Remembering Dr. Saltman's legacy as a biochemist and teacher


by Lawrence Ku and Nishita Shah | Editors | SQ Vol. 9 (2011-2012)

Imagine sitting in a lecture hall listening to the professor drone on and on about the pathways governing glycolysis and fatty acid oxidation. Your mind starts to drift, when all of a sudden, you are jolted awake by the booming voice of a six-foot-five, towering professor writing on the chalkboard. You almost forgot that this is Dr. Saltman’s lecture, and that this 8 a.m. class is no time to daydream. Pulling out your bag of M&M’s for breakfast, you begin to munch on the rainbow-colored candies as you learn about what happens to each glucose molecule as it enters your body. Wondering how much ATP you will get from this little bag of chocolate, you take a look at the nutrition label on the back and are shocked at the amount of fat, calories, and sugar you just put into your mouth.

And all just to satisfy that growling stomach and ever pesky sweet tooth of yours. But then Dr. Saltman says something that not only eases your worry of gaining a little weight, but also changes the way you view your eating habits: “There is no such thing as junk food; only good or bad choices.” He goes on to discuss how no one ever became overweight just by eating a few chips here and there, but rather became unhealthy through nutritional imbalances in their diets.

An amazing lecturer, Dr. Saltman not only motivated students to love and understand biochemistry but also to think about their own life goals, and how nutrition related to their everyday lives.

An amazing lecturer, Dr. Saltman not only motivated students to love and understand biochemistry but also to think about their own life goals, and how nutrition related to their everyday lives.

Feeling relieved that an expert on the matter just declared your M&M’s to be safe for further consumption, you start to reevaluate the way you view food and nutrition. A respected Biochemistry professor and nutrition researcher, Dr. Paul Saltman was a big advocate of educating the public on good choices when it came to nutrition. His layman’s guide to food, The California Book of Nutrition, demystifi ed and debunked the many diet fads in the 1970s and allowed the public to understand the science behind nutrition. As a biochemist, Saltman was a big believer in maintaining a balance of foods for a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition was much more than just checking laundry lists of calorie, sugar, and fat consumption; it was a series of choices each individual needed to make for themselves. Food interacted with one another, and thus blanket statements about XX surely could not apply to everyone.

A typical sight during his teaching years: Dr. Saltman hanging out with students outside of class to discuss school and prospective future plans.

A typical sight during his teaching years: Dr. Saltman hanging out with students outside of class to discuss school and prospective future plans.

Saltman’s “no-nonsense” approach was designed to teach you how to understand nutrition and apply this knowledge to your food intake in times of health and disease. Not only did Saltman have a huge impact on the way society viewed nutrition, but he also changed the individuals he worked with, students and athletes alike. Bill Walton, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who had led the Portland Trail Blazers to a Cinderella story NBA championship, had multiple, recurring foot injuries due to a bone condition that resembled osteoporosis. Due to these fragile bones, Walton was forced to take time off playing for the San Diego Clippers in the early 1980s, and it seemed as if he would never be able to play basketball again.

Saltman, doing extensive trace mineral research at the time, worked with Walton and tried to adjust the vegetarian basketball player’s diet so that it accommodated more copper, zinc, and manganese. Bones would be unable to properly build without the necessary levels of manganese and copper, and they could not heal without enough zinc, even if the body had enough calcium. With Saltman’s trace mineral concoctions, Walton’s foot healed, and he was back shooting hoops on the court within two months. The key to treating the poor bone condition was nutritional balance, and as Saltman always stressed, it is the balance of nutrients – in Bill Walton’s case, micronutrients – that will eventually heal you.

Dr. Linda Strause, Professor of Nutrition at UC San Diego, worked alongside Saltman in the 1980s on his trace mineral research. As a postdoctoral fellow in his lab, Strause had the opportunity to learn not only about the research Saltman conducted, but also his own philosophies regarding teaching and education.

“He was a great mentor; he believed in both education and hard work, and that if you had both you would be phenomenal,” said Strause when asked about Dr. Saltman influence on her life.

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Dr. Saltman and Dr. Linda Strause check for supplies in the lab for a trace mineral study.

Encouraging her throughout her career, Saltman gave Strause the confidence and support she needed to excel as both a biochemist and a teacher. His real passion was giving the gift of knowledge to others, and he believed that by teaching and learning, you could attain true freedom. True to his philosophy on nutrition, Saltman similarly believed that there needed to be another balance in life, one between education and hard work. With both, it would be possible to accomplish anything, even a healthy body, so that one could live a productive life. This philosophy was applied across all of Saltman’s legacies, teaching and research alike. He believed heavily in the science behind nutrition because by educating the public about the nutrients they need, individuals could make their own decisions regarding the lifestyles they choose.

Similarly, Saltman invested his efforts into education, teaching with a passion and vigor that allowed each of his students to gain the knowledge to make their own decisions in life. Saltman once declared, “One reason we teach is that it keeps us immortal.” And in this tradition, this journal keeps his spirit alive by teaching students year after year about science and communication.



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