Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/September 1895/Fruit as a Food and Medicine

1228772Popular Science Monthly Volume 47 September 1895 — Fruit as a Food and Medicine1895Harry Benjafield



And Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.—Genesis.

Stay me with raisins, comfort me with apples.—Solomon.

SUCH was the opinion of people who lived six thousand years ago, and all down through the succeeding ages poets have sung the praises of the luscious grape and peach, and painters have sought to outvie each other in depicting the attractions of the apple and plum, and away deep down below all this we see throughout the whole animal creation a developed instinct which teaches all to long after these beautiful fruits. Is this instinct wrong? Is Nature a fool thus to make her creatures voice their needs? When you see the whole insect family swarming over and voraciously devouring our choicest fruits, shall we say that they do not know what is good for them? When we see pigs, horses, cows, and sheep breaking down our fences, need we ask how they learned to love fruit? Ay, more, note the baby in arms who screams for the rosy apple, and bites away at it even with toothless gums, and as the baby grows into the boy how he will defy canes, and even police, so that he can get what he loves and longs for. The Creator is so anxious that this very necessary food shall be eaten by his creatures that he makes it beautiful to look upon, sweet and attractive in smell, and gives to it such varieties of flavors that the most fastidious can be satisfied. And yet in spite of all this the great mass of the people look upon fruit as a luxury upon which they can only spend odd pennies for the amusement of their children. Many parents will more readily spend money on injurious or even poisonous sweets than they will on good healthy fruit, and fashionable society will spend pounds on cakes, wines, and brandies, while they spend as many shillings on the very thing they need to keep them healthy—fruit. And as for the amount of drugs swallowed which should be replaced in great measure by fruit it is beyond my powers to calculate. Millions upon millions of pounds are spent annually upon mercurial and other purgatives, most of which would be quite unnecessary if the people would but look upon fruit as a necessary article of diet. The fruit grower of the future must try to so educate the public mind that this state of things will be altered. The man who makes sweets does not just make them and do nothing to induce the public to buy. No; first he puts them up in all sorts of tempting boxes or packages, then he pushes the sale in various ways. The men who make beers, brandies, etc., not only do this, but they go further, they provide all kinds of places where they shall be taken, they provide the gin palace with all its attractions of club rooms, billiards, daily papers, besides plenty of pretty girls to wait on their customers. Why should we not have fruit palaces where, at reasonable prices, people could get the choicest fruit at any hour of the day?

Eve is said to have seen that fruit was good for food. Every generation since has indorsed her opinion, and now perhaps more than ever before the world is waking up to see how good a food it really is. Good ripe fruits contain a large amount of sugar in a very easily digestible form. This sugar forms a light nourishment, which, in conjunction with bread, rice, etc., form a food especially suitable for these warm colonies;[2] and when eaten with, say, milk or milk and eggs, the whole forms the most perfect and easily digestible food imaginable. For stomachs capable of digesting it fruit eaten with pastry forms a very perfect nourishment, but I prefer my cooked fruit covered with rice and milk or custard. I received a book lately written by a medical man advising people to live entirely on fruits and nuts. I am not prepared to go so far—by the way, he allowed some meat to be taken with it—for, although I look upon fruit as an excellent food, yet I look upon it more as a necessary adjunct than as a perfect food of itself. Why for ages have people eaten apple sauce with their roast goose and sucking pig? Simply because the acids and pectones in the fruit assist in digesting the fats so abundant in this kind of food. For the same reason at the end of a heavy dinner we eat our cooked fruits, and when we want their digestive action even more developed we take them after dinner in their natural, uncooked state as dessert. In the past ages instinct has taught men to do this; to-day science tells them why they did it, and this same science tell us that fruit should be eaten as an aid to digestion of other foods much more than it is now. Cultivated fruits such as apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, grapes, etc., contain on analysis very similar proportions of the same ingredients, which are about eight per cent of grape sugar, three per cent of pectones, one per cent of malic and other acids, and one per cent of flesh-forming albuminoids, with over eighty per cent of water. Digestion depends upon the action of pepsin in the stomach upon the food, which is greatly aided by the acids of the stomach. Fats are digested by these acids and the bile from the liver. Now, the acids and pectones in fruit peculiarly assist the acids of the stomach. Only lately even royalty has been taking lemon juice in tea instead of sugar, and lemon juice has been prescribed largely by physicians to help weak digestion, simply because these acids exist very abundantly in the lemon.

