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Diets And Stimulants

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

DOGMATISM on any subject is dangerous; in matters of food it is fatal. One man's meat is literally another man's poison, and because one of the writers knows that personally he can digest without the slightest discomfort a heavy supper, sleep the sleep of the just, and rise cheerful and hungry for breakfast, he would be making a great mistake in recommending such a course for a dyspeptic person, with a view to the strengthening of his digestive processes. In fact, if a naturally dyspeptic person persevered in such a system, this unfortunate scribe would probably be summoned to attend—with shame and dishonor-a coroner's inquest. On the other hand, should the dyspeptic so far win him over as to make him give what he would call a "fair trial" to a simple diet, "the only diet," he would say, "on which it is possible to keep fairly well," he would, if it was persevered with, be probably asked in a public place what he knew about this suicide. But the moral of these gloomy reflections is clear enough ; namely, that in questions of eating, and drinking, and smoking, what is to be ascertained is the diet which will keep A or B in good health for the proper performance of a citizen's duties. Whatever diet (or absence of diet) continues to give good results after a protracted trial is almost certainly good for the individual in question. Whether it would be good for another individual it is impossible to say, but if any one person, even though he lived exclusively on green cigars and Egyptian mummies, continued to be in his most excellent health on such adiet, it would be foolish to urge him, except on the score of expense in the way of import duties, to change it.

But the majority of people are not at their best, and know it. When they are in hard work which, as far as we can see in the present highly competitive state of the world, is becoming the normal condition for man, their bodily health, and in particular their bodily activity, sensibly declines. Then perhaps there comes a lull, and they rush off into the country to be out of doors all day, and play games, or shoot, or hunt, and get sensibly better. They have more appetite for food, and as a natural consequence digest it better, since wholesome appetite is a fair enough signpost pointing to the pleasant place called "Eat." Then the lull ceases; they go back to work again, with a gradual decline of appetite. At these crossroads, so to speak, for the most part they take the wrong turning, and continue to eat as much as before. Horrors ensue.

The fact is that most people when taking a great deal of exercise are able to digest, and, what is not less important, to assimilate, not only larger quantities of food than they can assimilate when in full sedentary work, but a different sort of food. As a rule they know of only one change of diet, alluded to contemptuously as "vegetarianism," and connected in their minds with huge platefuls of damp cabbage, of which the most valuable salts have been boiled out and thrown away by an ignorant cook. They are further "put off" by what appears to most people preposterous notions about the sin, no less, of eating animal food. In fact, bad cooking and tactless enthusiasm have hand in hand done their utmost to ruin the vegetarian cause. To eat damp cabbage can be, by no conceivable process, good for anybody, and to shun animal food because it implies death to an animal is a motive which does not appeal to the majority, who, without examining any possible truth it may contain, label it a fad. And there is nothing which in the minds of ordinary people, who most naturally and sensibly do not wish to spend the whole of their lives in discovering the diet which best suits them, is more strongly prejudicial to any examination of a new system than to suspect it of being faddy. They naturally desire a regime of which the common-sense appeals to them, and the common-sense of that which is ordinarily called vegetarianism is far to seek. Many people have found that the amount of meat which they usually eat is not very good for them : that three flesh meals a day are excessive in the way of animal food ; on the other hand they must have some-thing substituted for the meat, and they turn to vegetarianism, and perhaps try a meal at some vegetarian eating-house. One of the present writers tried it. For an hour or rather less he felt that he would never eat again as long as he lived, then, almost without transition, he felt that he wished to eat the whole world round. And he fled back to the fleshpots of Egypt.

But nowadays vegetarianism is studied by certain people in a spirit of scientific investigation, and its results, rationally arrived at, are likely to prove of the most permanent value. It is the greatest possible mistake to suppose that all vegetables and fruits are equally supporting ; some are highly nutritious, others are hardly nutritious at all, and to load the stomach with immense masses of a food which has a low nutritious value, in order to get sufficient nutriment, will probably produce results on health worse even than those from which the man who found that he was taking excessive quantities of animal food tried to escape.*

Briefly, then, the scientific view of food in general is as follows.

Food has to supply waste of tissue and make repairs.

Food has to supply heat (fuel for the continual combustion of the body) and a certain amount of fat.

Food—so it is usually asserted and largely believed—has to give the stomach a certain amount of fibrous matter to supply bulk which will enable the system, by natural means, to cleanse and flush itself internally, and throw off the waste for which it has no use, but which exists in greater or smaller quantities in all foods.

Incidentally, also, food should be of such taste and nature as easily to excite the saliva, which is almost indispensable to procure digestion.

Now the one great necessity without which we die is proteid, because proteid supplies (and nothing else in the world supplies) the waste which daily and hourly goes on in the body. It is present in conveniently large quantities in all meat foods, which is one of the main causes of their being eaten, but it is present also in large quantities in cheese, milk-proteid, grains, nuts, and pulses, though in certain other fruits and vegetables it is almost completely absent. It would be practically impossible, for in-stance, to eat enough cabbage to supply the necessary amount of pure proteid per diem, which must, and this is important, not only be swallowed but be digested. On the other hand, it is easily possible to get enough proteid per diem by a meat diet, but it is even easier to get enough from a diet of grains, nuts, pulses, and milk-proteid, provided the right sorts are eaten.

