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May 26, 1939

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Stefansson explains how Vitamin C is actually in meat and dietitians have gotten it wrong. Organs do not have to be consumed, and there is enough vitamin C in cooked meat.





A Dilemma in Vitamins

Vilhjalmur Stefansson


Important Text:

A HALF century ago the geologists were demanding a hundred million years for the age of the earth, while the astronomers mere not willing to concede them more than ten million. Now there seems to be a corresponding situation between the anthropologists and the dietitians with regard to vitamin C. 

The position of the dietitians, or at least of a certain school of dietetics, may be taken from the 1938 revised edition of "The Foundations of Nutrition," by Dr. Mary Swartz Rose, and reinforced by quotations which Dr. Rose gives (personal Communication) from Dr. Henry Clapp Sherman's ('The Vitamins" (in collaboration with S. L. Smith) : 

. . .what little (vitamin C) there may be in fresh raw muscle becomes practically negligible in meat as ordinarily eaten. Even in liver, which is normally well supplied with vitamins A and B, vitamin C is found in low concentration and is lost in cooking. (Rose, p. 305.) 

The vitamin C which they (kidney and liver) contain is mostly destroyed in cooking. (Rose, p. 429.) 

Muscle tissues, ordinary meats, are so poor in antiscorbutic vitamin that attempts to show its presence by eqeriments upon guinea pigs have given negative results. .. .Dutcher, Pierson and Biester (1919) were not able to observe any antiscorbutic effect from raw lean beef fed to guinea pigs. (Sherman and Smith.) 

. . . meat, if eaten sufficiently fresh, raw, or "rare" and in large quantities has an appreciable though small antiscorbutic value. (Sherman and Smith.) 

In view of the fact that even when eaten in very large amounts meat can be expected to prevent scurvy only if eaten raw or nearly so, we must that meat, as ordinarily eaten, probably furnishes but insignificant amounts of the antiscorbutic vitamin. (Sherman and Smith.) 

Few readers nrould think either from these quotations or from the whole of the cited book of Dr. Rose that it would be possible to live in good health on a diet consisting of thoroughly cooked meat (medium-done to well-done) and from which diet are absent most or all of the organs described as "particularly rich in vitamin C." But it is known to students of "primitive" peoples, whether ancient or modern, that this is just what hunting man has been doing from time immemorial. 

The records of travelers, field anthropologists and frontiersmen (e.g., post managers of the Hudson's Bay Company throughout the north of Canada) are full of case histories and general information which show that exclusive meat-eaters never show a vitamin C deficiency and that many of them consume few or none of the organs said to be rich in vitamin C. 

Nor do all groups of exclusively carnivorous people eat large or even considerable amounts of raw or underdone animal tissue, as Rose and Sherman-Smith say and imply they would have to do in order to avoid scurvy.

 The diet experimenters and the diet historians are, then, in square contradiction. The experiments say of animal tissues that vitamin C is negligible to begin with, except in certain glandular organs, and that in any case this vitamin C is nearly or quite destroyed by ordinaly cooking; so that to avoid scurvy on a meat diet you have to eat considerable quantities of these organs and have to eat them raw or underdone. To this contention the diet historians reply that meateaters, such as the northern Canadian Eskimos and the northern Athapascans, feed to dogs or throw away most of the "glandular organs rich in vitamin C"; and that the Athapascans, without ever developing scurvy symptoms, punctiliously cook their food to that extent which Rose and Sherman-Smith say or imply would either wholly or practically destroy their vitamin C efficiency. 

With regard to the solutlon of this apparent dilemma between the animal experimenters and the observers of "primitive" human diets, we make four suggestions : 

(1)The experimenters reach unsound conclusions with regard to human needs when they analogize for vitamin C from guinea pigs to humans. 

(2) Those who measure the vitamin C content of animal tissues through the current methods have probably overestimated by from two to ten times the amount necessary to prevent scurvy symptoms in man -or perhaps they have underestimated the superiority of the human over the guinea pig mechanism for extracting and utilizing vitamin C. 

(3) The experimenters have overestimated the destructive effect of ordinary cooking upon the vitamin C efficiency of animal tissues-in all probability the vitamin C is greatly weakened or destroyed only in the outermost layer of a piece of meat. Most carnivorous people boil or roast their meat in large pieces and cook to where the outside only is well done while the inside of either boiled or roast is about like the inside of our roasts. In such cooking the vitamin C efficiency may remain nearly or quite undiminished through 90 per cent of the diameter of each chunk. 

(4) Or possibly there is some component of animal tissues other than vitamin C which is able to prevent scurvy. Perhaps the solution is in a combination of two or more of the suggestions, or in one that has not occurred to us. In any case, it is as necessary for the experimenters and the observers to get together on the "vitamin C in animal tissues" problem as it was for the astronomers and the geologists to get together on the chronology of the solar system.

 Vihljalmur Stefansson


Topics: (click image to open)

Facultative Carnivore
Facultative Carnivore describes the concept of animals that are technically omnivores but who thrive off of all meat diets. Humans may just be facultative carnivores - who need no plant products for long-term nutrition.
Scurvy is a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Early symptoms of deficiency include weakness, feeling tired and sore arms and legs. It can be treated and prevented by eating fresh meat and vegetables.
Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet involves eating only animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, marrow, meat broths, organs. There are little to no plants in the diet.
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