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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Mammoths to Mediums
GA 350

XVI. Role of protein, fats, carbohydrates and salts in nutrition. Effects of potato diet. Opponents of anthroposophy

22 September 1923, Dornach

Well, gentlemen, do we have anything on the programme today?

Member of the group: With regard to the food we eat, I wanted to ask if the situation with eating potatoes is different in other countries, a different situation, therefore, than the one that exists for Europeans, let us say.

Rudolf Steiner: Let us talk about the whole food situation again today, the way foods relate to the world of the spirit. As you know, the potato has only been introduced quite recently. I told you that people did not eat potatoes in Europe in earlier times, but other things, very much other things. This is, of course, a question we cannot be clear about unless we consider how the world of the spirit relates to nutrition altogether.

You'll remember—I did refer to these things before—people live on four kinds of products. The first is protein, which is really found in every food but in a characteristic, quite typical form in hen's eggs, we might say. We also eat fats, and again these are not limited to the animal fats we use as actual fats, for fats, too, are found in everything. You know that other products are processed to make foods rich in fat—milk into cheese, for example. The third kind of foods are products we call carbohydrates, and this is everything we have from the plant world, and to some extent of course also in other foods, but mainly in things like wheat, rye, lentils, beans, and also in potato, where it actually predominates. The last of the four things we need for life are the salts. We usually only think of them as seasonings, but they are also very necessary to maintain life. We mainly take our salts in the form of table salt, but all foods actually contain salts. We may say, therefore, that in order to live man needs to have protein, fats, carbohydrates and salts.

Let me now tell you what these different food substances, which we eat in different forms in a mixed diet, mean for the human being. Let's begin with the salts.

Salts are really an extraordinarily important part of our food, even if we take them only in small amounts, and they are not just a seasoning. We don't just add salt to our food to get a pleasantly savoury taste, perhaps. We add salt to our food so that we'll be able to think. Salts must go as far as the brain when we eat them, for only then will we be able to think. Salts are therefore mainly connected with the principle we have in our thinking. If someone has an illness, for example—and this is indeed an illness—where everything that is salt in the food is deposited in the stomach or intestines and does not go up to the brain in the blood, he will grow feeble-minded, stupid. This is something of which one has to take note.

Now you know we have to be clear in our minds that the spirit exists; but to be able to play a role on earth the spirit has to act in physical matter. And if we work with the science of the spirit we really must know how the spirit is active in physical matter. Otherwise it would be just like someone saying: 'To build machines is a material thing; but we are spiritual people and don't want to have anything material. So we don't want to buy iron or steel, but create machines out of the spirit.' That is nonsense, of course. You have to have the material. And when someone is prevented from using the material substance and the salt is deposited in the stomach and intestines rather than getting to the brain through the blood, the individual will grow stupid.

The matter is not as simple as that, however. Human beings cannot use salt in the form in which it occurs in the natural world. So if you were to make a small hole in the skull—one could actually do this—and instil salts into the brain, this would be of no use at all, for the salt must first go to the stomach. By getting into the stomach and the intestines—for as you know, salt is already dissolved on the tongue—the salt is dissolved even more, very finely dissolved, getting more and more subtle. Because of the things human beings do to the salt, the salt is already in a subtle, non-material form when it reaches the brain. It is therefore not simply a matter of putting the salt directly into the brain. But someone who is unable to have the influences of salt in the brain will grow stupid.

Now let us look at carbohydrates. We eat them mainly when we eat peas, beans, wheat, rye or potatoes. Carbohydrates chiefly play a role in giving us our human form. If we did not eat carbohydrates we would see all kinds of distortions of the human form. We'd be such that the nose would not develop properly, if you like, or the ears. We'd not have this human form of ours. Carbohydrates play a role in making us outwardly appear as human beings. And if someone is organized in such a way that he does not take the carbohydrates up into the brain, so that once again they are deposited in the intestines and in the stomach, the individual goes to ruin. You'll then see such a person gradually collapsing on himself, growing weak, no longer able to maintain his form, as it were. The carbohydrates thus do their part so that we altogether have the right human form.

