|Birth||22 August 1867, Aarau, Aargau, Switzerland|
|Death||24 January 1939, Zürich, Canton of Zürich, Switzerland (aged 71 years)|
Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner, M.D. (August 22, 1867 – January 24, 1939) was a Swiss physician and a pioneer nutritionist credited for popularizing muesli.
Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner was born on August 22, 1867 in Aarau, Switzerland to Heinrich Bircher and Berta Krüsi. He attended the University of Zurich to study medicine, and later opened his own general clinic. During the first year the clinic was open, Bircher-Benner came down with jaundice, and he claimed he became well again by eating raw apples. From this observation, he experimented with the health effects raw foods have on the body, and from this he promoted muesli, a dish based on raw oats, fruits, and nuts. Bircher-Benner expanded on his nutritional research and opened a sanatorium called "Vital Force" in 1897. He believed raw fruits and vegetables held the most nutritional value, cooked and commercially processed foods held even less, and meat held the least nutritional value. Eventually, Bircher-Benner gave up meat entirely. Other scientists of the time did not respond well to what Bircher-Benner referred to as his "new food science," but the general public caught on to his ideas to the point where he had to expand his sanatorium practice. His nutritional habits and eating patterns steadily grew in popularity until he died on January 24, 1939 in Switzerland at the age of 71. Bircher Benner authored a book titled "Food Science for All".
At his sanatorium in Zürich, a balanced diet of raw vegetables and fruit was used as a means to heal patients, contrary to the beliefs commonly held at the end of the 19th century. Bircher-Benner believed raw foods were more nutritious because they contain direct energy from the sun. He was among the first scientists in Europe to believe food could be used to keep the body healthy rather than simply satisfy hunger. He encouraged people of good health to eat approximately 50% raw foods on a daily basis, and for those with poor health to eat 100% raw foods. Bircher-Benner's sisters, Alice Bircher and Berta Brupbacher-Bircher, created many recipes using raw foods to help a diet of raw foods seem more appealing. Because of this help from his sisters, his sanatorium gained enormous popularity and he expanded the size of his clinic.
Bircher-Benner changed the eating habits of the late 19th century. Instead of much meat and white bread, he postulated eating fruit, vegetables and nuts. His ideas included not only controlled nutrition, but also spartan physical discipline. At his Zürich sanatorium off Bircher-Benner-Platz, the patients had to follow a somewhat monastic daily schedule including early bedtime (21:00, or 9:00pm), physical training and active gardening work. Each meal began with a small dish of muesli, developed by Dr. Bircher-Benner, followed by mostly raw vegetables and a dessert. Patients were not allowed to consume alcohol, coffee, chocolate, or tobacco while they were being treated. Bircher-Benner also recommended his patients to sun bathe, take cold showers, and use a medicinal bath developed by American physician John Harvey Kellogg. His theory of life was based on harmony between people and nature, a key component of a German lifestyle reform movement, and the reason he named his clinic "Vital Force." Some of his ideas originate from observing the daily life of shepherds in the Swiss Alps, who lived a simple and healthy life.
Bircher-Benner's ideas for nutrition were in opposition to the existing ideas of the time. Many of his ideas were backed up with observations rather than experiments and analysis. Because of this, Bircher-Benner was heavily critiqued and seldom respected as a nutritionist. A review for one of his cookbooks states that the number of people capable of eating solely raw fruits and vegetables as Bircher-Benner encouraged is limited because humans are not meant to be herbivores. Thomas Mann, a well-known novelist, visited the sanatorium and described it as a "health jail." Despite disapproval from others, Bircher-Benner's ideas caught the public's eye and his sanatorium stayed in business.
Bircher-Benner's work was not recognized by other scientists until the discovery of vitamins in fruits and vegetables in the 1930s. Shortly after his death, a second sanatorium was opened and named "People's Sanatorium for a Lifestyle Based on Nature," and was run according to Bircher-Benner's ideas. In 1939, the Vital Force clinic was renamed the "Bircher-Benner Clinic" in his memory. In the late 20th century, after closure of the sanatorium, it was briefly a student hostel. It has since been purchased by Zürich Financial Services, and is named the Zürich Development Center. It is used for executive training, and also houses an extensive private art collection.