Food and Health

By Dr. S. Henning Belfrage

The body needs a daily supply of food energy which it can convert rapidly into heat and work. It must be kept at a certain temperature and it must do a varying amount of work. The amount of work may vary from a minimum required to keep the heart and circulation and respiration going during complete rest, as in sleep, to the maximum physical effort of which the individual is capable.

This work can be measured scientifically in what are called calories, and we therefore measure the amount of food energy necessary for its performance by using the same term. The number of necessary food calories will vary in exact proportion to the amount of muscular work done and the external temperature.

Diet Depends Upon Work and Climate

Heavy work and a cold climate call for more food measured in calories, and a sedentary life and hot climate call for less food, i.e., fewer calories.

Adults, having larger bodies, and a greater extent of surface, need more than children, men more than women. Children, however, expend much energy in constant activity, and therefore need more in proportion to their size than adults. Overweight people for their size need less, underweight people more, and so on.

The point is that the actual amount of food material can be accurately estimated for each individual.

Calories value in different foodstuffs varies very considerably. Roughly, we can estimate the calories value of food by the amount of water it contains Thus foods like refined sugar and fat have a high value, i.e., a little of them goes along way, while foods like fruit and green vegetables have a low calories value, and much more of them has to be eaten to provide the same amount of energy. The actual number of calories required for human beings ranges between 1,000 and 6,000, the average being about 3,000.

Now the calculation of the calories value of food is very useful to those who have to provide for large numbers of people, as in estimating the amount of the dole, or in the feeding of an army, or a school, or institution, and enables them to estimate with accuracy the amount of food required day by day.

Such calculation is, however, not necessary for ourselves, or even for small families.

Is America, where the people are more food-conscious than we in Great Britain, the restaurants then provide menus showing the calories value of every dish, so that clients may try to get fatter or thinner if they so wish in a scientific way. The idea has something to recommend it.

In every-day life, and ordinary health, the appetite is a sufficiently good guide in the matter of the quantity of food necessary, and its dictates can be checked by occasional resort to the weighing scales. Increasing weight will usually denote either too much food, or too little exercise, or both; and loss of weight, too much exercise, or too little food, or both.

The next elementary item of knowledge is that there are three main classes of food, called protein carbohydrate and fat, each of which has its part to play in nutrition. We will look at them briefly in order.

Protein or nitrogenous food should be thought of principally as building food, food to build new tissues, and repair those that are constantly wearing out. It also provides heat and energy, but its essential use is for building and repair.

The majority of the foods we use contain a certain quantity of protein –some have much, some only a little. Some, like sugar and fat, contain none.

Some proteins are obtained from animals and their products, and some from vegetables; and an important thing to know is that the proteins derived from animal food are, generally speaking, of high-value than those derived from vegetable food. The principal sources of animal protein are meat (including fish and fowl), eggs, milk and cheese.

Of vegetable products peas, beans, nuts and lentils supply the most and better proteins, but all vegetables contain some. One of the principal objections to thorough-going vegetarianism is its failure to supply the best kind of building material, though it must be acknowledged that some people who eat little or nothing but vegetable foods succeed in being strong and well.

Foods Should be Well Chosen

For perfect health there is no need to go beyond the greengrocer, the baker, and the dairyman for the daily marketing. It is a dietary perhaps better suited to the country dweller and the agricultural worker than to the more sedentary life of the town dweller.

Flesh foods, meat, fish and fowl, provide more concentrated nourishment, are easier of digestion, and add a flavor to the meal which stimulates the somewhat jaded appetite of those who have to live among bricks and mortar. But they are never essential, and if people like, for one reason or another, perhaps from sentiment, to abstain from meat foods, they can do so perfectly well without suffering in health. Indeed they avoid possible dangers.

Most meat eaters are inclined to eat too much of this tasty food, and there is a general truth applying to the eating in excess of any one kind of food –that other kinds of food equally necessary to health are then taken in too small quantities and the general balance of the diet is disturbed. Too much of one thing means too little of another.

Excesses Cause Ill Health

Excess of meat foods is also believed by some medical authorities to cause a tendency to kidney trouble, and there is no doubt that if there is any tendency to constipation (which meat tends to aggravate), self-poisoning from the putrefaction of undigested meat in the bowel may lead to many forms of disease. Moderate meat-eating should, however, have no ill-effects on health.

