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Fruits And Vegetables
Source: A Handbook Of Health
The Special Uses of Fruits and Vegetables. We come now to the very
much larger but much less important class of foods--the Kindling foods,
which help the Coal foods to burn, and supply certain stuffs and
elements which the body needs and which the coal foods do not contain.
These are the vegetables--other than potatoes and dried peas and
Fruits and vegetables contain certain mineral elements, which are not
present in sufficient proportions in the meats, starches, and fats.
Furthermore, the products of their digestion and burning in the body
help to neutralize, or render harmless, the waste products from meats,
starches, and fats. Thirdly, they have a very beneficial effect upon the
blood, the kidneys, and the skin. In fact, the reputation of fruits and
fresh vegetables for purifying the blood and clearing the complexion
is really well deserved. The keenness of our liking for fruit at all
times, and our special longing for greens and sour things in the spring,
after their scarcity in our diet all winter, is a true sign of their
Not the least of their advantages is that they contain a very large
proportion of water; and this, though diminishing their fuel value,
supplies the body with a naturally filtered and often distilled supply
of this necessary element of life. One of the best ways of avoiding that
burning summer thirst, which leads you to flood your unfortunate stomach
with melted icebergs, in the form of ice water, ice cold lemonade, or
soda water, is to take an abundance of fresh fruits and green
Many of the vegetables contain small amounts of starch, but few of them
enough to count upon as fuel, except potatoes, which we have already
classed with the Coal foods. Most fruits contain a certain amount of
sugar--how much can usually be estimated from their taste, and how
little can be gathered from the statement that even the sweetest of
fruits, like ripe pears or ripe peaches, contain only about eight per
cent of sugar. They are all chiefly useful as flavors for the less
interesting staple foods, particularly the starches. In fact, our
instinctive use of them to help down bread and butter, or rice, or
puddings of various sorts, is a natural and proper one. Like the
vegetables, they contain various salts which are useful in neutralizing
certain acid substances formed in the body. Soldiers in war, or sailors
upon long voyages, who are fed upon a diet consisting chiefly of salted
or preserved meat, with bread or hard biscuit and sugar, but without
either fruits or fresh vegetables, are likely to develop a disease
called scurvy. Little more than a century ago, hundreds of deaths
occurred every year in the British and French navies from this disease,
and the crews of many a long exploring voyage--like Captain Cook's--or
of searchers for the North Pole, have been completely disabled or even
destroyed entirely by scurvy. It was discovered that by adding to the
diet fruit, or fresh vegetables like cabbage or potatoes, scurvy could
be entirely prevented, or cured.
Their Low Fuel Value. How little real fuel value fruits and
vegetables have, may be easily seen from the following table. In order
to get the nourishment contained in a pound loaf of bread, or a pound of
roast beef, you would have to eat: 12 large apples or pears (5 lbs.);
4-1/2 qts. of strawberries; a dozen bananas (3-1/2 lbs.); 7 lbs. of
onions; 2 doz. large cucumbers (18 lbs.); 10 lbs. of cabbage; 1/2 bushel
of lettuce or celery.
Apples, the most Wholesome Fruit. Head and shoulders above all the
other fruits stands that delight of our childhood days, apples. Well
ripened, or properly cooked, they are readily digested by the average
stomach; though some delicate digestions have difficulty with them. They
contain a fair amount of acids, and from five to seven per cent of
sugar. Their general wholesomeness and permanent usefulness may be
gathered from the fact that they are one of the few fruits which you can
eat almost daily the year round, or at very frequent intervals, without
getting tired of them. Food that you don't get tired of is usually food
which is good for you.
Dried apples are much inferior to the fresh fruit, because they become
toughened in drying, and because growers sometimes smoke them with fumes
of sulphur in the process, in order to bleach or whiten them; and this
turns them into a sort of vegetable leather.
