Though doubtless the appetite for plain food tends to lose its keen edge with advancing years, and the dietetic instinct - the liking for different kinds of food - to alter somewhat, the changes in these respects are often less marked than might perhaps have been expected.
The appetite for plain food may last to extreme old age. We have found from inquiry at several workhouses that the aged inmates have, for the most part, right good appetites for the simple fare provided, and that their dietetic instincts are much the same as those of their younger companions.
At one of our large London workhouses the daily diet for men over 60 years of age is as follows : bread1 20 oz., margarine 1 oz., sugar 1 oz., meat 4 oz., potatoes 8 oz., greens 4 oz., pudding once weekly, stewed fruit once weekly. Tea 2 pints. Salt and pepper daily, mustard once a week. No alcohol.
It must be admitted that this is an ample allowance, probably in excess of actual requirements. Nevertheless, most of the inmates, even the very old ones, consume the whole of their portion and appear to enjoy it thoroughly. The toothless among them seem to manage quite well; the bread crusts they soak in their tea, and the meat is generally, though by no means in every case, minced for them.
1 The bread is made from com ground on the premises; most of it is from "whole-meal," but a small portion consists of two parts of white flour and one of whole-meal.
It is noteworthy that these old people complain very little of indigestion, and - what is even more surprising - suffer little from constipation. Thus in one large workhouse each inmate gets on an average no more than three doses of aperient in the year. Doubtless this comparative absence of indigestion and constipation is to be explained by the simplicity and good quality of the food provided, by the clock-like regularity of the daily routine, and by the high hygienic standard prevailing in the workhouse.
Perhaps the most notable change which the dietetic instinct undergoes with advancing years is expressed by the gradual curtailment of starchy and sugary food during early and middle adult life. Most children are very fond of sugar and cakes, but this liking often suffers a marked diminution when adult life is reached. This is more noticeable in the man than in the woman, probably because alcohol and tobacco - which are more liberally indulged in by the former - tend to diminish the liking for sweet things. After middle life the saccharides are often still further cut down : the "sweet" becomes the least welcome part of the meal and is frequently passed by. This arises partly from disinclination, but largely because an abundance of saccharide food is found to disagree, causing acidity, flatulence and other unpleasant phenomena, such as lumbago and arthritic pains. It must not, however, be assumed that saccharides are in themselves necessarily injurious. It will often be found that those with whom they disagree not only indulge liberally in animal food, but take very little exercise. By curtailing the one and increasing the other, their tolerance of saccharides may be considerably augmented. We have been assured that the aged inmates of workhouses are very fond of sweet things.