The Hay System Cookery Book was published by Harrap in September 1936 and reprinted twice in the following month. It was adapted and annotated from Esther L Smith’s Official Cook Book of the Hay System by Doris M L Grant.

Her purpose in doing so, was to make the book suitable for British housewives, as “many recipes contained American foods, difficult, if not impossible to obtain”. Other recipes were excluded by Doris Grant, as she deemed them “too complicated or expensive, for everyday use”.

Dr William Howard Hay MD (1866 – 1940) was an American doctor, a graduate of New York University Medical College. Not yet forty years old, he ran for a train in Pennsylvania and had ‘an episode of acute heart failure’. Discovering that he had Bright’s Disease, Dr Hay quit smoking, gave up coffee and spent four years developing ‘The Hay System’. He lost weight and improved his hypertension, as a result.

focus photography of green cabbage
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Dr Hay’s main theory, was that carbs and protein shouldn’t be eaten together at any meal. He postulated that carbs needed alkaline enzymes for digestion and that acid enzymes were needed for proteins. Hay maintained that eating carbs and proteins together neutralised the enzymes and that the food just rotted in the intestines. His theory was exposed as fiction eventually, when scientists proved that alkaline and acid proteins could work simultaneously in separate parts of the intestines.

The Journal of the American Medical Association criticised him and Professor Logan Clendening MD (1884 -1945) (Professor of Clinical Medicine and Professor of Medical History, University of Kansas) called the Hay Diet ” a half-baked unscientific food fad”. Clendening’s book The Human Body (1927) had sold 1.5 million copies by 1945. The University of Kansas Medical Center called Professor Clendening: ” the greatest popularizer of medicine in America, in the first half of the twentieth century”.

Dr Hay was a member of the Defensive Diet League of America’s medical advisory board and campaigned against smallpox vaccination, vivisection and aluminum saucepans.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

In the book’s foreword. Esther L Smith exhorts readers to make sure that 75% of their diet is based on natural foods – fruits, whole grain cereals, nuts, vegetables and milk. Over-refined foods suchas white sugar and bleached flour should be confined to small amounts on special occasions or discarded altogether, along with ‘fiery condiments’, the ‘decayed proteins’ of ripened cheeses and’ inorganic mineral table salts’.

Esther L Smith suggests replacing these ‘denatured and useless items’ with honey, maple sugar, brown cane sugar, molasses, whole wheat and rye flours and cornmeal.

80% alkaline food to 20% acid food dhould be consumed to ‘preserve the natural alkalinity of the body’. Protein meals should be limited to three or four per week and the same goes for carbs, except for young children and active adults.

Despite the pseudo-science, the Hay Diet lives on under its own name, but also as Food Combining. Two offshoots are the Kensington Diet and the Beverly Hills Diet. Actresses Elizabeth Hurley, Dame Helen Mirren and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Mrs Michael Douglas) are all alleged to have tried the diet and Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford (1863-1947) is said to have been a Hay Diet fan.

Here at Maison Keto, we don’t veer away from vintage books or faddish diets. Even in the most peculiar of diets, it is possible to find a few recipes twinkling away like little gems. After all, Doris M L Grant does state: ” Cream is almost a necessity in Hay-dieting’.

clear glass container with coconut oil
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Without sugar or flour, there are a great many soups, sauces, dressings and salads, suitable for low carbers, coeliacs and vegetarians alike.

Finding a sugarless vanilla ice cream recipe and a sugarless egg custard were unexpected surprises, which will be useful at Christmas.

Turnips, onions, cabbage, peas, runner beans and asparagus, get creamed. Celeriac, tomatoes, endive, beets, mushrooms and vegetable croquettes, get baked. Celery is steamed, brothed, buttered, braised and mixed with Brussels sprouts. So many unexpected treatments for side vegetables.

Don’t buy it if you want social history, as there aren’t any personal stories. No photos or illustrations either, nor amusing ads.

Don’t buy it if you want a cheap book, try a paperback by Doris M L Grant instead.

Some of the salads are vegan but lacto-ovo-vegetarians will do better, with salads, soups, sauces and vegetables.

Low carbers get quite a lot of new recipes.

There isn’t any mention of dieting or slimming, this diet is all about health. The science is incorrect and outdated but some of the recipes are quite good.

In 1937 Doris M L Grant wrote The Hay System Menu Book and thanks to eBay, this will be arriving by early December 2021. Also due then, is The Beverly Hills Diet Cookbook, from USA.

If you’re interested in quirky diets and their history:


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