This section is from the book "Health Without Medicine. A Treatise On The Laws Of The Human System", by Larkin B. Coles. Also available from Amazon: Philosophy Of Health.
All our nutrition comes primarily from the vegetable kingdom. If we eat flesh, the nourishment which made that flesh came from vegetables. The nutrition from the corn on which the hog is fatted becomes assimilated into his flesh, and by eating that pork we get the nutrition of the corn, animalized, after passing through, and having been incorporated into, his system; or if we eat pork that has been fatted on dead animal matter, we get our vegetable nutrition after its having passed through two processes of assimilation. But it is proposed to speak here of taking vegetable nutrition in its original state.
This was unquestionably the original method adopted by the Creator for the nourishment of man. Man, in his original, holy state, was provided for from the vegetables of that happy garden which was given him to prune. This was the Creator's original plan; one animal was not to devour another animal for food; the eating of flesh was suffered as one of the consequences of the fall. Living on vegetable food is undoubtedly the most natural and healthy method of subsistence.
It is not intended in this small work to dwell so particularly upon the kind of food which may be most conducive to health, as upon the manner and regularity of eating. There are, however, some vegetables in common use, which ought promptly and forever to be rejected. Cucumbers, though considered a luxury, should never be eaten. They are cold, indigestible things. True, some stomachs can seem to digest them with apparent impunity: so, too, some stomachs can digest jackknives; but this does not prove that they should be used for food. The condiments with which they are usually prepared do not assist in their digestion; except by over-stimulating the stomach, which stimulating process always tends to weaken that organ. Condiments aid in digestion in the same way that alcoholic liquor aids a laborer in performing an extra task; which process always tends to weaken the system. There are other articles which might be mentioned as inappropriate for the human stomach; but a little common sense and observation will generally decide upon what is proper and what improper.
It is proper and needful that a continual sameness in diet should be avoided. It is better that there should be considerable sameness in each individual meal; but the kind of articles of which different meals are composed may with benefit be varied. The more simple the diet on the whole, the better. Complicated food, especially that which is compounded with various kinds of condiments, is bad; such as very rich puddings, cake, and pastry of various sorts. Mince pies, wedding-cake, and plum-puddings, as they are generally made, should never be introduced into the human stomach -- and the prohibition need never extend beyond the human stomach, for dumb animals could not be compelled to eat them. Food should be simple, yet nutritious, and so prepared -- though not with stimulating ingredients -as to be palatable -- inviting to the appetite. If the food be poor or poorly prepared, the stomach will loathe it. Here is found one cause why some have not been successful in their efforts to simplify their diet; they have reduced their living to a poverty-stricken quality, by which their whole systems have become weakened. Food should be palatable and nutritious. It is not best that that kind of food should be constantly used which embraces within a given quantity the greatest amount of nutrition; but the nutritious and comparatively innutritious kinds, should be used together; for instance, sugar is too nutritious, i.e., too much nutrition in a given quantity, to be used alone as a meal; the digestive organs would soon break down with such an incumbrance. But sugar is a good article of diet when used in conjunction with articles containing less nutrition in the same quantity.
Simplicity of diet, i.e., living on simple, plain food, is exceedingly important in securing good health and a sound constitution. The great cause of the difference between the present standard of health and that of puritan times, consists in the difference in the manner of living. Then the people lived naturally; now they live artificially. Then their food was plain, homely, and simple; now it is rich, delicate, and complicated. Then the bean-porridge was the luxury; now the highly seasoned meats and the rich pastry. The children were brought up on plainer food than even their parents; now the little ones generally are invited to all the unnatural luxuries in which the parents indulge. Then a plain brown crust, even without butter, was ate with relish; now nothing but the richest dainties will meet the demand.
Fruits of various kinds are proper articles of diet in connection with other food. Apples, pears, plums, cherries, oranges, pine-apples, etc, may properly be made articles of diet, and come under the same rules and restrictions as other articles of food. They may be treated as mere luxuries to be eaten at any and all times; because they require very little effort of the digestive organs to dissolve them and extract their nutrition. It is undoubtedly better, however, that fruit should be taken as other articles of diet, at the regular time of eating, as a part of the meal. As a general rule, fruit should be taken as a part of the regular dinner. Good, ripe fruit, taken in this way, is beneficial to health by way of variety; and, if the bowels are at all sluggish, fruits are adapted to remove that difficulty.
The quantity of food which it is necessary to take at each meal is not a matter of so much importance as the regularity and simplicity of diet. Some writers on diet have undertaken to prescribe certain limits to the quantity of food to be taken, by weight. This would seem to be a difficult task. To measure out to each one a quantity suited to all the different circumstances in which he may be placed, and to all persons according to their great variety of ages and constitutions, would be a laborious undertaking indeed: and it seems to be unnecessary. Whoever will govern himself by dietetic law -- eat plain food -- only three times a day -- give time for food to digest -- take proper exercise -- will find little difficulty in settling the question, how much he ought to eat. Whoever will live right, need not ask his cook to weigh out his quantum of food: only give her a chance, and Dame Nature will settle that matter, and relieve him of all such burden of mind. A person with morbid appetite may eat too much; and he should limit himself: but a perfectly healthy stomach will easily decide when it is sufficiently supplied.
Many have injured themselves by too rigidly limiting themselves in their quantity of food; so that their systems were not sufficiently nourished. In the effort to change their course of living from extreme luxury to temperance, they ran over the line, into the opposite extreme. They reduced the quantity and the quality of their food too low. By this course they reduced their health and strength, and finally perhaps concluded that their former way of living was the best. The system must have nourishment, and the quantity must be varied according to circumstances; and a perfectly healthy stomach will furnish the best index to the quantity demanded.
It is a misfortune for any one, especially for one whose health has become deranged, to keep his mind continually dwelling on the questions, what he shall eat, how much, etc, because this continued mental anxiety tends to embarrass the free action of the digestive functions, and increase the difficulty. Still he must give some attention to the subject in some way: he must hot be reckless in regard to the laws of his existence. The better way is, let him make himself intelligent on the subject of the laws of his nature, and then he can keep himself within the limits of those laws without mental effort, a* well as he can keep himself within the limits of civil law when once understood.