There is considerable difference of opinion among food experts as to the daily amount of protein or building material necessary for health. We are undoubtedly more likely to err on the side of excess than in not getting enough –always provided that we are not controlled by our purses. the diet of the poor is apt to be too low in good protein, since meat and milk and eggs are costly foods. More often it becomes a matter of knowing what to buy.

The cheaper cuts of meat, if well cooked, and the cheaper fish, such as herrings and mackerel, supply just as good protein as do the most expensive, such as prime steaks and salmon. Money thus saved can go toward buying the more costly foods, such as milk, vegetables and fruit. Then it is important that the children of the family get the greater share of the meat and milk foods –they need it more than do the grown-ups, no matter how hard the latter have to work. elderly people require very little.

Another point to remember is that the internal organs of animals, such as the liver, kidneys, sweet-bread and the blood, have a higher food value than the muscle meat of joint, chops, and steaks. Besides protein, they contain other valuable substances that meat, as usually eaten, does not. They should be used more. Also we in this country do not eat enough fish, especially of the cheaper kinds. It is just as nourishing, and more digestible than animal meat, and should be more economical if properly marketed.

In actual practice one can depend on getting enough building material if one eats every day four ounces of meat, or five to six of fish, two ounces of cheese, an egg and half a point of milk. A good rule is to take meat food at only one meal in the day if one is to avoid excess.

Now a few words about an easier matter-the carbohydrates and fats. The carbohydrates include all the starchy foods, such as flour, rice and potato and also sugar. Fats include animal fats, like those of milk and meat, and vegetable fats, such as olive, oil and margarine. Sugar, starch and fat are the common energy foods, and since the starchy foods are the cheap foods, the harder we have to work the more we ought to depend on them to provide the necessary energy if the daily food is not to become too costly.

Thus bread and potatoes become the real staffs of life, especially when made full use of.

Sugar and fats are more costly sources of energy than starchy foods, but have their special advantages. Sugar acts very quickly. Its action is similar to that of paraffin on a slow fire –it blazes quickly into energy. It is, therefore, the ideal food to take before doing hard physical labor.

Unfortunately it is more apt to be used to excess by people who are lazy, or who lead sedentary lives. The amount consumed in this country and America in the form of confectionery is greatly in excess of what it ought to be, and represents a very wasteful expenditure of money which should be much more usefully spend on vegetables, milk and fruit.

Here is another example of excess of one kind of food preventing a sufficiency of other kinds, equally if not more necessary –want of proper balance in the dietary.

Fats are slow-acting fuel for the human engines, and are therefore good standbys. They burn slowly in the fire of carbohydrates with which they should always be eaten. Animal fats are among the more costly foods, and therefore apt to be lacking in the diet of the poorer members of the community. They are especially valuable for the proper growth of children and as a safeguard against infection. I shall refer to this again.

While on the subject of carbohydrates, just a special word about bread –the main staff of life. In spite of much controversy you can rest assured that bread made from the whole wheat –or practically the whole of the grain –is a far better article in food value than the denatured stuff generally used to-day.

While white bread is, of course, a good food, and a cheap food, wholemeal bread is better and cheaper in the long run, because, besides providing an equal amount of energy, it also provides vitamins and mineral salts of immense value.

Include Essentials in the Diet

For people who can afford a very varied diet this fact is not of so much importance, but where, as is often the case, bread and flour have to provide by far the greater bulk of the dietary, it is very necessary that the essential substances contained in the husk and germ of the wheat grain should not be lost. They are lost when they are removed by the miller to be sold to the farmer.

It is said sometimes that wholemeal bread is indigestible. This is not the fact, except in cases of enfeebled digestion. On the contrary it stimulates and tones up the whole digestive tract, and is the best natural preventive of that curse of civilization –constipation.

Next in this brief review, we must refer to the mineral or inorganic constituents of food –a subject which nowadays is assuming a pre-eminent importance in the science of dietetics. No dietary is adequate for health unless it contains an ample supply of these mineral substances, since they enter into the structure of all the living cells of which the body is composed and determine the efficiency of the functions that the cells have to perform. The substance of the living cell is constantly breaking down and being rebuilt, and thus we find that the mineral substances are constantly leaving the body through the excretory organs. They must therefore be constantly replaced.

New Health.