In 1829 he invented Graham bread, and the recipe first appeared in The New Hydropathic Cookbook (New York, 1855). It showed that Graham bread was made from unsifted flour and free from chemical additives such as alum and chlorine. Graham argued that chemical additives in bread made it unwholesome. The use of additives by bakeries was a common practice during the Industrial Revolution to make bread whiter in color, and more commercially appealing. Darker wheat bread was considered the fare of country rubes. Refined bread was a status symbol of the middle class because of its "purity and refinement" in its color and was purchased, rather than home-made. Graham believed that a firm bread made of coarsely ground whole-wheat flour was more nutritious and healthy.
Graham was also inspired by the temperance movement and preached that a vegetarian diet was a cure for alcoholism, and, more importantly, sexual urges. The main thrust of his teachings was to curb lust. While alcohol had useful medicinal qualities, it should never be abused by social drinking. For Graham, an unhealthy diet stimulated excessive sexual desire which irritated the body and caused disease. While Graham developed a significant following known as Grahamites, he was also ridiculed by the media and the public for his unwavering zealotry. According to newspaper records, many women fainted at his lectures when he aired opinions both on sexual relations and the wearing of corsets. Whether their fainting was due to the subject matter or the tight corsets is still debated.
In 1837 he had difficulty finding a place to speak in Boston because of threatened riots by butchers and commercial bakers. In 1850 he helped found the American Vegetarian Society modeled on a similar organization established in Great Britain. He died the following year, at the age of 58, in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a restaurant, Sylvester's, now sits on the former location of his house. Graham influenced notable figures in America, including Horace Greeley and John Harvey Kellogg of Battle Creek Sanitarium fame.
Of his numerous writings, the best known were Lectures on the Science of Human Life (Boston, 1839), of which several editions of the two-volume work were printed in the United States and sales in England were widespread, and Lectures to Young Men on Chastity.
Today, Graham is best known as the father of Graham crackers.
Grahamites were the followers of Presbyterian minister, Rev. Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), an American dietary reformer and advocate of what would now be called alternative medicine, although the term did not exist in his day.
Grahamites accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle. As such, they practiced abstinence from alcohol, frequent bathing, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle. Graham also was an advocate of sexual abstinence, especially from masturbation, which he regarded as an evil that inevitably led to insanity. He felt that all excitement was unhealthful, and spices were among the proscribed ingredients in his diet. As a result his dietary recommendations were inevitably bland, which led to the Grahamites consuming large quantities of Graham crackers, Graham's own invention. White bread was strongly condemned by Graham and his followers, however, as being essentially devoid of nutrition, a claim echoed by alternative medicine advocates and nutritionists ever since. Some Grahamites lost faith when their mentor died at the age of fifty-seven. Other than the crackers, the Grahamites' major contribution to American culture was probably their insistence on frequent bathing, and to this day Americans, for the most part, bathe far more than any other people. However, Graham's doctrines found later followers in the persons of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg. Their invention of corn flakes was a logical extension of the Grahamite approach to nutrition.
Grahamism was influential in the vegan movement. Sylvester Graham focused on meat and milk, which he believed to be the cause of sexual urges. In fact, he claimed animal byproducts produced lust; Grahamism thus rejected meat, animal byproducts, and alcohol in order to develop a purer mind and body. Quite popular in the 1860s-1880s, this movement rapidly lost momentum and is now remembered mostly for its Graham crackers.
The Graham diet was invented around 1829 by Sylvester Graham, a self proclaimed "Physiological Reformer". It consisted mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat and high fiber foods, and excluded meat and spices altogether (see vegetarianism). Very fresh milk, cheese, and eggs were permitted in moderation, and butter was to be used "very sparingly".
Graham believed that adhering to the diet would prevent people from having impure thoughts and in turn would stop masturbation (thought by Graham to be a catalyst for blindness) among other things. He was a prolific writer and speaker for his cause, which was sternly opposed to "bad habits" of the body and mind. During the 1830s, the diet had a moderate response from the mostly puritanical faction of the American public, so much so that at one point it was strictly imposed on students of Oberlin College by David Campbell (a disciple of Graham's). During the period in which it was enforced, some rebellious students ate off-campus, and at one point a professor was fired for refusing to stop bringing his own pepper for use with his meals. The diet was eventually renounced by the college in 1841 following a public outcry.
The Graham cracker, invented by its namesake as a staple for the diet, eventually became part of US-American popular culture.