HOME HYGIENE LIBRARY CATALOG GO TO NEXT CHAPTER
It is important not only to eat those foods that are best adapted to the human constitution and to eat them properly prepared, but also to eat them in ways that assure the best results in digestion. A food that may be easily digested by a person in vigorous health and full digestive power may be indigestible to a weak and sick individual. Foods that are not well chewed, foods taken in too great quantity, foods that are spoiled, even if camouflaged with seasonings, prove harmful.
Perfect obedience to the laws of being is the only means of ensuring perfect health and an adult, with fully developed brain and whose reasoning power is mature, is inexcusable if he (or she) does not render intelligent and implicit obedience to these immutable laws.
Because of the importance he attached to food and correct diet, Trall said editorially in December 1858 that he was accused of being a mono-maniac on the subject of eating. In spite of this he declared that "in all our prescriptions for invalids, let what will ail them, we attend to the dietary as well as the bathing, the breathing, the exercise, etc." One patient complained that in all of Trall's advice to his consultants he "insisted on a correct dietary in every case." This consultant was "willing to admit that some folks ought to attend to diet, but that all should seemed to him to be making one remedy apply to all kinds of persons and all manner of diseases." It seems that he overlooked the fact that dietary indiscretions were general.
The prevailing customs of our society provide a very poor guide, not only to the times of eating, but as to the quantity and kinds of things to be eaten. We eat for mere gratification, far too much; for principle, far too little. As a necessary consequence of such eating practices, we curtail our gustatory enjoyment and reduce our physical and mental efficiency. The man who cannot enjoy a plain, simple meal of a few foods, these simply prepared or in their natural state, is not yet converted to the Hygienic diet.
The unprocessed, uncontaminated, unadulterated natural article of food which we like best is best for us and the natural, unchanged article for which we have a dislike is not good for us. This is true as a principle applicable to the race as a whole and cannot be confined to the individual likes and dislikes. What we have here said of foods applies equally as certainly to medication. Nature never provided man with an appetite for any or several of her compounds that will injure him, nor withheld an appetite for one that will do him real good. When nature takes away the appetite for a wholesome substance, it is because we have eaten enough of it. When she is ready for us to eat again, she provides such a desire for food that we relish food and nothing else will do.
Nature provides us with whole foods and we alter them until they are no longer adapted to the nutritive requirements of our constitution. Our nutritive adaptations, represented by the sense of taste, are no longer sure guides to eating after our foods are so much altered. For this reason man's normal instincts fail him when he attempts to live upon a diet of processed and refined foods that have been sweetened and seasoned in a way to deceive his sense of taste.
It will not do to advise: "Be careful of your diet." Such advice is empty of precise meaning and each person will interpret it to suit his own opinions and whims. One will think that he is "being careful" if he omits the third cup of coffee; a second will think the advice is carried out if he eats only one large slice of roast pork; a third will be content to merely reduce the condiments and trimmings he customarily eats. It is essential that the diet be specified and, if need be, that we see that the patient is careful in abstaining from everything but water. The body casts off nothing but useless matter and excess, but such are the prevailing eating practices that our excretory organs must work overtime to free us of excess food and of the many foodless harmfuls that we imagine we enjoy.
Our eating is largely a matter of habit and commonly we cultivate our eating habits without intelligent thought. We are inclined to follow the general practices of those around us until our habits dominate our lives. When habit has become master, so that it is found difficult to turn down food, it should be realized that good habits can also become master and that once old habits have been broken and good ones cultivated in their stead, it will be found that the new habits are even more pleasurable. One of our worst eating habits is that of overeating. In this country, at least, overeating is practically universal.
The bestial rivalry and shameless prodigality of the treasure of life which are the concomitants of feasting and revelry, where food and drink are plentiful and tempting, grow from ignorance and wilful disregard of the true physiological relations of food and drink to the body. When visiting friends and dining with them, we are customarily urged to eat more and still more after we have eaten all we desire, perhaps more than we should. Host and hostess continue their urgings and, if we are not strong, we are likely to be influenced by their importunings. This is a social crime for which there seems to be no remedy short of social enlightenment.
