That we require food, as vegetables require water, to support our existence, is the primary consideration upon which we should take it. But in our general practice of eating, it cannot be said, "we eat to live," but are living passages or channels, through which we are constantly propelling both solids and fluids, for the sake of pleasing our palates, at the severe cost often of our whole system.
A. reasonable indulgence in the abundant supplies of nature, converted by art to the purposes of wholesome food, is one of the comforts added to the maintenance of life. It is an indiscriminate gratification of our tastes, regardless of the consequences that may ensue from it, that is alone blamable. But so great is our general apathy in these respects, that even on the occurrence of diseases, from which we are all more or less sufferers, we scarcely ever reflect on our diet, as the principal, if not the sole cause of them. We assign them to weather, to infection, to hereditary descent, to spontaneous breeding, as if a disease could originate without a cause; or to any frivolous imaginary source, without suspecting, or being willing to own, mismanagement of ourselves.
We derive the renewal of our blood and juices, which are constantly exhausting, from the substances we take as food. As our food, therefore, is proper or improper, too much or too little, so will our blood and juices be good or bad, overcharged or deficient, and our state of health accordingly good or diseased.
By aliment, or food, is to be understood whatever we eat or drink, including seasonings; such as salt, sugar, spices, vinegar, etc. &.c. Every thing, in short, which we receive into our stomachs. Our food, therefore, consists not only of such particles as are proper for the nourishment and support of the human body, but likewise contains certain active principles, viz. salts, oils, and spirits, which have the properties of stimulating the solids, quickening the circulation, and making the fluids thinner; thus rendering them more suited to undergo the necessary secretions of the body.
The art of preserving health, and obtaining long life, therefore consists in the use of a moderate quantity of such diet as shall neither increase the salts and oils, so as to produce disease, nor diminish them, so as to suffer the solids to become relaxed.
It is very difficult, almost impossible, to ascertain exactly what are the predominant qualities either in our bodies or in the food we eat. In practice, therefore, we can have no other rule but observing by experience what it is that hurts or does us good; and what it is our stomach can digest with facility, or the contrary. But then we must keep our judgment unbiassed, and not suffer it to become a pander to the appetite, and thus betray the stomach and health, to indulge our sensuality.
The eating too little is hurtful, as well as eating too much. Neither excess, nor hunger, nor any thing else that passes the bounds of nature, can be good to man.
By loading the stomach, fermentation is checked, and of course digestion impeded; for the natural juice of the stomach has not room to exert itself, and it therefore nauseates its contents, is troubled with eructations, the spirits are oppressed, obstructions ensue, and fever is the consequence. Besides, that when thus overfilled, the stomach presses on the diaphragm, prevents the proper play of the lungs, and occasions uneasiness in our breathing. Hence arise various ill symptoms and depraved effects throughout the body, enervating the strength, decaying the senses, hastening old age, and shortening life. Though these effects are not immediately perceived, yet they are certain attendants of intemperance; for it has been generally observed in great eaters, that, though from custom, a state of youth, and a strong constitution, they have no present inconvenience, but have digested their food, suffered surfeit, and borne their immoderate diet well; if they have not been unexpectedly cut off, they have found the symptoms of old age come on early in life, attended with pains and innumerable disorders.
If we value our health, we must ever make it a rule not to eat to satiety or fulness, but desist while the stomach feels quite easy. Thus we shall be refreshed, light, and cheerful; not dull, heavy, or indisposed. Should we ever be tempted to eat too much at one time, we should eat the less at another. Thus, if our dinner has been larger than usual, let our supper be less, or rather quite omitted; for there is no man, however careful of his health, who does not occasionally transgress in this way.
With regard to the times of eating, they must to a certain degree be conformed to family convenience, but ought to be quite independent of the caprices of fashion. The great things to be guarded against are, either eating too soon after a former meal, or fasting too long. - The stomach should always have time to empty itself before it is filled again.
