How Wesleyan was a pioneering professor of modern nutritional science

Through his work at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Wilbur Ross Atwater became known as the “father of modern nutrition research.” He was a pioneer in the study of how human diets and physical activity affect health, and he brought the concept of calories to the United States. Thus, he established calorie in food science and laid the foundations for science-based nutrition counseling. we try to continue early in the summer, including men, as June is National Men’s Health Month.

“The mode of eating received no recognition from Wilbur Olin Atwater,” a newspaper published in Connecticut on September 26, 1907, stated. “He was not looking for the notion of nutrition, but for the truth. And the exact reason for each truth.”

Atwater sought this food truth with wild and often eccentric zeal, building extensive gadgets and elaborate experiments, sometimes dangerous, that sparked the anger of Wesleyan dignitaries about himself and others. In a pleasing manner and with an epic mustache, Atwater conducted research that challenged the religious and scientific orthodoxy of the time, and although his conclusions were not always correct, he helped establish the framework for future food scientists.

The son of a traveling Methodist preacher, Atwater, was born in New York State in 1844 and studied agricultural chemistry at Wesleyan. During their research trip to Germany, they learned about the concept of calories, an intricate measure of energy. When Atwater returned to the United States, he took a position as a professor of chemistry at Wesleyan and became the first calorie counter in this country and one of the most advanced nutrition researchers in the world.

“Atwater’s most famous project was to build an instrument called a respiratory calorimeter,” writes Bill Bryson. Body. “This was a closed chamber, not much larger than a large closet, where subjects were confined for five days while Atwater and his assistants measured various aspects of their metabolism in detail: food and oxygen inputs, carbon dioxide emissions, urea. ammonia, feces, etc., and the calculated calorie intake. “

The work was so complex that it took 16 people to read all the dials and do the calculations. The president of Wesleyan was not particularly impressed with the work and was concerned about its cost. “[He] Atwater ordered him to reduce his salary by 50 percent or hire an assistant. Atwater chose the latter and relentlessly worked on the calories and nutritional values ​​of almost every known food – about four thousand in all, ”Bryson wrote.

Wilbur Olin Atwater

Via Wikimedia Commons

In an effort to understand all aspects of food science, Atwater took risks. In one experiment he ate a fish poisoned with ptomaine to measure the effect it had on him: he almost killed it. Economically and sometimes physically damaged work bore fruit, however. It was produced in 1896 Chemical composition of American food materials, an influential work on diet and nutrition. In addition to his work on food science, Atwater directed the first station of U.S. agricultural experiments and was one of the most renowned scientists of any kind in America.

However, his work was far from perfect. “A big part of what Atwater concluded was wrong in the end, but that wasn’t really his fault,” Bryson wrote. “No one yet understood the concept of vitamins and minerals, or the need for a balanced diet. For Atwater and his contemporaries, everything one food was bigger than another was what served as fuel. ”

This led to Atwater underestimating fruits and vegetables and overvaluing meat. He also concluded that alcohol was a rich source of energy, in small doses, a scandalous claim in general and for Atwater in particular. “He was the son of a Methodist minister and he knew the storm would be caused by a statement of the found incident,” according to his obituary. “But he expressed his truth and resisted the rage [Woman’s Christian Temperance Union] With the calmness of a man who has fulfilled the “show” of nature. “

Although modern observers have criticized its effects on alcohol, some hold it surprisingly. For example, Atwater recommended a glass of wine a day, which is consistent with what some modern research suggests could have a positive health outcome. So if you’re in favor of the benefits of moderate drinking, lift your glass to Atwater. Remember, an average 5 ounce glass of wine contains between 120 and 130 calories.

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