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Saturday, 22 October 2016


The Torah, given from God to Moses on Mount Sinai, included possibly the first ever guidelines on nutrition. God wanted the Hebrews to eat only "kosher" food for health reasons. Indeed the Hebrew word "kasher" literally means "proper."

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, who lived about 400 BC often referred to the importance of a nutritious diet in his writings. He claimed to have discovered a principle for prescribing diets that were suited to individual's constitutions.


It wasn't until the 14th century that there was any advance on understanding nutrition when in China philosophers began to find links between diet and diseases. They regarded all foods as having an influence on health so they claimed there was no distinction between foods and medicines.

By the 15th century some enlightened European physicians were emphasizing the importance of a healthy diet. One physician from St. Bartholomew's hospital in London suggested his patients should be encouraged to eat honey, river-crab and dried figs for their health.

With the discovery of other lands new fruit and vegetables were introduced into Europe. It was noted the beneficial effects they had on health, helping to prevent such things as skin diseases.

Fruits and vegetables are a source of vitamins

In the sixteenth century Andrew Borde, the physician and author of a Dyetary of Health was using Hippocrates' humoral theory to explain and to treat illness. Sickness, he taught, resulted from unbalanced humours. Therefore it was important for the sick to maintain a balanced diet and they should eat food suited to their temperaments. The choleric man should avoid hot spices, the melancholic fried meat, the phlegmatic man should avoid white meat and fruit, and the sanguine, garlic.

Scurvy, a potentially fatal disease that makes the gums bleed, teeth fall out and legs swell up particularly affected seamen on long voyages in the fifteenth century. By the year 1593, Sir John Hawkins and his men were aware that citrus fruit was a good remedy against scurvy and soon afterwards the East India Company started supplying its crews with lemon water and oranges to counteract the disease.

In 1753 the British naval surgeon James Lind published his Treatise of the Scurvy, in which he showed the effectiveness of citrus fruits in preventing scurvy. Lind was aware that the Dutch had employed citrus fruits for a century and a half and his discoveries came as a result of searching for objective evidence of the healing effects of such fruits by doing experiments.

James Lind

Inspired by Lind's findings the British explorer Captain James Cook introduced lemon and lime juice and other healthy products to his men and only one sailor died of scurvy on his last two voyages.

In 1903 Horace Fletcher, an English importer, wrote The ABC of Nutrition. In it he espoused the notion that William Gladstone followed, that each mouthful of food should be chewed 32 times.

A vitamin is a chemical compound that is needed in small amounts for the human body to work correctly. In 1913, Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis discovered the first vitamin, fat-soluble vitamin A and a few years later named vitamin C as the then-unknown substance preventing scurvy.

It was realized that where there was a lack of a particular vitamin in a diet, specific deficiency diseases were more likely to be caught and treatment with that vitamin was highly effective. Before long manufacturers capitalized on this and soon a whole collection of vitamin pills and other
concoctions were being sold to the general public.

In the 1960s, the sugar industry paid three Harvard scientists $50,000 to say that heart disease was most likely caused by saturated fat. After their report was published in JAMA, diets concentrating on low fat gained the endorsement of many health authorities.

By the mid-1990s, many Americans and Western Europeans were turning to low-fat and low-calorie foods on a regular basis. However confusion existed as to what constituted a healthful diet. Each time a new scientific study pointed to a link between food and disease, people turned to something different. From beef to chicken, from butter to margarine to olive oil, they switched but still many of the foods they ate were highly processed with many additives.

At the turn of the 21st century many in the western world had a calorie intake of over 3,500 per day, a thousand above the amount recommended as healthy by nutritionists. However, two billion people in the world suffered from chronic under-nutrition and around 40 million were dying each year from a lack of food.

Chad has the world's healthiest diet even though it is an extremely poor nation. It has access to vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fish, but almost no availability of processed meat and sugary beverages, or foods containing trans fats or sodium.

U.S. alcohol is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), not the FDA, so it doesn't have to have a nutrition label.

Source Food For Thought by Ed Pearce

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