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BRIEF PROPOSAL A THEORETICAL BASIS FOR FOOD SELECTION SYDNEY R. WEISBERG* As far as I know, no theoretical basis for food selection by man has ever been promulgated. Such an idea occurred to me in 1929. Efforts to publish something containing this concept were rebuffed. In that year the importance of diet in health and disease seemed to be outside the area of serious scientific study and discussion. Apparently, any idea that dietary selection should be considered of decisive importance in health and disease was premature. The use of the word "premature" here results from an article by Günther S. Stent in Scientific American (December 1972). An idea "is premature if its implications cannot be connected by a series of logical steps to canonical or generally accepted knowledge ." Theories such as this bear an additional burden. They are not amenable to neat, duplicatable, experimental setup. Proof consists of bits and pieces of evidence , and of statistical and epidemiological data. The food requirements of man are not haphazard or capricious. They must be what they are for reasons which are logical, compelling, and understandable. If evolution is a fact, and if the evolutionary mechanisms of selection and adaptation are conceded, then "the optimum diet of man consists of those foods he has eaten in his evolutionary past." Thus "optimum" foods for man are those concatenations of chemicals he has eaten in evolutionary time and during the evolutionary process. They are assemblages of chemicals in which the quantity of different elements and compounds varies from a trace (some recent work appears to show the need for small amounts of silicon, tin, and vanadium) to preponderant amounts and percentages. The concept of "optimum" diet calls for the eating of these chemical clusters. They contain the dietary components to which man has adapted, and which have supported his evolution. And the components in these clusters would be best utilized in the context of their natural occurrence. No other feeding should be considered wholly correct, and any other feeding should be suspect. For example, it may be that large doses of vitamin C do reduce the incidence of the common cold, but it may also be that such doses have some secondary effect as yet neither envisaged nor detected. Similarly, sugar ingested separately from its dietary context is not a food as herein defined. Essentially, this food hypothesis is being presented for evaluation on its logical * Address: 1715 South Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois 60608. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn 1973 | 145 validity as an evolutionary concomitant, and there is no desire (and no certain capacity) to catalog all of the foods recommended by its conceptual bias. A few foods are most obvious: mothers' milk for infants, fresh fruits and berries, whole grains etc. There is probably no quarrel anywhere with the desirability of these foods. The dispute would concern the importance of strict adherence to a pristine food regimen and the existence of harmful effects of nonadherence. Corollary to the idea of adaptation is the idea of maladaptation to the eating of anything but "optimum" foods. And the degree of maladaptation may then be the measure of the degree of malnutrition. Even if the generally accepted minimum requirements of all known food elements are in the diet, the simultaneous ingestion of large additional quantities of one or more dietary components may effectively produce a situation properly identified as malnutrition. Gross overfeed ing of carbohydrates, salt, sugar and certain fats is common. We have yet to consider adequately the perspective of time in the matter of diet. Even marginal dietary deficiencies and imbalances must produce cumulative effects neither looked for nor recognized when they appear. Some industrial exposures produce a slowly developed pathology. One hundred percent of the workers in a plant which distills /3-naphthylamine develop cancer of the bladder. Mesothelioma, a rare cancer which attacks the chest and stomach walls, is now appearing in individuals exposed to airborne asbestos particles. The gestation period in both cases is 20 years or more. During this period each day of exposure produced some small increment of change, the sum of which finally manifested itself in the gross pathology. Similarly, long-term dietary abuse and imbalance...


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