What is the difference between the man who kills himself with habitual gluttony and the man who destroys his life with habitual drinking? The early Hygienists strongly recommended the two-meals-a-day plan long before Dr. Dewey crusaded for the no-breakfast plan. It was the view of Trall that "it is of little consequence whether you eat two or three meals (a day), provided you are correct in the whole quantity of the food taken and are correct in your other habits." In discussing the superiority of the two-meal plan, he said: "Whether two meals are eaten or three, one should be moderate in quantity and choice of materials." Moderation in eating may be said to be of paramount importance.
The very existence of teeth implies the need for chewing; the existence of salivary glands and their secretions implies the necessity for insalivation of food; the existence of salivary amylase implies the need for its digestive action. Even the infant masticates, in a physiological sense, the first meal it draws from the maternal fountain. Yet, heretofore physiologists have tended to deprecate the importance of chewing and of salivary digestion.
Just as physiologists have, heretofore, tended to underestimate the importance of mouth digestion, so they tend to underestimate the importance of gastric digestion. It is not unusual to read in scientific works that "so far as the digestive process is concerned, the stomach is a helpful, but not a necessary organ." One standard biological text says that "in addition to storing and softening the food, the stomach serves as a disinfector; for very few bacteria can survive the high degree of acidity of the stomach." Thus the importance of the work done in the stomach in initiating protein digestion is regularly discounted, while the continuation of starch digestion in the stomach is considered unimportant.
We have an elaborate organ, evidently adapted to serve very important functions, equipped with millions of microscopic glands that pour their secretions into the stomach and these adapted to secure certain definite and apparently useful results, and an elaborate nerve control of both the muscular and glandular activities of the stomach, and all of this for very trivial and dispensable activities! It doesn't make good sense except to a biologist or a physiologist, bent on justifying the surgical removal of the stomach.
Such is the complex apparatus by means of which is performed that marvelous function of transforming the proximate elements of vegetable substances into the feeling, thinking and acting structures of the animal--blood, organs, brain, nerve and muscle--and such is the importance of their functions that we should not overlook the care of the digestive organs in our Hygiene.
Stressing the importance of simple meals and advising that the meals be not complicated, either with too much variety or with condiments, Trall said: "It does not follow that because the digestive apparatus appears to be a complication and intermixture, as it were, of various tissues, of arteries, nerves, muscles, veins, absorbents and cells, that the articles of food must also be promiscuously mixed up and jumbled together in all possible ways."
He adds: "The grand essential in eating is simplicity of material. For this reason, a plain, mixed diet is often much better than a highly-seasoned, or greatly mixed and mingled vegetarian diet. Plain bread and beef may be better than puddings and sauces, where fruits and vegetables of various kinds are rendered fermentable and indigestible by profuse additions of salt, sugar, milk, butter, spices, etc.
"Food must not only be plain, and plainly cooked, and materials unchanged in their natural proximate qualities, but must be eaten slowly. And if all bread were made of unbolted grain, as it should be, and if none of it were either raised or fermented, as it never should be, we would have no difficulty in securing proper mastication and, hence, pure appetites with good digestion.
"Such food would soon give us natural appetites. We would soon find ample enjoyment and perfect satisfaction in eating without the pernicious additions of stimulants and condiments to provoke the appetite."
Physiological science had not advanced far enough to enable the early Hygienists to work out valid rules for food combining, but they did give considerable attention to this subject. It was a common practice among them, when called to care for patients with delicate digestion, to feed but one food at a meal in order not to complicate the digestive process. Graham himself, at an early period in his labors, advocated one food at a meal where difficulty arose in digesting simple meals.
Although not much was known of the physiology of gastric digestion, Hygienists understood vaguely that any valid rules for food combining would have to be based upon the physiology of digestion. Writing in The Science of Health, June 1874, Julia Coleman said: "The character of the gastric juice in individuals is influenced by the character of the food which they habitually take. This capacity for adjustment man seems to possess in a greater degree than most other animals. But it does not follow that these adjustments do not sometimes tax the system severely, and reduce its capacity for exertion in other directions, no doubt very often shortening life when greatly contrary to nature."