Some stomachs digest their contents sooner than others, and if long empty it may destroy the appetite, and greatly disturb both the head and animal spirits; for, from the great profusion of nerves spread upon the stomach, there is an immediate sympathy between that and the head. Hence the head is sure to be affected by whatever disorders the stomach, whether from any particular aliment that disagrees with it, or being overfilled, or too long empty. Such as feel a gnawing in the stomach, as it is called, should not wait till the stated time of the next meal, but take a small quantity of light, easily digested food, that the stomach may have something to work on.
Young persons in health, who use much exercise, may eat three times a day. But such as are in years, such as are weak, as do no work, use no exercise, or lead a sedentary life, eating twice in the day is sufficient; or, as in the present habits of society, it might be difficult to arrange the taking only two meals, let them take three very moderate ones. Old and weak persons may eat often, but then it should be very little at a time.
The quality of our food is a subject of greater difficulty than the quantity; moderation is an invariably safe guide in the latter instance; but though always favorable to prevent ill effects from any error in quality, it will not always be effectual.
To a person in good health, with a strong stomach, and whose constant beverage is water, cold or tepid, according to the season, or some aqueous liquor, the niceties of choice in. food or cookery are less material than to persons with naturally weak stomachs, or to those in sickness, or for children. But all persons who would to a certainty preserve their health and faculties, and live out the natural term of life, should use plain food, as all high seasonings and compound mixtures have an injurious effect, sooner or later, on the strongest constitutions. If a few instances can be quoted to the contrary, these, like other anomalies in nature, cannot constitute an exception to a well established fact.
No part of our aliment is more important than our beverage It is essential to moisten and convey our more solid food into the stomach, and from thence to the respective parts of the body. To allay thirst, to dilute the blood, that it may circulate through the minutest vessels, to dissolve and carry off by the watery secretions the superfluous salts we take in our food; to answer these purposes no liquid is so effectual as pure water, with the exception of some few cases. No other liquid circulates so well, or mixes so immediately with our fluids. All other liquors are impregnated with particles which act strongly upon the solids or fluids, or both but water being simple, operates only by diluting, moistening, ana cooling, which are the great uses of drink pointed out to us by nature. Hence it is evident that water is in general the best and most wholesome drink; but some constitutions require something to warm and stimulate the stomach, and then fermented liquors taken in moderation are proper; such as beer, ale, cider, wine etc. the choice and quantity of which depend on the age, coast' tution, and manner of living of the drinker; and to have them pure is above all things essential; as otherwise, instead of being of any benefit, they will be highly detrimental.
Drams, or distilled spirituous liquors, the use of which is unhappily very prevalent, are of the most poisonous qualities; and from their direful effects are the destruction of thousands. From the degree of heat they have undergone in distillation they acquire a corrosive and burning quality, which makes them as certain to kill as laudanum or arsenic, though not so soon. They contract the fibres and vessels of the body, especially where they are the tenderest, as in the brain, and thus destroy the intellectual faculties. They injure the coat of the stomach, and thus expose the nerves and weaken the fibres till the whole stomach becomes at last soft, flabby, and relaxed. From whence ensues loss of appetite, indigestion, and diseases that generally terminate in premature death. Spirituous liquors in any way, whether alone mixed with water, in punch, shrub, noyau, or other liqueurs, are all slow poisons.
It would be endless to enter on an account of the different qualities of all sorts of wines, but it may be said in general, that all the light wines of a moderate strength, due age and maturity, are more wholesome for the constitution than the rich, hot, strong, heavy wines; for the light wines inflame the juices of the body less and go off the stomach with less difficulty.
The last thing to be said concerning liquors is, that wine and all other strong liquors, are as hard to digest as solid strong food. This is not only evident with respect to persons of weak stomachs and digestion, but also from strong healthy people, who only drink either water or small beer at their meals, and are able to eat and digest almost double the quantity of what they could if they drank strong liquors. It appears very plain, therefore, that we should not drink strong liquors at our meals, as by their heat and activity they hurry the food undigested into the habit of the body, and by that means lay a foundation for various distempers. An abstinence, in short, from fermented liquors would preserve our mental faculties in vigor, and our bodies from many painful disorders that afflict mankind, as there is no doubt that we may principally ascribe to them the gout, rheumatism, stone, cancer, fevers, hysterics, lunacy, apoplexy, and palsy.