You see, we really need to get the right foods into the right places. Salts act mainly on the brain here in front. Carbohydrates act more on the back of the brain, on those layers there. And if someone is not able to digest enough carbohydrates and thus get them into those layers of the brain, you would soon also find that he's always hoarse, unable to speak clearly and distinctly. If you hear someone who used to speak perfectly well suddenly grow hoarse in his speech, you can say to yourself that something is wrong with his digestion. He cannot digest carbohydrates properly, they don't reach the right place in the brain. As a result his breathing is no longer the way it should be, nor is his speech. We are thus able to say that salts act mainly on our thinking. Carbohydrates act on our speech, for example, and everything connected with it. It is therefore necessary for us to have carbohydrates.

Now to the fats. Well you see, gentlemen, carbohydrates play a role in giving us form, but all they actually intend to do is to give us a figure and nothing else. They do not pad us out. We also need to be padded out. The fats do this. The fats therefore make sure, when the carbohydrates develop the figure, drawing a plan in the air, as it were, that this figure is also given substance. Fat thus serves to give us substance in the right way. And this shows itself in a very special way with fat.

You see, I told you before that the human being has an I, an astral body, an ether body and a physical body. Fat is, of course, deposited in the physical body, but the most important thing if the fat is to be deposited and remain alive—for we have to have living fat inside us—is the ether body. This ether body is most important for the depositing of fats. The astral body on the other hand is most important for sensation.

Now just think. When you are awake, your astral body is inside you, and when you sleep, it is outside. When someone is awake and the astral body is working in the ether body, the fat is worked all the time, and through it, everything in the body is lubricated. When we are asleep, so that the astral body is outside, fat is not worked but gets deposited. When we are awake the fat is used all the time to lubricate us; when we sleep it is deposited. We need both kinds of fat—fat that is deposited and fat that lubricates the body.

But if someone sleeps all the time—this was more common in the past; now it is getting more and more rare; someone who has a good pension, for example, and does nothing—fat is deposited also in the daytime, when he is 'awake' but really asleep. A potbelly develops and fat gets deposited everywhere! So you see, for fat to be properly deposited, the person must actually use up his fat by being alive, for it is produced all the time. The right way is for people to eat just as much as they use up. But if someone eats all the time and does not use any of it up, a potbelly will make its appearance.

Farmers know this instinctively, and they make use of this with their pigs. To fatten pigs one has to see to it, really, that the animals no longer lubricate their inner bodies at all but deposit everything they eat. And so their lifestyle has to be arranged accordingly.

It may of course also be that someone is not able to deposit fat properly, which means he is sick. People with a good pension are healthy in this respect; they deposit the fat. But it may also be that someone does not deposit carbohydrates and his speech grows hoarse. And so it may also be that the fats are not properly deposited but simply go away in the stools. In that case we have too little fat and cannot lubricate enough. Or if we have too little food altogether and have to go hungry, we cannot lubricate enough. Fat is the actual material we place in the body. So what happens if someone has to go hungry or his digestion is such that he cannot deposit the fat and it goes away in his stools? Such a person, who has no substance to his body, grows more and more spiritual. But a human being cannot grow spiritual in this way without being harmed. The spirit then burns up. The person will then not only grow thinner and thinner, but gases will develop in him and this will lead to delusions, as they are called, and the like, and a condition develops which is insanity due to starvation. It will always be destructive, destroying the body. If someone does not get enough fats, therefore, emaciation develops, we might call it 'consumption'; he fades away.

Now to protein. You see, protein has to be there from the very beginning, as it were. Protein is already there in the egg, before a creature comes into existence—a human being or an animal. We may thus say that protein is the substance which really creates, develops the human being. It is the original material, the basis. Everything else in the body has to develop from this. I think you can understand this? We may thus say the following. Protein has to be there from the very beginning if a human being is to develop. The mother has the protein in her womb in a small lump. The egg is fertilized, and on fertilization this protein is then able to develop into a human being, through the things I have described to you. But we need protein all the time, of course, and so our food must contain protein. If we have too little protein, or are unable to digest it properly, we would not only become emaciated from lack of protein—which would also kill us in due course—but if someone were to have no proper protein at all at one moment in his life, he'd have to die instantly. Protein is needed at the beginning, and it is also needed so that we may live at all. We are thus able to say that someone who is altogether unable to digest protein would have to die.

