Good Health and Bad Medicine:
Carsickness And Seasickness
Constipation - Part 1
Constipation - Part 2
'gas' And Bloating
Alkalizers And Acidosis
Diet - Part 1
Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine
Diet - Part 1
( Originally Published 1940 )
IT WOULD be putting it mildly to state that there is much confusion, ignorance and deliberate exploitation in the field of diet and nutrition. The great advances in the science of nutrition in the past thirty years have made the public aware that there is more to diet than simply filling the stomach three times a day, that foods differ in their usefulness, and that, like many a Southern share-cropper, one can eat three meals a day and yet die from malnutrition.
It is true that people have become food-conscious; but that consciousness has not always been in line with the spectacular advances in the science of nutrition. As a consequence, the ever-growing field of diet and nutrition has become the playground for every kind of quack, faddist and food and vitamin manufacturer, out to exploit the public's interest in, and credulity about, diet.
The annual food bill of the people of the United States is estimated to exceed $12,000,000,000. This bill is paid without adequate knowledge of the properties, good and bad, of the foods we buy. Nor is this surprising when we realize that the public is receiving the greater part of its education about nutrition from advertisements in news-papers and magazines, on sign-boards and over the radio. The bran manufacturer informs you that your diet is too concentrated and that you need more bulk if you would overcome constipation. The publicity agents for the large milk distributors tell that milk is necessary because it alkalizes. The drug manufacturer wants to feed you calcium wafers to prevent or cure skin ailments. The seaweed merchant advertises canned seaweed that will supply you with the iodine to make your neck lovely to touch or to restore your lost manhood. And finally, the drum major in the parade of food salvationists, the vitamin dealer, "informs" you that life begins with vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K, P, and P-P compressed into tablets, pills, perles, capsules, drops, liquids, emulsions and vanishing creams, all at your service for almost every conceivable symptom and ailment.
The science of nutrition is one of the youngest of the medical sciences. The day-by-day painstaking work of an army of chemists, physiologists, physicists and just plain doctors has yielded spectacular advances in our knowledge.
Yet despite these advances and despite the fact that this country produces an abundance of every variety of essential foodstuff, there is a great deal of malnutrition. Thus, even during the prosperity years of 1926-30, a survey conducted by Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in rural areas in six different states revealed varying amounts of undernourishment. Another survey by the U. S. Public Health Service in 1936, among low-income families, showed that 21% had diets with an average energy value more than 25% below the accepted standards. A more recent and more complete survey by the U. S. Public Health Service of 987 families of employed workers showed that only 29% had "Grade A" diets, while 45% had "Grade B" diets and 26% had "Grade C" diets. (Grade A diets provided a generous margin of safety in all nutritional essentials. Grade B diets met average minimum requirements with an uncertain mar-gin of safety while Grade C diets failed in one or more respects to meet average minimum requirements.) Nearly 90% of the Negro families in this study consumed B or C diets, while among the white families the percentage was 70%.
There is much malnutrition among children as well as adults. In 1937, one-third of several hundred children examined in New York City were rated as poorly or very poorly nourished. In the South it is estimated that about a quarter of a million people, children and adults, are suffering from pellagra, because their diets lack essential vitamins.
Other deficiency diseases are also becoming recognized. Beri-beri, a disease of the nerves and heart, is found in its severest forms in the Far East, but milder degrees of beri-beri are being detected to a surprising extent in the United States. "Ariboflavinosis," a disease of the skin due to a deficiency of vitamin B2, or riboflavin, is the most recent of the disorders detected by nutrition workers.
More recently we have also become aware that states of ill health less well defined than the deficiency diseases are also due to a lack of adequate nutrition. Disorders of digestion, the skin, nerve tissues and eyes, for which pink pills used to be prescribed, now respond to better dieting and the use of supplementary nutritional factors.
With undernourishment and severe vitamin deficiency so widespread, we are nevertheless confronted with reports that tons of oranges are being destroyed in California; that Iowa corn is being used for fuel. This state of affairs indicates a serious defect in our economy. The existence of scarcity and hunger in the midst of plenty requires an examination both of our methods of production and distribution, and of the dietary habits of the people of this country. This book is not the place to do the former, but we can do the latter.
Let's see what is actually known about the fundamentals of good nutrition. The start was made in France in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Antoine Laurent Lavoisier had discovered a new gas, oxygen. Further, he discovered that this gas was necessary not only for respiration but also to utilize the food taken into the body tissues, through a process of oxidation. It is as a result of this process that man and other animals acquire the energy necessary for the functioning of the body.
Lavoisier may rightly be considered the father of the science of nutrition, for it was with his discovery of the relation between oxidation of food and animal heat that the science of nutrition began. After Lavoisier, other scientists continued to center their attention on the energy or caloric value of food, and the energy needs of the body.
