Nature and Destination of Food.
THE, food which man requires for his support and development is of two kinds, inorganic and organic. The first of these embraces certain mineral substances, as common salt, sulphur, phosphorus, iron and lime, either in combination or separate.
These are not generally reckoned as aliments, and yet no human being can live without them. In their absence, the body decays, disintegrates, and perishes. Common salt is composed of muriatic acid and soda. The first is an important ingredient in the gastric juice, and the latter promotes the secretion of bile. Sulphur is found in several of the tissues, particularly in the muscles. Phosphorus, united to fatty matter, is highly honored in forming a portion of the brain and nerves, and is also combined with oxygen and lime to make the earthy or hard part of bones.
Found in Food. These articles it is not necessary often to intro duce into the system in a separate state. They are contained, in larger or smaller proportions, in most articles of food; and man al ways suffers, as all animals do, from their absence. Common salt is found in the flesh of animals, in milk, and in eggs. It is not very abundant in plants; and we all know how eagerly domestic animals devour it when it is given to them, and how constantly wild cattle resort to the salt springs, which, in the great West, are called,, buffalo licks." Lime exists in nearly all animal and vegetable substances. In wheat flour we get it in combination with phosphoric acid, that is, as phosphate of lime. Lime exists too, in the state of carbonate and sulphate, in all hard water. Iron is found in the yolk of eggs, in milk, in animal flesh, in potatoes, pears, cabbages, mustard and other articles. Sulphur we get in flesh, eggs and milk; and, as sulphate of lime, in spring and river water. Phosphorus is derived from 4 eggs and milk; and flesh, bread, fruits, and husks of grain, commonly called bran, contain even a larger proportion than we need in our diet.
Organic Food. The organic elements of man's food, which in bulk embrace almost the whole of it, remain to be considered. In the animal economy they serve two great purposes. A part of the articles which compose them are bloodformers, out of which all the tissues are made, the other part produces fat, which serves to warm the body by being burned with oxygen. These articles are derived partly from the vegetable and partly from the animal kingdom.
Divided into Four Groups. For convenience these articles may be divided into four groups. For the first, sugar stands as a type. We therefore call it the saccharine group. It embraces starcl4 gum, and the fiber of wood. These articles may all be converted into sugar by a simple chemical process. Figure 63 gives a microscopic view of the granules of starch.
The second group we call the oleaginous.It is composed of oily substances, from whatever source derived, whether the animal or the vegetable world.
The third group is the albuminous. A good type of it is the whiteegg.
The fourth is the gelatinous, or jelly group
First and Second Groups, Supporters of Respiration. The articles composing the first and second groups are analogous in composition, all containing oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. They are what Liebig calls supporters of respiration; the meaning of which is, in more comprehensible terms, that they are supporters of combustion. They are the fuel which warms us. They keep the fires going, from which arises all the heat we have in our bodies. But they are destitute of nitrogen, and, on this account, they are not bloodformers, and cannot be worked into flesh. Hence, man cannot live on them.
The food articles embraced in the third and fourth groups also contain oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon; and to these they add nitro gen. This fourth component part, which forms only a small portion of them, gives them, for some reason never explained, the peculiar quality of producing blood and flesh. They are the raw materials, out of which our bodies are reconstructed from day to day.
Feed a man ever so largely upon sugar, starch, gum, and oils, and he will starve as certainly as if he were allowed nothing but water.
Names of Two Great Divisions of Food. The possession or nonpossession of nitrogen, then, is what distinguishes from each other the two great classes of foodarticles. Those which contain nitrogen have been called nitrogenized, and those which am destitute of it, non,nitrogenized compounds. As nitrogen is often called azote, the former class are more frequently named azotized; the latter, no7t,azotized.
Let the reader now fix it in his mind that the azotized articles of food produce blood and flesh; the nonazotized, heat; and he will have the key to understand much of what is to be said, and likewise to unlock many of the mysteries of diet.
