Passing of a pioneer

(Canscene) — It was in 2004 that I last googled for information on a hero and found him alive and well, just having passed his 100th birthday. On reaching my own 90th last month, I gave a long neglected thought to Dr Ancel Keys who as a food scientist had a profound effect on society’s attitudes towards eating and exercise. He had died in that same 101st year unnoticed by me and as far as I know, by much of a world that should have sung his praises.

I had discovered his work in the 1980s when I purchased a remaindered copy of he book he co-wrote with his wife Margaret: How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way. As heir to Mediterranean food and ways, for me the book was an eye-opener; not only was this the tastiest food in the world, but low in cholesterol – inducing fats and containing hundreds of recipes as well as a substantial text.

Keys’ work, beginning in the 1930s, pointed to high cholesterol and fatty diets as chief culprits in heart disease. Some of his other work included the invention of military K-rations (the K stands for Keys) for combat forces in World War II and the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which had implications for rebuilding postwar Europe.

His work spanning from the 1930’s through the 1970’s, introduced many of the assumptions which we now take for granted about the relationship between diet, energy expenditure, metabolic rates and health.

Margaret Keys, co-author of three books with her husband, including the bestseller Eat Well and Stay Well, was 97 when she died two years ago. Margaret Keys met her husband when he hired her to work as a research chemist at the Mayo Clinic during the late 1930s. They married in 1939.

She was especially active as his research partner during most of the 1950s, when they studied the health and diets of people around the world.

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