Balancing The Diet
( Originally Published 1921 )
In addition to knowing which are the better foods to use, it is important that we should have some idea of the proportions in which to use them and how to combine them into tasty menus which shall also form an adequate or complete diet.
The most common fault in the American bill of fare is the over-use of meats, denatured grain foods (including breads, pastries and "cereal" dishes), potatoes, and refined sugars and fats.
The simplest remedy for this fault is the de-crease of the foods mentioned, and the increased proportions of milk, butter, cheese and eggs and of leafy vegetables. The increased use of natural whole cereals, fruits, nuts and a general assortment of vegetables, while not so important as the milk and greens, is generally beneficial and advisable.
Any menus prepared with these facts in mind will not be far wrong.
In considering the subject of proportioning and combining the foods, we should distinguish between the matter of food combinations in a single dish or a single meal, and the question of the combinations or proportions of various foods. in the general diet over longer periods.-
Our reasons for considering the more immediate combinations is either a matter of taste and palatability or a question of the digestibility of foods eaten together, or eaten at the same meal. This question of immediate combination of foods. has little to do with the balancing of the diet as a whole. The body has power to store the various. elements of nutrition for a considerable period; therefore it is not necessary that we use all essential groups of nutritive elements in the same meal, or even in the same day. A breakfast made of sweet fruits and nuts, a dinner with an ample proportion of green vegetables, and a supper with an adequate quantity of milk would be more satisfactory from the standpoint of nutrition than if all these food groups were included in each and every meal. The digestion would be better, due to the simplification of the meal, and the fact that the digestive ferments would have fewer kinds of substances with which to deal.
On the question of the exact combinations of food ingredients in each meal we have very little definite knowledge. Even some of the views generally held on this question are without scientific foundation. Thus we are almost invariably told that one should not eat acid fruit with milk. The prejudice against this combination arises from the fact that milk mixed with an acid is curdled, producing a product of unattractive appearance and which is supposed to be indigestible. As a matter of fact, milk is invariably curdled in the stomach by the hydrochloric acid. Hence its mixture with the milder fruit juice only anticipates this step a little and probably does not affect the digestibility at all.
Another combination against which we are sometimes warned is that of acid fruits and starches. There is a little more scientific theory to back this teaching. Starch is only digested in an alkaline medium, and hence the addition of acid in the food may interfere with its digestion. Even in this case it is probable that, in a healthy digestive tract, the acid is over-balanced by the stimulation of an extra section of alkali, and hence the matter is automatically righted.
The question of immediate combination foods must rest, more or less, with the individual and his personal observation of the ease with which he digests various combinations. If he finds that a particular dish or food combination gives him digestive trouble of any sort, it is best either to eliminate the trouble-giving foods altogether, or to seek out simpler ways or simpler combinations in which to use them.
Individuals differ greatly in their digestive capacity, and in their susceptibility to digestive troubles because of various foods or food combinations. There are some dishes that are notoriously indigestible, such as mince pie, plum pudding or pig's knuckles and other heavy, "rich" dishes. These will naturally be avoided by any careful person. But with simpler and more wholesome dishes, such as are advised in this book, the question of immediate food combinations need not trouble you, unless from personal experience you find that they give you distress.
The two following menus, both of which include meat foods, will illustrate the difference between an unbalanced or deficient diet and a balanced or adequate one. Three meals per day are presented because of conventional requirement, but my own personal requirements consist of one or two hearty meals daily, though the number of meals daily is entirely a matter of habit, and is not of great importance, provided one does not eat without appetite, merely because it is meal time, and does not eat beyond his digestive capacity. It is the quantity and quality of the diet, not the meal plan that is important. This is dealt with more fully in later chapters.
A DEFICIENT MENU
AN ADEQUATE MENU
Cream of Celery Soup
The first of these menus is over-supplied with denatured cereal products and utterly lacking in green vegetables. A hard working man able to consume large quantities of such food might exist on it, even without the addition of milk. For a growing child or a person of sedentary occupation, the diet would be unsafe. Even the addition of milk, while it would help somewhat, would still leave the diet devoid of bulky vegetable fibre, which fact would probably produce constipation; moreover, the body's craving for missing elements would likely lead to over-eating and consequent obesity.
