April 07, 1975 12:00 PM

When he was studying for his Ph.D.—”It really stands for ‘Possibly Half-Demented’ “—in Public Health Education at New York University, Carlton Fredericks decided to write his dissertation on nutrition. “In those days, “he recalls, “nutrition was lumped in with home economics.” More than 22 years later, Dr. Fredericks, 64, laments, “Most college administrators still fail to understand that people who are interested in nutrition do not necessarily want to learn how to sew.”

Few nutritionists have played so large a part in educating the eating public—and attacking the food establishment—as Fredericks, the wry author of Eating Right for You and six other books that have sold over three million copies. His syndicated radio show has been on the air 36 years. Dr. Fredericks, a visiting professor at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University and a director of the International Academy Metabology, is in the process of setting up a nutrition department at New York’s Mercy College. He recently spoke with Christopher P. Andersen of PEOPLE about the fads, facts and fallacies of modern eating habits.

Just how important is diet in health?

There are, of course, many factors in health, not the least of which is heredity. The only advice I have there is to pick your grandparents carefully. We can’t do very much about our genes, but we can do plenty to take the die out of diet.

What food constitutes the largest threat to health in this country?

Sugar, without doubt. It is a condiment that is being used as a food, and it is killing us by the millions. Per capita, we consume 120 pounds of sugar each year—compared to only 12 pounds in George Washington’s day. Sugar accounts for around 20% of our calorie intake. The vitamins that are required to metabolize sugar and starch in the human body are B1, B2 and niacin. Sugar does not supply any of these and, in fact, displaces the foods that do. In addition to making us fat, wrecking our teeth and increasing clotting tendencies that could lead to coronary thrombosis, sugar unquestionably aggravates a serious ailment that is mushrooming in this country: hypoglycemia.

What is hypoglycemia?

A low blood-sugar condition that can simulate symptoms of neurosis, psychosis, gastric ulcer, migraines and even epilepsy. There is now evidence that hypoglycemia can become diabetes. Sugar worsens the condition by causing an excessive production of insulin.

Just how widespread is hypoglycemia?

Out of 5,000 GI’s given a glucose tolerance test recently, no fewer than 700 turned out to be suffering from low blood-sugar. People in critical jobs, such as airline pilots and traffic controllers, are especially susceptible because they practically live on sugared coffee and soft drinks. When United Airlines tested 177 of its pilots, 44 turned out to be hypoglycemic.

Is saccharin a safe substitute for sugar?

I’m not sure. Some believe that it may be cancer-producing when ingested in large quantities. For now I’d advise people who use saccharin to lay off it every third week.

What about salt?

Hypertension, which afflicts 23 million American men, women and children and kills 60,000 of them every year, becomes a distinct danger when the salt intake is 2.7% of the diet. Anyone who consumes 2% is on the edge of trouble, and 2% is the national average. As with sugar, salt is practically impossible to avoid. There is a lot of sodium in milk, for example, and even in water.

How much salt do you consume?

I never use salt in cooking, and I use a salt shaker at the table about six or eight times a year. I would write no insurance on a man who salts his food before he tastes it.

What about the staff of life—bread?

Processed white bread is very good for picking up broken glass, cleaning parchment lampshades, wallpaper and typewriter keys. But values in vitamins, minerals, unsaturated foods, hormones and bulkage are ruthlessly slashed in white flour. The residues go into animal feed. Oh, to be a pig! Not only is processed white bread extremely deficient in vitamin B complex which, among other things, regulates blood cholesterol and brain metabolism, but all the vitamin E is lost in the bleaching process. To counterbalance this, I’ve been taking vitamin E for 29 years and my current dosage is 600 milligrams per day.

How important is vitamin E?

Every one of my male forebears died of coronary thrombosis. There is no species of mammal which, when subjected to vitamin E deficiencies, does not respond with symptoms of heart disease. Cows drop dead from it. So do rabbits. I see no reason why man should be an exception. I’ve seen hundreds of patients with heart disease treated successfully with vitamin E.

Does vitamin E play a significant role in anything other than heart disease?

I’m afraid I don’t think it’s an aphrodisiac, as some have implied. Beyond that, there is evidence that vitamin E relieves everything from certain muscular disorders to menopausal stress to depression—to aging. I credit vitamin E with my endurance to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I gave it to the Kansas City Athletics when I was a consultant to them. And, I might add, it had nothing to do with their almost ending in the cellar that year.

Do you agree that a reduction in cholesterol is the key to fighting heart disease?

Animal fats and cholesterol have long been cited as the dietary villains when it comes to hardening of the arteries and heart disease. The case against cholesterol is more fad than fact. One has only to remember the portly banker who dated the voluptuous Gibson Girl to realize that preceding generations were less concerned about fat than we are today. For the cholesterol theory to hold up, you have to believe our fat intake has been increased dramatically over the last century. It hasn’t.

Do you advise against eating foods high in cholesterol, such as dairy products?

First of all, two-thirds of the cholesterol in the bloodstream is actually manufactured in the body. So whether you consume eggs or milk—and I consume both—really is not the answer. Vitamin E and vitamin B complex are formidable weapons against heart disease.

Is there a link between diet and cancer?

Undeniably. There is an acceptable body of scientific evidence that certain types of cancers vary from culture to culture, from diet to diet. The hormone estrogen, for example, is often regarded as a carcinogenic factor in a common type of breast cancer. A diet low in protein and over-processed carbohydrates, as in Japanese fare, keeps estrogen levels low. Therefore the incidence of breast cancer, a national tragedy in this country, is comparatively low among Japanese women. As their diet becomes more westernized, the incidence of breast cancer goes up. In this country, cancers in laboratory rats have been cut 71% after heavy doses of vitamin B complex.

Can nutrition be used to battle mental illness, as well?

In the past decade, megavitamin therapy has revolutionized the treatment of certain schizophrenics. The case I’m proudest of is Sarah. At 11 she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. At 12 she tried to hang herself. She was totally amnesiac and had one to three epileptic seizures a day. Sarah went through three institutions, 50 shock treatments, psychotherapy, antidepressants, tranquilizers—the works. Hope was just about lost when, shortly after Sarah turned 15, I suggested to her doctors that she be given vitamin Be, manganese and zinc. One day recently a 19-year-old premedical student walked up to me and said, “You may not remember me, I’m Sarah.”

What about senility?

Senility is one of the great tragedies in this country. Instead of shock therapy for senility, I am convinced I could cure 1% of the senile in America with vitamin B12 alone. The problem is one of getting the medical profession to recognize that senility, along with cataracts and other so-called old age diseases, is not inevitable. But since it’s the norm, doctors fail to see the reality. After all, the last thing a deep sea fish would discover is salt water.

Are you satisfied with the medical profession’s approach to nutrition?

The American Medical Association pays lip service to nutritional education for doctors. Seventy percent of the medical schools in this country do not teach nutrition, despite an outcry from their own students. Unfortunately we tend to be down on what we’re not up on. In the meantime, the individual is going to have to become educated.

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