This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
Just as the protein builds muscle, the carbohydrate fulfills the great mission of acting as fuel for the body, thus providing heat and activity and energy for work. Without this food constituent, the body would become lazy, chilly and inert, while oxidation - digesting - could not take place.
The list of carbohydrates - which includes both starches and sugars - is extensive. The following foods may be listed as starches: All vegetables which contain a noticeable amount of starch and sugar, as white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, melons, sweet corn, and squash; all cereals, both ready-to-eat and cooked, including rice, samp, macaroni, spaghetti, vermicelli and noodles; bread, all muffins, biscuits and crack-ers; bananas and corn starch; arrowroot, cereal and tapioca. puddings. Sugars include all foods made very sweet: as cakes, most pies, frostings, candies, rich preserves, stewed fruits, jellies, sweet puddings, rich breads (as coffee cake), cookies, Barbadoes or other molasses, honey and maple and corn syrup.
This classification must not be misunderstood, for it is only general in scope. Most carbohydrate foods contain some protein and some fat. A cake made from eggs - which contain both protein and fat - will contribute a proportion of both constituents to the dish.
Starches in the raw state are largely indigestible and cannot be absorbed by the body. Thorough cooking converts the starch into a sweet substance similar to sugar and renders it digestible. In case the cookery is incomplete, as in half-cooked cereals, the starch, instead of being used in the body, goes through the digestive canal, irritating the stomach and intestines and frequently causing accumulations of gas. Just as plain starch cannot be prepared for laundry purposes without the addition of boiling water to burst the grains, so is this addition necessary in cooking all starchy foods, unless they contain a large amount of water in themselves. For this reason cereals cannot be cooked without the medium of water or other liquid, while potatoes, which are composed of considerable water, can be cooked either with or without water.
Cereals are the cheapest and most nourishing of the fuel foods. As they consist of approximately three-fourths starch, they are distinctly carbohydrates, although oats, wheat, rye and corn contain about ten per cent of protein, and even rice, though mostly starch, has eight per cent of protein.
Bread both ordinary white and whole wheat, contains so large a percentage of starch that it must be classified as a carbohydrate. Bread has a place peculiarly its own in the diet, but when enormous quantities are consumed at a meal it denotes one of two things - it is eaten through custom or because the meal is unbalanced.
In considering sweets, the place of pure molasses, honey and maple syrup should be noted. They are wholesome foods, and a meal supplemented by warm biscuits and honey, or browned mush and syrup, instead of the usual heavy dessert, is not only more wholesome but more enjoyable. Pure candy deserves a place in the diet, and, when properly used, may supplement the menu. Sugar is a source of quick energy, and, often, a little plain candy or sugar water acts as a restorative in cases of fatigue. If a stick of candy is occasionally given to the child after school, with coarse oatmeal crackers, so that he will not eat too rapidly, he is furnished with quick energy in an absolutely harmless form. But if candy is eaten just before a meal, the appetite is sated by the sweet, and the regular food may be refused.
Stewed fruits, either dried or fresh, jellies and preserves, may be considered as sweets on account of the sugar they contain. A little thought shows that the too frequent supper of bread and butter, cookies, cake, preserves and tea, served so largely in country towns, is made up mostly of carbohydrates. Yet in many families it is served the year through. In most households the tendency is towards too much carbohydrate, which is liable to bring about auto-intoxication and obesity. Up to a certain point the body needs starch, but when an oversupply begins to be stored up as fat, the danger of obesity begins.