When using milk also carefully note that sweet milk does not combine very well with meats, cooked eggs or some cooked vegetables It is better to make milk a large part of a meal when used, and combine sweet or acid fruits with it. Dates or raisins are ideal with it, though prunes, figs or other sweet fruits can be recommended.
Soured milk products will combine satisfactorily with nearly all foods.
When digestion is normal vegetarian diets are generally safer than meat diets because the absence of meat usually results in the eating of a greater variety of fruits and vegetables in an effort to gain palatability. But it is very easy for a vegetarian diet also to be inadequate for complete nutrition if large quantities of cereal starches are used. The following two examples will illustrate the difference between a deficient and an adequate vegetarian menu:
A DEFICIENT VEGETARIAN MENU
Macaroni with Tomato Sauce
AN ADEQUATE VEGETARIAN MENU
Bean Soup with Whole Wheat Bread
Mush, made of Whole Ground Corn and served with plenty of Milk
The first of the above named menus contains entirely too much cereal food, and that cereal in a denatured form. The use of nut butter and fruits and vegetables given will not protect such a diet from deficiencies. The second diet is equally simple and inexpensive. By the inclusion of milk, butter and cheese and a little leafy vegetables the menu becomes a safe one.
The following simple rules will summarize the principles we have been considering and will serve as a guide for the selecting and proportioning of foods in the planning of menus.
The use of too much milk with other foods will at times make one more liable to colds and the various diseases that begin with symptoms of this nature, though milk will always insure a satisfactory quantity of nourishment. Some use a quart of fresh whole milk a day for each member of the family. This is usually too liberal a portion though it will cover a multitude of other possible defects in the diet, provided there is no tendency to colds. It is given as a safe minimum, especially for growing children, in case other foods of the milk group are not used. If dairy butter, eggs, and cheese are used liberally in the diet, the quantity of milk per person may be reduced to a pint or less a day. But growing children should have their full allowance of a quart of fresh whole milk and consume correspondingly less of other foods if you are not sure they are being thoroughly nourished with other foods. With my own children, when I give them a liberal quantity of milk they are given fruit only (acid or sweet) with it. Raisins and milk or dates and milk is a favorite meal. When giving them a hearty meal composed of a full variety of foods I rarely give them milk. It is not desirable, and they do not need it at such times. For milk used in cookery, canned or evaporated milk may be substituted for the fresh, the equivalent ratio being a :pound can of the evaporated milk for a quart of the fresh.
Use at least one dish of leafy vegetables per day—or better still, one cooked dish of such vegetables and one of uncooked salad. Do not merely use a few leaves of lettuce or sprigs of parsley and call it a leafy salad; use ample quantities of lettuce or other salad greens, combining with other ingredients desired to give variety and flavor.
The problem of getting leafy vegetables in all markets at all seasons of the year is sometimes a vexatious one. On northern farms or in small towns there are often few leafy foods available from November to May. Cabbage and celery, however, are leafy foods which keep well in the winter. Kale, which should be more grown, has wonderful frost-resisting powers, and will stay green through the winter in all but the most severe climates. In large city markets, even in the North, kale, spinach and lettuce are on sale throughout the winter. If, for a time, no fresh leafy vegetables are available, use canned spinach, canned string beans, and an abundance of general fruits and vegetables.
Use whole grain products in both breads and cereal dishes. This rule can be departed from, in part, where the diet is adequately protected otherwise, as here advised. White flour has some uses in cookery, for which whole wheat flour cannot be easily substituted. There is no excuse, however, for the use of the devitalized white flour bread in any diet unless you are suffering from chronic diarrhea; then it may be advised for a short time. Moreover, once you have found where you can buy, or learn to make a good quality of whole wheat bread, you will find that you prefer it to the white variety. The same is true of whole cornmeal and of unpolished rice.
Use sugar sparingly. Instead, use more sweet fruits, hone , and, if possible, maple syrup. Honey is the easiest of all sweets to digest. provided its nourishing elements are needed by the body.
