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ON SELECTING FOOD AND DRINKS WITH REFERENCE TO HEALTH.
A WORK has recently been republished in this country, entitled, "A Treatise on Food and Diet; by Dr. J. Pereira. Edited by Dr. Charles A. Lee." "The author of this work," says Dr. Lee, "is well known throughout Europe and America, as one of the most learned, scientific, and practical men of the age;—a physician of great experience and accurate observation, and a highly successful writer. To the medical profession he is most favorably known as the author of the best work on the Materia Medica which has appeared in our language."
This work contains the principles discovered by Lei-big, Dûmas, and Brossingault, and applies them practically to the subject of the proper selection of food. All the opinions, expressed in what follows, are sanctioned by the above work, by Dr. Combe, and by most of the distinguished practitioners of our age and country.
In selecting food, with reference to health, the following principles must be borne in mind.
First, that there are general rules in regard to healthful food and drink, which have been established, not by a few, but by thousands and thousands of experiments, through many ages, and in an immense variety of circumstances. It is these great principles, which must be the main dependance of every mother and house keeper, to guide her in selecting healthful food and drinks for her children and family. These rules are furnished by medical writers and practitioners.
Secondly, there are occasional exceptions to these general rules, and when such occur, two errors should be avoided. One is, giving up all confidence in the deductions of a wide experience, established by extensive experiments, and assuming that we have no rules at all, and that every person must follow the guidance of mere appetite, or his own limited experience. The other is, making the exception into a general rule, and maintaining that every person must conform to it.
For example, it is found by general experience, that milk is a very safe and healthful article of food, and that alcoholic drinks are very unhealthful. But there are cases which seem to be exceptions to this rule; for some children never can eat milk without being made sick, and there are cases known where men have lived to a very advanced age and in perfect health, who have daily used alcoholic drinks, even to the point of intoxication.
Still, it is very unwise to throw away the general rule and say, that it is just as well for children to drink alcoholic drinks as to use milk,—and as unwise to claim that every person must give up the use of milk because a few are injured by it.
The true method is, to take the general rules obtained by abundant experience for our guide, and when any exceptions are found, to regard them as exceptions, which do not vacate the general rule, nor make it needful to conform all other cases to this exception.
It will be the object of what follows, to point out the general rules, which are to regulate in the selection of drinks and diet, leaving it to each individual to ascertain, by experiments, what are, and what are not the exceptions.
In the first place, then, it is a general rule that man needs a variety of aliment, so that it is unfavorable to health to be confined to only one kind of food.
The various textures of the human body are com posed of chemical compounds, which differ from each other, both as to ingredients, and as to modes of combination. It is true, that every portion of the body may be resolved to a few simple elements, of which oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen are the chief. But the bodily organs have not the power of forming all the various animal tissues from these simple elements. Instead of this, they must be introduced into the body in various complex and different combinations, as they exist in the forms of gluten, fibrine, albumen, caseine, and other animal and vegetable compounds.
Thus the sugar, starch, and oils, found in certain kinds of food, supply the carbon which sustain the combustion ever carried on in the lungs by the process of breathing, and which is the grand source of animal heat. On the contrary, the blood, muscles, skin, cartilages, and other parts of the body, are daily nourished and renewed. some by the gluten contained in wheat, others by the albumen of eggs, others by the caseine of milk, and others by the fibrine of animals. All these are found in a great variety of articles used as food. When received into the stomach, the organs of digestion and assimilation prepare, and then carry them, each to its own appropriate organ, and then the excreting organs throw off the surplus.
In order, then, to have every portion of the body properly developed, it is necessary to take such a variety of food, that from one source or another, every organ of the body shall be sustained by its appropriate nourishment. The experiments which prove this, have been conducted on a great scale, and the method and results are detailed in the work of Dr. Pereira.
This fact exhibits one cause of the craving, sometimes felt for certain kinds of food, which usually is the call of nature for some ingredient, that the daily round of aliment does not supply. The statistics furnished in the work of Dr. Pereira, from various armies, prisons, almshouses, and asylums, show, that, where many hundreds are fed on the same diet, the general health of the multitude is better sustained by a considerable variety and occasional changes, than by a more restricted selection Experiments on dogs and other animals, also, have been tried on a large scale, which prove that there is no kind of food, which, alone, will preserve full and perfect health; while every kind (except the food containing gluten, which is the chief ingredient of wheat and other bread-stuffs), when given exclusively, eventually destroys life. The exclusive use of wheat bread and potatoes, as found by experiment, will sustain life and health more perfectly, for a great length of time, than any other kinds of food.