Let us now take a look at the individual foods. Looking at the salts, we find a connection above all with the front part of the brain. That is where salts are deposited. Carbohydrates are deposited a bit further back and are responsible for our human form. Fats are deposited even further back and from there fill out the body, for the fats do not go into the body directly but move from the blood into the head, and it is only from there that they are taken for use in the body. Everything goes through the head, even the protein.

There is a big difference, however, when it comes to the carbohydrates. Looking at things like lentils, beans, peas, rye or wheat, you can say that these carbohydrates come from fruits. For in wheat we have a fruit of the earth. Lentils—that, too, is a fruit. Fruits have the characteristic that they are digested in the stomach and intestines and only send their powers to the head. We all know that lentils and beans are digested in the intestines, because of the particular state we get into when we eat lentils and beans. All of it—rye, wheat, lentils, beans—is digested in the intestines. Fruits thus have the special characteristic that they are fully digested in the intestines.

We cannot eat the fruit of potatoes, however. If we were to eat the fruit of potatoes we would actually be taking poison, a fatal poison. So the situation is that the potato does not permit us to eat it the way we eat lentils, beans, peas and so on, or grains like rye and wheat. So what do we eat of the potato? Something which is down below—the tuber. And tubers are the part of all plants—roots and so on—that is digested least in the intestines. Fruits are digested in the intestines. But we can't eat the fruit of potato plants. The tuber we eat is not a proper root but a thickened stem. So when we eat potato it gets into the stomach, into the intestines. There it cannot be digested right away but now goes up undigested with the blood. Instead of it getting up there nicely like rye and wheat which are then immediately sent down into the body, the potato first needs to be digested up there in the brain. So if we eat good rye bread or wheaten bread, we digest it properly in the stomach and intestines and don't ask our head to take care of their digestion. The head can immediately see to it that they are distributed in the body. But if we eat potato bread, or just potatoes, we find that the head must first work to digest the potato.

Now if the head has to be used to digest potatoes, it can no longer think, for it needs its energies to be able to think, and the lower body must provide the energy needed for digestion instead. And if someone eats too much potato—which has been increasingly the case since the potato came to Europe and became an important food here—the head is gradually less and less available for thinking, and the individual progressively loses the ability to think with his middle head; he will then only think with the front of his head. But this front part of the head, which depends on the salts, causes him more and more to be only a person of materialistic rationality. The situation is, therefore, that thinking has indeed grown less and less in Europe from the moment when potatoes became a staple food.

We have to be clear in our minds that powers others than those that exist on earth also play a role in creating the human being. This is something I have been telling you all the time, that man is created out of the whole environment, that he is created by sun, moon and stars. Now when he eats potatoes he uses only his middle head to digest them. He closes himself off from the surrounding world, and no longer acknowledges it. He'll then say: 'It's all twaddle what people say about the cosmos, about a spiritual element coming down from the cosmos.' And we may thus say that excessive potato consumption has played a considerable role in driving humanity into materialism in more recent times.

Now the situation is, of course, that it is mainly people of insufficient means who have to depend on potatoes, for potatoes were cheap for a time. And well-to-do people can buy more of the foods that influence the front part of the head, that is, add more savour and salt to their dishes. Seasonings act on the front of the head just as salts do. And the result is that these people become entirely rational, and the others will easily follow those with rational minds because they are no longer able to use their heads to think. And so the potato does have quite a special connection with the mind and spirit. It has really made human minds materialistic.

Now if we consider the different bodies of man, we have to say that the physical body initially originates in protein. Protein has a connection with the birth and death of the physical human being. The ether body has its main field in the fats, the astral body in the carbohydrates, and it is only the I which has the salts for its field.

