Dr. Wiley’s Question Box: Starches and Sugar Are the Principal Sources of Body Fat

By Harvey W. Wiley, MD

Summary: In 1912 Dr. Harvey Wiley left his post as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Chemistry (the forerunner of the federal Food and Drug Administration) because of the collusion he witnessed between food manufacturers and agents within the federal government. Unable to effectively enforce the country’s first food purity law (passed in 1906), he left the government and joined the private Good Housekeeping Institute in Washington, D.C. There Dr. Wiley helped develop the famous Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval while also writing for the institute’s magazine. In “Dr. Wiley’s Question Box,” he would answer specific questions from readers about food safety and nutrition. In the excerpt here, Dr. Wiley explains a fact that metabologists have known for nearly a century but which conventional nutritionists and doctors have failed to comprehend from then until now: the principal source of fat stored in the body is not dietary fat but sugars and starches (i.e., carbohydrates). While nutrition schools today continue to teach the erroneous notion that glucose from carbohydrates is “the preferred fuel of the body,” Dr. Wiley points out what people who study metabolism for a living all know: up to 80 percent of the carbohydrates a person eats are converted to fat by the liver and stored in the body’s fat tissue. Fat tissue, in turn, releases fatty acids, which form the majority of fuel calories used by the body’s cells. Dr. Wiley also addresses other queries from readers, including the age-old question of whether overeating “acid-producing” foods is harmful and whether eating sand is good for the digestive system. From Good Housekeeping, 1926.

[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]

Dr. Wiley’s Question Box: Starches and Sugars Are the Principal Sources of Body Fat

[Note from original publisher, preserved for historical purposes:][spacer height=”20px”]

Questions concerning foods, sanitation, and health will be answered by Dr. Wiley only if a stamped, addressed envelope accompanies your request. No exceptions can be made to this rule. Prescriptional advice cannot be given, nor can samples be analyzed. Address: Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, Director of Good Housekeeping Bureau of Foods, Sanitation, and Health, 506 Mills Building, Washington, D.C.

[Dr. Wiley’s Question Box:][spacer height=”20px”]

Starches and Sugars Principal Sources of Fat

In the October number of Good Housekeeping, you stated that the vegetable oils were fattening only indirectly; that fats and oil in the foods were used chiefly as fuels, being more easily burned than sugar and starch. They thus spared the carbohydrates, which were subsequently converted into the fats and stored. This information is contrary to all my training in food and nutrition. In all my food training at the state university, I have been taught that vegetable oils were 100 percent fat. In our diabetic and obesity diets at the hospital, all oils are calculated on the 100 percent basis, and mineral oils are used for mayonnaise. 

— Miss H.J.H., Mo., Dietitian

If the fat in the human body is analyzed, it will be found entirely different from any of the oils and fats that enter into our diet. Therefore, the fat in the human body could not have been derived directly from the oils and fats used. Butter fat is one of the principal fats used by human beings. Nevertheless, in the fat deposited in the human body there is no trace of butter fat. Physiologically, the fats in our foods are primarily fuels, and the burning of them in the tissues of the body is our chief supply of heat, represented in energy as well as in the temperature of the body. The predominating weight of physiological authority points to sugar and starch as the chief source of fats in the human economy. Mineral oil is totally indigestible. When taken into the stomach, it acts as a lubricant. It may be useful in cases of constipation, but otherwise it tends to pass foods through the alimentary canal so rapidly as to interfere with proper digestion and assimilation.

—Dr. Wiley

Will Physicians Ever Learn?

There is persistent opposition to Horlick’s Malted Milk and Shredded Wheat among physicians and nurses. I have a liking for both of these products. I ask your frank opinion of the claim that neither has any nutritive value. 

— Dr. H.N.D., NJ

So-called “malted milk,” of which Horlick’s is a type, is a combination of dried milk powder with red dog flour that has been treated with malt so that the starch thereof has been largely converted into maltose sugar. While red dog flour is considered the lowest grade of flour produced, it contains more vitamins and minerals by far than refined white flour. Dried milk, when properly prepared, has lost very few of its vitamins and practically none of its nutritive value. This combination called “malted milk” has all the nutritive value of milk and red dog flour from which it is prepared. Shredded wheat is a whole wheat product prepared under ideal conditions and is immensely superior to white flour in nutritive, vitamin, and mineral qualities. I cannot understand why doctors or nurses should have this unwarranted prejudice against these foods.

