Strictly Vegetarian Diets

The most important requirement in a rational vegetarian diet is the thorough cooking of the food, by which the cellulose coverings are burst asunder, thus enabling the digestive fluids to act successfully upon their contents. This requires a scientific mode of cooking, and it must be remembered that too great a heat must not be long continued. The starch granules are swollen by the heat, their outer covering is burst open, and the albuminous contents are freed; when, however, the heat is too great, they may, on the other hand, become shriveled up, and in this case the outer covering of cellulose will remain intact. It would therefore be more to the purpose not to subject the foods to a very great heat for any length of time, and cooking in a steaming apparatus would undoubtedly be the best procedure, since in this way the important nutritive salts are not extracted from the vegetables, which very readily occurs when they are cooked in water for a long time.

Thorough mastication of the food is even more important with a vegetarian than with a meat diet, since the action of the digestive fluids upon the cellulose-rich vegetables is materially lessened when the latter are not well masticated. For the meat-eater it does not so much matter whether a little more or less of his albumin-rich food is lost, while in the vegetarian diet, which is already poor in albumin, this plays an injurious rôle. Only a person having excellent teeth can be a good vegetarian ; when the latter are defective, as in the case of old people, the vegetables must be prepared in a fluid form or as purées or soups, or be chopped very fine.

It would be much the best for all vegetarians to take the vegetables containing the greatest amount of( albumin in this form, as it is otherwise, i.e., in the leguminous vegetables, only very poorly assimilated, so that much of it is unavoidably lost. Some of the vegetables which are eaten without the shells—peas, for example—are better assimilated, but lentils and beans less so. The latter had much better be taken mashed into a purée. Soy beans are also good when prepared in this way, and would prove a valuable addition to a vegetarian diet. In the vegetarian restaurants which claim to furnish a nourishing menu—not always a very sensible one, as one so often finds—such purées of leguminous vegetables should be a daily item of the bill of fare.

It would, moreover, be advisable that sufficient quantities of albumin-containing foods, such as leguminous vegetables, mushrooms, etc., be regularly included among those constituting a vegetable diet. For old, weak people, or those subject to flatulence, the only resource would be some nutritious preparation made from albumin-containing vegetables—such as sarton, which is made of soy beans, or roborat, prepared from the albumin of wheat. Small quantities of these substances will furnish as much albumin as is contained in much larger amounts of cereals or bread.

The albumin-containing cereals in general should be very well represented in the strictly vegetarian diet not only on account of the albumin, but because of the high carbohydrate content. In the diet of the unscientific vegetarian—unfortunately such ignorant procedures are the rule—the albumin and carbohydrate content is not considered, and both of these substances are insufficiently represented. Even at best, this is still the case with the albumin; therefore, correspondingly greater amounts of carbohydrates should be absorbed. Cereals can be used to meet these requirements, but not in the form of a coarse, whole-wheat, or graham bread, so often furnished in vegetarian restaurants; fine wheat bread should be used instead. For a meat-eater, or even a person living upon a diet consisting of milk, eggs, and vegetables, the coarser bread would be better adapted, as it contains more of the nutrient salts and also more cellulose. The vegetarian already ingests a plentiful supply of the latter, and what he requires is more of nutritious substances, which will be furnished by the otherwise prohibited fine wheat bread.

Oats would be a practical food for strict vegetarians, but should be used in a form in which the albumin and carbohydrates can be assimilated—especially in the case of old and weak persons—e.g., in the form of one of the prepared oat foods, such as Knorr’s preparation or Quaker oats. All other similar carbohydrate-containing foods, such as rice, buckwheat, etc., would also be very beneficial, because the portions which are difficult to digest—the husks—have been removed. They are more readily assimilated in this form, and the nutritive value is also increased. This is, of course, of great importance in a vegetable diet, which is less nutritious than any other.

Tapioca, sago, rice, and similar aliments containing carbohydrates, but poor in cellulose, should always be abundantly represented in any form of vegetable diet.

