GENERAL ARTICLES

Eat What You Like

Here’s a shock for parents : When little Junior spurns his porridge but craves candy—he may be right

George H. Waltz, Jr. February 15 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

Eat What You Like

Here’s a shock for parents : When little Junior spurns his porridge but craves candy—he may be right

George H. Waltz, Jr. February 15 1947

Eat What You Like

Here’s a shock for parents : When little Junior spurns his porridge but craves candy—he may be right

George H. Waltz, Jr.

THE NEXT time you’re tempted to scold little Junior for passing up his spinach, just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy your own meal. When you surprise him with his fist in the cooky jar or his finger in the jam pot, don’t worry too much about his sudden overwhelming yen for sweets. It may be that little Junior instinctively knows more about wnat he should eat at that particular mpment than you do !

According to the latest news from the research laboratories, Junior’s native sense of taste—and yours too, if it hasn’t become too jaded and you give it half a chance-—is a better guide to the body’s day-by-d&y needs than most of our old-fashioned food foibles, fallacies, and fads. When your taste craves something, say the scientists, it’s ten-to-one your body needs it!

Many dietitians and nutritionists disagree with the eat-what-you-like theory. They feel that our appetite cannot be trusted; that it leads us to eat many things that disagree with us. They point to allergies as an example. But the investigators who believe taste is an almost perfect guide to sound eating habits stand by their guns.

As proof they cite a series of tests that have been going on for a number of years under the watchful eyes of various groups of well-known experimenters. The results show that youngsters, as well as laboratory animals, left to their normal, natural sense of taste, instinctively do a pretty fair job of picking out just the right foods in just the right amounts

to build healthy bodies. At times, when children are left to their own tastes, they may cram themselves with sweets, orange juice, or eggs, but in the long run they will eat just the right amounts and variety of the basic foods to give them a near-perfect dietary score.

This was dramatically demonstrated not long ago by Dr. Clara M. Davis, Winnetka, 111. Dr. Davis was curious to see what would happen if young children were given fairly free rein in picking their own foods. To get an answer, she set up two group experiments—one at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and the other at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, 111. The test subjects ranged in age from a few months to five years.

The children Dr. Davis picked probably will remember her for a long, long time to come. Home had never been like her feeding tests, which by design were gastronomical free-for-alls with few food holds barred. Unlike their parents, she never said “no” when it came to eating. Instead she gave them a cafeteria-style free choice of 34 natural foods—some cooked, some raw—at each meal. Daily medical scrutiny, naturally, was also part of the plan.

As might be expected, the children went on eating sprees, stuffing themselves with some one food and ignoring all the others. At one meal, early in the tests, one youngster downed seven eggs and four bananas. Another, a three-year-old, wolfed almost a pound of lamb without so much as a brief time out. A third concentrated his efforts on bowls of cereal.

But as time went on, Dr. Davis noticed a peculiar thing—these one-food eating sprees seldom lasted long. She discovered that Tommie could indulge his sweet tooth without ill effects, and she also found that any eating spree invariably soort was balanced by a swing to other foods. She found, quite contrary to the average parents’ belief, that young Junior if left on his own would not spend the rest of his life munching cookies and jam without ever touching his vegetables.

Most surprising, however, was the fact that these Roman holidays of eggs, meals, or sweets caused no discomforts or abdominal pains. Constipation was absent, stomach acidity remained normal, mineral and salt levels were close to standard, and growth was better than satisfactory. At the end of six months, the total amount of food consumed by each child contained just about the recommended number of calories. What’s more, the balance between carbohydrate, protein, and fat was remarkably close to the ideal set by nutrition experts !

Cod-liver Oil Test

EVEN cod-liver oik seldom a child’s favorite food—was consumed voluntarily in fairly large quantities when it was offered on a take-it-orleave-it basis. At the start of the tests, several children were suffering from rickets. On the freechoice diet, the condition in three of the youngsters cleared up within six months.