The above fact is a striking exhibition of the beneficence of Providence, in providing such an immense variety of articles of food. And no less so is the instinct of appetite, which demands not only a variety, but is wearied with one unchanging round.
Having ascertained that it is needful to health, that a due variety of food should be secured, we next proceed to examine the principles that are to guide us in the selection.
It is found that the articles used for food and drink may be arranged in the following classes:—
First, articles that furnish no other stimulation to the animal functions than is secured by the fresh supply of nutrition. All food that nourishes the body, in one sense, may be called stimulating, inasmuch as it imparts renewed energies to the various bodily functions. In this sense even bread is a stimulant. But the more common idea attached to the word stimulant is, that it is a principle which imparts a speed and energy to the organs of the system above the ordinary point secured by perfect and appropriate nourishment. The first class, then, are those articles that serve to nourish and develop perfectly every animal function, but do not increase the strength and speed of organic action above the point of full nourishment. The bread-stuffs, vegetables, fruits, sugar, salt, acid drinks, and water are of this class.
Secondly, those articles, which serve to nourish perfectly all the animal system, and at the same time increase the strength and speed of all functional action. All animal food is of this class. All physiologists and medical men agree in the fact, that the pulse and all the organs of the body, are not only nourished, but are quickened in action by animal food, while speed and force are reduced by confining the diet to farinaceous, vegetable, and fruit diet.
Thirdly, those articles which impart no nourishment at all to the body, but act solely to stimulate all the organs to preternatural action. Alcoholic drinks, condiments, and aromatic oils are of this description.
Fourthly, articles that are neither nourishing nor stimulating, but pass out of the system entirely undigested and unassimilated. The bran of coarse bread is an example.
Fifthly, articles that, either from their nature or modes of combination and cooking, are difficult of digestion, unhealthful, and, of course, tend to weaken the organic powers by excessive or unnatural action. Animal oils, either cooked or rancid, and many articles badly cooked are of this kind.
NOURISHING AND UNSTIMULATING FOOD.
The following presents a list of the articles which are found to be healthful and nourishing, and not stimulating, except as they supply the nourishment needed by the various bodily functions.
The first and most important of these are called the farinaceous substances. Of these, wheat stands at the head, as the most nutritive, safe, and acceptable diet to all classes and in all circumstances. This can be used in the form of bread, every day, through a whole life, without cloying the appetite, and to an extent which can be said of no other food.
Wheat is prepared in several forms, the principal of which are the common Fine Wheat Flour, the Unbolted, or Graham Flour, and Macaroni, Vermicelli, and Cagliari Pastes. The last are flour paste prepared, or cut into various shapes and dried.
Wheat flour is made into bread of two kinds, the fermented, or spongy breads, and the unfermented, or hard breads.
The spongy breads are made by using either yeast, or the combination of an acid and alkali. In yeast bread, the fermentation of the particles of diffused yeast evolve carbonic acid. This expands the flour in a spongy form, in which it is retained by the tenacity of the gluten of the flour, until baking hardens it. Corn meal and some other bread-stuffs cannot be raised thus, because they do not contain gluten sufficient to hold the carbonic acid as it evolves.
When an alkali and acid are used to raise bread, their combination evolves carbonic acid by a more sudden process than the yeast fermentation. The lightness produced by eggs is owing to their adhesive porosity when beaten and mixed with flour and baked.
Bread is also made of rice, rye, Indian meal, and barley. These varieties of bread-stuffs are useful in various ways. In cases when persons are troubled with looseness of bowels, rice bread, rice gruel, and rice water for drink, prevent the necessity of resorting to medicine. In cases where the opposite difficulty exists, a diet of unbolted wheat, or rye mush with salt and molasses will remedy the evil. These articles also can, all of them, be formed into a great variety of combinations that are at once healthful, and acceptable to the palate.
The next class of healthful and unstimulating articles are the amylaceous, or starchy articles of diet. Of these Sago, Tapioca, Arrow Root, and the Lichens, are those in most frequent use. These are nourishing and remarkably easy of digestion. They are very much used for invalids, and for young children when first weaned.