Other Fruits--their Advantages and Drawbacks. Next in usefulness
probably come pears, though these have the disadvantage of containing a
woody fibre, which is rather hard to digest, and they are, of course,
poorer keepers than apples. Then come peaches, which have one of the
most delicious flavors of all fruits, but which tend to set up
fermentation and irritation in delicate stomachs, though in the average
stomach, when eaten in moderation, they are wholesome and good. Then
come the berries--strawberries, raspberries, blackberries,--all
excellent and wholesome, when fresh in their season, or canned or
One warning, however, should be given about these most delicious,
fragrant berries; and as it happens to apply also to several of our most
attractive foods, it is well to mention it here. While perfectly
wholesome and good for the majority of people, strawberries, for
instance, are to a few--perhaps one in twenty--so irritating and
indigestible as to be mildly poisonous. The other foods which may play
this kind of trick with the stomachs of certain persons are oranges,
bananas, melons, clams, lobsters, oysters, cheese, sage, and parsley,
and occasionally, but very rarely, eggs and mutton. This is a matter
which each of you can readily find out by experiment. If strawberries,
melons, and other fruits agree with you, then eat freely of them, in due
moderation. But if, after three or four trials, you find that they do
not agree with you, but make your stomach burn, and perhaps give you an
attack of nettle-rash or hives, or a headache, then let them alone.
The banana is of some food value because it contains not only sugar, but
considerable quantities of starch--about the same amount as potatoes.
But, if bananas are not fully ripe, both their starch and sugar are
highly indigestible; while, if over-ripe, they have developed in them
irritating substances, which are likely to upset the digestion and cause
hives or eczema, especially in children. Bananas should therefore be
regarded rather as a luxury and an agreeable variety than as a
substantial part of the diet.
Food Values of the Different Vegetables. The vegetables depend for
their value almost solely upon the alkaline salts and the water in them,
and upon their flavor, which gives an agreeable variety to the diet.
Parsnips, beets, and carrots are among the most nutritious, as they
contain some starch and sugar; but they so quickly pall upon the taste
that they can be used only in small amounts.
Turnips and cabbages possess the merit of being cheap and very easily
grown. They contain valuable earthy salts, plenty of pure water, and a
trace of starch. But these advantages are offset by their large amount
of tough, woody vegetable fibre; this is incapable of digestion, and
though in moderate amounts it is valuable in helping to regulate the
movements of the bowels, in excess it soon becomes irritating. Both of
them, particularly cabbages, contain, also, certain flavoring extracts,
very rich in sulphur and exceedingly irritating to the stomach, which
cause them to disagree with some persons. If these are got rid of by
brisk boiling in at least two waters, then cabbage is a fairly wholesome
and digestible dish for the average stomach. And because of its
cheapness and keeping power, it is often the only vegetable that can
be secured at a reasonable cost at certain seasons of the year.
Onions, especially the milder and larger ones, are an excellent and
wholesome vegetable, containing small amounts of starch, although their
pungent flavor, due to an aromatic oil, makes them so irritating to some
stomachs as to be quite indigestible.
Sweet corn, whether fresh or dried, is wholesome, and has a fair degree
of nutritive value, as it contains fair amounts of both starch and
sugar. It should, however, be very thoroughly chewed and eaten
moderately, on account of the thick, firm indigestible husk which
surrounds the kernel.
Tomatoes are an exceedingly valuable, though rather recent addition to
our dietary. Their fresh, pungent acid is, like the fruit acids,
wholesome and beneficial; and they can be preserved or canned without
losing any of their flavor. They were at one time denounced as being
indigestible, and even as the cause of cancer; but these charges were
due to ignorance and distrust of anything new.
Lighter Vegetables, or Paper Foods. The lighter vegetables such as
lettuce, celery, spinach, cucumbers, and parsley have, in a previous
chapter, been classed with the paper foods. They are all agreeable
additions to the diet on account of their fresh taste and pleasant
flavor, though they contain little or no nutritive matter.
The Advantages of a Vegetable Garden. Notwithstanding their slight
fuel value, there are few more valuable and wholesome elements in the
diet than an abundant supply of fresh green vegetables. Everyone who is
so situated that he can possibly arrange for it, should have a garden,
if only the tiniest patch, and grow them for his own use, both on
account of their greater wholesomeness and freshness when so grown, and
because of the valuable exercise in the open air, and the enjoyment and
interest afforded by their care.