December 27, 2004 by

Ancel Keys


Categories: Medicine, Military, Writers/Editors

Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys, the educator and physiologist who invented K-rations, died on Nov. 20. Cause of death was not released. He was 100.
Born in Colorado Springs, Keys was the nephew of silent film star Lon Chaney. As a young man, he worked in a lumber camp, shoveled bat guano in Arizona, mined for gold and traveled to China as a sailor on an ocean liner. Keys graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in chemistry, then earned a doctorate in zoology and oceanography from the Scripps Institute. He received a second doctorate in physiology from Kings College in Cambridge, England, and worked at the Mayo Clinic for a short time before joining the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1936. Four years later, he founded the school’s Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene. Keys remained at the university until his retirement in 1972.
At the start of America’s involvement in World War II, the U.S. Army commissioned Keys to design a lightweight, non-perishable and nutritional meal for paratroopers and soldiers heading into combat. Using items he found in a Minneapolis grocery store, Keys created a meal consisting of biscuits and/or crackers, dry sausage, hard candy and chocolate. The military added chewing gum, toilet paper and four cigarettes to the package, mass-produced the “K-rations” and gave them to thousands of GIs fighting overseas.
Keys next studied the physiology of starvation. He conducted hunger experiments on conscientious objectors, and provided the government with a record of the physiological, psychological and cognitive changes his test subjects experienced due to food deprivation.
Reading the obituary pages in the newspaper inspired Keys to investigate the causes of heart disease. Beginning in 1947, he studied 283 businessmen from Minneapolis and St. Paul — meat and potatoes country — and found that heart attacks were more likely to occur in men who smoked and had high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol levels. After further research, Keys discovered that saturated fat largely determined cholesterol levels. If the quantity of fat in a person’s diet was reduced, he concluded, then heart disease could be prevented.
In 1958, Keys began studying the diets of 12,763 middle-aged men living in Italy, the Greek islands, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan and the United States. His landmark “Seven Countries Study” showed that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, pasta, bread and olive oil would reduce the occurrence of heart disease. The results, which were chronicled in his bestselling book, “Eat Well and Stay Well,” earned him an appearance on the cover of Time magazine in 1961.
Today, the “Mediterranean diet,” which is heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on fat and meat, has gained popularity with Americans seeking to lose weight and live longer, healthier lives.

2 Responses to Ancel Keys

  1. Tina & Tony + family

    We are the owners of a restaurant called “La Palazzina” in southern Italy. Dr Keys, his wife Margaret and other Finnish and American scientists used to eat at our restaurant. It is with great sympathy that we will remember Dr Ancel. It was a great pleause knowing him and we pay our tribute to him on behalf of our family. Our son Giuseppe is studying Nutrtion & Health at university in London and has had the pleasure to use his findings on CVD related to the mediterranean diet. Thank you.
    Tina & Tony

  2. Jay

    One Hundred Years you hung around!
    A most impressive number.
    Of all the research things you found
    before eternal slumber,
    just one stands out because it did
    cause so much damage, killed so many,
    when in the fifties, young and fit,
    you thought, while sitting on your fanny,
    that this world needed to be told
    a theory that everyone
    could grasp so all the young and old
    would have new hope for true salvation.
    Your friends were dropping, one by one
    and doctors had no explanation.
    While cutting open the deceased
    you searched for clues inside their veins,
    then found in arteries your beast,
    it had eluded other brains.
    Cholesterol, the new catch-cry.
    here was an ugly, smelly stuff,
    mere sight of it, to your keen eye
    convinced you that you’d seen enough.
    I have a nagging, strong suspicion
    that basic science was your weakness.
    When you embarked upon your mission
    to leave behind post-mortem bleakness.
    In spite of calls for sanity
    from well-respected men of science,
    you gathered all your vanity
    and schooled yourself in harsh defiance.
    Your studies were, let’s say selective,
    you knew the outcome from the start.
    A brilliant medical detective
    you saw yourself as super smart.
    Your theory – like outback fires –
    took off, infected many others.
    Turned healthy people into buyers
    and poisoned millions and their mothers.
    Your life’s work has now been debunked,
    although the industry resists.
    I wonder if you knew you flunked
    the real test, of which the gist
    is simply that the Bogeyman
    exposed by you as evildoer
    not only should but, surely, can
    flush your credentials down the sewer.
    I know you reached a ripe old age.
    But did you follow what you taught?
    Or were you like a macrophage
    which eats what’s there? I would have thought
    that in the State of Minnesota,
    where Swedes and other Europeans,
    have settled with their old traditions
    and eat their fats without a quota,
    have done so for so many eons.
    Would they accept your superstition?
    I’m sorry you did not invent
    a method that would keep man healthy.
    Instead, the statins and the stent
    and bovine droppings made you wealthy.
    This tribute means to say ‘J’accuse’,
    the French expression comes to mind.
    Les grenouilles*, they did refuse
    to line up, follow your behind.
    So rest in peace in regions yonder,
    and if you look down from the sky,
    the thought occurs now, do you wonder
    at all about the great Masai?
    And, does it bother you at last,
    the fudging and the pale-white lies,
    now, when you see how overcast
    you made the world with your wolf cries?
    Just promise me, if you come back
    for a new life here on the ground,
    would you acknowledge that you lack
    the common sense you never found?

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