This section is from the book "Health", by W. H. Coefield.
We use other vegetables for various reasons-some for starch, especially potatoes, yams, artichokes, but most for salts of certain vegetable acids, such as the malic, citric, tartaric, eta.
It has been shown that persons who live on foods that do not contain green vegetables suffer from scurvy, and one of the most important causes of scurvy is the absence of these salts of vegetable acids, and they are often supplied, when vegetables cannot be obtained, by lime-juice.
Just a few words about some substances that we take as drinks.
In the first place, alcoholic drinks. In the last lecture I spoke about the influence of alcohol upon the system. I told you that it was oxidised in the system, and that very little was excreted, but it did not follow from that that it was useful as a food or contributed to animal heat, because I think the balance of evidence shows that alcohol, so far from raising the animal heat, actually diminishes it, by retarding the oxidisation of other substances.
Strong spirits contain large percentages of alcohol- nearly 50 per cent, and sometimes more than that.
Alcohol acts as a powerful narcotic, and strong alcoholic drinks act in the same way, but in a more deleterious manner, by reason of certain powerful essential oils that they contain.
It has been clearly shown by Dr. Parkes and others that the drinking of strong alcoholic liquors does not enable men to do more bodily work than they would do if they did not take them ; but, on the contrary, that persons who use them cannot do anything like the same amount of work, in the same time, without getting extremely fatigued.
The use of spirits does not enable persons to withstand cold; this is the experience of all travellers in cold countries; neither does it enable them to withstand heat, but, on the contrary, they cannot resist a hot climate as effectually as those who eschew spirituous liquors. We can readily understand this when we consider that the use of strong liquors produces diseases which are common in hot climates-viz., derangements of the liver.
Indigestion is often caused. Spirits act upon the lining membrane of the stomach, and cause sub-acute inflammation, which sometimes goes on to such an extent that occasionally, after a strong dose of perhaps not very good spirits, all the symptoms of acute poisoning, followed by death, are produced.
On more than one occasion I have had the stomachs of persons who have died from drinking a strong dose of spirits, sent to me for examination for arsenic or antimony.
After indigestion, liver disease is produced. The alcohol is absorbed by the capillaries of the stomach and intestines, and conveyed by the portal system through the liver, causing profound alterations there, and an increase of the fibrous structure, which presses upon the proper liver structure, and prevents the liver from performing its functions in a healthy way, impedes the passage of the portal blood, causes dropsy, and ultimately death in one way or another.
These results are brought about all the more surely, because spirits are almost always drunk without food; and whatever one has to say about drinking other alcoholic liquors, it would be an excellent thing if the sale of spirits for drinking were prohibited. Alcohol is very diffusible, gets readily into the blood, circulates through the system, and produces degeneration of the tissues of almost all the organs of the body, including the nervous system, and produces also effects well known to you all in the shape of intoxication, with the crimes which result from it. To sum up about spirits, Dr. Parkes says :-" If spirits neither give strength to the body, nor sustain it against disease-are not protective against cold and wet, and aggravate rather than mitigate the effects of heat-if their use even in moderation increase crime, injure discipline, and impair hope and cheerfulness-if the severest trials of war have been not merely borne, but most easily borne, without them-if there is no evidence that they are protective against malaria, or other diseases-then I conceive the medical officer will not be justified in sanctioning their, issue under any circumstances."
With regard to other alcoholic liquors containing .smaller percentages of alcohol, some of them contain as much as 15 or 16 per cent. They all contain considerable percentages of other substances. Some of them, indeed, contain so small a percentage of alcohol, that we must not be in too great a hurry to condemn the use of all alcoholic liquors without inquiring into their action.
The use of strong wines and beers has a tendency to produce the disease called gout, and more especially so when taken in conjunction with highly nitrogenous foods.
With regard to light wines and beers, I do not know that I can do better than read to you what Dr. Parkes says on the subject. Dr. Parkes was a man fully acquainted with this, and indeed with all subjects connected with hygiene, and himself practised total abstinence.
" The facts now stated make it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the dietetic value of alcohol has been much overrated. It does not appear to me possible at present to condemn alcohol altogether as an article of diet in health; or to prove that it is invariably hurtful, as some have attempted to do. It produces effects which are often useful in disease and sometimes desirable in health, but in health it is certainly not a necessity, and many persons are much better without it. As now used by mankind, it is infinitely more powerful for evil than for good; and though it can hardly be imagined that its dietetic use will cease in our time, yet a clearer view of its effects must surely lead to a lessening of the excessive use which now prevails. As a matter of public health, it is most important that the medical profession should throw its great influence into the scale of moderation ; should explain the limit of the useful power, and show how easily the line is passed which carries us from the region of safety into danger, when alcohol is taken as a common article of food."
Coffee and tea contain one and the same essential principle, which goes by the names of theine or caffeine, according as it is prepared from tea or from coffee.
It is a very extraordinary thing that in several parts of the world the natives should have taken parts of different plants to produce beverages, and that the leaves of the tea in China, the berry of the coffee in Arabia, the leaves of the Paraguay tea plant, and some others, should all contain the same essential principle. This fact alone shows us that the principle contained in all these substances must be of some importance and of some use, although it may not be, and certainly is not, a very important element in actual nutrition.
This principle itself is a poisonous substance, but when taken in the moderate quantities in which it is usually taken, it acts as a stimulant to the nervous system without the exciting and depressing effects which follow the'drinking of alcoholic stimulants.
It is of especial advantage as a stimulant to the nervous system after fatigue, whether mental or bodily, and it is .this particular property of it that makes it especially valuable.
The theine very readily dissolves in boiling water, and so it is necessary to prepare tea with water that is boiling. It is not, however, advantageous to let the hot water stand with the tea-leaves too long, because if it does it extracts tannin and colouring matter, and other things, from the tea. One caution, and that is, that tea causes a very large amount of indigestion. It does not, however, cause a tenth part of that which alcohol causes, especially among the poor classes of the community. This arises, to a large extent, from its being drunk too hot. Our stomachs were not made to hold boiling water, and if people will drink hot water they may be sure that they will suffer from indigestion. Strong tea and coffee should not be drunk with meals, because of their astringent qualities, or, at any rate, only as flavouring materials to milk; and the practice of drinking a small quantity of coffee, with plenty of milk, for breakfast, is a very good one.
Coffee is often mixed with chicory, but if you wish to drink coffee alone, you can buy the berries and grind them yourself. In France they buy the berries and roast them themselves; but in England you can buy roasted berries, and by grinding the berries yourself you get a much better coffee, as some of the essential oils evaporate after the coffee has been ground for any time.
If you buy ground coffee you can tell whether it contains chicory by putting it in a tumbler of water, when the coffee will float for some time, but the chicory sinks almost directly, and discolours the water much more than coffee does.
Cocoa contains a large quantity of fat, and also a considerable proportion of nitrogenous substance; it is therefore much more nutritious as an article of food than coffee or tea. Its essential principle is closely allied to that found in tea and coffee.