The amount of energy or the number of calories a person must get from his food depends mainly on his size, his activity and the rate of his metabolism. The more strenuous the work or play, the more calories are needed. Chart No. i shows the approximate caloric need of adults. A child's requirements are greater for his size than are those of adults because he is growing, his metabolism is greater and he is much more active. School children often eat as much food as their parents. Usually the caloric intake is regulated automatically by the appetite, although many children eat too little to meet their very large energy demands. On the other hand, obesity is far too prevalent among middle-aged persons who often eat too much.
The cheapest food sources of energy are the starches, fats and sugars. It is unfortunate that poverty and ignorance lead so many people to satisfy their energy needs from these foods rather than from the so-called protective foods—foods that yield not only energy but also proteins, minerals and vitamins. Protective foods are milk and its products, fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs. Too often energy requirements are being met with starchy foods, sugar, fats, fat meats, white bread and other refined grain products. In the South, about 30% of the calories is derived from fats, whereas it is estimated that fats should furnish no more than 15% to 2% of the caloric intake. More than half of this fat intake should be in the form of milk fats, such as cream and butter—the only fats that furnish vitamin A as well as calories. In the South and in other regions where relief or poverty dietaries are the rule, the fat is in the form of fat-back, or bacon grease, fatty meats and various vegetable oils.
To put into practice what is known about food values and body requirements, many authorities suggest that at least one-half of the calories in the diet should be obtained from the protective foods—milk, cheese, cream, butter, eggs, fresh and canned fruits, and vegetables. At least half of the bread-stuffs and other cereal or grain products should be in the form of whole-grain or dark breads and cereals. These protective foods are, unfortunately, more expensive per calorie than are the refined cereals and breads, the starches and the fats. For those who can afford it, however, the added cost will bring dividends in better health.
Candy is heavily advertised by the candy industry as an energy food. Candy does indeed furnish a large amount of calories per unit weight, but it is very low in proteins, vitamins and minerals. A small amount as a dessert after meals will do no harm, but in large amounts or when taken between meals it kills the appetite and tends to promote overweight coupled with inadequate nutrition (lack of vitamins, proteins and minerals).
As a matter of fact, the modern American diet is much more frequently lacking in good proteins, vitamins and minerals than it is in energy value. If you are not losing weight or are not continually hungry, it is highly probable that you are getting enough calories. The advertisers of "dextrose, the energy sugar" (often contained in candy) greatly exaggerate the need of the average person for quick energy. Certainly sugar is digested more quickly than are most other food elements, and dextrose may be absorbed a little more quickly than cane sugar. But most people seldom really need "quick energy," and when they do the prescription should be made by a physician and not by a candy manufacturer. The need for "quick energy" may be a symptom of a serious body disorder.
It has been often stated that sugar is harmful to the teeth—and as often vigorously denied. The candy industry is, of course, doing its best to pooh-pooh the idea. The current knowledge of the subject has been well summarized in a statement by the Council of Foods of the American Medical Association:
"It is generally agreed among experts in nutrition that sugar taken in excessive quantities is among the foods most detrimental to the teeth, although there is no general agreement on how it operates."
A great advance in the science of nutrition occurred when it was discovered that proper growth and good health required protein foods as well as energy-giving foods. Protein foods such as meat, fowl, fish, milk and cheese yield certain complex nitrogenous substances known as amino-acids—the building stones of the tissues of the body. About twenty-two amino-acids have already been isolated, and it is known that at least ten are indispensable for growth and nutrition. All essential amino-acids are contained in a diet that includes meat, fish or fowl and dairy products.
Vegetables also contain proteins, but these proteins are too inadequate in quantity and besides, they do not supply all the essential and indispensable amino-acids that meats and milk products do.
The discovery of the necessity for good proteins in the diet gave a scientific basis for the natural fondness most people have for meats, fish and fowl. The inclusion of these foods in the diet is essential to proper growth, development and replacement of the body tissues. Modern research proves that an exclusively vegetarian diet will not furnish the body with the proteins which furnish all the essential amino-acids.
The exact protein requirements for humans cannot be definitely fixed. An ordinary mixed diet furnishing about 2,500 calories contains about three ounces of protein. If there is a surplus of amino-acids above the amount needed for the building of new body tissue or its repair, this surplus is used for meeting energy needs. About one-quarter pound of either meat, fish or fowl a day plus a pint or more milk or one-quarter pound of cheese will provide for the mini-mum requirements of the body for good proteins. If milk or cheese cannot be tolerated (such intolerance is infrequent), then more meat or fish should be added to the diet. Eggs contain a high per cent of proteins, and because they are also rich in vitamins and minerals they should also be included in the daily diet as a source of protein.
The proteins in vegetables are poorer in essential amino-acids than are those in meats and milk. The chief value of leafy vegetables is as a source of vitamins and minerals; to some people they also provide the bulk useful for proper bowel evacuation. Starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes are good sources of energy but furnish a smaller amount of vitamins and minerals.