By Roberta H. Anding, M.S., Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Childrens HospitalEdited by Kate Findley, The Great Courses DailySince the 1970s, its actually the supersized menu of fast food, portion size, that contributes to obesity, not the food itself. Photo by Eugenia Lucasenco / ShutterstockNutrition in Americas Early Years
The first known reference to nutrition was by Hippocrates about 2,500 years ago, when he said, Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food. This is a brilliant assessment of the role of nutrition in the management and prevention of chronic illnesses.
But in the United States, were still really in our infancy. Wilbur Atwater in the late 1800s provided the first foundational information regarding metabolism of food and energy requirements. Throughout his work, he brought attention to the word calorie, which is a unit of measure that estimates how much energy is used in the conduction of work or metabolism.
During the first half of the 20th century, the discovery of essential nutrients highlighted the nutritional science here in the United States, as well as abroad. Vitamins C and D were discovered.
In 1912, Casmir Funk proposed what he called the vital amine theory as a cure for most common nutritional diseases, most notably beri beri. Amine is part of a protein molecule, and Funk believed that a vital or essential amine or a protein was the missing compound in white rice.
White rice was lacking what he called thiamine, which we now know as a B vitamin, and that was the cause of heart failure and beri beri. The milling of brown rice caused the removal of the bran, which was an excellent source of this B vitamin.
So in Funks discovery, he learned that taking off that outer layer of bran really decreased the nutritional value of food, though he thought it was a protein. Thiamine is now added to white rice as part of fortification.
In the early 1930s, William Cumming Rose made major contributions in the area of protein metabolism and the requirements of protein.
I have to tell you, in my dealing with athletes, the big challenge oftentimes with athletes is getting them to realize that when William Cumming Rose made landmark contributions in how much protein we require, he never said more was better, Professor Anding said.
He never said eat all the protein that you want. He actually gave us boundaries of protein requirements that still, in this day and age, we are attempting to step over, particularly in the athletic and bodybuilding world.
Another landmark work in the history of nutrition research was Ancel Keys study on starvation: the Minnesota Starvation Study. In this day and age, the study would never be approved by any research group or institutional review board because it is unethical.
Keys took conscientious objectors of World War IImen who, for religious reasons, did not want to fightbrought them voluntarily into a research facility, and had them drop about 25 percent of their body weight. These were men of normal weight to begin with.
He found that in individuals who significantly reduced their calories, the body adapted. It slowed down its metabolic machinery, and demonstrated that metabolismthe amount of calories burned at restcould be significantly impacted.
Their heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure went down. Today, individuals with anorexia nervosa reveal the exact same medical findings that Keys helped us to understand in the mid-1940s.
What Keys also found was that when you reduce calories significantly, you have changes in your mental status, experiencing irritability, confusion, and inability to focus. These young men became socially isolated.
They werent interested in being with their wives and girlfriends anymore or playing cards. All they were interested in were recipes and cutting out pictures of food in magazines. Often, theyd cut up their food in lots of pieces, move the food around their plate, and become so focused on the event of food that it excluded other things.
These same behaviors can be seen in young women and men today with anorexia nervosa.
The 1950s were signaled by the advent of fast food. Now, fast food often gets a bad reputation. We think fast food alone is responsible for the increase in obesity that we see in our country.
When McDonalds was founded in 1954, you could order a hamburger, french fries, and a soft drink for around 700 calories. Today a fast food mealif you supersize itis 2,000 calories. Therefore, its the increase in portion sizes weve seen since the 1970s that is responsible for the rise of obesity rather than fast food itself.
If we look from Keys study and through the 1950s with the advent of fast food, we see a shift from nutritional deficiency diseases to diseases of nutritional excess, and that has been the focus of nutritional science since the 1970s. Today, we are most interested in preventing and managing heart disease and diabetes.
It has been estimated that a child born in the year 2000 has a one-in-three chance of being diagnosed with diabetes. While type 2 diabetes is typically viewed as adult diabetes, were now seeing diagnoses in children at younger and younger ages.
The good news is that diet and exercise can really help in the management of chronic illness. This is particularly true for nutritional excess, or overeating.
Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Childrens Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicines Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University. In addition, she is a registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association and a dietitian for the Houston Texans NFL franchise.
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