One child, however, had such a severe case that cod-liver oil was placed on his tray along with the array of other foods. During the first month, the child gladly gulped down a total of 178 c.c. (abouta drinking glassful) of the oil. Then later, when his bone lesions had completely healed, he lost his appetite for it and no longer touched it. Taste had told him he needed it, and taste had told him when he had had enough. •

Another interesting test made with cod-liver oil adds further proof to the fact that our sense of taste is one of the best guides to what our bodies need. Not long ago, Dr. Curt P. Richter of Johns Hopkins University Hospital—well known for his recent discovery of ANTU, the newest and most powerful rat poison—ran a series of taste tests on more than 1,000 young children in Baltimore, Md. He wanted to track down the relation between t he body’s need for the Continued on page 4

Eat What You Like

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growth - giving vitamin D and the body’s natural appetite for cod-liver oil, the best-known source of vitamin D.

Dr. Richter chose as his subjects school children between the ages of five and 14—the period of greatest normal growth. The test consisted simply of allowing the children to taste a small spoonful of unadulterated codliver oil and recording their taste reactions.

Almost all the five-year-olds said they liked the oil, but as the older children were tested their dislike for it grew greater and greater with their ages.

Dr. Richter did find a few 14-yearolds, however, who had an almost insatiable appetite for it—craving it to the point where they took as many as 16 tablespoonfuls a day and continued to do so for a week or more. But, like Dr. Davis’ children, their craving ended as quickly as it started. They soon went off their spree and even a sip of the oil was revolting to them. Their thirst for vitamin D had been satisfied.

Crave What They Need

This appetite for cod-liver oil by five-year-olds, and total dislike for it by most 14-year-olds, matches perfectly the body’s needs. Vitamin D fosters bone formation and therefore is particularly important to us during our years of growth. The bodily needs of the youngsters were simply showing up in their tastes. Then,, as age increased and the need for vitamin D grew less and less, the children progressively lost their taste for it. What their bodies needed, taste had told them to take. What the body no longer needed, their taste rejected.

Our body’s uncanny regulatory system, revealing itself in our taste, often shows up in dramatic ways. Dr. Richter tells of the case of a three-anda-half-year-old boy who from the time he was a year old ate salt as most children eat sugar. At mealtimes, he would cry and point to the kitchen cupboard where he knew the salt was kept. When given the chance, he would eat salt literally by the handful. .

Worried about fhe child’s generally sluggish physical condition, his parents took him to a children’s hospital for observation, where, unwittingly, he was placed on a normal hospital diet. Seven days later the boy was dead. Examination showed that he had been suffering from defective adrenal glands, which among other things take care of maintaining just the right level of sodium (an element of salt) in the blood. Although his normal sodium was low, this youngster, by following his natural craving for salt, had kept himself alive for two years !

In another similar case, a 34-year-old man suffering from Addison’s disease, which also affects the adrenals and prevents the body from putting sodium

into the blood, had such a salt craving that he would spread a thick layer of it on his meat. His tomato juice invariably was half salt. He salted oranges, grapefruit, and even his lemonade. Like the young boy, this man’s taste was telling him what his body needed.

This abnormal desire for salt and salty foods, as a matter of fact, is so often one of the early symptoms of Addison’s disease that doctors watch for it as part of their general diagnosis.

In much the same way, children suffering from a parathyroid deficiency, which upsets the body’s normal calcium metabolism, often will eat chalk and plaster when they can get away with it.

Dr. Richter has been experimenting with the self-selection of diet for 20 years. Where Dr. Davis uses children, Dr. Richter tries his theories on rats, thousands of them. Surprisingly enough, there is a close parallel between the dietary needs of rats and humans. With the exception of vitamin C, the food requirements of a rat are proportionately just about the same as yours and mine.

