adoption, in the late 1980s, of the low fat/high carb diet fad. My understanding of what constitutes good nutrition has changed, sometimes radically.** But always, every day, my primary concern in choosing food has been “Will this contribute to my wellness?” Yes, I care about how food tastes, I couldn’t write cookbooks if I didn’t. But the thing I most want from food is that it makes me well. There is no food that tastes good enough to make me stop wanting that, especially since the foods that make me well taste so damned good.

Wanting to, steadily, all day, every day.

What do you want?

* Hauser is also the guy who invented Vege-Sal, one of my favorite seasonings. His name is still on the package. Also invented Spike seasoning, and Indo seasoned meat tenderizer, all still on the market.

** Radically in some ways, yet not so radically in others. I used to believe whole grains were good for me, now I eat no grains at all. I let myself be convinced for a while that fat was worse for me than sugar. (Healthy Choice Butter Pecan with Hershey’s Syrup – “now, as always, a fat-free food.”) But I haven’t drunk a sugared soda in over thirty years, nor eaten a Twinkie nor a bowl of Cap’n Crunch.

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8 comments

  1. Annie Petrie Sauter

    My mother was Ruth Hauser, niece of Uncle Ben (Gayelord Hauser). I wrote to you once before but wasn’t sure if you got my note or not. I was wondering if Mrs. Carpender who was a guest of his and later moved over by the Wainscott School House in Bridgehampton was your mother. We used to visit him ofter in California, NY and Letojanni, Sicily, Italy. We have been eating low carb because of your book , The how I lost 40 pounds book, for years now. I wondered if you were her daughter. I am older than you are but was brought up eating his way. There were definitely more carbs than I eat now, but I think we benefitted from his fresh foods, and other ideas that were well before their time. We always
    had butter and whole milk , yogurt and tons of fresh vegetables and fruit. I can’t eat that much fruit now, but he always believed in fresh air , walking and swimming daily as well. Well let me know if this is you or not, in any case, thanks for returning good health to my family. My husband reversed his plaque down to nothing despite a strong family history and huge cholesterol reading. I dropped my triglycerides without threatening my bone health from 1500 to 145 and I have a 3.5 bone density at 22 years post menopause. So I feel very grateful to you.

    Peace:
    Annie

    Ps He was not Swiss, he was German.

    • Wow! Annie, thanks for writing! I have a lot of your uncle’s books, including his cookbook, and rereading them is always like visiting with an old friend.

      No, that wouldn’t have been my mom, but if the last name was spelled CarpenDer instead of CarpenTer, odds are I’m related somehow. There just aren’t a whole lot of CarpenDers out there.

      I know about his love of walking and swimming; he was advocating well-made walking shoes before I was born, and said he used to hold meetings by asking folks to go walking with him. He also wrote about swimming in the Mediterranean off of Taormina.

      Thanks so much for reading my book! I’m so glad you found it helpful; figure it’s your uncle’s karma coming back to you through me. 🙂 That change in triglycerides, especially, is *stunning*.

      Sorry for the error re his nationality. In New Treasury of Secrets he said he was sent home to Switzerland to die, but of course he could have moved there from Germany — I just assumed he was a native. In any case, he was a true citizen of the world, and America, in particular, was lucky to get him.

      Thanks again!

      • Annie Petrie Sauter

        I was a kid, It was a wild life whenever we were around Uncle Ben. He had one heck of a sense of humor. LIke a little kid. But I have to say the food was fabulous, especially at Casa Silemi in Sicily. We used to east a late picnic lunch in a cabana on the beach . Fish right out of the ocean, hard boiled eggs,
        homemade fresh foods spread out in the shade. We did also drink carrot juice which I don’t do too often now, but I have to say it is great karma, because you probably saved my husband’s life . He is the only one in his family not to have multis tents, multi bypass and destroyed valves from plaque. He reversed all of his by listening to you. He also has a calcium metabolism disorder that destroyed his kidneys until he was the 9th patient to have a double auto renal transplant and uretorectomy. If he hadn’t found your book, he never would have had enough strength to go through two surgeries in 90 days one 17 hours and one 15 hours. He completely reversed his cholesterol which on low low fat went from 460 to 410 on the highest dose of statins. On your diet-he went from 460 to 165 with a much better ratio in 8 weeks and kept it there. I am certain that despite the protests of our doctor this is what saved his life. At 23 they told him he would be needing a bypass by his 30s. Thank you Dana.
        (once we went out to eat with Uncle Ben in this little restaurant in Sicily. He told my little brother he forgot his wallet and had my brother sneaking out and up the tracks to go get it before he burst out laughing–he had a very wild sense of humor and was the most vigorous person I have ever known in every sense of the word. )

        • Wow. Wow-wow-wow. This is a heckuva story about your husband. I’m grinning ear-to-ear now.

          And I only wish I’d known your uncle. It’s clear from his books how much he loved life and people, both.

  2. As always, well said.

  3. I followed Jimmy Moore’s link to the CarbSmart web site and spent a few minutes just browsing around.

    How fortuitous.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the first book on nutrition I read. It was by Gaylord something. An older friend lent it to me back in the 70s. I’ve been searching my brain for the full name because I thought it would be interesting to read it again now that I have afresh understanding of nutrition. Sadly back then I didn’t Get Nutrition as written by Gaylord Hauser in the huge book I read.

    Now I can search for the book I read a way back then, and see what I missed.

    Thanks for this post and Blessings

  4. Fascinating – I have been a fan of Gayelord Hauser for years, partly because my great-grandmother knew him and his family in Chicago around the turn of the last century. At the time there were many Germans who’d recently immigrated in certain neighborhoods (back when Victorian houses in the Chicago suburbs were NEW). She was always saying what a handsome kid he’d been, and how thrilled she was that he’d become famous – she had all his books. I was always interested in his connection with Hollywood, especially Greta Garbo. Was he the one who recommended hot milk with molasses as a good bedtime drink? I know molasses has magnesium, but it also contains a lot of sugar…his books on their own are very soothing, very positive, very soporific! I wish someone would write a biography about him!

  5. I went to a lecture by Gaylord Hauser in 1971 and won one of 2 drawing prizes – – a large basket of health foods. I was 38 then, and he introduced
    me to the audience and they applauded because I looked much younger.
    He invited me to go backstage after the lecture. which I did, but was very
    disappointed to see him smoking. I have never smoked, and am now 89
    and passing for early 70s. I am still working as a Hair Stylist and Actor.
    None the less, it was an interesting event in my life.

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