The abridged table giving values of certain common articles of diet both in proteids and also in fattening and heating products will make this clear.

As to drink and stimulants more regard if possible must be paid to what we have called "the presonal equation" than even in matters of food. Excess of everything-for such is the implication of the word itself-must be bad for everybody, but there is no earthly foundation for supposing that what is excess for one person injures another in the very least.

Tea appears to act as a stimulant and restorative to the nervous system. It removes fatigue, rouses and clears the mind, and promotes intellectual energy.

It diminishes the tendency to sleep, and this effect may be carried to the extent of producing sleeplessness. When taken, as it usually is, hot, the warmth of the infusion no doubt aids its stimulating influence. It increases the action of the skin, and has been said to cause constipation, but it certainly, at times, appears to have the opposite effect, and a cup of hot tea will often accelerate the action of aperients. It deadens the sensation of hunger, and increases the power of fasting. It will cool the body when hot—probably by promoting the action of the skin—and it warms the body when cold. It will often relieve headache, and proves a useful antidote to alcoholic intoxication, and especially to that mental torpor which even small quantities of alcohol will produce in certain persons. GREEN tea possesses more active properties than BLACK and is more likely to be over-exciting to the nervous system.

There can be no doubt that for most persons tea taken in moderation, proves an agreeable, refreshing and wholesome beverage. It has been found a most useful article of diet for soldiers, increasing remarkably the power of enduring great fatigue, especially in hot climates. When milk and sugar are added to tea it becomes a nutritious and useful food.

On the other hand, it is quite certain that tea taken in excess, and in some constitutions, may become very injurious. It will not infrequently excite and maintain most troublesome gastric catarrh, the only remedy for which is an entire abstinence from tea for a considerable period. It is often also the cause of troublesome cardiac palpitations, together with muscular tremors, and general nervous agitation. We have noticed that tea will often commence somewhat suddenly to disagree with a per-son, and excite dyspeptic symptoms, coincidently with the occurrence of nervous worry, and that after the cause of nervous anxiety has passed away tea may again be taken, in moderation, with impunity. In irritable states of the stomach tea is also apt to disagree, especially if the coarser teas containing much tannin are taken ; these, when taken in large quantity during or too soon after a meal, will disturb, and often seriously hinder, the digestive process.

The effects of coffee on the system are those of a decided stimulant to the nervous centers. It has been termed in France "une boisson intellectuelle," on account of its stimulating action on the brain. It lessens the need for sleep after exertion and diminishes the sense of fatigue ; indeed, it would appear to have the power of augmenting the functional activity of the muscles..

It has also a decidedly stimulating effect on the heart ; in small quantities it quickens its action, but in large quantities it slows it, and when taken in excessive amounts it will often sensibly disturb the rhythm of this organ and cause intermission. It increases the secretion of the kidneys and of the skin and in some persons it will stimulate the peristaltic movement of the intestine and so act as an aperient.

It will sometimes disturb the digestion in dyspeptic persons, and give rise to heartburn, and this is more likely to occur when very strong coffee is taken immediately after a full meal. Other toxic symptoms occasionally occur from taking coffee in excess or in too strong infusion, such as muscular tremor, nervous anxiety and dread of impending danger, as well as palpitation, cardiac intermissions and an indefinite, uncomfortable feeling referred to the cardiac region.

Although coffee can exert no direct nutritive action on the system, and it has been shown that its use tends to increase rather than diminish (as had been stated) the excretion of urea, yet its influence in sustaining the human body under fatigue and privation is very remarkable. Parkes bears strong testimony to its great value in the diet of the soldier: "Not only is it invigorating without producing subsequent collapse, but the hot infusion is almost equally serviceable against both cold and heat; in the one case the warmth of the infusion, in the other the action on the skin being useful, while in both cases the nervous stimulation is very desirable." It has been said to afford some protection against malaria.

When coffee is taken, as it usually is, together with milk and sugar, as cafe au lait, it then contains a considerable amount of nutritive substances, and forms a highly sustaining food.

Cocoa is widely removed by its composition and character from tea and coffee.. It, however, contains an alkaloid closely allied to caffein, viz., the obromin. Cocoa is obtained from the seeds of an exotic tree, the Theobroma cacao. The seeds are extracted from a pulpy fruit in which they are embedded. These, consisting of kernel and husk, are roasted after the manner of coffee berries, to develop aroma. The kernels of the roasted seeds, when coarsely crushed, form "cocoa nibs." A decoction of the nibs is made by boiling gently in water for a couple of hours, and then pouring the dark brown decoction off the undissolved residue. This is, however, very unlike the preparations of cocoa commonly used; these consist usually of the kernels, ground to a paste, and mixed with other saccharine or starchy substances, one of the objects of such admixture being to lessen the relative proportion of fat in cocoa. When starchy substances are used for this purpose, the cocoa requires boiling, but when sugar only is used, it can be prepared by the simple addition of boiling water or milk.

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