Chestnuts And Fat-containing Fruits, With Remarks Concerning Vegetable Fats
( Originally Published 1913 )
We are now concerned with the most complete vegetable foods, i.e., most complete as regards their nutritious components, since these fruits contain considerable quantities of each of the three main groups of nutritive substances,—albumin, carbohydrates, and fats. The albumin, which is generally but poorly represented in fruits, is quite plentiful in these; the shelled groundnut contains as much as 30 per cent., but here again it is assimilated only with difficulty. Vegetarians living only upon fruits and nuts must have an ironclad stomach and intestine, for through habit they seem to tolerate such foods far better than other people. They must also be blessed with very good teeth, foods of this kind requiring much mastication. But however well masticated they may be—even into a fine pulp—they are often not well borne and assimilated. Of the high carbohydrate content of the chestnut, for instance, which closely approaches that of the cereals, a large portion is lost in the intestine. These fruits contain the largest amount of fat of any of the vegetable products. The digestibility of these fats is exceeded by those of animal origin; although it is generally stated that vegetable fats are as easily digested as the animal fats, yet I have always found that after having ingested vegetable fats, even of the very best sorts, acid eructations are apt to be induced. It should be mentioned that the majority of vegetable fats contain larger amounts of free fatty acids than those of animal origin. The best fat for cooking is butter, and no vegetable fat can ever approach or equal it in regard to digestibility. The cocoanut, among the fat-furnishing fruits, contains a large amount of free fatty acids—from the kernel or "copra" of this nut oil is extracted. According to Salkowski,' linseed oil contains 3.45 per cent. of free fatty acid, and cottonseed oil only 0.19 per cent.—probably the least amount present in any of this class of products. The olive oil used for salads, etc., and frequently employed for cooking in the South, contains 1.17 per cent. of free fatty acid.
We may gather, from the above table, how very nutritious these seed fruits are; their consistency is unfortunately such, however, that they are hard to digest. Even when chestnuts -which contain so much carbohydrate material (up to 73 per cent.)-are ground to a fine powder, as it is done in France and Corsica, they are not capable of ready assimilation. I have frequently noticed in the feces a considerable amount of the chestnuts which had been previously ingested, even when well masticated or taken in the form of a purée.
If, therefore, in the south of France and in Corsica a certain portion of the population live during the winter chiefly upon foods made from chestnut flour and from the nuts them-selves, and remain quite healthy and robust, it must be sup-posed that the digestion and assimilation of this variety of food are improved by constant use. For us, however, chestnuts, even when taken in the most advantageous way—in the purée form, so frequently used as an accompaniment to fine game and venison—constitute a very indigestible food. Whoever wishes to indulge in roasted chestnuts must have a good stomach. Even candied chestnuts (marrons glacés) are only suit-able for the best of digestions. There is probably no other country in which there are so many chestnut trees as in Corsica; the amount of wealth represented in these trees for that comparatively poor island is shown by the fact that only a few years ago chestnuts aggregating in value 5 millions of francs were exported. Unfortunately, many of these very useful trees are now being sacrificed; factories have been erected for obtaining the tannin from them. Another wound inflicted upon agriculture by the manufacturing industries !
After the chestnuts, walnuts are most used with us,—hazelnuts not so much. Nuts constitute a very palatable food, and true vegetarians, particularly those living solely upon fruit, could not well get along without them. They furnish a considerable quantity of albumin, and also much fat. Owing to the quantity of fat, and unfortunately also of cellulose, they are very indigestible, even when finely chopped. They are therefore best adapted for use in other foods, particularly cakes and pastry. In Austria a much-liked dish, potato noodles with chopped nuts, is very appetizing. Fresh nuts are rather more easily digested than old, dried ones. The fatty varieties are also apt to become rancid when old, and are consequently not adapted for sensitive stomachs. Certain food products are made from finely ground nuts—nuttose, for instance—with the aid of which the vegetarian kitchen is able to prepare very palatable and nourishing dishes. A very excellent nut which I first ate in a vegetarian restaurant in London is the Sapucian nut, a Brazilian variety. I consider it more digestible than nuts in general. I may also mention that nuts are rich in phosphorus, the ash containing nearly 44 per cent. of it.
Hazelnuts are also rich in phosphorus, for, according to Balland, they contain in the fresh substance o.35 per cent. phosphorus and o.81 per cent. phosphoric acid. Hazelnuts are possibly even more indigestible than walnuts. Groundnuts (pea-nuts) from the Congo, which I often ate, seemed to be rather more easily digested. They form a sort of middle substance between leguminous vegetables and hazelnuts; they grow in pods resembling those of the pea, which grow very near the ground. The nut itself looks somewhat like our hazelnut. I found the taste more agreeable than the latter, and could tolerate more of them. According to Balland's analysis, ground-nuts are also quite rich in phosphorus. They contain in the fresh substance o.44 per cent., with 1.02 per cent. of phosphoric acid.
Other similar nuts are likewise rich in phosphorus, e.g., the Indian kemiri nut. Jebbink found in them 1.79 per cent of phosphoric acid. Among the oily varieties of nuts, I consider the pistachio as the most digestible, and one can eat quite a number of them.
Almonds belong to the indigestible varieties ; the oil obtained from them is valuable, as is also that of the cocoanut, which contains, according to Salkowski, 3 per cent. free fatty acid. The cocoanut has a property which is much appreciated —it is said to be very beneficial in cases where there are intestinal worms. Many kinds of nuts which contain much fat have a stimulating action upon the bowel movements, as do fats in general when taken in considerable quantities. Mithridates and Pliny ascribed to nuts the property of immunizing against poisons. It might also be mentioned in this connection that larger quantities of alcohol can be tolerated when many nuts are eaten, possibly because its absorption is rendered more difficult. This might perhaps also explain the opinions of the ancient authors above mentioned.