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- The American Woman's Home - 20/80 -


It is found, by experiment, that the supply of gastric juice, furnished from the blood by the arteries of the stomach, is proportioned, not to the amount of food put into the stomach, but to the wants of the body; so that it is possible to put much more into the stomach than can be digested. To guide and regulate in this matter, the sensation called _hunger_ is provided. In a healthy state of the body, as soon as the blood has lost its nutritive supplies, the craving of hunger is felt, and then, if the food is suitable, and is taken in the proper manner, this sensation ceases as soon as the stomach has received enough to supply the wants of the system. But our benevolent Creator, in this, as in our other duties, has connected enjoyment with the operation needful to sustain our bodies. In addition to the allaying of hunger, the gratification of the palate is secured by the immense variety of food, some articles of which are far more agreeable than others.

This arrangement of Providence, designed for our happiness, has become, either through ignorance, or want of self-control, the chief cause of the many diseases and suffering which afflict those classes who have the means of seeking a variety to gratify the palate. If mankind had only one article of food, and only water to drink, though they would have less enjoyment in eating, they would never be tempted to put any more into the stomach than the calls of hunger require. But the customs of society, which present an incessant change, and a great variety of food, with those various condiments which stimulate appetite, lead almost every person very frequently to eat merely to gratify the palate, after the stomach has been abundantly supplied, so that hunger has ceased.

When too great a supply of food is put into the stomach, the gastric juice dissolves only that portion which the wants of the system demand. Most of the remainder is ejected, in an unprepared state; the absorbents take portions of it into the system; and all the various functions of the body, which depend on the ministries of the blood, are thus gradually and imperceptibly injured. Very often, intemperance in eating produces immediate results, such as colic, headaches, pains of indigestion, and vertigo.

But the more general result is a gradual undermining of all parts of the human frame; this imperceptibly shortening life, by so weakening the constitution, that it is ready to yield, at every point, to any uncommon risk or exposure. Thousands and thousands are parsing out of the world, from diseases occasioned by exposures which a healthy constitution could meet without any danger. It is owing to these considerations, that it becomes the duty of every woman, who has the responsibility of providing food for a family, to avoid a variety of tempting dishes. It is a much safer rule, to have only one kind of healthy food, for each meal, than the too abundant variety which is often met at the tables of almost all classes in this country. When there is to be any variety of dishes, they ought not to be successive, but so arranged as to give the opportunity of selection. How often is it the case, that persons, by the appearance of a favorite article, are tempted to eat merely to gratify the palate, when the stomach is already adequately supplied. All such intemperance wears on the constitution, and shortens life. It not infrequently happens that excess in eating produces a morbid appetite, which must constantly be denied.

But the organization of the digestive organs demands, not only that food should be taken in proper quantities, but that it be taken at proper times.

[Illustration: Fig. 56.]

Fig. 56 shows one important feature of the digestive organs relating to this point. The part marked LM shows the muscles of the inner coat of the stomach, which run in one direction, and CM shows the muscles of the outer coat, running in another direction.

As soon as the food enters the stomach, the muscles are excited by the nerves, and the _peristaltic motion_ commences. This is a powerful and constant exercise of the muscles of the stomach, which continues until the process of digestion is complete. During this time the blood is withdrawn from other parts of the system, to supply the demands of the stomach, which is laboring hard with all its muscles. When this motion ceases, and the digested food has gradually passed out, nature requires that the stomach should have a period of repose. And if another meal be eaten immediately after one is digested, the stomach is set to work again before it has had time to rest, and before a sufficient supply of gastric juice is provided.

The general rule, then, is, that three hours be given to the stomach for labor, and two for rest; and in obedience to this, five hours, at least, ought to elapse between every two regular meals. In cases where exercise produces a flow of perspiration, more food is needed to supply the loss; and strong laboring men may safely eat as often as they feel the want of food. So, young and healthy children, who gambol and exercise ranch and whose bodies grow fast, may have a more frequent supply of food. But, as a general rule, meals should be five hours apart, and eating between meals avoided. There is nothing more unsafe, and wearing to the constitution, than a habit of eating at any time merely to gratify the palate. When a tempting article is presented, every person should exercise sufficient self-denial to wait till the proper time for eating arrives. Children, as well as grown persons, are often injured by eating between their regular meals, thus weakening the stomach by not affording it any time for rest.