Another great action of fruit in the body is its shall—I call it—antiscorbutic action. It keeps the body in a healthy condition. When out on a long voyage where fruit is scarce how one longs for it! Those who have been without it for an extended time long for it until even in their dreams they picture the fruit their system so badly needs. The following case will illustrate my meaning: A ship's crew had any amount of fresh meat, new bread, tea, coffee, etc., aboard, but no fruit nor vegetables. As days went by the men grew haggard, breathless, and weak, with violent, tearing rheumatic pains in the joints. Then the gums grew spongy, the blood broke through its veins, and the whole system was demoralized and dying. In short, they were dying of scurvy. A fruit ship passing sent aboard a good supply of oranges and lemons, which were greedily eaten by the sufferers. Mark the the result: though they still went on eating the same food the addition of fruit to their diet made all the difference between life and death. In a few days their gums began to heal, the blood became healthy, natural color came in their faces, and strength came to the limbs so lately racked with pain. This is, perhaps, an extreme illustration, but I am satisfied that in a lesser degree the want of fruit is responsible for much of the illness in the world. When a student I remember sitting beside a leading London surgeon as an unhealthy child was brought in suffering from a scrofulous-looking rash over the face. Turning to us he exclaimed, "That is a rash from eating lollies." And many times since have I had occasion to remember his teaching, as I have seen it verified. Good fruit clears the blood and prevents this sort of thing. This lemon-juice cure for rheumatism is founded on scientific facts, and having suffered myself from acute gout for the last fifteen years, I have proved over and over again the advantages which are obtained from eating fruit. Garrod, the great London authority on gout, advises his patients to take oranges, lemons, strawberries, grapes, apples, pears, etc. Tardieu, the great French authority, maintains that the salts of potash found so plentifully in fruits are the chief agents in purifying the blood from these rheumatic and gouty poisons.

Perhaps in our unnatural, civilized society, sluggish action of the bowels and liver is responsible for more actual misery than any other ailment. Headache, indigestion, constipation, hæemorrhoids, and a generally miserable condition, are but too often the experience of the sufferer, and to overcome it about half the drugs in the world are given in all sorts of compounds. Let the man of drugs go aboard that ship in mid ocean, with its crew suffering from all these ailments; let the man with his artificially made fruit salts have his trial at their bowels and liver; let the man of mercury and podophyllum, and all the so-called liver doctors try their best; call in the tribes of tonics, and give iron, quinine, arsenic, strychnia, and all the rest of the family; then try your stomachics for his digestion, but in spite of all these the scurvy fiend will sit aloft and laugh you to scorn. In fact, all these drugs have been tried over and over again, and Dr. Buzzard, perhaps the greatest authority in the world, tells us they have all proved miserable failures. But bring in your fruit and the whole scene changes. Can not we show the world that what is applicable to these men in their extreme condition is more or less applicable to the millions of sufferers on land who now persist in looking upon fruit as a thing they can very well do without? Dr. Buzzard advises the scorbutic to take fruit morning, noon, and night. "Fresh lemon juice in the form of lemonade is to be his ordinary drink; the existence of diarrhœa should be no reason for withholding it. Give oranges, lemons, apples, potatoes, cabbage, salads," and if this advice is good for those aboard, and there is no doubt about that, it is equally good for the millions who are spending millions annually in drugs which will never cure them. The first symptoms of scurvy are a change in the color of the skin, which becomes sallow or of a greenish tint. Then follows an aversion for all exercise. Bloodshot eyes, weak heart, bad digestion, and constipation follow on. Dr. Ballard says many of the most serious and fatal cases of scurvy he has seen have only presented as symptoms the pallid face, general listlessness, and bloodshot eyes. If we go through the back streets of our large towns how many pallid faced, listless-looking people and children swarm around us, and they have, as a rule, plenty of food! Within the last few weeks two of my own children have given me a good example of what fruit will do. Two months ago I decided to let these two boys, aged six and eight, go to my farm among the apple-packers. They were not actually ill when they went out, neither had they been at all shut up, but they were pale-looking, would not eat their food, etc. During the last two months they make their boast they eat a dozen apples a day each, and as soon as they began eating these apples their appetite for other foods about doubled, and during the eight weeks they have grown stout and robust, skin clear and healthy, with the glow of health on their cheeks, and bodily strength equal to any amount of exertion.