Nature is abundantly capable of making all the compounds that it is well for man to have without his blind assistance. The cook disputes this and mixes foods indiscriminately. Although no other creature eats such food mixtures as man eats and although they lack the means of mixing and processing foods, we take no lesson from this. All the lower animals, except a few for whom man supplies mixed foods, do very well without the mixing. They are all uniformly more healthy and vigorous than man. They do not lose their young from sickness, while man presents a high infant death rate.
All of this does not matter. Our cooks can disobey the natural order and they do it when they mix foods to induce man to eat foods that he never relishes alone. By thus forcing upon the body substances that it does not want in order to get what it does want, man's diet is rendered unwholesome. When we eat mixed foods, we are forced to eat them just as they are mixed; but if our foods are not mixed, we can eat each food separately and take as much or as little of it as we desire. If we take other foods at the same meal, we can see that no incompatible mixtures are taken.
Physicians and pharmacologists go far beyond the cook in this destructive art of mixing (compounding) various substances, not one of which man would relish to eat separately and, against the most violent remonstrances of the body, force their vile compounds into the one place they should never be introduced-the human body.
It was said that nature plainly says: "Eat of my compounds what you like best, and I will signify when you have eaten enough . . . The instant hunger is satisfied is the time to cease eating. If you persist in eating beyond this time, then I will send you another real friend--pain--who will compel you to cease eating before you do yourself irreparable harm. I shall make you suffer so much that you will lack all excuse for eating too much at a later time." How common is the practice of smothering the disciplining voice of pain and discomfort with a drug after meals!
If we cannot enjoy eating in the highest degree, this should be interpreted as a command to wait until we can enjoy food. There need be no fear of injuring ourselves by thus fasting until food can be eaten with a keen relish. Nature is a good conservator. Before she will permit a man to injure himself by fasting, she gives him such an imperious demand for food that he can no longer resist eating. Then if he chooses from among wholesome whole foods one that he likes, it will prove best for him.
Sometimes we are asked: "But God or nature has combined starch and protein in the same food; are not grain and legumes such combinations? How do you explain such natural combinations if starches and proteins should not be taken together?" We are asked this question very often and, although we have answered it repeatedly, the question will not down. The answer is as suggested in the foregoing quotation from Julia Coleman, that the digestive tube can adapt its digestive juices to the requirements of natural combinations, as these are found in an article of food; but such adaptations are not possible when a meal of several foods is eaten. There is a vast difference between a food, whatever its combination, and a meal in which foods are indiscriminately and haphazardly commingled. We are not indebted to the earlier Hygienists for any of our rules of food combining, but we are indebted to them for the initial studies of the subject.
The same law should govern man's eating as governs the eating of all other creatures: that is, eat what is most desired of nature's organic compounds and eat no others. Man violates this law when he eats compounds of his own compounding. Herein lies a great source of mischief. All the advantages that come from having a perfect guide were thrown away when man attempted to improve nature and re-compound or uncompound her compounds. In other words, when he began to mix foods and to process them and to substitute medicines for obedience to law, he paved the way for much suffering. His object in thus mixing and processing foods was to see if he could not obtain something that would taste better than nature's compounds. His object in mixing medicines was to see if he could not obtain a substance that would cure him while he continued disobedient to the laws of nature. He has not succeeded in either of these objectives.
One of the most common complaints in our society is that of indigestion. Millions of dollars are spent yearly for drugs with which to palliate the discomforts occasioned by indigestion. Every effect has a cause and we may be certain that every case of indigestion has at least one cause and in most cases we will find, on close investigation, several contributing factors. One man will complain that he cannot eat the simplest meal without suffering. Another will declare that he has tried all manners of diets and ways of living and that it makes no difference: "My food sours on my stomach, no matter what or how little I eat." He must have his after-dinner pill or his sodium bicarbonate after each meal.
