Chapter 6
Other Whole-Diet Experiments

I HAVE been able to find very few whole-diet nutritional experiments other than those of McCarrison to which I have already referred or which have already been described. They were (1) the experiment in which certain north-western Indian diet was given to 1,189 rats for a period corresponding to forty or fifty years in the life of men; (2) the one in which diets composed of foods "usually those in use by the people of India; sometimes actual Indian dietaries" were tested upon 2,243 rats for the same period of forty to fifty years in the human; (3) the experiment in which seven groups of twenty young rats were given Sikh, Pathan, Mahratta, Goorkha, Kanarese, Bengali and Madrassi diets, prepared and cooked after the manner of the people, for a period corresponding to twelve years in the human; (4) the experiment of two similar groups of rats of twenty each, in which one group was given the northwestern Indian diet and the other a diet "such as is commonly used by the poorer classes in England" for a period corresponding to about sixteen years in the life of man.

The result of the first experiment was an absence of disease; of the second, many diseases; of the third, an order of merit of the seven racial or communal diets; of the fourth, the grading of the diet of the poorer classes in England with that of the poorer Madrassi.

A striking whole-diet experiment was carried out in Denmark in the last year of the War.

The blockade, following the entry of the U.S.A. into the war, put the Danes in a very serious position. Professor Mikkel Hindhede, Superintendent of the State Institute of Food Research, was made Food Adviser to the Danish Government to deal with it.

The problem that faced him was this: Denmark had a population of 3,500,000 human beings and 5,000,000 domestic animals. She was accustomed to import grains from the United States for both. There was now a shortage of grain foods.

The pigs had provided hams and bacon for the English as well as for Danes. In the crisis the question arose: Would it be wise to get rid of the pigs and let men eat the food which otherwise the pigs would eat? Hindhede decided it would be wise, so some four-fifths of the pigs were killed and about one-sixth of the cattle. Their grain food was given to the Danes, and it was given, not in the exact form in which it was given to the pigs -- not as bran mash, for instance -- but as wholemeal bread with the extra coarse bran that is not put into ordinary wholemeal bread incorporated.

In addition to this bread, or Kleiebrot, which was made official for the whole country, the Danes ate porridge, green vegetables, potatoes and other root vegetables, milk, butter, and fruit. No grain or potatoes were allowed for the distillation of spirits, so there were no spirits. Half the previous quantity of beer was permitted.

As some pigs were left, the people on the farms got meat; the people in the cities -- 40 per cent of the population -- got very little meat. Only the rich could afford beef.

The food regulations were begun in March 1917 and were made stringent from October 1917 to October 1918.

The result of this enforced national diet was a remarkable lowering of the death-rate. The death-rate, which had been 12.5 in 1913, 1914, now fell to 10.4 per thousand, "which is the lowest mortality figure that has been registered in any European country at any time." (Hindhede.)

Hindhede puts this impressive result in another way. Taking the average from 1900 to 1916 as 160, in the October to October year it was 66. Even in men over sixty-five the figure fell to 76.

Hindhede attributes this extraordinary rapid and marked change to two things: (1) less meat, (2) less alcohol. He regards the bran as having largely filled the gap of the scanty or absent meat, bran having a good proportion of vegetable meat or protein. He regards the experiment as a triumph for his previous teaching. "The reader knows," he writes in the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenskrift of March 1920, "how sharply I have emphasized the advantages of a lacto-vegetarian diet. I am not in principle a vegetarian, but I believe I have shown that a diet containing a large amount of meat and eggs is dangerous to the health."

Now, when the Americans exported wheat and barley from the virgin soil of the prairies, about 1870-1880, and drove European farmers to despair by their low prices, the shrewd Danes quickly changed their agricultural methods. They bred pigs and cattle and poultry, and sent bacon and eggs and butter to England. They also became big eaters of meat and eggs themselves. The war forced them to go back to the foods they used to eat before the invasion of American wheat -- foods which their forefathers had eaten for centuries. Especially was this the case with bread.

