Doris Calloway, 78; Nutrition Expert


She called her unique laboratory the Penthouse.

Established in 1963, it was the first for studying food metabolism by healthy people in a home-like setting.

And her Penthouse became a model for nutrition studies worldwide.

Doris Howes Calloway, pioneering nutritionist at UC Berkeley for 27 years and an early advocate of eating a wide variety of foods including plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, has died. She was 78.

Calloway, a woman so unusual among mid-century researchers that her first award was a Man of the Year plaque, died Aug. 31 in a Seattle nursing home of complications from Parkinson’s disease.


Throughout her career, Calloway studied nutritional needs of astronauts traveling in space, soldiers in varied climates and terrains, people in developing countries, menstruating and pregnant women, the elderly and ordinary people going about their daily tasks.

She also was the first woman to become a senior administrator at Berkeley when she served as provost for the university’s professional schools and colleges from 1981 to 1987.

Helped Reshape Nutrition Guidelines

Calloway’s research had much to do with reshaping national standards for recommended daily allowances, or RDAs, of specific nutrients. In 1995, she led the U.S. governmental committee that reviews those dietary guidelines.

As a consultant, and as a nutritionist, she always had something to say about officially authorized food plans, whether it was the Basic Four or the Food Pyramid or earlier schemes.

“The Basic Four [meat, milk, bread, and vegetable and fruit groups] is better than nothing,” she told The Times in 1971. “But we need something better, a more detailed food plan to make qualitative as well as quantitative recommendations.

“We could improve diets everywhere if people learned to eat a wider variety of vegetables,” she added, noting that Americans of that time usually limited their vegetable choices to peas or corn. “The absolutely best plan is to eat a lot of different things. Then if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t go far wrong.”


Calloway did not build the Penthouse, a three-bedroom home with dining and living rooms and patios atop the campus’ Agnes Fay Morgan Hall. The building was named for the woman who led the school’s home economics department from 1916 to 1954, and the Penthouse was originally constructed to teach women how to manage a household.

With her physician partner Sheldon Margen, Calloway converted the facility to a nutrition laboratory when she joined the Berkeley faculty in 1963 after two years as head of nutrition at the Stanford Research Institute.

They paid six volunteers at a time--students in summer months but more often poets, playwrights and novelists without steady paychecks during the school year--to live in the Penthouse for 100 days, eating only the carefully concocted liquid nutrition provided. Calloway was so meticulous in measuring all bodily excretions and calculating metabolism, one colleague said, that “Doris would shave people’s heads and put them in special suits to measure their skin losses.”

The subjects, more often men than women, exercised on treadmills and kept boredom at bay with games, handicrafts, televisions and, in the pre-computer era, typewriters.

One of Calloway’s earliest discoveries was that Americans consumed twice the protein they needed--100 grams a day was believed necessary in the 1950s--and excreted the rest as unusable.

In the late 1980s, Calloway headed a nine-university, $14-million research project in Kenya, Egypt and Mexico on a subject she had long wanted to tackle: marginal malnutrition.

“We know a lot about severe malnutrition,” she told an interviewer. “But I want to know more about marginal malnutrition, about the range within which people are able to live and what they have to give up if their energy intake is low . . . such as working their own vegetable plots, developing their communities.”

Calloway was a consultant on nutrition to the United Nations, the National Research Council and the World Health Organization, wrote more than 100 scholarly articles and co-wrote or edited several books, including “Nutrition,” “Human Ecology in Space Flight” and “Handbook of Physiology.”

Leonard Bjeldanes, chairman of the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, said Calloway “was one of the greats. She was a superbly trained, highly respected scientist who had great courage about what she took on. Yet, she was also insightful, a warm person you could have fun with. I was in awe of her abilities.”

Born in Canton, Ohio, Calloway earned degrees at Ohio State University and the University of Chicago and began her career doing research for the Army at the Armed Forces Food and Container Institute in Chicago. It was there she won her Man of the Year plaque, which she kept prominently displayed in her office for the remainder of her career.

Memorial Planned at UC Berkeley

Calloway is survived by her husband of 20 years, Robert Nesheim of Seattle; a son, David Calloway of Woodland Hills; a daughter, Candace Calloway Whiting of Seattle; two stepdaughters, Sandra Rankin of Danbury, Conn., and Barbara Mowry of Denver; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service at UC Berkeley is planned. Any memorial donations can be sent to the Doris Howes Calloway Memorial Fund, 101 Giannini Hall, College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.

Calloway, recipient of the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Mead Johnson Award for distinguished achievement in nutrition research, among other awards, conceded she was no expert on what she put into her own mouth.

“Eating is my downfall,” she once said. “I fight the battle of the bulge along with everybody else.”