What Kind Of Food Should We Be Eating For Maximum Health?
Generally speaking, our Appetites will Guide us. Our whole body is an ingenious machine for catching food, digesting it, and turning the energy, or fuel value, which it contains, into life, movement, and growth.
Naturally, two things follow: first, that the kind and amount of food which we eat is of great importance; and second, that from the millions of years of experience that the human body has had in trying all sorts of foods, it has adapted itself to certain kinds of food and developed certain likes and dislikes which we call appetites. Those who happened to like unhealthy and unwholesome foods were poisoned, or grew thin and weak and died off, so that we are descended solely from people who had sound and reliable food appetites; and, in the main, what our instincts and appetites tell us about food is to be depended upon.
The main questions which we have to consider are: How much of the different kinds of food it is best for us to eat, and in what proportions we should use them. Both men and animals, since the world began, have been trying to eat and digest almost everything that they could get into their mouths. And what we now like and prepare as foods are the things which have stood the test, and proved them able to yield strength and nourishment to the body. So practically every food that comes upon our tables has some kind of real food value, or it wouldn’t appear there.
The most careful study and analysis have shown that almost every known food has some peculiar advantage, such as digestibility, or cheapness, or pleasant taste as flavouring for other more nutritious, but less interesting, foods. But some foods have much higher degrees of nutritious or digestible or wholesome than others; so that our problem is to pick out from a number of foods that “taste good” to us, those which are the most nutritious, the most digestible, and the most wholesome, and to see that we get plenty of them. It is not that certain foods, or classes of food, are “good,” and should be eaten to the exclusion of all others; nor that certain foods, or classes of food, are “bad,” and should be excluded from our tables entirely; but that certain foods are more nutritious, or more wholesome, than others; and that it is best to see that we get plenty of the former before indulging our appetites upon the latter.
Beware of Tainted Food. The most dangerous fault that any food can have is that it shall be tainted, or spoiled, or smell bad. Spoiling, or tainting, means that the food has become infected by some germs of putrefaction, generally bacteria or moulds (see chapter 26). It is the poisons called ptomaine’s, or toxins produced by these germs which cause the serious disturbances in the stomach, and not either the amount or the kind of food itself. Even a regular “gorge” upon early apples or watermelon or cake or ice cream will not give you half so bad, nor so dangerous, colic as one little piece of tainted meat or fish or egg, or one cupful of dirty milk, or a single helping of cabbage or tomatoes that have begun to spoil, or of jam made out of spoiled berries or other fruit. This spoiling can be prevented by strict cleanliness in handling foods, especially milk, meat, and fruit; by keeping foods screened from dust and flies; and by keeping them cool with ice in summer time, thus checking the growth of these “spoiling” germs. The refrigerator in the kitchen prevents colic or diarrhoea, ice in hot weather is one of the necessaries of life. Smell every piece of food to be eaten, in the kitchen before it is cooked, if possible; but if not, at the table avoid everything that has an unpleasant odour, or tastes queer, and you will avoid two-thirds of the colic, diarrhoea, and bilious attacks which are so often supposed to be due to eating too much.
Variety in Food is Necessary:
Man has always lived on, and apparently required, a great variety of foods, animal and vegetable fish and flesh, nuts, fruit, grains, fat, sugar, and vegetables. Indeed, it was probably because man could live on anything and everything that he was able to survive in famines and to get so far ahead of all other sorts of animals.
We still need a great variety of different sorts of food in order to keep our health; so our tendency to become tired of a certain food, after we have had it over and over and over again, for breakfast, dinner, and supper, is a sound and healthy one. There is no “best food”; nor is there any one food on which we can live and work, as an engine will work all its “life” on one kind of coal, wood, or oil. No one kind of food contains all the stuffs that our body is made of and needs, in exactly the right proportions. It takes a dozen or more different kinds of food to supply these, and the body picks out what it wants, and throws away the remainder.
