The person who decides what shall be the food and drink of a family, and the modes of its preparation, is the one who decides, to a greater or less extent, what shall be the health of that family. It is the opinion of most medical men that intemperance in eating is one of the most fruitful of all causes of disease and death. If this be so, the woman who wisely adapts the food and cooking of her family to the laws of health removes one of the greatest risks which threatens the lives of those under her care. But, unfortunately, there is no other duty that has been involved in more doubt and perplexity. Were one to believe all that is said and written on this subject, the conclusion probably would be, that there is not one solitary article of food on God's earth which it is healthful to eat. Happily, however, there are general principles on this subject which, if understood and applied, will prove a safe guide to any woman of common sense; and it is the object of the present chapter to set forth these principles.
All material things on earth, whether solid, liquid, or gaseous, can be resolved into sixty-two simple substances, only fourteen of which are in the human body; and these, in certain proportions, in all mankind.
Thus, in a man weighing 154 lbs. are found 111 lbs. oxygen gas and 14 lbs. hydrogen gas, which, united, form water; 21 lbs. carbon; 3 lbs. 8 oz. nitrogen gas; 1 lb. 12 oz. 190 grs. phosphorus; 2 lbs. calcium, the chief ingredient of bones; 2 oz. fluorine; 2 oz. 219 grs. sulphur; 2 oz. 47 grs. chlorine; 2 oz. 116 grs. sodium; 100 grs. iron; 290 grs. potassium; 12 grs. magnesium; and 2 grs. silicon.
These simple substances are constantly passing out of the body through the lungs, skin, and other excreting organs.
It is found that certain of these simple elements are used for one part of the body and others for other parts, and this in certain regular proportions. Thus, carbon is the chief element of fat, and also supplies the fuel that combines with oxygen in the capillaries to produce animal heat. The nitrogen which we gain from our food and the air is the chief element of muscle; phosphorus is the chief element of brain and nerves; and calcium or lime is the hard portion of the bones. Iron is an important element of blood; and silicon supplies the hardest parts of the teeth, nails, and hair.
Water, which is composed of the two gases oxygen and hydrogen, is the largest portion of the body, forming its fluids; there is four times as much of carbon as there is of nitrogen in the body; while there is only two per cent. as much phosphorus as carbon. A man weighing one hundred and fifty-four pounds, who leads an active life, takes into his stomach daily from two to three pounds of solid food, and from five to six pounds of liquid. At the same time he takes into his lungs, daily, four or five thousand gallons of air. This amounts to three thousand pounds of nutriment received through stomach and lungs, and then expelled from the body, in one year; or about twenty times the man's own weight.
It is found that the simple elements will not nourish the body in their natural state, but only when organized, either as vegetable or animal food; and, to the dismay of the Gra-hamite or vegetarian school, it is now established by chemists that animal and vegetable food contain the same elements, and in nearly the same proportions.
Thus, in animal food, carbon predominates in fats, while in vegetable food it shows itself in sugar, starch, and vegetable oils. Nitrogen is found in animal food in the albumen, fibrine, and caseine; while in vegetables it is in gluten, albumen, and caseine.
It is also a curious fact that, in all articles of food, the elements that nourish diverse parts of the body are divided into separable portions, and also that the proportions correspond in a great degree to the wants of the body. For example, a kernel of wheat contains all the articles demanded for every part of the body. Fig. 53 represents, upon an enlarged scale, the position and proportions of the chief elements required. The white central part is the largest in quantity, and is chiefly carbon in the form of starch, which supplies fat and fuel for the capillaries. The shaded outer portion is chiefly nitrogen, which nourishes the muscles; and the dark spot at the bottom is principally phosphorus, which nourishes the brain and nerves. And these elements are in due proportion to the demands of the body. A portion of the outer covering of a wheat-kernel holds lime, silica, and iron, which are needed by the body, and which are found in no other part of the grain. The woody fibre is not digested, but serves, by its bulk and stimulating action, to facilitate digestion. It is, therefore, evident that bread made of unbolted flour is more healthful than that made of superfine flour. For the process of bolting removes all the woody fibre; the lime needed for the bones; the silica for hair, nails, and teeth; the iron for the blood; and most of the nitrogen and phosphorus needed for muscles, brain, and nerves.
Experiments on animals prove that fine flour alone, which is chiefly carbon, will not sustain life more than a month, while unbolted flour furnishes all that is needed for every part of the body. There are cases where persons can not use such coarse bread, on account of its irritating action on inflamed coats of the stomach. For such, a kind of wheaten grit is provided, containing all the kernel of the wheat, except the outside woody fibre.
From these statements it may be seen that one of the chief mistakes in providing food for families has been in changing the proportions of the elements nature has fitted for our food. Thus, fine wheat is deprived by bolting of some of the most important of its nourishing elements, leaving carbon chiefly, which, after supplying fuel for the capillaries, must, if in excess, be sent out of the body; thus needlessly taxing all the excreting organs. So milk, which contains all the elements needed by the body, has the cream taken out and used for butter, which again is chiefly carbon. Then, sugar and molasses, cakes and candies, are chiefly carbon,and supply but very little of other nourishing elements, while, to make them safe, much exercise in cold and pure air is necessary. And yet it is the children of the rich, housed in chambers and school-rooms most of their time, who are fed with these dangerous dainties, thus weakening their constitutions, and inducing fevers, colds, and many other diseases.