Summary: Before there was Weston A. Price, there was Sir Robert McCarrison. In the first decades of the twentieth century, this British doctor and officer conducted some of the greatest initial investigations into the effect of diet on health. Studying different subpopulations in India, McCarrison showed that most of the diseases incurred by each population were a result of diet, specifically a diet of processed foods—a result that would later be echoed by Dr. Price’s famous worldwide investigation into traditional versus processed-food diets. Like Dr. Price, Dr. McCarrison bemoaned the disease-causing effects of foods such as refined sugar and flour, and he emphasized the extreme importance of choosing natural foods, including natural fats, over processed ones. In this short biographical sketch, he is quoted, “I know of nothing so potent in maintaining good health in laboratory animals as perfectly constituted food [and] I know of nothing so potent in producing ill health as improperly constituted food. This too is the experience of stockbreeders. Is man an exception to a rule so universally applied to the higher animals?” You can read McCarrison’s landmark 1921 book, Studies in Deficiency Disease—reprinted in its entirety by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research in 1945—in these archives. Multiple original sources.
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Sir Robert McCarrison
Sir Robert McCarrison (1878–1960) MA, MD, DSc, LLD, FRCP, qualified in medicine at Queen’s College, Belfast, in 1900. He joined the Indian Medical Service and was posted as Medical Officer to Indian troops guarding the mountainous Northern Frontiers. His research there on the cause of goiter won widespread recognition, and in 1913 he was promoted to do research. In 1928 he became Director of Nutritional Research in India.
His researches were extensive; they included work on the newly discovered vitamins and on the contrasting disease patterns in the Indian subcontinent. He demonstrated that many common diseases increasingly prevalent in industrial societies were caused simply by diets made defective by extensive processing, often with the use of chemical additives. He deplored the universal consumption in Britain and America of refined white flour instead of whole wheat flour as well as the substitution of canned, preserved, and artificially sweetened products for fresh, natural foods.
McCarrison’s work was widely published in the medical press. He was honored for his discoveries but completely ignored by the government and the medical profession, at a time when medical thought was absorbed in the study of disease rather than on prevention and the promotion of health.
The Promotion of Health and the Prevention of Disease
Food should be as close as possible to its natural state and grown on healthy soils. It should be eaten fresh.
Cereals, starches, and sugars: Refining robs these foods of important nutrients and of their fiber. It also leads to unnatural concentration, partial in the case of wheat and total in the case of refined sugar. In order that these foods be as near their natural state as possible, they should be eaten unrefined, e.g., as whole wheat flour or unpolished rice. Naturally sweet foods such as raisins, figs, or other fruits, rather than refined sugar, should satisfy a desire for sweetness.
Fats: According to McCarrison’s thesis, natural fats as part of a varied diet are not harmful to human health. Milk, butter, cheese, and cold-pressed vegetable oils are thus preferred to over-processed oils and margarines. McCarrison repeatedly emphasized the value of whole [raw] milk and eggs in the human diet.
Meat: When reared in natural conditions, meat, poultry, fish, and game are valuable sources of nourishment. That said, the record of good health, stamina, and fine physique of certain peoples of northern India led McCarrison to conclude that a high intake of meat as a source of protein was not necessary. Lack of land for pasture did not allow these peoples the luxury of meat, yet this did not matter provided a plentiful supply of milk products was available.
Soil: From carefully controlled feeding trials using laboratory animals, McCarrison concluded that food grown on soil fertilized by cattle manure had better nutritive value than when soluble chemicals were used. Thus the quality of food depends on the way it is grown.
“I know of nothing so potent in maintaining good health in laboratory animals as perfectly constituted food; I know nothing so potent in producing ill health as improperly constituted food. This too is the experience of stockbreeders. Is man an exception to a rule so universally applicable to the higher animals?”
–Sir Robert McCarrison
Biographical information about Dr. McCarrison from the McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health. Quote by Dr. McCarrison from Nutrition and National Health: The Cantor Lectures, 1936. Source of other content unknown.