We are therefore able to say that sentience in us—you see, it is not the physical body which feels something if I slap my hand and feel something, for in that case everything physical would have sentience—it is the astral body. I push the flesh back, the muscle back, and because of this the flesh in the muscle is pushed out of the astral body and I have a sensation in my astral body. All inner sensation, inner response, happens in the astral body. The astral body has to depend on being able to work properly, however. As I told you, if the astral body also sleeps during the day and is not able to work properly, a potbelly develops—fat. And if someone only does intellectual work in his head, using his rational mind, fat is deposited in that case as well. But the astral body, which is also active in our speech, needs carbohydrates in the whole body and not only up there in the head. The astral body has to move our legs, the astral body has to move our hands, it needs carbohydrates in every part of the body. When I give it rye or wheat carbohydrates, the energies go into the whole body. If I merely give it potatoes, the energies remain up there in the head and the individual grows emaciated, weak, with his astral body unable to work properly. It is the spiritual principle, therefore, which grows feeble and gets more and more sleepy in us if we are unable to get carbohydrates into ourselves that go to every part of us. This cannot happen if people live on potatoes only, for the potato gives so much work to the head that nothing is left over for the body.

Now we may ask: 'What is done in science?' Well, analyses are made to establish how much carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and other things a protein contains—these are the main elements to be found in it. So it is found that a protein contains so and so much carbon, so and so much hydrogen, in per cent, with different percentages found in fat and different ones again in carbohydrates. But people have no idea as to the significance of these elements. They only know the percentages. But this will get us nowhere. The nutrients are simply in a different way inside potato than they are in rye and wheat, and one has to know that when we eat a flower or a fruit this is digested in the intestines, whilst a root is digested in the head. Otherwise one also can't make use of them in medicine. Someone who is able to think in a proper medical way will know that a tea made of flowers or seed, or of fruit, will act mainly on the intestines. Roots boiled in water, which is then offered as a tea, can have a medicinal effect in the head. If we eat the roots, this has a material effect on the head. This is particularly important to know.

We can also take this further and say: 'Yes, but if someone on a diet of potatoes does not only grow emaciated so that he can no longer move his hands and feet, but also reaches a point where the things that contribute to reproduction are no longer active, then we have an even worse situation.' Let us assume, therefore, that potato gains so much the upper hand that this influences the female reproductive organs, making them feeble and inactive. Well, gentlemen, we do not descend from our ancestors only, for the soul and spirit part of our nature comes from the world of the spirit and unites with the part that comes from our ancestors. Let us take a look at this. I'll draw it quite big, a little bit enlarged [drawing on the board].

We can say that the human being develops from the egg cell. This is a much enlarged drawing of it. The male seed penetrates into it, and then all kinds of star-shaped forms develop in there. Cells divide and gradually the human body develops. But there can be no human body unless the element of spirit and soul which comes from the world of the spirit connects with all this.

If the situation is one where the mother or the father has eaten too much of a potato diet, the embryo which develops will be of a kind where the head has to do much work. So if you look at the embryo of someone whose father and mother eat the right kind of diet, it looks more or less like this [another drawing]. But if you look at one where the parent's diet contained too many potatoes, the situation is like this. You see, everything else is little developed in the embryo, only the round sphere of the head; that is the main thing in the embryo, and it is the most developed part. The element of spirit and soul must then enter into the head. And when the element of spirit and soul enters into the head it has to work with that head. When still in the mother's body, the element of spirit and soul works mainly on the head.

Now if this element of spirit and soul finds the kind of situation in the head that one gets if the mother eats rye and wheat, the spirit and soul is able to work properly in there. For the flower heads in which the rye and wheat grains and so on develop rise above the soil, and then the spiritual element comes close to the plant, and the spiritual element then has an affinity. So if the element of spirit and soul finds something that comes from fruits in the mother's body it finds it easy to work. But if it finds a child's head in the mother's body that is developing mainly on the basis of a potato diet, it cannot get at it. You see, the potato goes down into the soil, it is even covered by the soil; it is dug up, for it grows in darkness and has no relationship to the spiritual element. The spirit cannot get to it, and the result is that the embryo then looks like this [drawing]—I am caricaturing it a little bit. A huge watery head is born, a hydrocephalus. For if the spirit does not get there, the physical will just grow. A watery head develops. If the spirit does get to it, it keeps the water down; the spirit then works in the material substance and the head develops properly. You can therefore say that the enormous watery heads often seen in embryos are due to inadequate nutrition, mainly again to potato. And the situation is then that not only is the human being himself emaciated, but he is born in a way where his spirit and soul are not properly inside the physical body.

