Friday, May 8, 2009

Food and its Laws

We have found, that, in analyzing the constituents of the body, water is the largest part; and turning to food, whether animal or vegetable, the same fact holds good. It forms the larger part of all the drinks, of fruits, of succulent vegetables, eggs, fish, cheese, the cereals, and even of fats.

Fat is found in butter, lard, drippings, milk, eggs, cheese, fish, meat, the cereals, leguminous vegetables,—such as pease and beans,—nuts, cocoa, and chocolate.

Sugar abounds in fruits and vegetables, and is found in milk and cereals.

Starch, which under the action of the saliva changes into glucose or grape-sugar, is present in vegetables and cereals.

Flesh foods, called as often nitrogenous foods, from containing so large a proportion of nitrogen, are made up of fibrine, albumen, caseine, gelatine, and gluten; the first four elements being present in flesh, the latter in vegetables.

Salts of various forms exist in both animal and vegetable food. In meat, fish, and potatoes are found phosphorus, lime, and magnesia. Common salt is largely made up of soda, but is found with potash in many vegetables. This last element is also in meat, fish, milk, vegetables, and fruits. Iron abounds in flesh and vegetables; and sulphur enters into albumen, caseine, and fibrine.

The simplest division of food is into flesh-formers and heat-producers; the former being as often called nitrogenous food, or albumenoids; the latter, heat-giving or carbonaceous foods. Much minuter divisions could be made, but these two cover the ground sufficiently well. For a healthy body both are necessary, but climate and constitution will always make a difference in the amounts required. Thus, in a keen and long-continued winter, the most condensed forms of carbonaceous foods will be needed; while in summer a small portion of nitrogenous food to nourish muscle, and a large amount of cooling fruits and vegetables, are indicated; both of these, though more or less carbonaceous in character, containing so much water as to neutralize any heat-producing effects.

Muscle being the first consideration in building up a strong body, we need first to find out the values of different foods as flesh-formers, healthy flesh being muscle in its most perfect condition. Flesh and fat are never to be confounded, fat being really a species of disease,—the overloading of muscle and tissue with what has no rightful place there. There should be only enough fat to round over the muscle, but never hide its play. The table given is the one in use in the food-gallery of the South Kensington Museum, and includes not only the nutritive value, but the cost also, of each article; taking beef as the standard with which other animal foods are to be compared, beef being the best-known of all meats. Among vegetables, lentils really contain most nourishment; but wheat is chosen as being much more familiar, lentils being very little used in this country save by the German part of the population, and having so strong and peculiar a flavor that we are never likely to largely adopt their use.

About an equal amount of nourishment is found in the varied amounts mentioned in the table which follows:—


Cost about
Eight ounces of lean beef (half-pound)6 cts.
Ten ounces of dried lentils7 cts.
Eleven ounces of pease or beans5 cts.
Twelve ounces of cocoa-nibs20 cts.
Fourteen ounces of tea40 cts.
Fifteen ounces of oatmeal5 cts.
One pound and one ounce of wheaten flour4 cts.
One pound and one ounce of coffee30 cts.
One pound and two ounces of rye-flour5 cts.
One pound and three ounces of barley5 cts.
One pound and five ounces Indian meal5 cts.
One pound and thirteen ounces of buckwheat-flour10 cts.
Two pounds of wheaten bread10 cts.
Two pounds and six ounces of rice20 cts.
Five pounds and three ounces of cabbage10 cts.
Five pounds and three ounces of onions15 cts.
Eight pounds and fifteen ounces of turnips9 cts.
Ten pounds and seven ounces of potatoes10 cts.
Fifteen pounds and ten ounces of carrots15 cts.

Now, because tea, coffee, and cocoa approach so nearly in value as nutriment to beef and lentils, we must not be misled. Fourteen ounces of tea are equivalent to half a pound of meat; but a repast of dry tea not being very usual, in fact, being out of the question altogether, it becomes plain, that the principal value of these foods, used as we must use them, in very small quantities, is in the warmth and comfort they give. Also, these weights (except the bread) are of uncooked food. Eight ounces of meat would, if boiled or roasted, dwindle to five or six, while the ten ounces of lentils or beans would swell to twice the capacity of any ordinary stomach. So, ten pounds of potatoes are required to give you the actual benefit contained in the few ounces of meat; and only the Irishman fresh from his native cabin can calmly consider a meal of that magnitude, while, as to carrots, neither Irishman nor German, nor the most determined and enterprising American, could for a moment face the spectacle of fifteen pounds served up for his noonday meal.

The inference is plain. Union is strength, here as elsewhere; and the perfect meal must include as many of these elements as will make it not too bulky, yet borrowing flavor and substance wherever necessary.

