We Waste Natures Bounty

By Dr. S. Henning Belfrage


                Nature supplies mineral in abundance, but we too often so treat the raw material in which she provides them that when they come to the table the precious minerals are no longer there—they have gone to feed the farmer’s stock, or down the kitchen sink. The milling of flour, the prolonged boiling of vegetables, and other wasteful methods of cooking, have robbed these foods of their principal virtues. Milk which is one of the best sources of mineral substances is not made enough use of, either in its natural state or in the preparation of other dishes. Soils are insufficiently manured, so that the mineral content of the crops is not up to standard. For these, and other reasons, we may fail to get an adequate supply, even though we are able to take a varied dietary.


Refined Foods Lack Minerals

When, by reason of poverty or ignorance, the diet consists largely of white flour, sugar, potatoes and margarine, the starvation in mineral substances is extreme, and much ill-health results. The principal safeguards are the use of more milk, the steaming rather than the boiling of vegetables, and making use in soups of all liquor left after their cooking.

As to the vitamins, the discovery of the existence of these substances in food began nearly thirty years ago, and is still going on. It has drawn much popular attention to the whole subject of dietetics. I cannot attempt even superficially to cover this part of the subject, or treat it in detail, though it is perhaps its most interesting part. Indeed, people nowadays are apt to overdo their interest in vitamins at the expense of other considerations in selecting their diet, and all sorts of quite unnecessary preparations containing concentrated vitamins are coming on the market to satisfy the popular demand.


Foods to Use Liberally

Let me impress upon you that if the diet is sufficiently varied, and an adequate amount of fresh unspoiled food is taken, there should be no anxiety about not getting sufficient vitamin substances. It is solely a question of using liberally those foods that are particularly rich in them in their natural state. Of these foods milk is one of the most important, and when we remember that it is also the best source of minerals, and of good building material, we realize what a very valuable food it is, not only for children, but also for adults, and we are not surprised to find that in countries where most milk is consumed the people have the highest standard of health and physique. Therefore let us all join in promoting the campaign to drink more milk, and so not improve the nation’s health and physique, but by so doing we shall also do much to promote agricultural prosperity and, indirectly, trade in general.

A National Disgrace

If children are to grow strong bones and bodies, and the standing national disgrace of having the worst teeth in the world is to be wiped out, the milk consumption of the country must be raised from its present miserable figure of a ¼-pint a day per head of the population to at least a pint.

But to return to our vitamins. Next to milk come green vegetables and juicy fruits. As a nation we are doing better in this direction, but the consumption is still too low, and vegetables are not to be obtained in sufficiently fresh condition, nor do we use them enough in the raw state as in salads. More allotment gardens and better marketing are required to meet this need. Juicy fruits are now to be had all the year round if only we so arrange our food expenditures as to be able to afford them. Half an orange or an apple ought to be the minimum for everybody every day, but the national consumption has not as yet reached the ideal.


Essential Whole Cereals

Next in the vitamin-rich foods come whole cereals, and this means for most of us the use of wholemeal bread. White bread lacks a very important vitamin—the so-called vitamin B, contained only in the germ and husk of the wheat grain. This particular vitamin plays a very important part in the digestive processes, and some physicians think that its absence from bread as commonly used is one of the main causes of all the digestive trouble that is so deplorably prevalent in civilized countries, especially in England and America.

There are, I know, all sorts of difficulties, principally of an economic nature, about supplying wholemeal bread, but the solution of these difficulties could certainly be found if there were sufficient popular demand. There is the real difficulty—to overcome senseless prejudice and ingrained habit in favor of consideration of health. People are too fond of soft, easily masticated foods—many of them would have more attractive faces if their jaws did a bit more work.


Special Vitamin Foods

Among special vitamin foods are liver, animal fat, especially cod liver oil, summer butter, and eggs, all of which have a high vitamin value. Cod liver oil, or halibut oil, is the sheet anchor in the prevention and cure of rickets in climates such as ours, where there is little winter sunshine. The vitamin which animal fats contain helps or even replaces the effect of sunshine. It enables the bones and teeth to grow strong by making full use of the calcium in the food, and this is a striking example of how vitamins act. Unless this particular vitamin D is present in the food, or unless the child gets plenty of direct sunshine, which enables it to make the lime it gets in its food. On the other hand if it does not get the lime no amount of sunshine or vitamin will cause good bone or teeth to grow. All the vitamins probably act in this kind of way. They help the body to use the rest of the food to the best effect.

Each kind of vitamin—and we already know of the existence of six or seven different kinds—has its particular function. If one of them is entirely lacking in the food, disease sets in, and can only be cured by supplying the missing substance. There is little or no danger in this country of an entire lack of any one vitamin, but many dietaries in common use lack a sufficiency of one or another, or of several, and many conditions of ill-health can be now traced to this causation.

The remedy lies, as cannot be too often stated, in a sufficient variety of foodstuffs, and in the use of some of the vitamin foods in an unspoilt condition—fresh and, wherever possible, raw.


Canned Food Problem

Fortunately in most cases proper methods of cooking and preserving foods does not materially injure their vitamin properties. Just a word in that regard about canned foods. Properly canned, fruits and vegetables do not lose their value in mineral salts and vitamins, but they must be prepared with special precautions. So far as chemical analysis goes the actual canning of foodstuffs has little or no effect on their nutritive value. But there can be no doubt that food does lose something of value when it is long preserved—what exactly it is we do not know. It is probably some vital principle, something in the way of loss of energy due to its physical condition that deprives it of its full value. Therefore the growing habit of using tinned food instead of fresh food is a bad habit, and should not be indulged in when it can be avoided by taking a little trouble—trouble that will be amply repaid in health.

Of course there are many circumstances in which the use of tinned food is compulsory, but this should not often apply to the housewife.


Psychological Factors

The psychological aspect must not be forgotten. It is extremely important that food be served and eaten in attractive form, so that the pleasant stimulation of the appearance, odor and flavor of food should promote good digestion. Mental calm during a meal and a period of physical rest following on it should always be ensured wherever possible. It is better to go without a meal than to eat one under conditions unfavorable to good digestion.

Meals should be well spaced, and nothing taken between unless it be the mid-morning glass of milk for children or adults who breakfast early. If a meal is taken at mid-day a light breakfast is advisable—a knife and fork breakfast, followed by a three or four-course lunch, and a still more elaborate dinner, to say nothing of a substantial tea, is gross over-feeding. Some people have the idea that a plethora of food of this kind is strengthening—on the contrary it induces sluggishness of mind and body, especially so when it is associated with physical laziness.

Where exhausting physical efforts have to be made it is more important that the diet should be thoroughly well balanced than that unduly large quantities of food should be consumed. Failure to support extreme physical effort, as in polar exploration or mountaineering has resulted usually from lack of certain kinds of food, rather from the quantity available.

The same applies to the vitally important diet of the expectant and nursing mother—it is the quality and not the quantity of her food that will influence the health and development of her child. It is highly probable that the steadily increasing maternal mortality rate has its partial explanation in defective nutrition with its lowered resistance to infection. Such lowered resistance is the most striking feature in experimental animals purposely deprived of mineral and vitamin elements in their food. May not the increasing cancer incidence have a similar explanation? Many of us believe that it is.

New Health.