By DR. HINDHEDE, Director, Laboratory for Nutrition Research, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Do you know the most sickly animal of the world? It is a certain two-legged animal called “homo sapiens”– the wise man. After man comes the domestic animal and last the wild animal. I have recently been studying a large German book about the diseases of wild animals, and have found that these sometimes suffer from diseases caused by parasites, poisonous herbs and external injuries. But all the common diseases of the intestines, liver, kidneys, brain and blood vessels that kill man at the age of fifty or sixty– these do not seem to be found in wild animals.
It seems, also, that such diseases are very little known by people living outside civilization. Time will not allow me to tell what Dr. McCarrison, Dr. Azemocer and others tell us about this matter. I suppose you know that the diseases I have mentioned are diseases of civilisation.
I think that it is much easier to prevent these diseases than it is to prevent infectious diseases, but, curiously enough, the medical profession has learned to prevent epidemic diseases while, as a rule, it has not learned to prevent organic diseases. On the contrary, the medical profession has even caused people to get these diseases.
Medical science has, as you know, been built upon mistakes, one greater than the other. But the greatest of all is the mistake about diet, especially about proteins. What are called “good proteins” I call bad proteins.
EXPERIMENTS ON MAN TO FIND THE BEST DIET.
I am now sixty-six years old. The last thirty-three years I have spent in searching for the best diet for man. I have specialised in experiments with man. Scientists use rats. Of course if you want to find the best diet for rats, I agree that it is wise to use rats, but if your intention is to find the best diet for man, I suggest that it is better to use men. Why have scientists not used men?
I suppose the reason is that they have not been able to find men who would offer their bodies for such experiments. It is, first, no fun to live one year alone on potatoes and margarine, and in this year, day after day, to control not only the food but also the urine and motions. It is the life of a slave. I myself have lived this way for months, but my assistant, Fr. Madsen, has lived this way for seventeen years and others have done the same for many years. It is to such heroes that I owe my results.
Thirty-three years ago I and my whole family began to live on a low protein diet. On such a diet I have brought up my four children, all unusually strong and healthy. Ten years later I began my public propaganda for a plain, mostly vegetarian, diet. My work aroused a great sensation, mainly because I lived so very cheaply– 32d. a day. In 1910, the Danish Parliament, as a king of reward, gave me a laboratory. I can here only mention some of my laboratory experiments.
THE VALUE OF THE POTATO.
Let us begin with potatoes. Previous to 1912, when we began, the value of potatoes as food for man had never been tried in a laboratory under scientific observation. It seems incredible, but is nevertheless true.
Now, to try the value of potatoes one cannot eat potatoes together with a lot of other foods. It is necessary to try living for a long time on potatoes alone, or at most with the addition of such a long test with a single food has never been tried before. I think it had never come into the head of a scientist that a man could live a year on potatoes.
In January, 1912, two other men and myself began to live on potatoes and margarine. I did not think it would succeed, but I wanted to see what would happen on such a diet. Afterwards, I would try how much meat or eggs there ought to be added to get enough of protein. The most remarkable thing was that nothing happened.
As an example, I will mention my assistant, Fr. Madsen. He lived for six months entirely on potatoes, margarine and water. He is a gardener by profession. He works from eight to three in the laboratory, but in the spring and summer he rises at three or four in the morning and works in gardens, and again from three to ten in the afternoon. He not only works, but he does twice the work of others. He used five pounds of potatoes and five ounces of margarine per day, and was all right.
In the autumn I sent him out in the country as a farm labourer. During the three months there, he worked fourteen hours or more a day, the only difference in his diet being that he increased his potato ration to eight pounds and his margarine to eight ounces. As shown in our report, his working power was unusually great. Once he worked continually through two days and one night, pausing only for an hour and a half to eat his potatoes.
These experiments have since been repeated in Germany by Prof. Abderhalden in Halle. He wrote, “There is no longer any doubt that it is possible to live on potatoes alone. The potato is a complete nutriment”.