The next most valuable articles of food are the vegetables. Of these the Potato is at once the most healthful, and most universally relished. In the form of Starch, it makes, when cooked, a light and agreeable article for the sick, and is convenient to housekeepers as forming a fine minute pudding to meet an emergency.
Of the great variety of vegetables that are furnished at market, or from our gardens, almost all are palatable and healthful to a stomach that is strong. Peas, Beans, Onions, and cooked Cabbage and Turnips, usually are not good for persons whose powers of digestion have been weakened.
The next most valuable articles of food are the Fruits. Almost all kinds of fruit, when fully ripe, are healthful to those who are not suffering from weakness of digestion. Grapes, Apples, Peaches, Strawberries, Raspberries, and Currants, are least likely to prove injurious. The skins and seeds of all fruits consist of woody matter, that is perfectly indigestible and should never be taken in large quantities. It is the skins and seeds of the grape that make raisins so often injurious to young children. If the skins and stones can be removed, nothing can be found that is more safe and healthful, in moderate quantities, than raisins and grapes.
The next articles of healthful unstimulating food are the Saccharine substances, Sugar, Molasses, and Honey. On this point, Dr. Pereira remarks, "The injurious effects which have been ascribed to sugar are more imaginary than real. The fondness of children for saccharine substances may be regarded as a natural instinct; since nature, by placing it in the mother's milk, evidently intended it to form a part of their nourishment. Instead, therefore, of repressing this appetite for sugar, it ought rather to be gratified in moderation. The popular notion, of its having a tendency to injure the teeth, is totally unfounded. During the sugar season of the West Indies, every negro on the plantations, every animal, and even the dogs, grow fat. And no people on earth have finer teeth than the negroes of Jamaica. It is probable that this erroneous notion has been propagated by frugal housewives, in order to deter children from indulging in an expensive luxury. Sugar is readily digested by a healthy stomach. In dyspeptics, it is apt to give rise to flatulence and acidity of stomach."
These remarks, without other considerations, may lead to erroneous conclusions. There is no doubt that both children and adults are often injured by the use of sugar, but it is not because it is unhealthful in its nature, but because it is used in excess or in an improper manner. In the "Domestic Economy," pg. 105, it is shown that highly concentrated food is not favorable to digestion, because it cannot be properly acted on by the muscular contractions of the stomach, and is not so minutely divided as to enable the gastric juice to act properly. Now Sugar, Candy, and the like, are highly concentrated nourishment, and should not be used except when mixed with other food. The reason, then, why children are injured by sugar is, that they eat it too frequently, in too large quantities, and unmixed with other food. A stick or two of pure candy, eaten with crackers or bread, never would injure any healthy child. It is too often the case, that candies are mixed with unhealthful coloring matter, or with nuts and other oily substances, that make them injurious.
The next article of healthful, unstimulating food, is jellies and preserved fruits. As it has been shown that uncooked fruits and sugar are both healthful, it may not seem surprising that jellies and fruits cooked in sugar, when eaten moderately, with bread or crackers, are regarded as among the most nourishing and healthful of all aliments. When they prove injurious, it is owing either to the fact that they are taken alone, or with rich cream, or else are taken in too great quantities. Eaten moderately, as a part of a meal, they are safe and nourishing to all, except persons of poor digestion. Healthful stomachs need not be governed by rules demanded by the invalid, which has too often been attempted.
The preceding presents a vast variety of articles suitable for food, containing in abundance all the principles demanded for the perfect development of all the animal functions, and which physiologists and medical men unitedly allow to be healthful. These can be combined by the cook in an endless variety of agreeable dishes, involving no risk to a healthful stomach, when taken in proper quantities and in a proper time and manner.
NOURISHING AND STIMULATING FOOD.
The second general division of food, embraces articles which serve perfectly to nourish and develop every animal organ, but, at the same time, increase the speed and strength of all functional action beyond the point which is attained by the system, when fully and perfectly nourished by vegetables, fruits, and bread-stuffs. There is no dispute among physiologists and physicians as to the fact, that animal food produces chyle which is more stimulating to the various organs, than that which is formed from an exclusive vegetable diet. The only question debated is, whether this increase of stimulus is favorable, or unfavorable to health and long life.
Excerpted from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receiptâ"Book by Catharine Esther Beecher. Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted February 11, 2012