The dishes prepared from a mixture of fine wheat meal and potato flour, so frequently eaten in Austria-Hungary and used in another form for breakfast in America, are also very advantageous. In the last-named country they consist often of a kind of gruel made of wheat (cream of wheat) or of oats, and also include cakes of wheat, buckwheat, or corn flour which resemble our pancakes. The Americans eat with these a syrup (maple syrup) made in Canada or Vermont from the sap of the maple tree. With us such a breakfast would be especially useful for vegetarians, and in this way one would be sure of having an appreciable quantity of carbohydrate in the food. As the maple syrup is difficult to obtain here, one might use with the cakes a syrup made of cane-sugar, like that which comes from Java (the Gula Java of the Malays), or honey, which is similar to these syrups. Their use has the advantage that the nutritive value is increased by the sugar contained in them. Some fat had best be used with these cakes ; and since the strict vegetarian abjures animal fats, the best varieties of vegetable fats—those containing the least of the fatty acids—such as fine olive oil, palm oil, etc., should be used. In fact, a certain amount of fats is quite as necessary in a vegetable diet as the carbohydrates, albumin being so very poorly represented. With green vegetables, including salad (best mixed with vinegar), a good proportion of fat can be absorbed, and f at-containing fruits and nuts—such as the fatty groundnuts (Arachides) which come to us from the Congo, Brazil, etc.—may also be used. Naturally, these must all be very carefully masticated, as they are not very digestible owing to the high fat content.

In the way of fruit the disciples of a strictly vegetable diet should give the preference to the very nourishing dried fruits,—although they are rather hard to digest on account of the increased proportion of raw fiber. In regard to difficulty of digestion, dried bananas—such as are imported from Surinam by Abraham Dürninger in Herrenhut, and which are much used in Holland—form an exception. I frequently eat them myself in the summer months when I live upon a vegetable diet, and find them easy to digest and very nutritious. As has already been stated, bananas contain but little cellulose ; the drying process greatly increases the sugar content, so that, although the starch content of the fresh ripe banana is only 16.20 per cent., dried bananas often contain 70 per cent. of sugar or sometimes even more. Figs and dates, English walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, etc., and fresh fruits should always be represented in the dessert taken by vegetarians.

The menu of the strict vegetarian should thus rationally be so combined that at the principal meal, after a vegetable purée soup, some albumin-containing food such as mushrooms or some leguminous vegetable (best in purée form) should be taken, together with green vegetables combined with some vegetable fat; next either tapioca, sago, or rice, etc., then pastry or cakes, and afterward nuts and dried or fresh fruits. As a dessert, in order to increase the nutritive value of the diet, some chocolate might also be taken,—this best in the form of the fat-containing Giandujas of Turin, which readily melt in the mouth, or some other form of cream chocolate. In conformity with the physiology of digestion, sweets, when eaten alone, should always be taken at the end of a meal. After the repast a cup of caffeine-free coffee may be taken. For break-fast the flat cakes or the various gruels made of cereals, with honey and fruit, are indicated as the principal components of the meal, and for the evening repast albumin-containing vegetables, green vegetables, and other starchy foods, together with fruit, should again be taken.

Menus in the vegetarian restaurants should likewise be made up according to the rules given above. A great draw-back in this connection is the fact that motives of economy prevail in these establishments. The main object seems to be the giving of as much as is at all possible for at most i mark (25 cents) or for 70 or 80 pfennigs (18 or 20 cents). That food of the very best quality is consequently not the rule is as regrettable as it is easily understood. When the true vegetarian, owing to the inferior quality of the food, thus absorbs even less of nutritious substances than he would otherwise have, he is even more exposed to undernutrition. It would be very advantageous if, in all large cities vegetarian societies or clubs were formed which would build and control restaurants of this kind. In Manchester, England, a splendid example of such a society exists, which does very excellent work ; it is materially assisted by benefactions from those interested in its success. It is greatly to be regretted that we do not here also have some wealthy vegetarians who would construct such vegetarian restaurants in the interests of the public welfare in general. Establishments of this kind should also be founded by persons dying without heirs, and who wish to perpetuate their names by some benefaction which would help to. prolong the life of many. In this way vegetarianism could prolong life, but only when practised upon scientific lines. The greatest prospect of a prolonged existence is, however, only afforded by the milk-egg-vegetable diet, which we shall now discuss. A strictly vegetable diet as above described may be continued for weeks, or perhaps even months, by some persons—and by some women of a certain constitution and build even longer—but the majority of average individuals often suffer from intestinal disturbances and stomach affections—very frequently over-acidity. These results, as well as nervous affections, then render a change of diet imperative.