As a medicine, I look upon fruit as a most valuable ally. As previously shown, when the body is in that breaking-up condition known as scurvy, the whole medical profession look upon fruit and fresh vegetables as the one and only known remedy. I believe the day will come when science will use it very much mere largely than it does now in the treatment of many of the everyday ailments. I have shown how it aids digestion. Observations in scurvy prove that it exerts a very powerful influence on the blood. But "the blood is the life": poor blood means poor spirits, poor strength, poor breath, and poor circulation. Impure blood means gout, rheumatism, skin diseases, rickets, and other troubles. As it is proved that fruit will purify and improve the quality of the blood, it must follow that fruit is both food and medicine combined. In fevers I use grapes and strawberries, giving them to my patients in small but frequent doses—oranges and baked apples, if the others are not obtainable. For rheumatism, plenty of lemons are invaluable. White girls with miserable, pallid complexions want a quart of strawberries a day; where these are not obtainable, bananas, which contain much iron, are a good substitute. Probably, of all fruits, the apple stands unrivaled for general purposes in the household; either raw or cooked it can be taken by nearly everybody, and it contains similar properties to the other more delicate fruits. To my mind the pear is more easily digested than the apple, and for eating uncooked is superior to it. In our climate we can have good dessert pears nine months in the year, and their culture should be much increased.

Dried fruits are now occupying more attention than perhaps they have ever done before. It has been proved in a large way by giving troops dried vegetables and fruits that the attack of scurvy could be warded off, but in curing scurvy they were nowhere alongside green. Still it teaches us that dried fruits should be used when green can not be obtained. If soaked for a few hours before cooking they make a capital substitute for fresh fruit, and they come cheaper to the consumer. I wonder that miners, sailors, and others do not use dried fruits very largely.

For preserving fruit I look upon bottling in glass bottles as the coming thing. Not by the use of chemicals, such as salicylic and boracic acids, and the various preservatives made from them, but simply by protecting it after cooking from the fermentative germs in the atmosphere. It keeps for years, turns out even more palatable than green fruit, is equally digestible, and contains all the virtues of freshly cooked fruit. When bottles are made in Australia at a cheap rate this will be a great industry. Canned fruit is not so good; the acid of the fruit dissolves up tin and lead from the tin, and I have seen very serious cases of illness as a result. Besides, fruit should be sold much cheaper in bottles than in tins, as the bottle can be returned and used again.

Jams made from nice fresh fruit, and put up in glass or ware, make a very good article of diet, but much of the jams of commerce should be used as food for pigs. Jams act on tin and lead very much like tart fruits, but the acid in them is greatly neutralized by the sugar. Still, I have seen the outside of the jam in a tin quite discolored.

Solomon said, "Stay me with raisins, comfort me with apples," so great and wise kings six thousand years ago wished to be fed with dried fruit and apples. In this highly enlightened age it is nothing to our credit that we pay less attention to our diet than these old patriarchs did. They thought more of their vineyards than they did of their cattle. When Moses sent the spies into Canaan they were told to bring back samples of the fruit it bore, and they brought back not a fat bullock but a very fat bunch of grapes. A medical writer has recently been maintaining that bread and other starchy food, containing as they do large quantities of lime, are responsible, especially in aged people, for many of the diseases from which we suffer, such as apoplexy, rheumatic gout, etc., and urged that fruit should be taken freely instead, to counteract these limy effects. One of the first symptoms, when people are deprived of fruit and vegetables, is very severe pain in the joints like rheumatism, and death from failure of the heart's action. Whether he is right about this lime may not be proved, but there is no doubt but lime exists too largely in the blood vessels in these diseases, and if fruit were eaten regularly it would do much to prevent it. Science to-day tells us that we may live under the most beautiful conditions, we may feast on bread, meat, eggs, rice, cocoa, oatmeal, and such like foods for a short time, but unless we take fruits or fresh vegetables—fruits being the best—we shall get listless, with leaden face, etc., until we die in a few months at the longest; and it follows that if we would keep ourselves and our children with clear skins, bright intellects, good digestion, rich colored, healthy blood and strength for work, we must regularly take fruit and vegetables, and look upon them as actually more necessary for the support of good health than any other article of diet.

While among the Mongols of the borders of Tibet. Mr. W. W. Rockhill heard a story, said to be widespread among the people, that some five hundred years ago a foreign emperor, desirous of knowing what was in the sun, took fifty Mongol men and as many women, and, shutting them up in a crystal casket that had the power of flying, started them on a voyage of discovery to that star. Nothing has been heard of the explorers since then, and the Mongols bear a grudge against the emperor, whoever he may have been, who served their people so ill.
  1. From advance sheets of a lecture delivered before the Australasian Federated Fruit-growers' Association at the Tasmanian Exhibition Building, Queen's Domain, Hobart, April 26, 1895.
  2. Australia.