Friday, 30 September 2011

Nutrition and National Health

Sir Robert McCarrison's Cantor Lecture 'Nutrition & National Health' makes fine reading.
  • "Man is made up of what he eats. The constituents of his food are those of which his body is composed. His foodstuffs, derived from the vegetable and the animal kingdoms, consist, for the most part, of matter that is living, that was formerly living or that is derived from matter that was formerly living. Man cannot himself build up living tissue from materials which have in themselves no necessary connection with living protoplasm. This, plants do for him. Out of the earth and air, and under the influence of the sun, they transmute certain inorganic substances -- mineral salts, water and carbon dioxide -- into organic foodstuffs suited to his use and to the use of the animals whose produce or whose flesh he uses as food. He is, indeed, created out of the earth; and according as the earth provides, by way of plant and animal life, the materials needed by his body, so is that body well, ill or indifferently made and sustained."
Nothing new here, but ahead of its time for the early part of the 20th Century.  Let's look at McCarisson going 'paleo' on our collective ass:
  • "Disorder of the function of nutrition, brought about by faulty food, causes the body to react in a variety of ways, depending on the nature of the food-faults that give rise to it, the part or parts of the body effected by it, and the intervention or the non-intervention of toxic or microbic agents of disease. These reactions, involving as they do disturbance in structure or in functions of various parts of the body, manifest themselves as subnormal states of health or as actual disease in great variety of form"
So whilst dentists may advise those with tooth decay to 'brush better', and obesity specialists tell the obese to 'eat less, do more', and an skin specialist may advise those with acne to 'deep cleanse', McCarisson may well be open to the advise in each case to 'address the quality of your nutrition'.

Looking at the physique and stature of Indians, quoting McCay, McCarisson notes,
  • "'As we pass from the North-West region of the Punjab down the Gangetic Plain to the coast of Bengal, there is a gradual fall in the stature, bodyweight, stamina and efficiency of the people. In accordance with this decline in manly characteristics it is of the utmost significance that there is an accompanying gradual fall in the nutritive value of the dietaries."
Here he suggests that grains are actually one of the reasons for the superior physiques of the Northern Indians:
  • "In general the races of northern India are wheat-eaters, though they make use also of certain other whole cereal grains. Now the biological value of the proteins of whole wheat is relatively high; and the wheat is eaten whole, after being freshly ground into a coarse flour (atta) and made into cakes called chapattis. It thus preserves all the nutrients with which Nature has endowed it, particularly its proteins, its vitamins and its mineral salts. The second most important ingredient of their diet is milk, and the products of milk (clarified butter or ghee, curds, buttermilk); the third is dhal (pulse); the fourth, vegetables and fruit. Some eat meat sparingly, if at all; others, such as the Pathans, use it in considerable quantity"
One assumes traditional techniques of food preparation would be employed.  Now comes an interesting point; contrary to Paleo 2.0 McCarisson seems to disfavour rice consumption,
  • "White flour, when used as the staple article of diet, places its users on the same level as the rice-eaters of the south and east of India. They are faced with the same problem; they start to build up their dietaries with a staple of relatively low nutritive value. If their health and physical fitness are not to suffer, they must spend more money on supplementary articles of diet in order to make good the deficiencies of white flour than if they had begun to build on the surer foundation of whole wheat flour (Fig 2). So it is with rice, which is the staple article of diet of about ninety millions of India's inhabitants. The rice -- a relatively poor cereal at best -- is subjected to a number of processes before use by the consumer; all of which reduce -- some to a dangerous degree -- its already sparse supply of certain essential nutrients. It is parboiled, milled or polished; often all three. It is washed in many changes of water and, finally, it is boiled. It is thus deprived of much of its proteins and mineral salts and of almost all its vitamins. Add to this that the average Bengali or Madrassi uses relatively little milk or milk-products, that by religion he is often a non-meat-eater, that his consumption of protein, whether of vegetable or of animal origin, is, in general, very low, that fresh vegetable and fruit enter into his dietary but sparingly, and we have not far to seek for the poor physique that, in general, characterizes him. In short, it may be said that according as the quality of the diet diminishes with respect to proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins, so do physical efficiency and health; a rule which applies with equal force to the European as to the Indian"
There is something about these old-skool doctors.  They have clinical experience and seem to have been driven by curiousity whilst being unencumbered by modern commercial drivers (they did it for the King and Empire).  Nor were they burdened with modern dietary dogma, which unlike the dogma of their time, would not have had the investment of big pharma nor agribusiness - well certainly not in the capacity it has today.

All five sections are available here:

1. Food, Nutrition, and Health
2. Relation of Certain Food Essentials to Structure and Functions of the Body
3. National Health and Nutrition
4. Introduction to 'Studies in Deficiency Diseases'

5. Diseases of Faulty Nutrition

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