Hindhede lays much emphasis on the change in bread. Before his fiat the Danes ate fine meal bread and wholemeal bread. He made them eat only wholemeal bread with extra bran. Its proportion he gives as 67 per cent rye, 21 per cent oats, and 12 per cent bran.

Except for the bran, which added vegetable meat for those who were animally meatless or meat short, the bread was the good baked bread which "has been the national bread of Denmark for centuries. For ages it was the only bread procurable in the country and even now it is the common form." (Hindhede.)

This was the whole diet of the Danes, which in such a short time had such admirable results: wholemeal bread with added bran, green vegetables, potatoes, other root vegetables, fruit, milk and butter; meat variable, but always less than before and in towns scanty; less alcohol.

There is no doubt that Hindhede is justified in claiming that this proved an excellent diet, producing as it did the record low European death-rate in so short a time, He does not make the inference that it was the commercialism of Americans called forth by western needs that first spoilt this diet about half a century ago and that it was only when the war shut out this American commercialism that it was able to reappear.

If looked at carefully, it will be seen that the foods more closely resemble the Hunza and Sikh foods than those of any modern European diet. The Hunza and Sikh eat wholemeal grains, vegetables, fruit, plenty of milk, butter, and not much meat or alcohol.

Yet to show how one must take a diet as a whole and not pick out certain bits of it for praise or blame, one has only to go to other parts of the Danish Empire to find whole diets producing excellent health, which contradict what the Danish Food Adviser thought he had proved. He certainly proved that what the Danes took under his orders was a good diet, but his inference that quantities of meat are bad for the health compared to a lacto-vegetarian diet is disproved by the next enforced whole-diet experiments to be described, which ironically enough occurred in the Danish possessions, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland.

These Danish possessions are three isolated lands from which no western civilized person would expect to glean wisdom. But, as we have already seen in the case of food and health, isolation locks up the most valuable secrets. The peoples of these three lands, living either near or actually within the Arctic Circle, offer in three degrees, from Faroe to Greenland, an increasingly animal, bird, fish diet. It must not be called a meat diet; that is inaccurate, as will be seen. It was largely a diet from the sea and with the great health of the sea, a "soil" outside the realm of terrestrial man.

The diet of the Faroe Islanders, when they were more isolated than now, was given in a book published by the Edinburgh Cabinet Library in 1840. It was mainly a whole carcase diet of animal, bird and fish. The islanders ate not merely meat, but everything that could be eaten. There was no such thing as offal. They also made the carcases gamey by hanging for weeks and even months. In addition to their whole carcase food they had barley meal, unleavened barley bread, a few vegetables, such as cabbages, parsnips and carrots. They drank milk, beer, and on festive occasions brandy. But the main food was animal, bird and fish.

The islanders numbered a few thousands, were of the same origin as the Icelanders, and were "in general, remarkably intelligent. They are extremely healthy, and live to a great age, and an old man of ninety-three years lately rowed the governor's boat nearly ten miles." One danger they incurred was an epidemic catarrhal fever, such as we call influenza, which "prevails after the arrival of the ships from Denmark in the spring," after the winter's scarcity. It spread rapidly and was sometimes fatal. Otherwise, "but few diseases are prevalent amongst them."

The inhabitants of Iceland offer a similar and even more interesting picture of carcase diet. McCollum and Simmonds, in The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition (1929), summarize the chief facts. "This island was settled in the ninth century by colonists from Ireland and Scandinavia, who took with them cattle, sheep, and horses. Their diet was practically carnivorous in nature for several hundred years. Martin Behaim (quoted by Burton), writing of Iceland about A.D. 1500, stated: 'In Iceland are found men of eighty years who have never tasted bread. In this country no corn is grown, and in lieu fish is eaten.' Burton, quoting Pierce, states that rickets and caries of the teeth were almost unknown in Iceland in earlier times ... The health conditions were good and dental caries was unknown until after 1850. Stefansson exhumed ninety-six skulls from a cemetery dating from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries and presented them to Harvard University. They have been described by Hooton (1918), who found no evidence of caries in any of them. There were but three to four defective teeth in the entire series, and these had suffered mechanical injury. During the last half century caries has steadily increased in Iceland."

