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Nutrition and Health

Schmidt Number: S-5854

On-line since: 4th January 2001

Lecture II: Nutrition and Health

Rudolf Steiner: Today I would like to add a little more in answer to Herr Burle's question last Thursday. You remember that I spoke of the four substances necessary to human nutrition: minerals, carbohydrates, which are to be found in potatoes, but especially in our held grains and legumes, then fats, and protein. I pointed out how different our nutrition is with regard to protein as compared, for instance, to salt. A man takes salt into his body and it travels all the way to his head, in such a way that the salt remains salt. It is really not changed except that it is dissolved. It keeps its forces as salt all the way to the human head. In contrast to this, protein — the protein in ordinary hens' eggs, for instance, but also the protein from plants — this protein is at once broken down in the human body, while it is still in the stomach and intestines; it does not remain protein. The human being possesses forces by which he is able to break down this protein. He also has the forces to build something up again, to make his own protein. He would not be able to do this if he had not already broken down other protein.

Now think how it is, gentlemen, with this protein. Imagine that you have become an exceptionally clever person, so clever that you are confident you can make a watch. But you've never seen a watch except from the outside, so you cannot right off make a watch. But if you take a chance and you take some watch to pieces, take it all apart and lay out the single pieces in such a way that you observe just how the parts relate to one another, then you know how you are going to put them all together again. That's what the human body does with protein. It must take in protein and take it all apart.

Protein consists of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and sulphur. Those are its most important components. And now the protein is completely separated into its parts, so that when it all reaches the intestines, man does not have protein in him, but he has carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and sulphur. You see how it is? — now the man has the protein all laid out in its parts as you had the watch all laid out on the table. So now you will say, Sure! when I took that watch apart, I observed it very carefully, and now I can make watches. Likewise I only need to eat protein once; after that, I can make it myself. But it doesn't happen that way, gentlemen. A human being has his memory as a complete human entity; his body by itself does not have the kind of memory that can take note of something, it uses its “memory” forces just for building itself up. So one must always be eating new protein in order to be able to make a protein.

The fact is, the human being is involved in a very, very complicated activity when he manufactures his own protein. First he divides the protein he has eaten into its separate parts and puts the carbon from it into his body everywhere. Now you already know that we inhale oxygen from the air and that this oxygen combines with the carbon we have in us from proteins and other food elements. And we exhale carbon in carbon dioxide, keeping a part of it back. So now we have that carbon and oxygen together in our body. We do not retain and use the oxygen that was in the protein; we use the oxygen we have inhaled to combine with the carbon. Thus we do not make our own protein as the materialists describe it: namely, that we eat a great many eggs which then are deposited throughout our body so that eggs we have eaten are spread over our whole body. That is not true.

Actually, we are saved by the organization of our body so that when we eat eggs, we don't all turn into crazy hens! It's a fact. We don't become crazy hens because we break the protein down in our intestines and instead of using the oxygen that was in the protein, we use oxygen coming out of the air. Also, as we breathe oxygen in we breathe nitrogen in too; nitrogen is always in the air. Again, we don't use the nitrogen that comes to us in the hens' eggs; we use the nitrogen we breathe in from the air. And the hydrogen we've eaten in eggs, we don't use that either, not at all. We use the hydrogen we take in through our nose and our ears, through all our senses; that's the hydrogen we use to make our protein. Sulphur too — we receive that continually from the air. Hydrogen and sulphur we get from the air. From the protein we eat, we keep and use only the carbon. The other substances, we take from the air. So you see how it is with protein.

There is a similar situation with fat. We make our own protein, using only the carbon from the external protein. And we also make our own fat. For the fats too, we use very little nitrogen from our food. So you see, we produce our own protein and fat. Only what we consume in potatoes, legumes, and grains goes over into our body. In fact, even these things do not go fully into our body, but only to the lower part of our head. The minerals we consume go up into the entire head; from them we have what we need to build up our bones.

Therefore you see, gentlemen, we must take care to bring healthy plain protein into our body. Healthy plant protein! That is what our body needs in large quantity. When we take in protein from eggs, our body can be rather lazy; it can easily break the protein down, because that protein is easily broken down. But plant protein, which we get from fruit — it is chiefly in that part of the plant, as I told you on Thursday — that is especially valuable to us. If a person wants to keep himself healthy, it is really necessary to include fruit in his diet. Cooked or raw, but fruit he must have. If he neglects to eat fruit, he will gradually condemn his body to a very sluggish digestion.

