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Nutrition Wisdom from Yesterday

In 1875, a young man from the Midwest received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine.  In a few short years of practice in Battle Creek Michigan, he became known for his expertise in healthy living.  He advocated good hydration, a vegetarian diet and daily activity as a plan for keeping the body healthy and free of disease.  In this time period, his dietary approach which included specific guidelines such as replacing animal proteins (meat and dairy) with plant protein foods (nuts and beans); refined grains such as white bread with high fiber foods such as whole grains; and including yogurt for its beneficial flora was decidedly unorthodox.  In 1897, he helped form the Sanitas Food Company to produce his whole grain cereal at a time when the standard breakfast for the wealthy was eggs and meat.  By contrast, the poor of the day ate porridge and other boiled grains.  In 2006, for his breakfast cereal corn flakes, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

While Dr. Kellogg was arguably a little odd in some of his beliefs, it is uncanny how consistent his health recommendations were with today’s wellness guidelines.  Today, the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines teach us to shift from animal foods to plant foods, including lean meats and reduced fat dairy foods in limited serving sizes with increased intake of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.  We see this shift in the popular Mediterranean diet.  Eating less meat and dairy means less cholesterol, less sodium, less saturated fat and fewer calories.  Replacing meats with beans and nuts reduces the aforementioned harmful dietary elements and simultaneously increases fiber, antioxidants and delivers a wider range of vitamins and minerals.  Replacing refined grains like white bread, sugar cereals, crackers, cookies and snack cakes with whole grain breads and cereals reduces calories, sugar intake and increases fiber upon which our beneficial intestinal bacteria thrive.

In a time before today’s research that has identified the critical role of the bacteria that live in our intestines, Dr. Kellogg was teaching, “…that bacteria in the intestines can either help or hinder the body; that harmful bacteria produce toxins during the digestion of meat; that a poor diet favors harmful bacteria; that the intestinal flora is changed for the better by a well-balanced vegetarian diet; and that yogurt serves to replace the beneficial intestinal flora of the bowel.”  

Current research substantiates Dr. Kellogg’s recommendations.  Intestinal bacteria do indeed play a pivotal role in our health or illness.  Beneficial flora support healthy body systems while harmful flora interrupt those systems.  These intestinal florae are implicated in a wide range of health issues including obesity, auto-immune disorders, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Bacteria in the large bowel that digest nitrites found in cured meats produce toxins that can initiate colon cancer lesions.  A diet high in sugar and fat favors harmful bacteria because these are the foods they eat.  When we include more fibers in our diet meaning more plant foods, we feed the beneficial bacteria.  Because fiber feeds the good guys while fats and sweets feed the bad guys, shifting to a plant based diet makes good wellness sense.   Remember, there is no fiber in meat or dairy foods.  Fiber is the structural element in all plants.  Whether the skin on a pinto bean or purple hull pea or the delicate sacs that hold the juice in an orange segment or the peeling of the potato or the bran in a bread or cereal, all of these are plant fibers.  In addition, including probiotic foods like yogurt and kefir sends beneficial bacteria to reinforce the good guys.  

Dr. Kellogg had many notable patients, such as Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.  One of Dr. Kellogg 's patients, C. W. Post, would eventually start his own cereal company selling a rival brand of corn flakes, Post Toasties. Dr. Kellogg later would claim that Charles Post stole the recipe for corn flakes from his office safe.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg died in 1943 at the age of 91.  In the 1940’s the average life expectancy of men was 58 years.  The efficacy of Dr. Kellogg’s wellness plan which he followed religiously is born out in his long healthy life.


Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes.  He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health.  Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by CHI St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin.  It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.