Modern Iceland has not the isolation of the period which Burton described. There has been great advance in civilization and population. Fifty per cent of the people now live in towns or trading stations. There are four agricultural schools. Potatoes, turnips, and rhubarb are cultivated. Iceland imports the trade-foods, such as flour, sugar, preserved fruits, and tinned foods. Caries has become common, as have many other ailments.

The north-west coast of Greenland, where the Polar Eskimos live, is within the Arctic Circle. It is the most isolated and the least affected by civilization of these three possessions of Denmark.

Some attempts at gardening have been introduced by the Danes, but previously the only vegetable food the Eskimos got was from the profuse but, in species, limited vegetation of the Arctic summer. Otherwise they lived mainly on sea animals and sea birds. There was no offal. They ate everything that could be eaten. When it was frozen, they often ate it raw.

The thick, heavy skin of the narwhal is particularly favoured. The millions of sea birds which visit their coast supply a winter store of meat and eggs.

As a side issue, I cannot but think that their fondness for the skin of narwhal is not insignificant. Professor Hindhede praises bran, the skin of grain; the Greenlanders, the skin of the narwhal; the Chinese and other peoples also eat the skins of animals and birds. Everything living has a skin of some sort to protect it. It protects it by its extra toughness, but also if microbes and other minute enemies do attack, it is there on the frontier that the battle is waged. In and near the skin are marshalled the protective forces. Any creature that eats the skin of vegetables, fruit, or animal, also eats these protective materials marshalled on the frontier, and may benefit in its own protection thereby. Whether such a pretty hypothesis is true or not, there are suggestions that skins possess a peculiar value. The lion does not rip open the skin. He eats it. He first eats the whole covering of the tender flank, then the soft ribs, then lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and abdominal fat. He comes back later for more skin and the meat. He is a whole carcase feeder with a fondness for the skin. The skin and adjacent part of the potato is the best part, as the Irish know. So also is it the case with the carrot, and, it is said, with young marrows, cucumbers, gherkins, artichokes, radishes, and celery. There is, therefore, a little evidence for the hypothesis.

The Eskimos are also exceptionally healthy. "The fact that the Eskimos of this polar tribe have such excellent physique, hair, and teeth, and such superb health without any trace of scurvy, rickets, or other evidence of malnutrition," write McCollum and Simmonds, "is interesting in the light of their restricted and simple diet."

It is also interesting as a counterweight to Hindhede and other nutritionists who plump for the excellent lacto-vegetarian diet. There are other excellent diets, and the whole-carcase one of the polar Eskimos is one of them.

These are the principal healthy, enforced whole-diet experiments. There are a few others which have occurred in remote islands, such as Tristan da Cunha, the inhabitants of which are said to be very healthy.

There have been, however, many experiments on human beings the reverse of the above, namely, of ill-health due to the abandonment of a previous and the enforcement of a new diet. These have been unintentional and undesired by those who cause their enforcement and by those who suffer it. Iceland, with its modern store goods as just given, is a mild example. I will take but one of their graver ones, because it has been watched and very carefully recorded. It is given in these words by McCollum and Simmonds:

"There is no better illustration of the soundness of the views regarding the types of diet which succeed in inducing good nutrition than the experience of the non-citizen Indian of the United States. All who observed the Indians in their primitive state agree that most of them were exceptional specimens of physical development. With few exceptions, however, during two generations they have deteriorated physically. The reason for this is apparently brought to light by a consideration of the kind of food to which they have restricted themselves since they have lived on reservations.

"There is no group of people with a higher incidence of tuberculosis than the non-citizen Indian. As wards of the Government they have been provided with money and land, but have in general shown little interest in agriculture. They have lived in idleness and have derived their food supplies from the agency stores. In addition to muscle cuts meat they have, therefore, taken large amounts of milled cereal products, syrup, molasses, sugar and canned foods, such as peas, corn, and tomatoes. In other words, they have come to subsist essentially upon a milled cereal, sugar, tuber, and meat diet. On such a regimen their teeth have rapidly become inferior and are badly decayed. They suffer much from rheumatism and other troubles which result from local infections. Faulty dietary habits are, in great measure, to be incriminated for their susceptibility to tuberculosis.

