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A Brief History of Protein: Passion, Social Bigotry, Rats, and Enlightenment
By: John McDougall M.D.

The First Scientific Experiments on Our Protein Needs

Professor Chittenden’s first experiment was on himself. For nine months, he recorded his own body weight, which decreased from 143 pounds (65 Kg) to 128 pounds (58 kg) on his new diet of one-third the protein that Dr. Voit recommended. Chittenden's health remained excellent and he described his condition as being with “greater freedom from fatigue and muscular soreness than in previous years of a fuller dietary.” He had suffered from arthritis of his knee and discovered that by reducing his intake of meat his condition disappeared and his “sick headaches” and bilious attacks (abdominal pains) no longer appeared periodically as before; plus he fully maintained his mental and physical activity, with a protein intake of about 40 grams a day.

Chittenden performed valid scientific studies by collecting data on the daily dietary and urine histories of his subjects (including himself) to determine protein utilization. Because he was contradicting the known “truths” of his time, he proceeded with extreme caution with his further investigations. He organized three controlled trials with increasing demands for testing the adequacy of diets lower in protein than commonly recommended.

The first trial involved a group of five men connected with Yale University, leading active lives but not engaged in very muscular work. On a low-protein diet (62 grams daily) for 6 months, they all remained healthy and in positive nitrogen balance (more protein went into, than out of, their bodies). The second trial used 13 male volunteers from the Hospital Corps of the U.S. army. They were described as doing moderate work with one day of vigorous activity at the gymnasium. They remained in good health on 61 grams of protein daily. His final trial was with 8 Yale student athletes, some of them with exceptional records of athletic events. They ate an average of 64 grams of protein daily while maintaining their athletic endeavors, and improving their performance by a striking 35 percent. Following these studies, Chittenden in 1904 concluded that 35–50 g of protein a day was adequate for adults, and individuals could maintain their health and fitness on this amount. Studies over the past century have consistently confirmed Professor Chittenden’s findings, yet you would hardly know it with the present day popularity of high protein diets.

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