Vegan Health ArticlesA Brief History of Protein: Passion, Social Bigotry, Rats, and Enlightenment
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Dr. William Rose Discovers Human Needs

By: John McDougall M.D.

In 1942, Dr. William Rose turned his attention from rats to people and began studying the amino acid requirements for humans using basically the same methodology he had used with rats. Healthy, male graduate students, grateful in those days for the free food, the dollar a day they were paid and the prospect of getting their initials in print in Rose's widely read publications, served as his experimental animals. They were fed a diet consisting of corn starch, sucrose, butter fat without protein, corn oil, inorganic salts, the known vitamins, and mixtures of highly purified amino acids. Their diet also included a large brown "candy," which contained a concentrated liver extract to supply unknown vitamins, sugar, and peppermint oil to provide a "never-to-be-forgotten taste."

The study used a chemical measurement called nitrogen balance to determine whether the subjects were getting enough usable protein from the mixture. From his experiments, Dr. Rose found that only eight of the ten amino acids essential to rats were also essential to men we were better at making two amino acids than rats. When an essential amino acid was given in insufficient amounts for approximately two days, all subjects complained bitterly of similar symptoms: a clear increase in nervous irritability, extreme fatigue, and a profound failure of appetite. The subjects were unable to continue the amino acid deficient diets for more than a few days at a time.

Through his studies, Dr. Rose also determined a minimum level of intake for each of the eight essential amino acids.[10] He found small amounts of variation in individual needs among his subjects. Because of these unexplained differences among people, he included a large margin of safety in his final conclusion on minimum amino acid requirements. For each amino acid, he took the highest recorded level of need in any subject, and then doubled that amount for a "recommended requirement" described as a definitely safe intake. It is important to realize that his higher requirement is easily met by a diet centered around any single starchy vegetable. Even in children, as long as energy needs are satisfied by starch, protein needs are automatically satisfied in almost every situation because of the basic and complete design of the food. These investigations were completed by the spring of 1952, resulting in sixteen papers in The Journal of Biological Chemistry that are considered classic contributions in the history of nutrition for the benefit of human beings.

The results of Dr. Rose`s studies are summarized in the following chart, under "minimum requirements". From the chart, it is clear that vegetable foods contain more than enough of all the amino acids essential for humans.[11]

Protein Chart

Many investigators have measured the capacity of plant foods to meet our protein needs. Their findings show that children and adults thrive on diets based on a single starch; and they grow healthy and strong.[11,12] Furthermore, no improvement is obtained by mixing plant foods or supplementing with amino acid mixtures to make the combined amino acid pattern look more like that of flesh, dairy, or eggs.[12] (For a thorough discussion of human protein needs see The McDougall Plan, New Win Publishers.)

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.