"Other classes of Indians, who have become successful farmers, have not deteriorated as a result of contact with civilization, except in so far as they have suffered from alcohol and venereal infections. The non-citizen Indian has suffered not because of contact with civilization, but because he has been forced into dietary habits which are faulty."

These are practically all the whole-diet experiments, diets on which men lived healthily or in the last case, fell from a state of living healthily.

In the writings of the scientific experts on nutrition there are very numerous part-diet experiments based on synthetic or specially made-up diets, omitting or cutting down the quantity of one or more of the factors which compose a diet. One scientist will cut down the quantity of protein given and watch the effect of this upon animals; another will cut down the fats and note the resulting sicknesses; another will give vegetable or irradiated vegetable fats in place of customary animal fats; another will give a diet in which vitamin A is defective, B is defective, C is defective, and so on.

The experiments are skilfully devised and carried out with consummate technique. They lead to a mass of knowledge about proteins as things in themselves; fats as things in themselves; vitamins as things in themselves; but whether these can be things in themselves and are not really relative to a host of other conditions in nutrition is as yet scarcely considered. McCarrison's statement in the Cantor Lectures, for example, that "the diet of the Sikhs is only health-promoting so long as it is consumed in its entirety," is foreign to all this fragmentation.

Fragmentation, I take it, arises from the invasion and domination of thought by specialists. A piece of required knowledge is isolated and is studied with great technical skill and intensity by a specialist. This simplification of knowledge by devotion to only a fragment of it is suitable to the intelligence of the average man, and, as there are great numbers of average men, it is easy for present-day civilization to cultivate a number of specialists or simplicists, men to whom thinking is simplified by cutting it down to one problem or set of problems, or one technique or even one particular part of a technical process. It is not only a division of labour, but a division of knowledge which leads to the separation of the intellect from the wider reality of life.

Simplicism, the binding of man to one job or one small department of knowledge, affects every branch of modern life and not only science. If one breaks away from one's special box to seek the wide world of knowledge, and thinks to find a way under the tutorage of experts, one soon finds oneself in a Sudanese dust-storm. So finely fragmented is the knowledge, one loses sight of the real world.

I am, however, here only concerned with this fragmentation in the matter of research upon nutrition, and in the argument that diet is a whole thing, already proven in the living world, wherever there are animals and plants, vigorous and without disease.

I shall deal with fragmentation in the next chapter.

Chapter 7

THE factors of a diet upon which it is now believed life depends will perhaps one day be as many as the notes of a piano. At present there may be said to be thirty.

There are, firstly, the proteins or meaty substances of the food. They have been found to consist of chemical substances called amino-acids. There are eighteen amino-acids known to chemistry. Some of them are necessary to life. Lysin and cystine are necessary; tryptophane is almost certainly so; arginine and histidine, one or the other, but not necessarily both, are so. That gives four factors necessary to life.

Then there are fats and certain lipids they contain. They occur in all foods except sugar and some fruits. To what degree they are essential to life it has not been finally determined, so one factor for fats is sufficient.

The same may be said of starches and sugars, or carbohydrates, to give them their group name. Carbohydrates are the immediate fuel of energy, and fats the stored fuel. Energy is an essential quality of life. Carbohydrates can, then, count as one factor.

These food substances are composed of chemical elements. Of the elements known to exist in the body, some, possibly all, are necessary to life. They are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, potassium, sodium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, magnesium, lithium, phosphorus, sulphur, chlorine, iodine, barium, silicon. They add eighteen factors and raise the total number to twenty-four.

These elements are not only combined to form proteins, fats, carbohydrates, but they also form the mineral salts of the body, the chlorides, phosphates, carbonates, sulphates and so on, of sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, and so on. We will not add anything for the mineral salts, but allow them to be grouped under the eighteen elements.

Another set of substances necessary to life are the vitamins. Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D are necessary to life. There are other vitamins, buds, as it were, from B called B3, B4, B5, B6, also E and somewhat nebulous vitamins up to K. It is safe to say that five vitamins are essential to life.