Nutrition Table. Taking human milk as the standard, and expressing the amount of nitrogen it contains by 100, the following table shows the relative amount of nitrogen in the principal flesh producing articles of food, and consequently their power of forming the tissues:
Other Standards of Value. We must not infer that those articles which have most nitrogen are necessarily best adapted for human diet because they are the most effective bloodproducers. In deciding the value of an article for food, other things are to be looked at besides its nutritive qualities. Those which are poor in nitrogen, are rich in carbon and hydrogen, and are well fitted to serve the double purpose of nourishing and warming the body at the same time. The fitness of an article for diet depends very much upon the ease or difficulty with which it is digested and assimilated. If an article having a great deal of nitrogen, and being very nutritive, is with great difficulty reduced in the stomach by the digestive process, it may be much less desirable for food than one which is digested and assimilated easily, but is much poorer in nutritive qualities.
Heat generating Food Articles. The reader has before him the principal blood and tissueforming food articles. Those which we reckon as fuel, or beatgenerators, are chiefly oils, sugar, starch, farina, sago, arrowroot, tapioca, gums, etc. These are less essential than the others; for the bloodforming articles have within them the elements out of which fat is formed in the process of assimilation; for many of them contain starch; and this, in the human organism, is changed into fat. The amount of starch in some of these articles is as follows:
In the Nutritive Food Articles, there is a fixed relation existing between the elements of the tissueformers and the heatproducers which they contain. Out of a few of them Baron Liebig has constructed the following table.
Diet a Complex Subject. From the facts and tables now presented, it appears that the question of diet is one of complexity; and that the determination of its several points requires that a number of things should be taken into the account. First, in deciding the usefulness of any article, we may inquire respecting
Its Digestibility. If an article be not digestible, it is of little consequence how much or how little albumen, starch or nitrogen it may contain. The first and most important inquiry respecting it is, is it digestible? If not, it is to be rejected ; for, whatever other qualities it may have, it can only injure the stomach and embarrass the whole system.
The following table will be useful to the reader, though I do not set it down as reliable in all cases. There is often a great difference in the ease with which different stomachs will digest the same food. Many stomachs are afflicted with what is called an idiosyncrasy,a habit, peculiar to itself, of rejecting or refusing to digest some one or more articles which are acceptable to all other stomachs. This table shows the length of time required for digesting the several articles in the stomach of St. Martin, as shown by the experiments of Dr. Beaumont.
This table may be considered as giving a general idea of the relative digestibility of the foodarticles contained in it. If not found exactly right in each individual case, it can be rectified by experience. The experience of no other individual's stomach will ever be found precisely like that of St. Martin's, though in its general features, it may be sufficiently similar to make his valuable. The general principles of conduct may be learned from the experience of others. The particular application must come from our own experience and reason.
Digestibility Influenced by Amount. The rapidity with which any article is digested will vary with the amount taken. A larger quantity than is called for by the wants of the system will be digested more slowly than the proper amount; while, on the other hand, an insufficient supply begets an inability to reduce in the stomach even the small quantity taken. We may err in taking too little food as well as in taking too much; though the former error is much less likely to occur than the latter.
Choosing Food in iII Health. But in deciding the kind and amount of food we must be guided not only by its digestibility, but by the state of the health.
If we find the stomach apparently in good working condition, capable of dissolving properly whatever is submitted to its action, and yet we are for some cause losing flesh and strength, we should resort not only to the most nutritious of the albuminous group of the azotized articles, but likewise to the oleaginous group of' the nonazotized. We want a great amount of nutriment, and we need oils to make fat. This is the kind of food generally wanted in constitutional consumption.
In fevers, but little food can be disposed of at best; and that little must be chosen with reference to its mildness and its unstimulating qualities. Generally the farinaceous or starchy articles are most suitable, because they have no stimulating and irritating qualities, and especially because they furnish fuel to be burned with oxygen, and thus take the place of the animal tissues, which are being rapidly consumed with this devouring element. In fever, oxygen is literally, burning up the body. In this state of the system, this element acquires, by some means, a singular affinity for the tissues; and, uniting with them rapidly, forms a true combustion. The physician who throws to this devouring agent some of the mild, nonazotized articles which offer it stronger affinities than it finds in the tissues, is as wise as he who tosses his dog to a hungry lion to avoid being devoured himself.