But you see, gentlemen, the situation is like this. Man does consist of physical body, ether body, astral body and I; but they are not the same at every stage in life. In children up to the seventh year of life the ether body, astral body and I are such that they must really go right inside; they must first of all enter wholly into the physical body. The second teeth develop when the ether body enters fully into the physical body. Sexual maturity is reached when the astral body enters wholly into the physical body. So if you have such a head, where the element of spirit and soul cannot enter properly into the physical human being in the womb because of a diet of potatoes, problems also arise with the things that should develop in the 14th, 15th year of life. The individual will then go through the whole of his life as if he did not have a body at all, as if it were feeble, washed-out. People are not strong enough for life when they are born under the influence of a potato diet.

You see, gentlemen, these are tremendously important things. You just have to say to yourselves that social conditions depend on many more things than people generally tell us about today. Social conditions also depend on making the right use of our fields and not growing more potatoes than people can cope with and still grow strong. Social science therefore means that one also has to do a proper study of the natural world. This is certainly necessary. It is not enough just to talk about added value, capital, and so on; this will do no good on its own. For just imagine Communism were to succeed in eradicating all capital, with the Communists in sole charge of everything. Well, if they have adopted the bourgeois way of not putting the fields to proper use, and if they do not know that it is more harmful to fill the stomach with potatoes than with rye or wheat, then nothing will be any good. This is what we have to consider. We do not need people talking all the time about one thing or another, but genuine knowledge, seeing how the spirit can be active in matter.

You see, it is because of this that anthroposophy has to battle on two fronts all the time, as it were, without wanting to do so. Why? Well, today's scientists only consider physical matter, and only the percentages of things—how much carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen are found in protein, and so on. But this does not tell one anything about matter. Material science does not let us know about matter because you can only get to know matter if you know how the spirit is at work in it. What good is it for someone to say: 'I want to get to know about a watch. Right, I'll try and be clear in my mind about this watch. It is made of silver. The silver in my watch has been mined there and there. It was then taken to this or that city in trains. There it was delivered to the merchants, and so on. The watch face is of porcelain. Porcelain comes from there and there, was taken to this or that city,' and so on. He knows nothing at all about his watch! You'll only know about it if you know what the watchmaker did to make it. And it is not even important, if you want to understand why a watch works, to know how the silver was mined. What matters is that one knows how it works, how the watchmaker made the cogwheels, and so on.

And when it comes to the health and sickness of people, it is essentially quite immaterial to know in an abstract way how much carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, protein, fat, carbohydrates and salts are in the foods. For human health and sickness it is basically important to know specifically how it is with the potato. It feeds us as little in mind and spirit as it does in body. Basically the things written about it are quite unnecessary. For other purposes you need knowledge. For those other purposes one may well know about silver mines, and so on, but this kind of knowledge is unimportant when it comes to understanding human health and sickness. Yet people do not even realize where their knowledge is inadequate. And when one wants to add what is missing, doing so out of anthroposophy, people will fight against it. And that is how the front has developed where we fight materialism. Materialists say that in anthroposophy people want to explain everything from fantasy. Scientists who are against anthroposophy object to it being a science of the spirit. This, then, is the one front.

The other one, gentlemen, comes from the side of theology, the representatives of religion, and so on. On the one hand people are always told that the soul goes to heaven. And they do, of course, talk about the way people get to heaven by means of prayer, the sacraments, and so on. Well and good. But when someone is in a position in the physical world where he actually does not inhabit his body properly, so that he cannot relate to life on earth in a proper way, he'll find it extraordinarily difficult to get his bearings after death. This is something they do not tell him. It is indeed necessary for us to be practical people in life and know how to work with physical matter. We can say, therefore, that people are told all kinds of things about religion and theology today, but all this is not enough to make a person really strong in earthly life, so strong that he will later gain his bearings, being thus prepared. For prayer without real knowledge, for example, will actually distract people from the things they need to know for a healthy life. You're unlikely ever to hear from a pulpit what people should do where a diet of potatoes or wheat is concerned, so as to be strong. Most Protestant or Roman Catholic clergy wouldn't think of telling their congregations the situation regarding eating rye and wheat for their health. They'd consider it of no importance. They'd say it was not holy, for to be holy means to pray or talk about the Gospels and similar things.

