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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/506

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496
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

from the fire box of the engine. That the body fat and muscular tissue are also burned, producing heat, is literally true. A hibernating animal keeps his body warm all winter by burning up his autumnal store of body fat. Even a well-fed body is constantly wearing away, or burning away, and hence requires constant repair. Thus we see two distinct functions for food, which should be carefully distinguished.

In the first place, as already indicated, food repairs waste and builds up the body. It makes blood, bone and muscular tissue. Herein we see a departure from the parallel with the steam engine. A locomotive is a machine which runs in a way determined by its builder. But it cannot grow nor repair wear and tear. It requires a whole machine shop pus skilful mechanics to do that. The body, on the other hand, not only runs like a complex mechanism when supplied with energy, but also builds itself up and repairs waste. We express this by saying that it possesses vital force or life, but in just what vital force consists is a matter of speculation and controversy. The raw material which is employed in this work of repairing and building up is found in the food. But not all food can be so utilized. Only those materials which contain nitrogen, the so-called proteids, as lean meat, the casein of milk and gluten of wheat, can be made use of in this most important work of growth and repair.

In the second place, food is the fuel of the body and is just as truly burned as is coal in a furnace. Moreover, the quantity of heat which a piece of meat or a slice of bread yields when burned in the body is just the same as if it had been burned in a stove. Complete combustion yields a definite amount of heat wherever and whatever may be the place and manner of burning. Any kind of food may serve as fuel for the body, but those which consist mainly of sugar, starch and fat, which contain no nitrogen and so cannot build up the body, are used chiefly as fuel. These fuel foods form the bulk of our daily ration, comparatively little being required for purposes of growth and repair.

We are hearing a good deal recently about alcohol as a food. When it is remembered that alcohol contains no nitrogen it will be seen that it cannot serve the first function of food, namely, the purpose of growth and repair. It can, however, serve as fuel food, for when taken into the body in small quantities it is assimilated and burned up, producing the same amount of heat as if burned in a lamp. In sickness this may be beneficial, at times when the body cannot assimilate other foods. But the injurious effects of alcohol upon the digestive and nervous systems are so important and far-reaching that its value as a fuel food sinks into insignificance in comparison.

The process of combustion or burning in the fire box of our locomotive consists, as has been said, in oxygen of the air uniting with the carbon and hydrogen of the coal, forming carbonic acid and water, and