A wise person once told me, if you want to acquire wisdom, read books written before the invention of the printing press.
There’s a lot of truth in this. Particularly when it comes to books about diet and health. Most of what has been written since the 1970s is trash. Honestly, I wouldn’t put my faith in any of the fad diets that have been best-sellers in the last 40 years. They are driven mainly by marketing, rather than any genuine attempt to tell the truth.
Regarding diet and health, some of the wisest information comes from the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda. I’m a great fan of Ayurveda. But I feel it’s too complicated for most ordinary people in the Western world today to follow. You can tie yourself up in knots with it.
My two favourite older books on diet and health are:
1. ‘Discourses on the Sober Life’ by Luigi Cornaro (written in the 16th century). You can find out more here www.chronicfatigue-help.com/luigi.htm
This second book is currently my favourite of all time on the subject of diet and health. It’s easier to grasp than Ayurveda. And it’s more detailed than Luigi Cornaro’s book on the important subjects of exercise and rest, which can be just as important as diet – if not more so.
Here is a link to ‘Sure Methods of Improving Health and Prolonging Life’ in PDF format.
I recommend you download it, read it and re-read it – and of course apply it! It’s 400 pages long. But if you stop reading all the modern diet books, you will have plenty of time!
Here are some of the main points in ‘Sure Methods of Improving Health and Prolonging Life’
First, the author looks at the pros an cons of animal food versus vegetable food. He concludes animal food is more suited to those engaged in hard physical labour (as many people were, of course in those days).
But too much animal food is bad for those who are not physically active. It can lead to chronic diseases in later life. They should orient their diet more towards vegetable food. (By vegetable food he includes grains, which he recommends should make up the bulk of the diet.) But everyone should include some animal food, he advises.
“Where little bodily exertion is employed, much animal food is improper, as it will load the body and oppress the mind. But when the bodily exercise or labour is constant and great, the use of animal food ought to be liberal, and even the vegetables used should be of the most nourishing, or farinaceous sort. (i.e. grains).”
He also recommends eggs as being one of the most nutritious foods – ideally eaten raw or lightly cooked, for ease of digestion.
Now, some interesting information for those who believe grains are not fit for human consumption – i.e particularly the Paleo and Ketogenic diet communities and others who recommend avoiding grains.
Look at what Dr Graham says about grains:
“(Grains) are among all others the most wholesome and nourishing, and of these the preference is justly given to wheat. Bread is with propriety called the staff of life.”
He also recommends barley, oats and rice.
Equally interesting is what Dr Graham says about salads. It seems to be taken as gospel today that salads are the perfect food (presumably because they contain few calories and so help people lose weight). But Dr Graham advises against too many salads and raw vegetables in general.
“Salads, lettuce and all undressed vegetables of this kind contain little nourishment and are not much to be recommended.”
He recommends potatoes as being a “wholesome food for almost everyone”.
Regarding fruit, Dr Graham recommends apples, pears, peaches, apricots, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, red and white currants, and grapes. (Bear in mind, he is writing in England, so is talking mainly about locally grown fruits, in season.)
He particularly recommends cooked fruits, with baked apples being top of the list. Also, raisins, prunes and dried figs in moderation.
On the subject of drinking liquids
Dr Graham’s views on drinking fluids are particularly interesting in view of the modern preoccupation with drinking water all day long. He regards water as the perfect beverage, but not too much of it beyond what the body needs. This of course varies according to the weather and the amount of physical exercise.
He is also a great fan of milk.
“Milk is one of the most valuable presents that nature has bestowed upon the human race, being equally wholesome, nourishing and digestible.It is well calculated as an article of diet for both children and adults.”
He adds, skim milk is “much inferior” to whole milk. For those who can’t digest whole milk, he recommends watering it down slightly rather than resorting to incompletely nourishing skim milk.
Regarding tea and coffee…
Dr Graham recommends “good black tea, when drank in moderate quantity, as wholeseome and useful.” But later he stresses tea should not be brewed too strong, and no more than 2 or 3 cups consumed per day.
Coffee he regards as “fit only for occasional use.” He adds “…it weakens the nervous system and produces all the bad effects of strong tea.”
Cocoa, though, is a “light and nutritive beverage” when made with water and a little milk and sugar added.
Dr Graham also recommends soups be consumed often, as they are nutritious and easy to digest.
Regarding wine and beer, he doesn’t see any particular health benefits in them but in moderation they are not harnful for most people.
How much food should you eat and drink?
Dr Graham devotes an entire section to the quantity of food and drink that should be consumed. He believes it is better to err on the side of eating less, rather than more. (My own view is that’s true for most people – but many readers of this blog are people who are already restricting their food intake, so I would bear that in mind. You also need to eat enough!)
He stresses it is particularly important to avoid eating heavily at night. He believes observing this one rule alone would eliminate much sickness from the world. He recommends the heaviest meal be taken in the middle of the day, and also eating a substantial breakfast, and not too much food after 4pm.
This post is already long enough. I will look at Dr Graham’s recommendations on exercise and sleep in another post.