If you use meat at all, learn to use it as a flavor food and not as a filling food. A quarter of a pound per person per day is usually an ample quantity.
Use nuts, if you wish, in the place of meat. Not that they are specifically needed as a meat substitute, but rather that nuts used in cookery will produce many delightful. dishes arid, there-fore, reduce the temptation to use meat because of habit or appetite. But to use large quantities of both nuts and meat is foolish. It unduly enriches the diet in protein and fat.
Use vegetable oils in salad dressings and in cooking operations that require fat. Do not use vegetable oils or nut margarines as a substitute for dairy butter, except in menus containing very considerable quantities of milk, or of milk and eggs, or milk and cheese.
Use as much fresh fruit as you can reasonably afford.
Use beans, peas and macaroni—so-called meat substitutes—as you would use rice or hominy. These foods are tasty, but have no superior value over similar filling dishes derived from grains.
A very practical way to check up on the proper proportioning or balancing of the diet is by "balancing the grocery bill." This is only an approximate method, to be sure, and no absolute rules can be laid down because of the wide variations of food prices with locations, and from year to year or season to season. Notwithstanding these wide variations in price the summary of the grocery bill with the items classified by groups will generally show whether the diet is approximately correct or seriously unbalanced.
The following food lists will illustrate this method. They may be taken as the grocery bills of two families, each consisting of a man and wife and two half grown children. The prices are those prevailing in New York City at the time this book is being written, and while these prices will not be good for any other place and time, yet the relative prices will not be very far off.
The second bill has a large, and, at these prices, seemingly extravagant expenditure for the foods of the milk group. But the total expenditure for all foods is approximately the same and both bills furnish approximately the same amount of food value as measured in calories. The well-balanced grocery bill gives us more variety and should be more appetizing for all those not hopelessly wedded to the use of meats and pastries.
The chief distinction that we wish to point out is not a matter of either economy or tastiness in the diet, but the difference between the complete versus the inadequate diet. With the first bill there would be serious danger of deficiency of vitamines and minerals, while the second bill has abundance of both.
Because of the variation in. food prices we cannot give an absolute rule regarding the percent-ages of the total cost of food that should be expended for each food group. The following general rule will, however, be helpful.
The expenditure for the milk group, including butter, cheese and eggs, should be by far the greatest item. The expenditure of an amount equaling thirty to forty per cent of the total food bill upon foods of the milk group will do much to safeguard the diet against deficiencies.
The expenditures for grain products need not be over ten or fifteen per cent of the total bill; this is only possible, however, when cakes and pastries and the fancy breakfast foods are omitted and grain products' are used in simple, natural forms as whole-grained cereals or simply and preferably as whole-grained breads.
There is no need for any of the five remaining food groups occasioning an expenditure of more than fifteen per cent of the total bill; of these, usually the meat and fruit will be the greatest. Vegetables should not run over twenty per cent of the total bill, and the amount may be kept at much lower than this, except during the winter season in the large cities; then the necessity of securing sufficient leafy vegetables may run this. item up until it compares with the cost of fresh fruits.
If the expenditures for any one of the seven food groups do not vary over five per cent from the amounts given below, the diet may be counted on to be safe and well-balanced. Those who are confused by percentages may merely consider the items in this table as the number of cents to be spent for each food group out of each dollar of the total food bill.
APPROXIMATE PERCENTAGES OF EXPENDITURE FOR EACH FOOD GROUP
Obviously this table is made up for city people. Those living on farms will be able to secure the foods from some of these groups at little cash cost; and attempting to calculate the proportions on a farm cost basis would upset the balance of the diet. If you live on a farm you should be able to secure an adequate diet more readily and more cheaply than the city dweller. Yet the fact remains that the farm diet is often badly balanced and lacking in the items of the milk, leafy vegetables -and fruit groups. These highly essential foods, for which the city man must pay what to the farmer would be exorbitant prices, are part of your compensation for living away from the bright lights and superficial pleasures of city life. When you fail to make use of the health-giving elements of country life, you lose out all around.