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British Food Journal Volume 43 Issue 4 1941

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 April 1941


Until after the war of 1914–18 the development of the knowledge of food chemistry lagged behind in this country, but furthermore the utilisation by the medical profession of the knowledge available also lagged behind. This, whilst being deplored, is understandable, for the scope of the training of the members of the medical profession is so extensive that specialised knowledge, until it becomes general knowledge, cannot be incorporated in the scope of their training. One unfortunate aspect of the situation is that members of the medical profession, rightly regarded by the public as their advisers on food matters, have tended, often inadvertently, to mislead on such questions. To illustrate this point I will quote two flagrant instances. In one of the large democracies a trade feud began between the manufacturers of two kinds of baking powders. One of the powders contained aluminium in the form of alum, the other did not. Both financial groups were powerful and employed many scientific advisers, either directly or indirectly. All evidence for and against aluminium was collected and distributed to anyone who showed the slightest interest in the matter. An English physician became impressed by the argument against the use of aluminium for cooking vessels and circulated his opinion widely, giving evidence of many patients he had cured by cutting out the use of aluminium cooking utensils. This was characterised by a writer to the British Medical Journal as an interesting example of “ faith healing.” There is no scientific evidence that the trace of aluminium that may be dissolved from an aluminium saucepan is in any way harmful. Naturally one cannot argue for the few people who have certain idiosyncrasies, and perhaps it has been the fortune of that physician to meet a large proportion of these among his patients. The whole question was discussed in detail some years ago but, although invited, the physician did not attend. A point, not without significance, is that the analytical figures on which the condemnation of aluminium cooking vessels was based, were proved to be wrong. Had they been correct, a stewpan would only last twenty stews before it was all dissolved away! The second example is that of “digestive” teas. Advocates of so‐called digestive teas base their criticism of ordinary teas on the fact that they contain “tannin” which they aver has some extraordinary effect on the stomach lining and on the process of digestion. Naturally the public believe this, and, presumably remembering that the tanning of hides yields a product, leather, they assume that the stomach by analogy becomes tanned; some members of the medical profession also accept the claim of the vendors of the so‐called digestive teas. It is, of course, well known that there is a large group of substances, in many cases with ill‐defined structure, classed as “tannin,” and among these is the tannin from tea which, however, could not be used for the production of leather from hides. Dr. Roche Lynch was very categorical with regard to the absence of clinical evidence at a meeting some little time ago. He stated that he did not believe that post mortem examination had ever revealed any changes of the stomach which could be associated with heavy consumption of tea. The vast majority of these digestive teas have been examined and the point to be specially noted is that the tannin content of these “special” teas is well up to the average of that for ordinary blends of tea, and in certain cases above the average. The Public Analyst for Birmingham has made some scathing comments on “Tanninless” teas. As he said, the inference from the advertisement matter was that the tea would be “more digestible,” would “promote digestion,” or in one case would “cure indigestion.” Other misleading statements are that “Young tips” have been used, but these, in fact, are higher in tannin content than the normal picking of leaves; and that “stalk” has been eliminated, whereas stalk is lower in tannin content than the leaves themselves. It is, of course, well known that sufferers from digestive disorders are very prone to the effect of “suggestion” and one can assume that the clever advertisements have been the cause of the improvement in the patient's condition. The nations most prone to be influenced by considerations of the effect of food eaten on the functions of the body are the Americans and Germans, the former possibly because methods of advertisement have been developed to a higher pitch of efficiency than anywhere else, and the latter because as Hitler has said of the Germans, they are as a nation most gullible. I have mentioned the collection of data in the case of aluminium, and I will deal later with the development of food chemistry as reflected by the amount of published work. There is an ever increasing flow of papers dealing with this aspect of science. During the war of 1914–1918, there was a remarkable falling off of published work, and doubtless we shall experience a similar diminution during the present war, for food chemists, in common with other chemists, are deflected from their ordinary course, urgent practical problems taking precedence over the more fundamental investigations, the results of which are normally published. Our thoughts naturally turn to the general question of the provision of food in war time in this country. We have had that admirable little book “Feeding the People in War Time,” by Orr and Lubbock, just published; we have had lectures, broadcast talks and discussions, but, whilst practical in some senses, the general scope of these discussions has dealt with the subject from a somewhat academic standpoint—certainly not from the angle of the people who have to produce the food. During a period of war the total nutritional value of any food becomes of paramount importance. It is important to remember, however, that the findings of the dietitian have to be translated into factory practice, and until this has been done academic conclusions do not become effective. One cannot commend too highly the idea that there should be certain foods, basic rations, available in large quantities. Orr and Lubbock suggest that these should be: milk, potatoes, oatmeal, vegetables, bread, sugar and either butter or vitaminised margarine. As far as our knowledge goes at present, such a list of basic foods taken in requisite quantities would not only give sufficient calories but those other constituents of food essential to good health. That these should be available to the housewife is apparent, but unless they are relieved by a proportion of the less essential foods, the diet would become deadly dull; many of us remember our experiences in the army in the last war, how spirits flagged when the bare necessities alone were available, and how, moreover, the addition of those little “extras” would raise the morale of the soldier.


(1941), "British Food Journal Volume 43 Issue 4 1941", British Food Journal, Vol. 43 No. 4, pp. 31-40.




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