But the divine is at work not only where prayers have been said, or people have talked about the Gospels, but in the whole of nature. There, too, the spirit is at work. If someone does not let spirituality enter into his head because he keeps it too busy with potatoes, the situation is that he will be able to pray. Well and good. But if he eats too many potatoes his prayer will serve no purpose, for he will be distracted from the things of the spirit. But people don't notice this. Nor do they notice that God did not find the earth as a lump of clay one day and make all things of it, but that the divine principle is truly at work in everything, in every detail, and must be sought there. If you do that, however, the theologians and religious people will call you materialists!

We are therefore called fantasy-led spiritualists by people who work in science, and materialists by the theologians. Which shows the value people put on things. Just as it was in 1908 when people said they were against anthroposophy because it was Jesuitical. It was said that anthroposophists were actually being delivered into the hands of the Jesuits by their leaders. Things have changed since. Now the Jesuits say anthroposophists are delivered into the hands of the Freemasons. You see, that's how things are always done. But it is not what matters. What matters is that one truly gains knowledge that can equally well tell us why a watery head, as hydrocephalus, develops in the mother's womb, rather than one that is properly developed.

You'll say, gentlemen, that one does not see many people with hydrocephalus around. Of course not, for other forces then counteract it and when the head is born it is no longer as big as it was in the embryo. But it is no longer able to take in anything but potatoes and water. It may even grow small in the process and yet be a watery head. The important thing is that heads have been too large in the maternal womb ever since potatoes became part of the diet. They are pushed together later, but it is exactly this pushing together before they are born that causes harm, for they will then not be able to take in the right things, but solely and only materialistic things. When the individual is born, you no longer see the watery head if you just look at the size. Now of course, hydrocephalus in the usual sense depends on the size, but here it is above all a question of whether water is acting in the right way, or something else is able to act. And it is just as important to know this as it is to know all the other things presented to mankind through science on the one hand and theology and religion on the other. But it is certainly necessary that one looks at the matter carefully and properly.

You see, how do people actually treat anthroposophy? Some time ago a congress was held in Berlin of people who called themselves 'non-anthroposophists who know anthroposophy'. They say they are not anthroposophists but know anthroposophy. One man who spoke a lot at the conference was a Dr Gösch, who used to be here once, but has left our ranks. He spoke to clergy, to people who teach at theological faculties and professors. And today, you see, people are everywhere giving lectures based on the things Dr Gösch has told them. Now you'll say these people—teaching staff, professors—were convinced from what Dr Gösch told them that anthroposophy is extremely harmful. But please, gentlemen, consider what today's clergy, professors and teachers of theology generally have in their heads, and listen now to what Dr Gösch told them. He said anthroposophy was particularly harmful because anthroposophists were being deluded. Mrs Steiner and Dr Steiner really intended to split off a piece of the earth, separate it from the earth, and create their own planet, to create a planetary world colony in the universe with all the anthroposophists! This is what he told those enlightened people. You can imagine that not one of them would really believe this, but they pretend that those words have convinced them that anthroposophy is indeed harmful.

Now just think what a crazy business this is! Those enlightened people do not only attend that meeting, but the next day, or the day after, they are attending all kinds of other meetings, where all kinds of destinies are decided. And they are no brighter there than they are at other meetings. This is something to reflect on, what kind of people actually govern the world today. But please understand that their opposition to anthroposophy is indeed opposition to the truth. They do not want it to be known what all this is really about, the things one learns about the human being. They say: ‘Anthroposophy is full of secrets.’ Well, gentlemen, how can it be anything but full of secrets? Of course it is full of secrets, but no more so than you have secrets when someone has stolen something and hidden it; it will then be a secret until it is discovered. And in the same way anthroposophy is full of secrets, because these things have been hidden in science and the rest of academic life. And it is because of this, of course, that anthroposophy is such a mysterious business today. But things cease to be a mystery the moment they are discovered. There is no intention of being mysterious in anthroposophy, but rather to bring to light the things which others have been keeping secret.

I have to go to Vienna now and I'll ask them to tell you when we'll be able to continue.