Some excellent hundred year old diets!
All natural diets aren’t good or wholesome or healthy. But some are just ideal! That is what some really old research reveals. As the purpose of this post is to discuss research I have restricted myself to the researcher’s definition of terms like ‘healthy.’ The researcher in this context has used the term ‘good health’ to denote (1) a lack of disease and (2) tall well built people.
It was a reader (Sekhar) who sent me the link to this research and this post is a follow up of a previous post (A greater focus on disease rather than on health). This research interested me for three reasons:
- The research is almost a hundred years old
- It’s about the Indian subcontinent and I do not know of any research on Indian diets which is this old
- In India we have a wide variety of diets and I have always wondered which diet is the most nutritious. Well, while this research is not comprehensive, it does tell us about some excellent Indian diets!
The researcher, Dr. Robert McCarrison (who later became a Major-General and was knighted as well) was studying disease (1927) when he discovered that some groups were of no use to him (they were free from illness) and that is what led him to find out why. He suspected that it had something to do with their diets. Quoting from the e-book sent to me by Sekhar:
He (McCarrison) was given a laboratory and headquarters at Coonoor, upon the beautiful Nilgiri plateau of the Madras Presidency, and there he directed his work and that of his excellent Indian assistants to the transference of the health of Hunza, Sikh and Pathan to experimental science.
Research was conducted on 1,189 albino rats, from birth to the twenty-seventh month, which corresponds roughly to that of fifty-five years in humans. The rats were bred in a well ventilated clean place with plenty of sunlight, and given a diet based on three peoples of northern India. The Hunza, the Pathan, and the Sikh. The only food item omitted from the diet (I do not know exactly why, maybe because it wasn’t available) was fruit. After this the rats were “killed and examined at all ages up to the twenty-seventh month of life by naked-eye post-mortem examination”.
- Chapattis (flat bread) made from wholemeal wheat flour, lightly smeared with fresh butter
- Sprouted pulse
- Fresh raw carrots and fresh raw cabbage
- Unboiled whole milk
- A small ration of meat with bones once a week only.
- A lot of water, both for drinking and washing.
- No illness or death from natural causes in the adult stock of the albino rats
- A few accidental deaths, but no infantile mortality.
An important point to note was the rats who turned out to be healthy had mothers who were fed on this diet of north western India. This means that the their mothers were “stock” rats, and the healthy rats had been given the diet from the point of conception.
As the researcher noted:
Both clinically and at post-mortem examination this stock has been shown to be remarkably free from disease. It may be that some of them have cryptic disease of one kind or another, but, if so, I have failed to find either clinical or macroscopical evidence of it…By putting the rats on a diet similar to that of certain peoples of Northern India, the rats “enjoyed a remarkable freedom from disease”… except for an occasional tape worm cyst they had no visible disease at all.
It was also noted that all these people were active. Although the activity levels of the Sikhs were not as high as that of the Pathan and the Hunza who lived in mountainous terrain.
McCarrison then conducted similar experiments with diets from different parts of India like that of peoples like Bengal and Madras, whose diet mainly consisted of “rice, pulses, vegetables, condiments, perhaps a little milk.” These diets were fed to rats. It was also noted that these people were less active than the Sikhs, Hunza or the Pathans.
- The rats got diseases of every organ they possessed, namely eyes, noses, ears, lungs, hearts, stomachs, intestines, kidneys, bladders, reproductive organs, blood, ordinary glands, special glands, and nerves!
- The liver was as a fact found to be diseased in conjunction with the diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.(As the examination of the brain requires a careful opening of the small bony brain case of the rat and adds greatly to the time needed for post-mortem examinations (this was not done).
Interestingly, in a later experiment, McCarrison gave rats the diet of the poorer classes of England namely:
- White bread
- Sweetened tea
- Boiled vegetables
- Tinned meats and jams of the cheaper sort
The rats grew badly on this diet and also developed what McCarrison calls “rat-neurasthenia.”
They were nervous and apt to bite their attendants; they lived unhappily together, and by the sixteenth day of the experiment they began to kill and eat the weaker ones amongst them.”
Experiment in Denmark
In this same e-book there is information about another diet experiment which was carried out in Denmark (findings were by the researcher Hindhede) in the last year of the War and I thought I would include some points here. There was a shortfall of food (meat as well) due to the war and the question was:
Would it be wise to get rid of the pigs and let men eat the food which otherwise the pigs would eat?
The animals needed too much food and finally, four-fifths of the pigs were killed and about one-sixth of the cattle. So it was experiment which took place by default and was strictly enforced from October 1917 to October 1918.
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…As no grain or potatoes were allowed for distillation of spirits, there were no spirits. Half the previous quantity of beer was permitted…
Farmers got some meat as they had some animals, but the city folk (40 percent of the population) got very little meat.
So the diet of the Danes consisted of:
- Wholemeal bread with coarse bran
- Green vegetables
- Potatoes and other root vegetables
- A little meat
A 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 felt that this was because of two factors: (1) less meat, (2) less alcohol. He wrote:
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.”
- Whole grains like wheat (ground coarsely), barley, buckwheat, and small grains
- Leafy green vegetables
- Potatoes and other root vegetables, peas and beans
- Gram or chick pea, and other pulses
- Fresh milk and buttermilk or lassi
- Clarified butter and cheese
- Fruit, mainly apricots and mulberries, fresh and sun-dried
- Meat occasionally (chickens not kept as they destroy crops in a confined area.)
- Wine made from grapes occasionally
- Children breast-fed up to three years
- The Hunza do not take tea, rice, sugar, or eggs
Meals are cooked in one pot.
The above research was conducted years ago when there was hardly any pollution and other modern day ills like stress and other lifestyle factors (cigarette smoking for example) which we know affect disease. So do take the research in this context.
(The ebook is called The Wheel of Health – a study of a healthy people. It is written by G.T Wrench and published in 1938. I have only taken parts of the book which I thought were of interest and have given a brief summary of findings.)
Sekhar has sent me a link to another e-book and that is again very old research on the diets of the Eskimos, North American Indians, Aborigines and other native peoples. I shall write about this later.
Related Reading: A greater focus on disease rather than on health
Eleven reasons why Indians are not healthy
Kids demand advertised products
The chemicals we consume in our everyday food
The so-called “atta” noodles
The ingredients in biscuits are not good for health
Misleading advertising of “healthy” products
India and Trans Fats
Plump is seen to be beautiful in India
(Photographs have been taken from seasonedpioneers and aviannaturals.com)