Lastly, there is water, which brings the total number of dietary factors necessary to life to thirty.

These necessities have been found out by giving animals diets in which one of the factors was missing. If the animals did not die, the factor was not necessary to their lives. It might be necessary to their health; they might live feebly without it. They might get a particular disease without it. This led to a further mass of research on these particular factors of disease. Then there have been experiments to find out which of two or more factors of like type was the best. Thus a great deal has been learnt about a factor or group of factors as separate things.

Let us take, for example, the proteins or meaty foods. The first protein to be isolated and separated as a thing or substance in itself was gelatin. Gelatin, therefore, became the object of a great deal of nutritional research.

Firstly dogs were tested out on gelatin, as the only protein of an otherwise complete diet, by Voit, over fifty years ago. But gelatin failed to fill the full protein needs, and the dogs got thinner day by day. There was something lacking in gelatin as a full necessary protein food.

Proteins build up and replace the tissues of the body and supply the necessary element, nitrogen. Gelatin failed to do this on its own. It could do it in part, but there was a gap in its completeness.

When it was found that proteins were made up of amino-acids, this gap proved very useful to the research workers. By putting a particular amino-acid into the gap its efficiency could be tested.

Kessels, in 1905, tried the first of these experiments. Dogs, Voit found, starve if given gelatin as their only source of nitrogen. Kessels gave dogs gelatin plus such amino-acids as tyrosine, cystine, and tryptophane. The dogs lived. He then fed himself in the same way, and found he could carry on quite well. So the gap in gelatin was successfully filled.

By experiments like this the amino-acids were eventually ranged in order of value. Some failed to fill the gap, and the weight of the dogs continued to be lost. Some succeeded, and prevented the loss. With growing animals, some succeeded better than others in filling the gap, as shown by the normal increase of weight. In this way an order of merit of the amino-acids was created.

From the separate amino-acids it was easy to pass to the separate proteins. There are so many of them in the vegetable and animal worlds and they vary so much according to how many amino-acids they contain and how they are arranged that work on this subject could be endless. Berg, for example, in 1903, calculated that the number of possible proteins, based on the amino-acids, was 6,708,373,705,728,100. So research workers were driven to test out the best known ones.

There is a chart in McCollum and Simmonds' book which is quite exciting in its effect. It is like the start of a horse race. Nice thick black lines, indicating the weights of experimented rats, leap forwards from the base line into the air together. The rat that leaped highest was not quite a fair starter, being given two proteins, those of rye and flax-seed meal, whereas the remaining rats were only given one protein-containing food in a made-up diet. The next starter, not much behind the rye and flax-seed candidate in his leap, was milk-fed. Then came wheat, rye, maize, flax-seed alone, barley, oats, and Kaffir corn-fed rats.

By experiments of this kind the proteins can be arranged in order of worth; in the same way as McCarrison arranged the whole diets as prepared and eaten by the Sikhs, Pathans, Mahrattas, Goorkhas, Kanarese, Bengalis and Madrassis. By the former experiments you find out which are the best, or probably best, proteins for a diet which you are putting together under expert advice; or which, as an expert, you will advise for others. It settles for you one factor of diet, the proteins.

There are the many other known factors to be considered, as well as the need to keep a watch on new discoveries. The vitamins, for example, first appeared some forty years ago, when Eijkman of Batavia published the results of his investigations on the paralysis of fowls fed on polished rice. They have led to a great increase of knowledge. They are by no means the end. There are "countless substances in food," Sir Gowland Hopkins wrote in 1906. There must needs be other important unknown factors yet to be discovered.

Meanwhile, experts can tell us what happens to animals and humans who do not get sufficient vitamin A. The most dramatic is dry eyes, leading to blindness, but if fresh vitamin is quickly given there is a miraculous recovery. Or there are the troubles which do not clear up miraculously, but yet are due in part to defective vitamin A. Such are colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, and weakness of the bowels. So one has to keep a watch on one's supply of vitamin A.