To find out what rats liked, and would eat if left on their own, Dr. Richter built a series of ingenious rat cafeterias. Eleven pure substances were placed in a row of glass tubes arranged on the side of each rat’s cage so the rat could take his pick. Each day an accurate count was made of the amounts of the foods each rat consumed.

Dr. Richter’s rats behaved beautifully. Their taste led them to a bill of fare that matched the best scientifically designed cuisine. They were healthy and active. Many lived to the ripe old age of three years—twice the normal rat’s life and the equivalent of about 120 years in terms of our life span.

But Dr. Richter was far from satisfied. If taste, he reasoned, would lead rats to perfectly balanced meals, then taste must be a direct reflection of what the body needs. To prove it he borrowed from his experiences with Addison’s disease.

Following this line, Dr. Richter and his assistants removed the adrenals from a group of rats in his “rateteria” to see if their taste automatically would demand more salt. Again the rats proved themselves as wise as their experimenters. Almost immediately they stepped up their salt intake, eating just enough more to keep themselves healthy.

Road to ANTU

Was it taste that led the rats to salt, or was it because eating the salt made them feel better? The only way to find out was to destroy the taste buds on the rats’ tongues. Dr. Richter did and got a quick answer. The rats minus their taste buds as well as their adrenals soon died. They had been unable to find which food tube contained the salt they needed for life

It was then that Dr. Richter decided to test the sensitivity of a rat’s taste as compared to humans. And it was then,

by chance, when he tried one of the bitterest substances known to man— phenyl thiourea—that he was led off on a side trail of experiments that ended in the( discovery of alphanapthylthiourea —the first sure-fire raticide yet known. Richter shortened the name to ANTU. and so far ANTU has dpne a remarkable job of ridding Baltimore and other cities of their unwanted rat populations.

While Dr. Richter carrias on his experiments with rats and Dr. Davis tests her theories on children, other scientists are working with farm animals. One of the largest hogs ever raised at the Iowa State Agricultural Station got that way on a diet it picked out from a cafeteria-like variety of food bins. Chickens given a free choice grow better than those on conventional feeds. Free-choice feeding for pigeons, likewise, has proved beneficial. On large farms where cattle graze on uncultivated pastures, agriculturists have found again and again that the animals invariably choose the grass in that part of the fields that has the highest mineral content. *

Dr. Richter sums up his, and the findings of others working in the same field, this way: “That we have essentially the same ability as animals to make beneficial dietary selections is attested by our very existence. Certainly, in the wild state, when man was dependent for his food on selections made from a variety of nutritious, harmless, and poisonous substances, he did not have the guiding hand of the modern nutritionist to help him select his diet. Appetite must have been his chief guide then, and today must still play a far more important role

than many nutritionists seem willing to admit.”

How far can we go in allowing our taste to rule our choice at lunch tomorrow?

Unfortunately, our way of life makes it difficult for us to apply the full principles of self-selective eating. We can’t be sure that the menu at our favorite restaurant or the meal at home contains all the foods we need. What’s more, as we grow older, our taste often becomes jaded by excesses. Most of us, too, are bound by odd food prejudices that are carry-overs from our childhood when we were told to eat this and not eat that. What we liked, was “bad for us.” What we didn’t like, invariably, was “good for us.” Consciously and subconsciously we seldom give our taste a chance to dictate.

Still another stumbling block in the way of free-choice diets is the fact that many of ús are taste blind to certain substances. To most of us, saccharin is so sweet that a small amount of it can take the place of the several sugar lumps in our tea or coffee. To some of us, however, it is bitter. To others, it has no taste at all. The same goes for bitter and salt tastes. Tests have shown that taste blindness can be passed down from parents to children. It is as hereditary as facial characteristics.

Perhaps we can’t choose our food as freely as Dr. Davis’ children or Dr. Richter’s rats, but science has reminded us that we have a sense of taste that is tremendously important to us in keeping our bodies healthy. The body can keep itself in a good state of healthy equilibrium—if we’ll only give it half a chance. It