Also Professors Hochhaus and Koster in Cologne made experiments with a pure potato diet. They wrote, “Our experiments fully confirm the correctness of the statements of Hindhede. One has to let his calculation stand as a fact, according to which a pound of potatoes has the same nutritive value as a pound of lean meat”.
We did not only live on potatoes, but we lived on potatoes with an abnormally low protein content. We were able to get protein- balance on 23 grams of digestible protein.
THE POTATO NOT ONLY AS A FOOD BUT A REMEDY.
The potato is not only and excellent food, perhaps the best of all, but it is a remedy. It dissolves uric acid as well as lime and is therefore able to cure different forms of gout and rheumatism. I have seen many examples. If you send your patient to an alkali-well, or if you give him plenty of potatoes, the result will be the same. But the potatoes are the cheaper.
But when you try to live on potatoes, you must not forget to drink the water in which the potatoes were boiled, as many vitamins and salts are found therein. If you give the water to your chickens they will not come to suffer from beri-beri, which often happens with chickens. But you dare not give the same water to the hens, because the egg shells then sometimes are dissolved.
THE STRENGTH OF THE IRISH POLICEMAN.
You have heard about the Irish and their potato-bellies. In 1926 I paid a visit to the western part of Ireland. I found there the poorest people I have ever met. They lived mostly in primitive huts without floor and without ceiling. I had dinner with them, a dinner that consisted of potatoes and of potatoes alone– without butter, gravy or bacon. We were only offered some butter-milk to drink with it. The evening meal was usually the same. In the morning and afternoon they had bread, a little butter and some strong tea. The same every day. On this diet I found the strongest and healthiest people in the whole of Ireland, and I believe in the whole of Great Britain.
In the year 1900 the death rate was far lower in Ireland than in any other European country. In Dublin they take policemen mainly from potato districts. Dr. Hooper, Director of the State Department in Dublin, has, at my instigation, made researches in ninety-seven of the poor districts, and has found that, as a rule, the death rate decreases the amount of potatoes grown increases. When, in the year 1910, I was in Washington, I asked an expert in nutrition, Dr. Langworthy, how it was with these Irish and their potato-bellies. He laughed and answered, “Look at our policemen, they are all Irish. We take the Irish because they are the strongest”.
The potato is perhaps the most healthful and the cheapest of foods, the food that per acre gives the most nutriment. But, in Denmark, this admirable food is fed mostly to the pigs!.
I am called the potato doctor in Denmark. But all admit that I have made the Danish people eat more potatoes. So much for the potato.
A HUMAN EXPERIMENT WITH BREAD.
In this experiment two of us lived for eight months on very coarse whole-wheat bread and vegetable margarine. On this diet we felt unusually well. Then we tried to live on ordinary white bread, but after three weeks we felt so weak and dizzy that we were scarcely able to walk. Now what is the difference between whole-wheat bread and white bread ?.
The difference is the bran. Bran is one of our very best foods. It contains the best kind of protein and all the vitamins and most of the minerals (lime, phosphate and iron) of the wheat. Bran protein can replace meat, egg and milk protein. This fact has been pointed out by Dr. D. B. Jones at the protein laboratory in Washington. But this very best part we, of course, give to our cows!.
Some scientists maintain that man is not able to digest bran. Our experiments have shown that this is not true. Man digests bran even better than pigs do, and almost just as well as cows. Other scientists, as Prof. Wiegner in Zurich and Prof. Johansson in Stockholm, have since tested our results and found them correct.
Of course one-third of the bran goes out undigested. But that is even the greatest profit; that gives movement to the bowels. Meat and white bread give constipation, a very dangerous disease.
The millers are very clever. They sell fine white flour at a high price, causing constipation, and bran at a still higher price, to cure it. Whole-wheat or whole-rye bread can be produced, of course, much cheaper than white bread. In Denmark, whole-rye bread costs only half as much as white bread.