Exercise to be Considered. In deciding the diet, the amount of exercise is not less important to be considered than the health. The farmer, who works in the open air, and uses his muscles a great deal~ wants considerably more nutritive, as well as more combustive, food than one who leads a sedentary life. Of course there is a great deal more waste of the tissues, and he requires more of the fleshforming articles; and as he breathes deeper, and takes in more oxygen, he needs more of the supporters of respiration, the sugars, oils, and starchy ailments.
Beans. By turning to the table which shows the amount of nitrogen in the different foodarticles, the reader will see that beans are rich in this element. They are, therefore, excellent food for working men, who are obliged to make great use of their muscles. Our fathers, who broke and subdued the rocky soil of New England, showed wisdom even in their instincts in taking so large a portion of their aliment from the bean, especially as they oiled it with the fat of pork. But for the hardworking student, who daily makes heavy drafts upon his brain and nervous system, beans and peas are an improper diet. They contain no phosphorus, in the shape of phosphate of lime; and no brain can work hard without a clue supply of phosphorus, which forms a part of its substance.
Unbolted Wheat Flour. For the man who uses his brain a great deal, there is no other one article of food equal to bread made from unbolted wheat flour. Fine wheat flour is little better for him than beans, because the miller has robbed it of much of the phosphorus, which is found chiefly in the hull or bran.
I mention only two or three articles of food as specimens. By looking over the tables furnished, and reasoning upon the whole in the way I have done upon these few, the reader can give every article something like its proper value in most circumstances.
Climate. If health and exercise should influence us in choosing the kind and the amount of food, climate must do so quite as much.
In the frigid climate of high latitudes, it is necessary that a great deal of heat be produced in the body, in order to avoid perishing with cold. There is no mystery now, as there once was, about the production of this heat. It comes from the burning of carbon and other substances in the body, where they unite with oxygen, and make just as real a fire as that which warms our houses. Oils, sugar, starch, gums, etc., are largely composed of carbon, and readily unite with oxygen in the body. This is the reason they are reckoned as fuel, and are called supporters of combustion. And for this reason, they require to be largely consumed in very cold climates. The instincts of men seem to lead to the same conclusion, for the dwellers in all high latitudes consume great quantities of oils and fats. The amount of trainoil, tallow, the fat of seals and other animals, devoured by the Laplanders, Kamtschatkans, and other northern people, is truly wonderful.
In hot countries, the fundamental rule for preserving the health is to keep the body cool. Without observing this rule, the strongest will often fall victims to the climate in low latitudes. But to keep cool, of course all the heatproducing articles of food should be avoided. Particularly all alcoholic drinks, which are powerful supporters of combustion, should be rejected. Rice and the various fruits form the most suitable articles of diet.
The great sacrifice of life witnessed among the early emigrants to California, was the result chiefly of using ardent spirits and heat producing food while crossing the Isthmus, which, to a northern constitution, is much like a vast oven, heated to a temperature suitable for baking bread. There are few persons, with tolerable health and strength, but could safely endure the hottest climate ff they would avoid alcoholic liquors and confine themselves to an abstemious vegetable and fruit diet.
Bayard Taylor's Opinion. The distinguished traveler, Bayard Taylor, reports that while spending a few days in a heated part of Africa, he lived as the inhabitants did, pretty much entirely upon the flesh of wellfatted sheep; and that he enjoyed, meantime, excellent health and strength. From this he concludes that animal food is as suitable in hot climates as in cold.
It is a pity a man of such excellent parts as Mr. Taylor should have allowed himself to rear so tall a structure upon so narrow a foundation. That he could live on flesh in so hot a region, and not be made sick, only proved that he bad a fine constitution, and that his health was not easily disturbed; and when be attempted, from his limited experience of a few days, to reason against the established facts of science, and against the wellattested laws of life, be did it evidently without reflecting that be was in a field of thought which he never had occasion to cultivate.