As a rule, the food best adapted to climate and constitution seems to have been instinctively decided upon by many nations; and a study of national dishes, and their adaptation to national needs, is curious and interesting. The Esquimaux or Greenlander finds his most desirable meal in a lump of raw blubber, the most condensed form of carbonaceous food being required to preserve life. It is not a perverted taste, but the highest instinct; for in that cruel cold the body must furnish the food on which the keen air draws, and the lamp of life there has a very literal supply.

Take now the other extreme of temperature,—the East Indies, China, Africa, and part even of the West Indies and America,—and you find rice the universal food. There is very little call, as you may judge, for heat-producers, but rather for flesh-formers; and starch and sugar both fulfill this end, the rice being chiefly starch, which turns into sugar under the action of the saliva. Add a little melted butter, the East Indian ghee, or olive-oil used in the West Indies instead, and we have all the elements necessary for life under those conditions.

A few degrees northward, and the same rice is mingled with bits of fish or meat, as in the Turkish pilau, a dish of rice to which mutton or poultry is added.

The wandering Arab finds in his few dates, and handful of parched wheat or maize, the sugar and starch holding all the heat required, while his draught of mare's or camel's milk, and his occasional pilau of mutton, give him the various elements which seem sufficient to make him the model of endurance, blitheness, and muscular power. So the Turkish burden-bearers who pick up a two-hundred-pound bag of coffee as one picks up a pebble, use much the same diet, though adding melons and cucumbers, which are eaten as we eat apples.

The noticeable point in the Italian dietary is the universal and profuse use of macaroni. Chestnuts and Indian corn, the meal of which is made into a dish called polenta, something like our mush, are also used, but macaroni is found at every table, noble or peasant's. No form of wheat presents such condensed nourishment, and it deserves larger space on our own bills of fare than we have ever given it.

In Spain we find the olla podrida, a dish containing, as chief ingredient, the garbanzo or field-pea: it is a rich stew, of fowls or bacon, red peppers, and pease. Red pepper enters into most of the dishes in torrid climates, and there is a good and sufficient reason for this apparent mistake. Intense and long-continued heat weakens the action of the liver, and thus lessens the supply of bile; and red pepper has the power of stimulating the liver, and so assisting digestion. East Indian curries, and the Mexican and Spanish olla, are therefore founded on common-sense.

In France the pot-au-feu, or soup-pot, simmers in every peasant or middle-class home, and is not to be despised even in richer ones. In this dish, a small portion of meat is cooked so judiciously as to flavor a large mass of vegetables and broth; and this, served with salad and oil and bread, forms a meal which can hardly be surpassed in its power of making the most of every constituent offered. In Germany soups are a national dish also; but their extreme fondness for pork, especially raw ham and sausage, is the source of many diseases. Sweden, Norway, Russia,—all the far northern countries,—tend more and more to the oily diet of the Esquimaux, fish being a large part of it. There is no room for other illustrations; but, as you learn the properties of food, you will be able to read national dietaries, from the Jewish down, with a new understanding of what power food had and has in forming national peculiarities.

It is settled, then, that to renew our muscles which are constantly wearing out, we must eat the food containing the same constituents; and these we find in meat, milk, eggs, and the entire gluten of grains, &c, as in wheaten-grits or oatmeal.

Fat and heat must come to us from the starches and sugars, in sufficient supply to "put a layer of wadding between muscles and skin, fill out the wrinkles, and keep one warm." To find out the proportion needed for one's own individual constitution, is the first work for all of us. The laborer requires one thing, the growing child another, the man or woman whose labor is purely intellectual another; and to understand how best to meet these needs, demands a knowledge to which most of us have been indifferent. If there is excess or lack of any necessary element, that excess or lack means disease, and for such disease we are wholly responsible. Food is not the only and the universal elixir of life; for weak or poor blood is often an inheritance, and comes to one tainted by family diseases, or by defects in air or climate in general. But, even when outward conditions are most disastrous, perfect food has power to avert or alter their effects; and the child who begins life burdened with scrofulous or other diseases, and grows to a pale, weak, unwholesome youth, and either a swift passing into the next world, or a life here of hopeless invalidism, can, nine times out of ten, have this course of things stopped by scientific understanding of what foods are necessary for such conditions.

I propose to take the life of one who from babyhood up has been fed on the best food, perfectly prepared, and to give the tables of such food for different periods in that life, allowing only such digression as will show the effects of an opposite course of treatment; thus showing the relations of food to health,—a more necessary and vital form of knowledge than any other that the world owns.

Taken from:

Adapted to Domestic Use or Study in Classes

Copyright 1903
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