- 1886 – First public mention of “calorics”
- 1887 – Calories as food energy first explained
- 1896 – Birth of calorie counting concept
- 1906 – Measure food by calories instead of weight
- 1918 – First bestselling calorie counting diet book
You might be wondering, dear reader, as a person mildly to very interested in nutrition and health, why would you care about the history and origin of calories and calorie counting?
Well, maybe you’ve just wanted to know where it all started, but never had the time to dig deeply into the history and origins of calorie counting. Somebody must have been the instigator. Who was it? And what was the timeline of how calorie counting got rolling and continues to this day?
Unless you’re a nutrition historian, you may not really care about this subject at all. But if you are one of the few who do, this post is for you – the intersection of calorie counting origins, history, and science.
Calorie Counting Origins
For a timeline of historical documents related to the origins of calorie counting, see this page, Calorie Counting Timeline.
1886: Atkinson – The Food Question in America and Europe or The Public Victualing Department
- First mention of “calorics” (calories) in public magazine, The Century
- Inventor of the Aladdin oven, saving fuel, cooking effort, and food costs
- Successful entrepreneur and executive of cotton mills
- Interested in dietetics and home economics
1887: Atwater – The Potential Energy of Food; The Chemistry and Economy of Food III.
- Public introduction of calories, calorimetry, calorimeters, and potential energy of food
- Introduction of standard calorie values of protein, carbohydrates, and fats: 4.1, 4.1, 9.3, respectively—the original Atwater values
- Professor of Chemistry, father of nutrition science in America
- Seminal article on calories as fuel values of food and the conversion of potential energy into work and heat
- Measuring food amounts in calories was initially a way to ensure food economy–getting enough food at lowest cost–in an era of widespread undernourishment
1896: Atkinson (again) – The Science of Nutrition, Treatise Upon the Science of Nutrition, Fourth Edition.
- Birth of calorie counting concept — “we may even put the whole art of nutrition … into the common school arithmetics, in the form of examples of addition, multiplication and the like”
- Introduced the Calorie as the “unit of nutrition”
- “…at the very beginning of … a true Science of Nutrition”
1906: Irving Fisher – A new method for indicating food values
- Promoted measuring food by calories instead of by weight
- Introduced the 100 calorie standard portion
- Advocated his method of expressing food values visually in geometrical representation
- Well-known Yale economist, perhaps most famous for proclaiming in 1929 that the stock market had reached “a permanently high plateau” just prior to the Wall Street crash
1918: Lulu Hunt Peters – Diet and Health with Key to the Calories
- Physician, newspaper columnist, and author of first blockbuster diet book in America
- Wacky, funny, outspoken popularizer of calorie counting as means of weight loss
- How to calculate your normal or ideal weight
- The most influential book on calorie counting
Now you know where calorie counting came from, who started it, and when.