The judge in the courtroom summoned the prisoner before him and said: "Mrs. Reed is going to put you on a diet and you're going to stay on it or you're going back to jail."

Barbara Reed is chief probation officer in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Part of her rehabilitation of convicted criminals includes getting them to change their diets from "junk foods," high in sugar, to a more prudent choice of foods high in protein, complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and grains plus vitamin supplements. She has had dramatic success, particularly with those who have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). According to Reed, those who stay on the diets have not been back in court.

The American Medical Association and many representatives of the medical establishment do not believe that diet plays a role in mental illness. But witnesses at the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs testified last week that they have found some significant links between diet and mental disorders.

While there are no laboratory studies that show the irrefutable kind of cause and effect relationship that many scientists insist on, there was impressive testimony from the probation officer, a psychologist who works with juvenile delinquents, a psychiatrist and a behavioral toxicologist. All testified that following a diet low in refined carbohydrates, particularly sugar, free of chemicals and synthetic foods, helps to improve the behavior of many mentally disturbed people.

In addition, according to Dr. Michael Lesser, an orthomolecular psychiatrist, successfully with vitamin therapy. Orthomolecular medicine is the treatment of disease through vitamins, minerals, amino acids and diet, according to Lesser.

Lesser told committee chairman Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) that "orthomolecular psychiatry is definitely helpful in the treatment of schizophrenia," accounting for significant improvement in about 85 per cent of his patients.

Lesser said that 67 per cent of his patients suffer from hypoglycemia. He said the high incidence of low blood sugar in the general population is related to the increasing consumption of refined sugar.

Carolyn L. Brown, executive director of a residental facility for delinquent children inBerkeley Calif., told the committee that there is a "direct connection between juvenile delinquency, disturbed children and nutrition."

In her prepared testimony Brown said she " . . . has been clear clinical evidence in individual children of food allergies and chemical hypersensitivities causing or exacerbating perceptual and behavioral disorders. And . . . clinical evidence that nutritional therapies can play a significant role in helping these children.

". . . A diet free of chemicals, low in refined carbohydrates, free of synthetic foods, with a judicious and individualized program of nutritional supplementation - together with the avoidance of foods and chemicals to which the child is allergic or hypersenitive - can be a criticial factor in reversing the personal decline of many of the children we have worked with.

"One of my major movements is to make friends in juvenile halls and work my way toward the kitchens," Brown said. But she added that improving nutritional intake is not the total answer. "It is related to total environmental stress."

Even Dr. Bernard Weiss, who was the most restrained of the panel members in his endorsement of the relationship between diet and mental health, said in response to a question: "The evidence is not firm, but it certainly could not harm an individual to receive an optimal diet."

Weiss is currently working on a double-blind study of the relationship between hyperactivity in children and food additives, especially articial colors. It is a theory that was first brought to public attention by Dr. Benjamin Feingold, chief emeritus of the Department of Allergy at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco. Hyperactive children are characterized by difficulty in concentrating, clumsiness, aimless and often belligerent activity.

Weiss described his work, which is supported by the Food and Drug Administration, as "the most difficult study I have ever undertaken," because so little is really known about the toxicological effects of food additives on behavior. As Weiss testified: "The traditional definitions of toxicology embraced mainly tangible criteria of death and tissue damage. But its scope has widened . . .

"It now accommodates greater breadth of criteria, including functional ones."

While there has been a good deal of public attention devoted to the relationship between hyperactivity and diet, only recently has there been any public discussion about diet's relationship to disorders that range from juvenile delinquency to adult criminal behavior.

Now the same argument is being made about such a relationship in order to discredit it. Those who are skeptical that a change in dietary habits could effect one's mental well-being say any improvement noted is due rather to the attention and concern these disturbed people are getting, whether it is love from a parent or interest from a probation officer.

One of the panelists at the Senate hearing asked Reed if that wasn't the reason for her success. Reed said quite firmly, no.It was definitely due to dietary changes.

"I have been in this field for 14 years. I was giving a lot of love and attention before. The reason ours is working is quite simple."

But as Sen. McGovern noted in his opening remarks, "Achieving recognition of the relationship between nutrition and mental health is still very much a struggle."