Why should a dinner cause trouble? Or why should the same dinner, eaten by several people at a banquet, trouble one or two and not all the diners? Why should any wholesome food, eaten in moderation, cause troubles? Much indigestion is due to overeating; much of it is due to wrong combinations of food; some of it is due to impairment of the digestive system; some of it is due to emotional causes; some of it is due to eating at a time when no food should be taken.
The stomach can digest food only as it is supplied with blood and nerve impulses with which to carry on its function. If these are withdrawn by either physical or mental effort, digestion must suffer. If, while fatigued from the day's activity, one sits down to the dining table and eats a hearty meal, one will not digest food well. When fatigued and drowsy from overeating, it is not well to try to make a speech. We blame an inebriate who makes himself unreliable and unfits himself for useful work by drinking, but we excuse the man who does the same by overindulgence in food and by eating heartily when fatigued.
Some men and women are so mentally active that their mental activities run away, so to speak, with their nervous energy and, when, following an afternoon spent in mental work or excitement, they come home in the evening with a ravenous desire to eat, they lack power to digest the "heterogeneous comminglement" of food stuffs with which they fill their stomachs. Energy that should have been on hand for digestion, having been squandered, does not permit the digestion of any but the simplest meal.
It is surprising how reckless people can be with their energy. In one debauch, one may waste sufficient energy to supply his functional needs for a whole year. If a man is addicted to any vice--alcohol, coffee, tobacco, etc.--that impairs his digestive function, it is the worst kind of folly to think that his digestion can be normalized while the habit is indulged. The best of diets, the simplest of meals are often difficult of digestion, not because there is anything wrong with the food eaten, but because there is a lack of digestive capacity.
In impaired health the normal composition of the nutrients and secretions is impaired and the processes of renewal take place with an energy proportionately deficient. For this reason, recovery of health may be slow and great care in feeding becomes necessary for a prolonged period of time before full digestive capacity is restored. It is an unfortunate fact that these sufferers are usually impatient and expect immediate results to flow from any change of eating which they may make. They are not strictly illogical in expecting immediate results and they do receive immediate benefits, but these are so small as to be hardly noticeable and their progress is often so slow as to be discouraging.
One important requirement in the restoration of normal function is rest--rest not only of the impaired organ (in this case, the stomach), but rest of the whole body. Trall disagreed with those who advised sleeping after a hearty meal. He especially thought that sleeping after the midday meal is not for man, as he should be alert through the day and sleep at night. He thought that when sleepiness follows a meal, either too much was eaten or something else was wrong with the meal. If we are to attach any importance to this thought, we can apply it only to the healthy, vigorous individual--it is certain that the sick, the weak, the devitalized, the profoundly enervated should have rest and sleep after each meal. Any intellectual, emotional or physical stress will so reduce the already impaired digestive capacity that such individuals will be almost certain to suffer.
Our predecessors declared that cooking is more seductive and deceitful than poisonous plants. The latter we usually know and shun; the former are made attractive and we crave them. Yes, cooked foods are made attractive, alike to sight, taste and smell, and this is a great point. It is necessary, in the very constitution of our being, that our foods should be made attractive. Attractive food is more gratefully received and more easily digested; nature recognizes this demand. Nearly all of our best foods, those which in their natural state are ready for our use, are attractive. Fruit is superlatively so. It is true that some people do not care for fruit; usually their taste is so perverted by sharp condiments, or bitter tobacco, or burned up by fiery alcohol that they are unable to appreciate the delicate and delicious flavors of fruits.
It is a fact that nature knows nothing about cooking. It is also a fact that cooking in all its forms deteriorates the nutritional value of all foods, rendering them less adequate as sources of nutriment. It has been a Hygienic principle from the first that anything that is genuinely valuable for human food may be eaten as nature produces it. It does not require cooking, mixing and seasoning in order to make it palatable, digestible and useful.
"Follow nature," we are admonished. Yet, indeed! But let us be sure that we are following nature and not some partial view of her. Nature has her harmonies, contrasts and discords in foods as in colors. There is no more necessity for preparing unwholesome foods than there is to raise poisonous plants.