This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
Food may be excessive or deficient in quantity. The quantity that should be taken must depend upon the quantity required, and that must depend upon the amount of bodily exertion and quantity of food necessary to keep the system up to a healthy standard. Food properly masticated is easier of digestion, and parts more readily with its essence, than half-chewed food; consequently, people who eat slowly require and consume less food than those who bolt it.
Defective nourishment may excite various disorders. Deficiency of food, if long continued, causes general weakness of the functions, and wasting of all the textures, except those of the nervous system. The blood becomes thin, the gums spongy and bleeding; fat disappears; muscles become thin and flabby; the legs swell; diarrhoea often occurs; ulcers appear; a state of scurvy is produced, which, when far advanced, is often incurable. The bad influence of poor living is much more felt in those who are confined in close habitations, than in those who are exposed to plenty of fresh, pure air; and it is under such circumstances that the unhealthiness of some kinds of food, when taken alone, shows itself. Thus, even bread, with meat or broth, will not prevent the occurrence of scurvy; but a sufficient addition of fresh vegetables prevents this disease from appearing. There is no doubt that, to the too prevalent custom in many country parts of Canada, of living so much upon salt meat without a corresponding proportion of green vegetables, may be traced the fearful loss of teeth by young people, particularly by the girls. "Fever, malignant dysenteries, and other disorders of that class, have been the invariable attendants on all the great famines in Europe."
In regulating our diet, it is advisable, as far as our means will allow, to select those articles of food that are the most nourishing, and the most easily digested. Meat should never, if the weather will allow of its being kept, be cooked too soon after it is killed. Fresh-killed meat, without exception, is always tough. Mutton, more especially in this country, where so much of the beef is tough, is more easily digested than almost any other meat. Fish, poultry, game are easily digested. Puddings, in Canada, are almost unknown, that is, of course, comparatively speaking. You may dine at twenty houses without seeing a pudding; nothing but apple or pumpkin pie, baked in a plate. The good, old-fashioned, wholesome "suet pudding," so much in use in the old country, particularly as food for children, is seldom seen. Being composed of flour with beef suet chopped fine, and eaten with either sugar or a little preserve, it furnished most of the elements necessary to produce good healthy flesh. As a general rule, too much tea is taken in Canada, and much of that little better than hot water. Tea, to be of any service as a beverage, should be of good quality and made of proper strength. So, also, with coffee; if not made strong, coffee, like poor tea, is mere hot water. As for the stuff sold and drank by many people as "Dandelion Coffee," it is most abominable trash.
It is the general custom, in this country, to take but three meals a day, but I am satisfied, both from observation and expe-rience, that persons taking four or five meals in the day not only have better health, but they actually consume less food. Many medical practitioners, as well as others, lay great stress upon the necessity of taking meals at regular hours; but all this is quite contrary to the laws of nature. Nature says: "Eat when you are hungry, drink when you are dry." People will say: "Don't eat now, it only wants an hour till dinner-time; you'll spoil your appetite." Well, is it not better to spoil your appetite, than to spoil the tone of your stomach? Shut up a horse in a stable, and feed him regularly three times a day, and he will dispatch his gallon of oats in ten or fifteen minutes, half of them unchewed, and consequently indigestible; turn the same horse out to grass, and let him gather his own food at his leisure, and he will spend half his day in eating his food, picking a bit here and a bit there; and a very little time will show, in the improved condition of the animal, the superiority of the natural over the artificial mode of feeding. No animal, unless forced thereto by the caprice or the necessities of man, will take its food at stated times, and confine itself to three meals a day.
Many people in Canada say they cannot drink beer, particulary in summer; something of course depends upon habit, but beer will seldom disagree with a healthy person, if it is good. Much of the beer sold in Canada, however, is of poor quality; it is not strong enough to keep for any length of time, and is consequently drank too new,and before it is sufficiently fermented; consequently it continues fermenting after it is taken into the stomach, and in this way disagrees. Next to good, sound beer, strong coffee is decidedly the best beverage that can be taken; for breakfast it may be taken with sugar and milk or cream; at other times, according to the taste of the drinker, it may be taken either with or without milk and sugar. For those whose stomachs will bear it, chocolate is very nourishing.
For young children, milk, bread and milk, oatmeal porridge and milk, corn meal and milk, rice puddings, suet puddings, with a little gravy or finely chopped meat, will form the best articles of diet; but the value of all combinations of milk for food will depend upon the quality of the milk, and that will mainly depend upon the quality of the cow's food.
In old age, as well as in infancy, the stomach is weak, and incapable of digesting hard and tough food. The late Dr. Kerr, of Northampton, having outlived his powers of digestion, and being incapable of taking solid food, had for the last few years of his life two women in constant pay, to furnish him with the only food he could digest. This was indeed, second childhood. I do not know at what age he died.