Fredrick J. Stare Ph.D.

Diet Books: Facts, Fads and Frauds

Medical Opinion, December 1972:13

One of the nation’s foremost nutritionists, professor emeritus Fredrick J. Stare, Ph.D. founded Harvard’s Department of Nutrition where he served as chairman for 34 consecutive years.

Nutrition and diet have long been preferred areas for exploitation by faddists, quacks, and charlatans. Presses are spewing out paperbacks and hardcovers faster than ever before. Just to keep up with new titles is quote a task; to review each critically, impassible.

“I could be wrong…”

Nutrition Notes, a publication of the American Institute of Nutrition, reports in its issue of September, 1972 of a luncheon meeting held in the spring of 1972, at which author Adelle Davis was quizzed by an expert audience of nutritionists from government, academia, and consumer groups. It was a clear-cut exchange between the nutrition establishment and a woman many health authorities consider, at the least, a food faddist, and at the worst, a quack and a charlatan. She was forced to back down again and again on many of the theories she expounds in her books, Let’s Hat Right to Keep Fit, Let’s Get Well, Let’s Have Healthy Children, Let’s Cook it Right, Vitality Through Planned Nutrition, and You Can Stay Well.

“You’ve written that calcium is a good pain killer. What is the source for this?” asked consumer activist Robert Choate.

“The idea has been around for a while. I may be wrong,” was Miss Davis’ reply.

When asked where in the literature facts show that . nutrition can alter a case of malignancy, Miss Davis replied, “I’m not saying they do.” And to queries about the value of vitamin E in dissolving blood clots, Miss Davis’ lame reply was, “I’m not saying it always dissolves clots. But there is no proof that it doesn’t.”

To question after question Miss Davis replied, “I will accept your criticism. Thank you for the information;” “I could be wrong;” and she promised to “watch very carefully from now on” what she says about vitamins A, D, and E. Unfortunately, these questioners^ were not around when she penned the manuscripts which extend over the last quarter century.

Miss Davis is a prolific writer and has enviable opportunity to make important contributions to reporting nutrition facts, making them understandable, and then stimulating their application in dietary practices. She has failed totally in meeting these objectives and has succeeded merely in passing on misinformation, misinterpretations, and the falsely placed enthusiasm of a non-professional author writing in a professional area < —nutrition and health. These books cannot be recommended for the bookshelves of professional health workers, physicians, their patients, or the public.

And since the words faddist, quack, and charlatan are used in this article, it might be well to see how ) Webster defines them. A faddist is one who follows a ^ silly idea with an exaggerated zeal; a quack is a boastful pretender to medical skill; a charlatan is similar to a quack but also a vendor of remedies. In other words, a charlatan has something to sell.

Of Pounds and Inches

The ink had scarcely dried on the successful balance | sheet of Dr. Herman Taller’s Calories Don’t Count \ when there was born an equally absurd volume sired ‘ by Dr. Irwin Stillman and Sam Baker, The Doctor’s, Quick Weight Loss Diet. The time was right for a new diet book; America was properly conditioned for it,( and indeed waistlines were begging for attention. Diet;” clubs were in vogue for women but were hardly appropriate for men, and Stillman caught on!

The Stillman diet, as it quickly became known, was| one of intentional nutritional imbalance consisting of| foods high in protein, no added fat, and no discernible| source of carbohydrate. It boasted an “eat all you want” !of the high protein foods and insisted on a minimum |bf eight 10-ounce glasses of water daily—in addition |to any other non-caloric beverages as desired. Stillman makes an attempt to explain the workings pf his diet by misinterpreting the old theory of specific ^dynamic action of protein, i.e., higher protein consumption requires more calorie use in this digestion and metabolism. Even if this theory were valid with a mixed |diet (which it is not), the extra 275 calories used per |day by Stillman’s own calculation are a mere smidgen lot/the 3,500 calorie deficit which is required for the loss of one pound of body fat. 1- The reason for the eight glasses of water is to provide sufficient water for the kidneys to use in washing away the fatty acids resulting from the breakdown of fat, says Dr. Stillman. A bit later, however, he writes, “The ‘why’ of this functioning is not fully understood.”

Dr. Philip L. White of the American Medical Association says of this diet: “Anyone with kidney trouble, or with a proclivity for gout, diabetes, or any medical problem in which urea nitrogen, ketone bodies, or electrolyte balance are poorly handled, could be a candidate for sensational trouble. One should be concerned that individuals might stay on such a diet for too long {Q. period of time or return to it too frequently.” 1$ It is doubtful (and to be hoped) that few people lever read past chapter four of this book. Browsing past [the high protein and water routine of Stillman fame, one is confronted by a collection of some 60 other Edicts, all regarded as quick weight loss diets and con- staining such choice offerings as the Diversion Diet. ! This is for the patient who has grown tired of the meat- eggs-cottage cheese-water routine. Stillman prescribes: 5 tablespoons of cottage cheese and 12 tablespoons of sour cream—six times a day.

Stillman was still glowing from the financial success of the first book when another volume appeared ^—The Doctor’s Quick Inches-Off Diet. The irony is that this “new” book is a nutritional about-face from the previous book. Low in fats and proteins but high in carbohydrates, this second diet limits the intake of .milk, cheese, eggs, fish, meats, and poultry! Purporting | to take off inches, not pounds, Dr. Stillman offers the | hope, with the help of certain exercises, that one can remove six to eight inches from waist, buttocks, and hips; four inches from thigh and shoulder measure- ^mints; two inches from calves; and extra trimming of ankles, arms, and wrists. Small wonder that this book ‘!•- ^has not gathered acclaim—despite the promises, there is no way to lose fat precisely where you want.

Dr. Stillman’s books (and TV talk show appearances ) seem to have been preempted by the newest (at this writing) of MD-authored diet books—Dr. At- kin’s Diet Revolution. The book conforms to many of the criteria set out by Dr. Blackburn. The jacket design is for the public and is a study in humility—”the high calorie way to stay thin forever … the famous … superdiet explained in full… revolutionary reducing recommendations … a successful doctor’s way for permanent joyful weight loss.” Ho, ho, ho!

Presumably Dr. Atkins was aided in the writing of this book by a popular lay writer, Ruth West, though her name does not appear on the jacket or title page. It does appear in the copyright and the acknowledgements. For several years Miss West has authored magazine and newspaper articles as well as a few books on food and health. She ranks high on our totem pole of quackery, and her collaboration with Dr. Atkins (or vice versa) has not changed many of her ideas.

Modesty continues in this book: “…I’ve treated ten thousand patients for overweight… they have all lost weight without counting calories, without diet pills, and most without a single hunger pang.”

Dr. Atkins (or Ruth West?) writes: “… most balanced diets are around 50 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.” They are not. Typical balanced American diets have half that amount of protein and twice that amount of fat.

Because of the well-known hazards of too much saturated fat and cholesterol in most American diets, in our opinion it borders on malpractice for a physician to recommend almost unlimited amounts of “bacon and eggs, heavy cream in coffee, butter sauce on lobster, spareribs, roast duck, and pastrami.”