Sugar, Saccharin, Ice-cream, Honey, And Maple Syrup
( Originally Published 1913 )
A food substance for which children and young girls have a marked predilection is sugar and sweets in general. I am inclined to consider such a craving as a kind of instinct which should not be denied, as it is the expression of some necessity and will have a beneficial effect. It seems to be so in this case, and the satisfying of this craving would appear to be a physiological requirement when we consider that in childhood another of the main food groups—a meat diet—is not indicated, since those of the ductless glands which have the property of destroying the toxic products formed in the organism by the decomposition of the meat in the body are not developed until just before the age of puberty, e.g., the thyroid gland. Siegmund has called attention to the interesting fact that the children who show symptoms of inherited weakness of the thyroid gland have a very decided craving for large quantities of sugar. When such a child was treated with thyroid extract tablets, this desire for sugar decreased. As a counterpart to this fact I would like to cite an observation which I have made upon myself. Every time I have experimentally taken thyroid tablets—2 daily—I found that on taking honey—50 to 6o grams at a time—I felt a decided discomfort and about an hour later great fatigue, which symptoms did not occur when I had not been taking the thyroid extract for several days. It is an interesting fact that when a person has become a pronounced meat-eater he has very little desire for sugar and bonbons, while with children and weak and invalid women who do not care for meat the opposite is the case.
Sugar is the best and the easiest form in which to use carbohydrates as food, since the process o,f converting other carbohydrates—starch, for instance—is thereby spared, the sugar itself being then used. The sugar we use is either cane- or beet-sugar. As a matter of fact, we use chiefly the latter, as we do not often get cane-sugar. All of the sugar we add to our food is probably cleansed and refined beet-sugar; but both are equally nourishing, though the taste is not the same. While tasting various kinds of beet- and cane- sugar in the harbor of Antwerp, I found that the cane-sugar has a much finer and more agreeable taste, while the beet-sugar has a slight after-taste of the beet. Stewed fruit and marmalades prepared with cane-sugar I found much the best.
If we estimate the value of a food from the standpoint of its taste, then cane-sugar should be given the preference, but otherwise the two varieties are alike, for the sugar of the beet is quite like that of the cane, even though the former does have a slight after-taste. In the form of cut sugar—as the beet-sugar comes to our table—the difference in taste is scarcely distinguishable. Cane-sugar can be eaten from the cane. While in Mexico I saw such pieces of cane for sale in the markets of all of the cities. They form a good-tasting and healthful food. By simply biting the cane, the juice flows out. It is a great pity that we never have it in this country.
Crushed or powdered sugar not only serves for sweetening many of our otherwise rather tasteless foods, such as flour foods, rice, certain sour vegetables, etc., but in certain quantities it also enhances the nutritive value. When not taken in too considerable amounts, sugar is a healthful food, even in solutions; when the latter are very concentrated they may have an irritating effect upon the gastric mucous membrane. Taken in large quantities at one time, as in bonbons, sugar is not a healthful food. It may give rise to fermentation and the formation of acid, and fruit marmalades containing a great deal of sugar often lie very heavily upon the stomach. Sweets are to be strictly forbidden in obesity, and naturally also in diabetes. In such cases saccharin may be used; but otherwise the use of the latter is not to be recommended; it is certainly dishonest for dealers to use saccharin for sweetening syrups, candies, etc., instead of sugar. This is a fraud, as it has absolutely no nutritive value. Saccharin is otherwise not injurious for the health, as has been proven by a number of experiments, but I am not a partisan of this artificial product, and for many of my diabetic patients, when they do not wish to be entirely deprived of a sweetening substance, I prefer to recommend the taking of very small quantities of fruit-sugar in their coffee, etc. The taste of saccharin is not very agreeable; in some kinds—dulcin, for example—the taste is somewhat alkaline, and in saxin rather less so.
In other countries, especially in America and in England, sweets such as cream bonbons and candies of all sorts are used in enormous quantities, as is well shown by the very great number of shops in which candies and sweets are sold. In the United States and in Canada in all these shops, as well as in most drug stores, ice-cream taken in glasses with soda is sold. I found this variety of ice-cream very pleasant in taste, and it is to be regretted that this "ice-cream soda" has not been introduced here. In some few establishments in Berlin it is to be had. Ice-cream made from fruit juices, with the addition of a great deal of sugar and cream, I do not consider injurious. It has the same effect as sugar in general, viz., the transmission of the energy produced by the carbohydrates to the muscles, which has already been discussed in a special chapter of this work. Notwithstanding its being so cold, it really does not have an unfavorable action upon the stomach, not any more so than a glass of ice-water, which has been the subject of experiments by Best and Cohnheim. The case is quite different when falsified fruit juices and particularly when a poor quality of cream are used, as is not infrequently the case in vanilla and other ice-creams. This may give rise to very serious consequences through poisoning.
We consider honey as a very excellent and hygienic food. It is gathered as nectar from the flowers by the bees, and is by them digested, thus converting the sugar into invert-sugara mixture of grape- and fruit- sugar. The bees then deposit the honey in the combs in the hives. Honey not only contains a very pleasant and palatable substance having the same nutritive value as the carbohydrates, but it also contains small amounts of lecithin and an antiseptic substance, formic acid, furnished by the bee for the preservation of the honey. It contains 78 to 80 per cent. of carbohydrates, including approximately equal parts of grape-sugar and fruit-sugar, although the former somewhat exceeds the amount of the latter. Honey also contains cane-sugar, dextrin, fats, and formic acid. Ac-cording to its origin, we have the linden, locust, and pine honey. In wooded, mountainous sections we obtain a very highly perfumed honey from the heather and other blossoms, and in some countries, e.g., in Cuba, there is a honey made from the wood narcissi. There is probably scarcely any other article of food which is so greatly falsified as honey, and it would be much the safest plan to buy it in the comb. When buying a clear, fluid honey one is never sure of what one is getting; the colorless white honey is greatly falsified and starch syrup is frequently added to it. Sometimes, although really very rarely, honey may contain poisonous substances which the bees have sipped from poisonous flowers. An account is given in Xenophon's Anabasis of how his entire army fell down in a stupefied condition after having eaten such poisonous honey. Such a result very rarely occurs with the honey which we obtain from the apiarist.
Honey may render us very valuable services. It should never be missing in a vegetarian diet, but in any sort of a diet good honey taken at breakfast will be very beneficial, as it has a very favorable effect upon the action of the bowels. Owing to its content of formic acid, honey also has certain curative properties, which have, however, been very little considered. In pharyngeal and bronchial catarrh it has a very soothing effect. In some countries it is used as an external application for painful areas. In solution it may be added to certain medicaments and beverages, thus increasing their action. Mead, which is formed by the alcoholic fermentation of honey, is greatly liked in some countries.