Even the best and most nutritious and digestible single food, like meat, or bread and butter, or sugar, is not sufficient by itself; nor will it do for every meal in the day, or every day in the week. We must eat other things with it; and we must from time to time change it for something which may even be not quite so nutritious, in order to give our body the opportunity to select from a great variety of foods the particular things which its wonderful instincts and skill can use to build it up and keep it healthy. This is why every grocery store, every butcher shop, every fish market, and every confectioner’s shows such a great variety of different kinds of foods put up and prepared in all sorts of ways. Although nearly two-thirds of the actual fuel which we put into our body-boilers is in the form of a dozen or fifteen great staple foods, like bread, meat, butter, sugar, eggs, milk, potatoes, and fish, yet all the lighter foods, also, are needed for perfect health.
It is possible, by careful selection, and by taking a great deal of trouble, to supply all the elements of the body from animal foods alone, or from vegetable foods alone. But practically, it has everywhere, and in all ages, been found that the best and most healthful diet is a proper combination of animal and vegetable foods. Our starches, for instance, which furnish most of our fuel, though they give us comparatively little to build up, or repair, the body with, are found, as we have seen, in the vegetable kingdom, in grains and fruits; while most of our proteins and fats, which chiefly give us the materials with which to build up, or repair, the body, are found in the animal kingdom. There is no advantage whatever in trying to exclude either animal food or vegetable food from our dietary. Both animal and vegetable foods are wholesome in their proper place, and their proper place is on the table together.
Those nations which live solely, or even chiefly, upon one or two kinds of staple foods, such as rice, potatoes, corn-meal, or yams, do so solely because they are too poor to afford other kinds of food, or too lazy, or too uncivilised, to get them; and instead of being healthier and longer-lived than civilised races, they are much more subject to disease and live only about half as long.
THE THREE GREAT CLASSES OF FOOD-FUEL
Food is Fuel: Now what is the chief quality which makes one kind of food preferable to another? As our body machine runs entirely upon the energy or “strength” which it gets out of its food, a good food must have plenty of fuel value; that is to say, it must be capable of burning and giving off heat and steaming-power. Other things being equal, the more it has of this fuel value, the more desirable and valuable it will be as a food. From this point of view, foods may be roughly classified, after the fashion of the materials needed to build a fire in a grate or stove, as Coal foods, Kindling foods, and Paper foods. Although coal, kindling, and paper are of very different fuel values, they are all necessary to start the fire in the grate and to keep it burning properly. Moreover, any one of them would keep a fire going alone, after a fashion, provided that you had a grate or furnace large enough to burn it in, and could shovel it in fast enough; and the same is true, to a certain degree, of the foods in the body.
How to Judge the Fuel Value of Foods:
One of the best ways of roughly determining whether a given food belongs in the Coal, the Kindling, or the Paper class, is to take a handful or spoonful of it, dry it thoroughly by some means, evaporating, or driving off the water, and then throw what is left into a fire and see how it will burn. A piece of beef, for instance, would shrink a good deal in drying; but about one-third of it would be left, and this dried beef would burn quite briskly and would last for some time in the fire. A piece of bread of the same size would not shrink so much, but would lose about the same proportion of its weight; and it also would burn with a clear, hot flame, though not quite so long as the beef. A piece of fat of the same size would shrink very little in drying and would burn with a bright, hot flame, nearly twice as long as either the beef or the bread. These would all be classed as Coal foods.
Then if we were to dry a slice of apple, it would shrink down into a little leathery shaving; and this, when thrown into the fire, would burn with a smudgy kind of flame, give off very little heat, and soon smoulder away. A piece of raw potato of the same size would shrink even more, but would give a hotter and cleaner flame. A leaf of cabbage, or a piece of beet-root, or four or five large strawberries would shrivel away in the drying almost to nothing and, if thoroughly dried, would disappear in a flash when thrown on the fire. These, then, accept the potato, we should regard as kindling foods.
But it would take a large handful of lettuce leaves, or a big cup of beef-tea, or a good-sized bowl of soup, or a big cucumber, or a gallon of tea or coffee, to leave sufficient solid remains when completely dried, to make more than a flash when thrown into the fire. These, then, are Paper foods, with little fuel value.