Pottenger, Cats,and the Pre-Atkins Diet

Recently, Karen de Coster and Jeremy Sapienza wrote articles promoting a high-protein diet. It is sometimes called the Atkins diet or the Eades diet. Readers may be interested in my own experience with an early version of this diet.

In 1948, at the age of six, I was a sickly child. I had chronic bronchitis. I was skinny. I missed a lot of school. I stayed home a lot and listened to soap operas, which, on the whole, were probably of greater value than what I was learning in school. (In the third grade, in 1949, I was taught by a lady who was close to retirement, who still used — gasp! — phonics. That was when I really started learning. No more Dick and Jane.)

My parents did not have much money. My mother decided to spend what little she had to take me to a physician she had heard about from a friend. His name was Francis Pottenger, Jr. He was the son of a well-known specialist in treating tuberculosis. We had to drive monthly across the Los Angeles basin to get to his clinic in Monrovia.

He was the original research physician in nutrition. In the early 1930’s, he conducted what was to become a famous study of cats. Here is one account of the results:

There’s one more study I want to bring to your attention and it’s called the Pottenger cats study and it lasted for ten years, with three generations of cats being studied. Approximately 900 cats were involved. Dr. Francis Pottenger took 2 sets of cats and fed them only raw milk and raw meat. He took 3 more sets of cats and fed them cooked meat and pasteurized milk. This study was specifically designed to show the difference between eating raw foods versus cooked and processed foods over a long period of time. The cats eating the raw food were disease free and healthy, generation after generation after generation. But, the cats eating the cooked and processed foods had different results. By the end of the 1st generation the cats started to develop degenerative diseases and became quite lazy. By the end of the 2nd generation the cats had developed degenerative diseases by mid-life and started losing their coordination. By the end of the 3rd generation the cats eating the cooked foods had developed degenerative diseases very early in life and some were born blind and weak and had a much shorter life span. Many of the third generation cats couldn’t even produce offspring.

This is from a Website whose name I appreciate: For a more detailed account of this experiment, visit the lifestar site.

Pottenger put me, a skinny kid, on what was essentially the de Coster/Sapienza diet. Fat people lose weight with it. I gained weight. Here was the basic diet.

First, drastically reduced sugar intake. I was allowed one scoop of ice cream a week. He did allow raw sugar. The nutrition people today tell us that it makes no difference: refined sugar vs. raw sugar. “Avoid both.” But I did eat raw sugar, though not much.

Second, a lot of meat, cooked rare or not cooked at all. I ate lots of steak and lamb chops. My parents did not have much money, but my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather intervened to buy the meat. I also daily ate scraped slivers of frozen raw cow brains and frozen liver in tomato juice. (Today, the problem of diseases in the meat would make me hesitate.)

Third, certified raw milk — nothing pasteurized. In those days, the only dairy that sold this product in Los Angeles County was the Rogers-Jessup Dairy. (Why I remember this, I can’t say. All those cow brains, perhaps.) Years later, the Stueve family’s Alta Dena Dairy sold it, to the consternation of the Los Angeles County Health Department, which ran a kind of guerilla war with them in the late 1960’s. Alta Dena stopped selling certified raw milk in 1987. It is now sold as “Stueve’s Natural,” but is presently out of production for a few months. They are building a new facility. The food & drug police have made this product unobtainable nationally. The Stueves are the only producer in the United States, and are prohibited by state law from selling outside of California.

Fourth, no processed flour. I have eaten stone ground whole wheat bread ever since. I lost my taste for white bread, except for specialty breads like sourdough. I was not allowed to eat packaged cereals. I ate cooked wheat cereal.

Fifth, no fried foods.

Sixth, lots of vegetables, steamed or cooked in low-water stainless steel.

Seventh — this was an odd one — mineral salt water. My mother bought the powder at a Monrovia pharmacy that followed the formula Pottenger created. It wasn’t too bad to drink.

Eighth, exercise. I did a lot of chin ups, rope climbing, and barbell lifting. I suppose I still should.

Pottenger told my mother to buy a book that had just been published, Let’s Cook It Right, by Adelle Davis. My mother still has that first edition.

It took about 18 months for me to get well. Since that time, I have rarely been sick, although I have not stuck to the diet rigorously.

I don’t recall that I had to drink large quantities of water. Most advocates of a high protein diet say that you need a lot of water and a potassium supplement. I have gone on the Eades diet, but basically, the old Pottenger diet — which I have returned to at age 59 — works better for me. Only this time, I don’t want to gain weight. Losing it is my goal. It works.

December 7, 2001

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© 2001

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