In deciding as to _quantity_ of food, there is one great difficulty to be met by a large portion of the community. The exercise of every part of the body is necessary to its health and perfection. The bones, the muscles, the nerves, the organs of digestion and respiration, and the skin, all demand exercise, in order properly to perform their functions. When the muscles of the body are called into action, all the blood-vessels entwined among them are frequently compressed. As the veins have valves so contrived that the blood can not run back, this compression hastens it forward toward the heart; which is immediately put in quicker motion, to send it into the lungs; and they, also, are thus stimulated to more rapid action, which is the cause of that panting which active exercise always occasions. The blood thus courses with greater celerity through the body, and sooner loses its nourishing properties. Then the stomach issues its mandate of hunger, and a new supply of food must be furnished.

Thus it appears, as a general rule, that the quantity of food actually needed by the body depends on the amount of muscular exercise taken. A laboring man, in the open fields, probably throws off from his skin and lungs a much larger amount than a person of sedentary pursuits. In consequence of this, he demands a greater amount of food and drink.

Those persons who keep their bodies in a state of health by sufficient exercise can always be guided by the calls of hunger. They can eat when they feel hungry, and stop when hunger ceases; and thus they will calculate exactly right. But the difficulty is, that a large part of the community, especially women, are so inactive in their habits that they seldom feel the calls of hunger. They habitually eat, merely to gratify the palate. This produces such a state of the system that they lose the guide which Nature has provided. They are not called to eat by hunger, nor admonished, by its cessation, when to stop. In consequence of this, such persons eat what pleases the palate, till they feel no more inclination for the article. It is probable that three fourths of the women in the wealthier circles sit down to each meal without any feeling of hunger, and eat merely on account of the gratification thus afforded them. Such persons find their appetite to depend almost solely upon the kind of food on the table. This is not the case with those who take the exercise which Nature demands. They approach their meals in such a state that almost any kind of food is acceptable.

The question then arises, How are persons, who have lost the guide which Nature has provided, to determine as to the proper amount of food they shall take?

The best method is for several days to take their ordinary exercise and eat only one or two articles of simple food, such as bread and milk, or bread and butter with cooked fruit, or lean meat with bread and vegetables, and at the same time eat less than the appetite demands. Then on the following two days, take just enough to satisfy the appetite, and on the third day notice the quantity which satisfies. After this, decide before eating that only this amount of simple food shall be taken.

Persons who have a strong constitution, and take much exercise, may eat almost any thing with apparent impunity; but young children who are forming their constitutions, and persons who are delicate, and who take but little exercise, are very dependent for health on a proper selection of food.

It is found that there are some kinds of food which afford nutriment to the blood, and do not produce any other effect on the system. There are other kinds, which are not only nourishing, but _stimulating_, so that they quicken the functions of the organs on which they operate. The condiments used in cookery, such as pepper, mustard, and spices, are of this nature. There are certain states of the system when these stimulants may be beneficial; such cases can only be pointed out by medical men.

Persons in perfect health, and especially young children, never receive any benefit from such kind of food; and just in proportion as condiments operate to quicken the labors of the internal organs, they tend to wear down their powers. A person who thus keeps the body working under an unnatural excitement, _live faster_ than Nature designed, and the constitution is worn out just so much the sooner. A woman, therefore, should provide dishes for her family which are free from these stimulating condiments.

It is also found, by experience, that the lean part of animal food is more stimulating than vegetable. This is the reason why, in cases of fevers or inflammations, medical men forbid the use of meat. A person who lives chiefly on animal food is under a higher degree of stimulus than if his food was chiefly composed of vegetable substances. His blood will flow faster, and all the functions of his body will be quickened. This makes it important to secure a proper proportion of animal and vegetable diet. Some medical men suppose that an exclusively vegetable diet is proved, by the experience of many individuals, to be fully sufficient to nourish the body; and bring, as evidence, the fact that some of the strongest and most robust men in the world are those who are trained, from infancy, exclusively on vegetable food. From this they infer that life will be shortened just in proportion as the diet is changed to more stimulating articles; and that, all other things being equal, children will have a better chance of health and long life if they are brought up solely on vegetable food.

But, though this is not the common opinion of medical men, they all agree that, in America, far too large a portion of the diet consists of animal food. As a nation, the Americans are proverbial for the gross and luxurious diet with which they load their tables; and there can be no doubt that the general health of the nation would be increased by a change in our customs in this respect. To take meat but once a day, and this in small quantities, compared with the common practice,


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