The Value of Good Digestion
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Hygienic Review February 1972
What shall we eat for health? The
old advice to "eat nothing for
breakfast and something you don't
like for dinner" is a false approach.
The wholesome foods of nature are
as delicious and delightful to the sense of
taste as anything can conceivably be. We
can eat things that we like and be healthy.
It is true that we can learn to like things that are far from wholesome, and once
we have acquired a perversion of the sense of taste, we may no longer relish
wholesome foods, but it is not difficult to re-acquire a relish for that which is
The subject of food and feeding has been fully studied and the many foods we
eat have been thoroughly tested and analyzed and there can no longer be any
excuse for any man pleading ignorance of diet.
If he is ignorant, this is because he has chosen to be so. The food, which a
man eats, though very important, is no more so than the efficiency of his
digestion; for poor digestion will fail to prepare the best of food for nutrition.
Many factors or conditions impair or retard the process of digestion and thus
interfere with the work of preparing what may otherwise be wholesome foods
for entrance into the body.
Extensive tests have shown that the residues left in bread by baking powders,
retard the digestion of proteins. Although most of these tests were made with
cream of tartar powders, there does not seem to be any powders that are
exempt from this effect.
Strong alkalies in food must go far to neutralize the acid of the gastric juice
and thus annul the digestive power. The food eaten is then left to ferment
instead of digesting.
Baking soda, milk of magnesia or other alkali taken following a meal retard the
digestion of the meal. The resort to alkalies as "medicines" is a patent abuse
of the body.
Physicians with their drugs as well as cooks with their concoctions make
dyspeptics. Indigestion is frequently caused by taking laxative and cathartic
drugs. This eternal swallowing of drugs ruins many constitutions.
The sour stomach, sour eructations, heavy stomachs, gas, distress and
discomfort that are so common after the conventional meals do not teach our
deluded people that their ways of life and particularly their ways of eating are
out of harmony with the laws of being.
They think that if they can take a dose of baking soda, or an aspirin and
"relieve" their distress, all of the evil consequences of their wrong eating are
wiped out and they may go on in continual violation of the laws of life.
These drugs are advertised to give absolution of our daily gastronomic sins
and free indulgences for repetitions of this agreeable weakness.
This use of alkalies is of modern and comparatively recent origin; in fact the
indiscriminate use of them dates back not more than a hundred years.
Would you eat rotten apples? Of course you couldn't. It borders on insult to
even imply that you would condescend to take such an unwholesome
substance into your mouth.
Do you drink hard cider? Do you use cider vinegar? If you take either of these
substances you are taking rotten apples. You may properly be classed with a
person who eats ripened (rotted) poultry or spoiled cabbage (sauerkraut).
In the production of cider and vinegar we start with a good apple, which is
wholesome food. The apple juice begins to undergo decomposition as soon
as it is extracted from the apple and soon becomes loaded with
The two most abundant of these products are alcohol, which is a protoplasmic
poison, and acetic acid, which is more toxic than alcohol.
Alcohol precipitates pepsin and thus interrupts and retards protein digestion.
Acetic acid chiefly retards starch digestion. Both alcohol and acetic acid
occasion irritation of the stomach and thus impair digestion in general.
Experiments have shown that even as small a proportion of vinegar as one
part in 5,000 appreciably diminishes the digestion of starch by its inhibiting or
destructive effect upon salivary amylase. One part in 1,000 renders starch
digestion very slow and twice this quantity arrests it altogether.
From these facts it becomes evident that vinegar, pickles, salads on which
vinegar has been sprinkled and salad dressings containing vinegar and other
foods to which vinegar is added are unwholesome, especially when taken with
starchy foods such as cereals, bread, legumes, potatoes and the like.
As I dictated this article, my secretary, who is taking down the dictation in
shorthand, asked me if I had ever eaten sauerkraut. She stated that she had
tried it once in her life and could not remember how it tasted. She remembers
only that it was repulsive. It probably is repulsive to everybody the first time it
is tried, but by repeated eating one can acquire a relish for the rotten cabbage
and the brine in which it is pickled. Just as one may acquire a liking for
sauerkraut or for tobacco, which is even more repugnant to the unperverted
taste, so one may acquire a relish for the repulsive taste of vinegar.
By frequent repetition we thus succeed in beating down our instinctive
warnings against unwholesome substances.
I recall my boyhood experiences in trying to eat cucumbers and beets pickled
in vinegar and my efforts to use pepper sauce, which was made by pickling
pods in vinegar. I was never quite successful in learning to relish these
In those days many housewives made their own vinegar so that it was free of
adulteration and chemical additives, but its taste was nonetheless repugnant.
The only way I was ever able to eat it was as the filler in the vinegar pies my
mother used to make. In these pies the repulsiveness of the vinegar was
camouflaged by an abundance of sugar. The whole concoction was
unwholesome and I do not recommend it as an article of diet.
Other acids, even wholesome ones such as those of the lemon, lime, orange,
grapefruit, tangerine, pineapple and other fruit acids, destroy the salivary
amylase and retard or suspend starch digestion.
It is unwise to eat acid foods and starches at the same meal. As the
hydrochloric acid of the gastric juice, so essential to protein digestion in the
stomach, also destroys ptyalin or salivary amylase and thus retards starch
digestion, it is not wise to eat protein foods and starch foods at the same meal.
Bread, potatoes, cereals, beans, peas, and other starchy foods are best eaten
at meals separate from nuts, cheese, eggs or flesh foods.
In the largest sense no food is digestible or indigestible per se, but according
to persons, times and circumstances. Overeating is among the chief causes
of indigestion. The competition of our public dining rooms tempts us to eat
three big meals a day, often two of them at a time.
The rate of action of the digestion enzymes depends not alone upon the pH of
the medium in which they act, but also upon the temperature of the medium.
They are most efficient at the normal internal temperature of the body.
Making the contents of the stomach cold by drinking cold water or other cold
drink or by eating ice inevitably reduces the activity of the digestive enzymes.
Very hot liquids raise the temperature of the mouth and stomach above the
normal temperature and bring about certain equally undesirable changes in
the enzymes. Neither hot nor cold drinks or foods should be taken. Ice cream,
ice, sherbets, etc., taken at the end of the meal, play havoc with digestion.
The stomach has been termed the "center of sympathies". Certain it is,
irritation of the digestive tract can occasion more vertigo, trembling, muscular
weaknesses, etc., than irritation of almost any other region of the body.
Indigestion is among the most common causes of physical discomfort and
emotional stresses. Palliating these discomforts with drugs instead of
removing the causes of the indigestion leads to ruinous consequences.
What is the extent of the role played in the evolution of disease by impaired
function of the digestive tract? The fouling of the food supply and the
deterioration of the tissues of the body that results from poisoning by
absorption of septic materials from a digestive tract that is reeking with
decomposition, this largely, if not wholly from the small intestines, are factors
that we must reckon with in any consideration of etiology, even of the simplest
as well as of the most complex diseases.
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Article: The Value of Good Digestion