“One should eat to live,” snapped Moliere miserably, “not live to eat.” But for three centuries people just ignored him and ate anyway. Rubens kept on painting women who looked as though they had silicone implants in their bellies. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the heroine’s father fretted about her marriage chances on account of her thinness.

Then, quite suddenly, gluttony was ambushed by glamor and even gourmands took notice of their waistlines until yesterday’s scientific breakthrough on mice gave them the hope of having their cake and staying slim.

It was when Wallis Simpson, one of those women who could play hide and seek behind a lamp-post and win, told the world that you can’t be too rich or too thin that the world decided that slenderness really was next to godliness.

Thin has been in ever since. Slimming crazes have subverted the wisdom that food is part of a good diet. Ninety percent of us diet at some point in our lives. Five-year-olds gulp Diet Coke and buy Workout With Barbie videos.

The English alone spend 1 billion dollars a year on diet aids. In America, where the dieting business turns over $30 billion annually and has become the country’s fifth biggest industry, Tom Wolfe coined the term Social X-rays to immortalize that breed of rich American women who look like skeletons sprayed with skin.

Every newspaper and magazine now includes diet regimens. You can try pineapple-only diets and banana-only diets though never Mars Bar-only diets. You can take pills or you can try aversion therapies, such as staring at recent photos of Marlon Brando. You can staple your stomach, wire your jaws together, wrap up in seaweed, or lighten up with liposuction. You can follow the preachers who say more sex makes you thin or those who say less sex makes you thin. Or you can just eat plenty of garlic, which will make you look slimmer at a distance.

Fasting was all the rage in the 1930s and Mrs Somerset Maugham famously spent six weeks without touching the larder: she claimed she had never felt better, which was either an example of the sort of lies that dieting makes you tell or she was suffering what is called a “starvation high”. The war years imposed their own sort of diet, but by the Fifties diet fads were back in fashion.

And then Twiggy came along with a figure that made a paperclip look overweight. Even Andy Warhol caught fattist fever and grew so agitated that he devised the Andy Warhol New York City Diet.

Breathe Easy on Fruit; Body and Mind

An apple a day may keep lung diseases at bay.

Most people know about the link between healthy eating and a healthy heart. Many food products are marketed specifically for health, emphasizing their low cholesterol or high fiber value. What is less well recognized by the public is the increasing evidence which links healthy diet to the maintenance of good lung function.

Evidence reviewed recently in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Mongalam Sri Sridhar, of the Department of Human Nutrition and Respiratory Medicine at Glasgow University, suggests that there is a link between high intake of certain vitamins and protection from chronic lung diseases. As such diseases are relatively common, this link may be of practical importance for our everyday diet.

Research reported in the United States five years ago first suggested that a diet rich in vitamin C protected against the onset of respiratory symptoms. A year later, a large study of nearly 3,000 smokers and non-smokers found that an individual’s consumption of fruit in winter was associated with better lung function.

Shortly after this, research done in Los Angeles showed that the protective effect of vitamin C continued into old age. The older people studied seemed to be more protected from lung diseases if they stayed on a high-fruit diet, giving them high serum levels of vitamin C.

What is the connection? How can eating a lot of fruit protect the lungs against chronic damage? The answer lies in oxidants, a highly reactive species of molecule, which can interact biochemically with other naturally occurring structures, altering their function.

The presence of oxidants is thought to be connected with the inflammation seen in tissue samples taken from patients in the early stages of chronic lung diseases. Dr. Sridhar reports that fresh fruit, with its high concentration of antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory, offers protection from this type of damage.

What about vitamin pills to supplement diet? Do they have the same protective effect? Nobody yet knows for sure, but Dr. Sridhar argues that antioxidants which are not derived from natural sources may not have the same properties as naturally occurring ones.

“What patients must not think is that it is OK to smoke as long as you have a diet rich in fruit and vegetables,” he says. “The advice remains the same namely to stop smoking, as this is still the clearest identified cause of lung problems.”

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