The Hygienic Diet By Dr. Alec Burton

I have never liked the term “The Hygienic Diet.” It implicitly suggests a diet designed for everyone which is specific, inflexible and stereotyped. Hygienically, diet represents a means of affording the organism adequate nourishment and, in order to accomplish this, there may be a thousand different diets which will provide the necessary materials of use in adequate proportions.

Diet is merely a vehicle that provides the nutrients the body requires for the maintenance of its health and life. Diet does not cure disease. Diet per se does nothing. It is passive. It is acted upon by the organism. The purpose is to secure from it the necessary nutrients the body needs for growth, development, repair of wear and tear, reproduction and the maintenance of its functions. To speak as though diet performs some function by itself is erroneous. There is no such thing as an eliminating diet, implying in some way that diet is responsible for elimination. Elimination is a physiological process; it is performed by the organism, not by the food it consumes.

A diet should consist of those materials that are essential to the organism’s survival. These may be broadly classified into proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. Providing that all of these are secured in adequate amounts, in a form which is usable, the organism will have the necessary materials to work with. If they are supplied deficiently or excessively, nutritional stresses will be incurred.

To the extent that they are excessive or deficient, consequences will accrue depending upon the activity of the individual organism. Obviously there are considerable limits of toleration, varying from one individual to another. The organism can tolerate slight excesses and occasional deficiencies, at these times drawing upon its own nutritional reserves, but prolonged deficiencies and substantial excesses will incur consequences of malfunction.

The means whereby the various materials that the organism requires for its health and life are supplied are not of prime importance. Of first importance is the fact they are supplied. This does not mean that we can take refined and processed foods as being good sources of the materials that we require. What it does mean is that, providing the necessary materials are available to the organism in the diet consumed, free from noxious extraneous substances, in a form which naturally occurs, not tampered with by the food refiner and processor, the organism will be securing the necessary nourishment. It is important that we get away from the idea that specific foods and specific diets have healing properties or have special properties other than the mere presence of nutrients needed by the organism.

The idea that we should take beet juice for anemia, cabbage juice for ulcers or parsley for the kidneys is a vicious reactionary hangover from the medicating superstition. Nor is it desirable that we study the analyses of various foods and select our diet according to some chart which indicates that a particular food is rich in a particular nutrient. This is not good nutrition. From this practice we may learn that wholegrain cereals are rich in iron but we may not discover that the presence of phytates renders the iron unavailable to the organism.

We should attempt to secure our nutrients from a wide variety of foods although obviously not at the same meal. Over a period of time, eat as wide a variety of foods as is practicable. Introduce new foods into the diet. I am speaking here of course of natural foods and by that I mean foods that are provided by the plant or tree in nature, i.e. fresh fruit and vegetables. In fresh fruits and vegetables, I also include nuts which are botanically classified as fruits. Some of the nuts which are in common use are not, strictly speaking, nuts. The peanut is a legume.

However, if we select our protein from almonds, brazils, hazels, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, etc., these will supply the essential amino acids required for growth, development, repair and reproduction. To avoid any argument about the importance of taking all of the necessary amino acids at the same meal, eat a variety of nuts, but be careful not to overeat. An amount of 3 to 4 ozs. daily is quite adequate. Some additional protein will be taken in the small quantities present in fruits and vegetables.

In some cases this might be quite significant. It is desirable to keep one’s diet simple, not to have a wide variety of foods at a single meal, but to limit the variety to perhaps four different types together with some concentrated food such as nuts for protein.

Many people can survive quite well on two meals a day. One fruit meal and one somewhat large salad meal together with protein. This does not mean, however, that one cannot have two fruit meals or two salad meals. It may be varied as desired. Two fruit meals may be taken one day and two salad meals may be taken another day. If one is on a 3-meal-a-day program, a fruit breakfast is usually the most desirable, but there is no real objection to a salad breakfast; For the remaining two meals, these may comprise a further two fruit meals or two salad meals, or one fruit and one salad meal.

Some protein with one of the meals is desirable and I usually recommend 3 to 4 ozs. of nuts. Basically the Hygienist is arguing that the natural diet of man is comprised of fresh uncooked fruits and vegetables (which includes nuts) and insofar as he deviates from this, he increases his chances of incurring trouble. Dairy products, cheese, yogurt, milk, eggs, butter, represent compromises and if taken at all should be used sparingly. Flesh such as meat, fish and fowl represent a departure from food normal to man.

The arguments in support of this are involved and extensive and it is not appropriate for me to discuss them here, but it is incumbent upon me to state categorically that flesh foods do not constitute a part of the normal diet of man. Their use then represents a compromise. The extent to which one compromises, and by this I mean the extent to which one consciously and volitionally departs from what is accepted as the ideal, is the extent to which consequences will and must follow.

Among the most dangerous and health-impairing nutritional habits, I consider the following: 

  • Overeating
  • Eating refined and processed food
  • Eating foods that have been significantly chemically manipulated
  • Excessive consumption of concentrated food

I personally view the diet containing a large proportion of fresh raw fruits and vegetables accompanied by 3 to 4 ozs. of concentrated protein as being the most satisfactory. The diet may have to be manipulated in various ways, in disease and during the process of recovery. What I am here discussing represents certain basic principles of dietetics which are generally applicable to the sound and healthy.

The diet of the invalid may have to be modified considerably and frequently as their strength and weakness alternate, as the energy ebbs and flows, as the needs fluctuate from day to day. Considerable knowledge and skill is required in order to feed the sick adequately without imposing nutritional burdens which prove enervating and contribute to the misery of the sufferer.

In acute disease it is relatively simple: abstain from food, i.e. fast. But in the case of the chronic sufferer, the problem is far more complex. Fasting may be employed, but there are limits to its practical nutritional reserves, and the extent of the toxemic load. Very few chronic sufferers are likely to recover during a fast. The fast merely provides a foundation for the reconstruction of health and in some cases it may require several fasts to provide this foundation, and the periods of feeding in between are most crucial. Progress may be inhibited if mistakes are frequent and serious. 

Correct feeding after the fast in recovery from chronic disease is an extremely critical and sensitive process requiring an accurate assessment of the nutritional needs and capacities of the invalid, and whilst there can be no mathematical accuracy applied to the provision of nutrients, it must always be kept clearly in mind that we do not nourish the organism by providing nutrients but by providing foods.

The organism is constructed to ingest and digest foods and thereby assimilate nutrients. We do not secure health by feeding nutrients but by providing foods which contain nutrients. The difficulty is encountered in providing the right food in the proper proportion under the correct conditions, at a time when the organism is capable of using them.

People phone me and ask “Can I eat fried potatoes? Fat and starch are all right together?” Now there are two points I wish to stress here:

  1. Combinations are a refinement of food reform, not a basic principle. The rules of food combining are subordinate to eating the right food, and
  2. I did not make the laws of life and I cannot make any special dispensations.

Learn more about human body

Even if I say you can eat something does not make it either good or right. Some people try to persuade me to let them eat certain foods as though I am in some way responsible for physiological processes in relation to food. When I am asked these questions I often reply “What do you think?” Then they are forced to refer to their knowledge of Hygiene which usually compels them to accept the facts of reality.

People will argue that they are in some way special, the usual laws of life have to be “bent” a little in their case. These are all the subterfuges of compromise. There are only two types which are special, male and female.​

There are special periods such as infancy, pregnancy and lactation, but this does not mean that lettuce and apples are good at one time and fish and chips at another. Such periods require modifications of feeding but not of food. The exception is infancy when the infant secures his fruits, vegetables and nuts through his mother. He is eating them indirectly instead of directly.

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