The great Jewish Lawgiver doubtless had a reason for prohibiting pork to the Jews. Whatever that reason was, the prohibition had a wise bearing upon the health of the people. Palestine has a hot climate, in which porkfat is an improper diet.
More Fat in Winter. It follows from what has been said, that a more fatty as well as stimulating diet is needed in winter than in summer. But the change should be made gradually. When cold weather approaches, the food should become more nutritious and warming by little and little. The exercise should likewise be increased.
Even the lower animals act upon this plan. In the fall, squirrels eat nuts, which are full of oil, and grow fat upon them.
The instincts of men move in the same direction. It is in the fall that the hog, the ox, and the poultry are killed; and in the winter that they are largely feasted upon and enjoyed. Upon such food, combined with various sorts of starch, man fattens; and a good supply of fat, deposited in the cells, is equal, in keeping out cold, to a layer of cotton batting, to say nothing of the fire kept up within the body by the burning of such fuel. As hot weather comes on, we gradually lay aside these fattening articles (or ought to), and return to the watery vegetables and fruits, such as squash, string beans, strawberries, currants, etc.
Few of us, I apprehend, would suffer from heat in summer, if we could persuade ourselves to abandon stimulating and fireproducing food, and confine ourselves pretty much to a cooling and succulent diet. Diarrheas in summer are not induced by eating wholesome vegetables, but by combining them with large quantities of animal food.
The State of the Mind,This should by no means be overlooked in choosing the kind and the amount of food. If we have lost friends, or heard desponding news, or experienced calamities of any kind, we must, during the first hours of the shock, or even during the first days, if the affliction be heavy, partake very sparingly offood. The stomach is in no condition to receive it. The brain lies prostrate under the stroke, and the stomach, in sympathy with it, asks for a day of sorrow and fasting. Disturb it not.
Heatproducing Food Incompatible with Excitement. It is folly to take heatproducing aliment when laboring for days under high excitements. During political campaigns, when the blood of politicians is at the boiling point, the diet should be unstimulating, containing very little animal flesh, and not much combustive food. Many a man has died of apoplexy, or of heart~ease, by putting on the steam when his blood was up. Whenever we have a day of uncommon excitement to pass through, we should always begin and end it with an unusual degree of abstinence as to the amount of food taken, and with special care that the articles be of the highest kind.
Anger Demands Abstinence. Anger is a passion which especially unfits the stomach for doing much work. If it occur often, or be protracted, but little food should be taken. Those who indulge it have a double cause for abstinence. Both their folly and their stomachs call for a fast.
In Youth and Manhood, the great amount of exercise usually taken calls for larger supplies of azotized aliment, beef, mutton, pork, fowl, fish, wheatflour, cornmeal, ryemeal, potatoes, turnips, peas, beans, etc. This is the working part of life, when the tissues are rapidly wasted by action, and the fleshforming aliment8 are wanted to keep them good.
In Old Age, the exercise is diminished, the blood circulates more slowly, and the body grows cold. Now is the time to resort to nonazotized food, oils, fats, the various kinds of starch, sugar, and the like. These will furnish fuel to warm the sluggish blood, and will invest the body with fat, which will serve the purpose both of a cushion and a garment. Wine, beer, porter, and distilled spirits are never needed by young persons in health; but the aged are frequently benefited by them, if taken in small quantities. They are chiefly composed of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, and are properly ranked with the supporters of combustion. They are likewise stimulant, and add to the comfort of the old by quickening their circulation. Like tea and coffee, they diminish the waste of the body, and thereby lessen the demand for food.
The smallest amount of aliment upon which a healthy adult person ever lived for any length of time, was twelve ounces a day. Upon this small daily allowance, Lewis Cornaro, a noble Venetian, subsisted in perfect health, during the protracted period of fiftyeight years. This be was able to do only by adding daily to his food about twelve ounces of light wines. I shall have occasion to refer to this case again.
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