You can see that it is also a question of giving proper nourishment to the plants themselves. And that means, we must realize that plants are living things; they are not minerals, they are something alive. A plant comes to us out of the seed we put in the ground. The plant cannot flourish unless the soil itself is to some degree alive. And how do we make the soil alive? By manuring it properly. Yes, proper manuring is what will give us really good plant protein.

We must remember that for long, long ages men have known that the right manure is what comes out of the horses' stalls, out of the cow-barn and so on; the right manure is what comes off the farm itself. In recent times when everything has become materialistic, people have been saying: Look here! we can do it much more easily by finding out what substances are in the manure and then taking them out of the mineral kingdom: mineral fertilizer!

And you can see, gentlemen, when one uses mineral fertilizer, it is as if one just put minerals into the ground; then only the root becomes strong. Then we get from the plants the substance that helps to build up our bones. But we don't get a proper protein from the plants. And the plants, our field grains have suffered from the lack of protein for a long time. And the lack will become greater and greater unless people return to proper manuring.

There have already been agricultural conferences in which the farmers have said: Yes, the fruit gets worse and worse! And it is true. But naturally the farmers haven't known the reason. Every older person knows that when he was a young fellow, everything that came out of the fields was really better. It's no use thinking that one can make fertilizer simply by combining substances that are present in cow manure. One must see clearly that cow manure does not come out of a chemist's laboratory but out of a laboratory that is far more scientific — it comes from the far, far more scientific laboratory inside the cow. And for this reason cow manure is the stuff that not only makes the roots of plants strong, but that works up powerfully into the fruits and produces good, proper protein in the plants which makes man vigorous.

If there is to be nothing but the mineral fertilizer that has now become so popular, or just nitrogen from the air — well, gentlemen, your children, more particularly, your grandchildren will have very pale faces. You will no longer see a difference between their faces and their white hands. Human beings have a lively, healthy color when the farmlands are properly manured.

So you see, when one speaks of nutrition one has to consider how the foodstuffs are being obtained. It is tremendously important. You can see from various circumstances that the human body itself craves what it needs. Here's just one example: people who are in jail for years at a stretch, usually get food that contains very little fat, so they develop an enormous craving for fat; and when sometimes a drop of wax falls on the floor from the candle that the guard carries into a cell, the prisoner jumps down at once to lick up the fat. The human body feels the lack so strongly if it is missing some necessary substance. We don't notice this if we eat properly and regularly from day to day; then it never happens that our body is missing some essential element. But if something is lacking in the diet steadily for weeks, then the body becomes exceedingly hungry. That is also something that must be carefully noticed.

I have already pointed out that many other things are connected with fertilizing. For instance, our European forefathers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, or still earlier, were different from ourselves in many ways. One doesn't usually pay any attention to that fact. Among other things, they had no potatoes! Potatoes were not introduced until later. The potato diet has exercised a strong influence. When grains are eaten, the heart and lungs become particularly strong. Grains strengthen heart and lungs. A man then develops a healthy chest and he is in fine health. He is not so keen on thinking as on breathing, perhaps; but he can endure very much when he has good breathing. And let me say right here: don't think that someone has strong lungs if he's always opening the window and crying, “Let's get some fresh air in here!” No! a person has strong lungs if he is so conditioned that he can endure any kind of air. The toughened-up person is not the one who can't bear anything but the one who can!

In these days there is much talk about being hardy. Think how the children are “hardened”! Nowadays (in wealthy homes, of course, but then other people quickly follow suit) the children are dressed — well, when we were children, we wore long breeches and were well covered — at the most, we went barefoot — now, the clothes only go down to the knee or are still shorter. If parents knew that this is the best preparation for later attacks of appendicitis, they would be more thoughtful. But fashion is a tyrant! — no thought is given to the matter, and the children are dressed so that their little dresses only reach to the knee, or less. Someday they will only reach to the stomach — that will be the fashion! Fashion has a strong influence.

But what is really at stake? People pay no attention to it. It is this: A human being is constituted throughout his organism so that he is truly capable of doing inner work on all the food he consumes. And in this connection it is especially important to know that a man becomes strong when he works properly on the foods he eats. Children are not made stronger by the treatment I have just mentioned. They are so “hardened” that later in their life — just watch them! — when they have to cross an empty square with the hot sun beating down on them, they drip with perspiration and they can't make it. Someone has not become toughened up when he is not able to stand anything; the person who can endure all possible hardships is the one who has been toughened up. So, in earlier days people were not toughened up; yet they had healthy lungs, healthy hearts, and so on.