Vitamin B effects miracles no less wonderful. There is nothing more dramatic in nutritional research than a common experiment which was often carried out in a laboratory where I worked. A pigeon deprived of the needed vitamin B by being kept on polished rice is lying on the floor of its cage, unable to rise. It may be contorted in a remarkable manner, bent right backwards, like one of the living croquet hoops in Alice in Wonderland, or forwards as if doubled up between two invisible hands. It may suddenly be released from these spasms only to be thrown into violent convulsions. It is near to death and will in fact soon die if left.

But if one takes a glass tube, puts into it the pulp of some sprouting pulse or grain, prises open the pigeon's beak, and blows the pulp down its throat, the miracle happens. In a very short time the pigeon is its usual self, on its perch and preening its ruffled feathers.

No experiment can persuade the onlooker more convincingly of the power of a vitamin than can this one. That is because it is dramatic. But there are many forms of ill-health due to poor supply of B which are not at all obvious.

Then there is vitamin C. Animals and men deprived of vitamin C get into the most deplorable condition with foul, bleeding mouths, bleeding elsewhere and eventual death -- the terrible disease of scurvy. This is an easy disease to prevent. It is very rare to see it now, but minor degrees of the scurvy condition, with its weakness, headaches, poor appetites, affected gums -- they are common. Moreover, vitamin C is not like the other vitamins. They are, like common salt and other substances, not notably altered by ordinary heat or storage. But vitamin C is. It is volatile and unstable in character. It is, therefore, apt to be deficient in a diet which varies according to the supply of things in season, and most urban diets are like this.

So we could continue with further vitamins, and if desired make another procession through the mineral salts, giving details of the astonishing amount of experiments there have been and information gathered on each several part of our food.

We learn what are the best proteins, what the best fats, the best carbohydrates, the best sources of calcium, phosphorus, iron and other minerals, of vitamin A, vitamin B, and so on, until we are or should be able to select our diet, not by taste, as we do in a restaurant, but by knowledge. We shall in this way do our best to fulfil the wish expressed by McCollum and Simmonds, namely, "the discovery of the means of making nice adjustments in a qualitative way among all the factors best adapted to promote optimum development."

The method of proceeding to the optimum development by fragmentation, that is breaking up of food into its several elements and by experiment discovering a great deal about each fragment and then putting them together in a better way, is a method that could only spring out of certain conditions. It could only spring from disease, not health. If our diet gave us health we should not question it. But it does not do so. On the contrary, there has been so much disease in the last one or two centuries that we began to question many things as possible causes of the ill-health. Amongst them we questioned our diet. In doing so our scientists have taken it to pieces as a machine is taken to pieces, and carefully examined each piece as regards its suitability. They have fragmented it, and now the time of synthesis approaches, the putting it together again. Here, however, they are far much less certain than they were in fragmentation, which continues to possess them, with the consequence that each fragment gets boosted as occasion arises; we are told to eat more potatoes, eat more fruit, eat more home-grown meat, drink more milk, drink more beer, take more salt or less salt, be careful to take milk for vitamin A, green vegetables for vitamin B, fresh fruit for vitamin C -- all well-studied fragments, but fragments nevertheless.

All this knowledge would be quite useless to the Hunza people. They have, for long, found a diet that is "adapted to promote optimum development." They have formed it out of foods not widely different from European foods, for, as McCarrison says in the Cantor Lectures: "Things nutritional are not, in essence, so different in India and in England."

The chief difference is that they have a settled traditional diet into which they are born and a settled traditional way of growing it and caring for it. They have a whole system, a diet as a whole thing, whole not only in itself, but in its history, its culture, its storage, and its preparation.

And with their whole diet they preserve the wholeness of their health. This also we have failed to do. Our health or wholeness has fragmented no less than our diet. A swarm of specialists have with the invention of science settled on the fragments to study them. A great deal is found out about each several disease; there is a huge, unmanageable accumulation of knowledge, and this and that disease is checked or overcome. But our wholeness has not been restored to us. On the contrary, it is fragmented into a great number of diseases and still more ailments. We have lost wholeness, and we have got in its place its fragmentation with a multiplexity of methods, officially blessed and otherwise, dealing with the fragments in their severalty.

Next chapter

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