—Dr. Wiley

Nature Is So Unscientific, According to Some Folks

Is it a bad practice to mix farinaceous foods with protein; for instance, eating meat with potatoes, or meat or eggs with bread? Does the eating of such a combination produce an acid that is bad for the system? 

— F.E.B., Minn.

Evidently, according to some professing dietitians of today, the Lord made a fatal mistake in mixing proteins with starch and sugar in foods, as, for instance, in milk and in cereals. But this having been done in natural foods, I think we poor cooks should be permitted to do the same thing. In point of fact, the best natural foods usually contain all the elements necessary to health. Bread already contains 50 percent or 60 percent of starch and from 10 percent to 12 percent of protein. The percentage of protein in milk is nearly 50 percent of the amount of carbohydrates. Potatoes also, when eaten with the skins—as they should be—contain a large percentage of protein already mixed with starch. I have never noticed any particularly harmful effects from eating whole ground grains of wheat and whole potatoes. But according to the authorities you quote, they are likely to develop poison. This false teaching of dietetics, which apparently is so common now, has no foundation whatever of a scientific character and is contrary to Nature’s plan.

—Dr. Wiley

Very Little Nutritive Value

Will you kindly tell us the value of broths and meat juices. I have been told that they are merely stimulating and appetizing and contain no nutritive value.

— Mrs. W.T.A., Conn.

The information that you have received about meat juices and broths is mainly correct. They do have a slight food value, but they are mostly stimulating and tonic. When used warm but not too hot, they favor the secretion of the digestive enzymes and thus may prove of some value.

—Dr. Wiley

Sand Has Its Uses—But Not in the Human Stomach

I overheard a gentleman say he was helped in the case of a disordered stomach by eating sand. He gave as his authority a professor of some medical college who advised people to eat sand. You have always been very kind to me, and I try never to consult you unless it is something vital. I would so much like to restore my appetite and correct my stomach. If you think sand is a good thing, will you kindly tell me where I can purchase it? I want the finest—that is, sand that would not be harmful to the intestines or any organs in the body. The man who has been eating it for years is robust-looking. He said I could get silver sand at a hardware store. I don’t think this is fine enough. 

—Mrs. H., Pa.

I think if the gentleman whom you quote had in mind the figurative meaning of sand, his approval and use of it would be highly beneficial. In common language the man who is brave, vigorous, and full of pep is said to have “sand in his craw.” However, the human stomach is not suitable for grinding grains. If you still think you should eat sand, if you will apply to the firms selling building material, you can get the price per ton.

—Dr. Wiley

Away with Them!

I should like to know if there is any food value in the licorice candy cigarettes and jaw-breakers. Are they good for children? 

—Mrs. H.M., Iowa

I have only one word to say about the licorice candy cigarettes and jaw-breakers for children. Licorice is a laxative and should not be used as a candy. I do not know anything more harmful to the children than such combinations as these.

—Dr. Wiley

[Note from original publisher; pamphlets mentioned not available:]  [spacer height=”20px”]

Dr. Wiley has prepared for distribution an important series of pamphlets. For children: “Artificial Foods for Infants” and “The Feeding of Older Children.” For adults: “Constipation,” “Reducing Weight,” “Increasing Weight,” “Diet in Pregnancy and Lactation” and “Hyperacidity and Fermentation.” These pamphlets will be sent for five cents in stamps each and a stamped, addressed envelope. All those interested in health should send a stamped self-addressed envelope for the questionnaire designed for The League for Longer Life. With its aid, your exact physical condition may be determined and improvement made. 

By Dr. Harvey Wiley. Good Housekeeping, February 1926.


Patrick Earvolino, CN

Patrick Earvolino is a Certified Nutritionist and Special Projects Editor for Selene River Press, Inc.

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