This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
It is true that, given a judicious choice, and a proper preparation of vegetables, they will prove not only sufficient to maintain the bodily condition, but even to increase bodily weight. But the subjects who practice this dietary do not compare favourably with mixed eaters as to their powers of solid weight, endurance, and ability to resist disease. Nevertheless, a modified vegetarian diet, supplemented, that is, by such animal products as milk, butter, cheese, honey, and eggs, is admirably well suited for corpulent persons whose intestinal energies are sluggish, and who are disposed to costiveness; likewise such a diet is attended with brilliant results in nervous dyspepsia, especially for gouty persons. Seeing, too, that the pulse-rate is diminished under a diet mainly vegetable, this diet is quite to be commended for conditions of a troubled, excitable heart, or for muscular thickening of its walls; but not for states of heart enfeebled from weakness, or incompetency. Again, a marked addition of vegetables to the diet is very useful in various cases of skin disorder, and for scrofulous affections.
At a Congress of the Berlin Medical Society (1902) where vegetarianism was discussed, as to whether, or not, it makes for general health, the opinion arrived at, after arguments had been fairly advanced on both sides, was that "exclusive vegetarianism is not good for mankind. For instance, albumin cannot be obtained of proper quality, and in sufficient amounts from such a regimen; and therefore, as one serious disadvantage, vegetarians are less able to resist infection than persons unrestricted in their dietary".
Generally speaking, all foods abounding in cellulose, and which leave a considerable amount of its residue unnegotiated within the intestines, serve to stimulate the propelling peristaltic action thereof on this ballast, and to promote its passage onwards; in which way constipation is prevented, when the bowel energy has become torpid unless some aid of this kind is afforded. Such foods are wholesome green vegetables, oatmeal, wholemeal bread, and some fruits. Furthermore, these vegetable foods, which are rich in cellulose, possess certain laxative properties due to the organic acids which they contain, and to the fermentative processes they undergo within the bowels. It is an indisputable fact that vegetarians are remarkably free from such gouty disorders as arise through lithic acid in the blood, leading to gravel, and stone in the bladder; and numerous persons who suffered therefrom before becoming vegetarians, have subsequently altogether escaped. "I've found a sovereign cure for the gout, Sammy," said Mr. Weller, the elder (Pickwick). "The gout is a complaint as arises from too much ease, and comfort.
If ever you're attacked with the gout, Sir"(to Mr. Pickwick), "jist you marry a widder as has got a good loud woice, with a decent notion of usin' it, and you'll never have the gout agin. It's a capital perscription, Sir; I takes it reg'lar, and I can warrant it to drive away any illness as is caused by too much jollity".
A paramount advantage derived from vegetable foods is gained because of their constitution being altogether of a building-up character, as distinguished from animal life, (which involves excretions of the broken-down products as part of its being). With vegetables there is no throwing off effete matters as corrupt waste of their consumed substance from day to day; but in animal life, such ash (as it were of the stoking) is rejected by the skin, the kidneys, the lungs, the bowels, and other excretory channels. The most striking chemical feature of vegetable foods is the large proportion of carbohydrates which they contain, such as starch, and sugar, in abundance; potash as an essential mineral salt for healthy life being largely represented in vegetables, more so than soda. These carbohydrates of vegetable food undergoing digestion within the small intestines form acids, through their alliance with the bacteria present there, which acids diminish putrefaction; so that in order to prevent putrefactive changes within the bowels vegetables must be eaten for their carbohydrates (starch, and sugar, or oils). This necessity explains the very fetid character of the stools passed by patients who are being fed mainly, if not exclusively, on lean meat. Milk, again, is an intestinal antiseptic.
Within the small intestine the contents remain fluid throughout its entire length.
But the human nervous system seems to require a plentiful supply of proteid support if those occult influences which emanate from the brain and spinal marrow, are to be maintained in sufficient potency for enabling the tissues to ward off disease. As Dr. Hutchison goes on to say: "Everyone knows the feeling of satisfaction which follows a meal containing good meat; and that such feeling of benefit received is due to the proteid substance, and not to the meat extractives, is shown by the fact that whereas the addition of the meat extractives to such non-animal food as bread is not able to produce this feeling, yet such vegetable substances as (oatmeal, for instance) are rich in proteid are capable of exciting it to a considerable degree." The modified form of vegetarianism which supplements proteid by giving also eggs, and milk, has much to recommend it, and will often agree better with gouty subjects than a diet which includes meat in any amount. It must be concluded, then, that if the complement of proteid food is to be derived altogether from vegetable sources the diet will have to be bulky, one of the first results being distension of the stomach, and bowels; thus is produced the so-called potato-belly of the Irish peasant.
Again, for the management by the stomach and bowels of so large a mass of material, there is implied a special expenditure of nervous energy, and of blood supply, so that correspondingly less of these outputs will be left for the purposes of the nervous system, and brain, for bodily exercise, and other physical demands. Similarly, the watery character of an exclusively vegetable diet is disadvantageous; this disproportion as to solids accounts for the soft flabby condition in flesh of persons who habitually consume large quantities of the more watery sorts of vegetable food; it also is an important factor in lowering the disease-resisting power which characterizes such persons. A somewhat parallel effect ensues with respect to drug action, for, as Sir Lauder Brunton has observed, "the vegetarian is only slightly affected by certain drugs which in the case of flesh-eaters would produce positively violent results".