Brainey Foods

 In Mind/Body, Nature Cure

Sussanna Czeranko, ND

Fruits should take the highest rank in our dietary, because, more than other products of the soil, they enjoy the free and uninterrupted exchange of the influences of light, heat and air by which the electrical forces of the sun are transmitted.

                                       Otto Carqué, 1905, p.155-156

Still one cannot build up the mental machinery for enduring work without foods that properly nourish the brain.

                                       Dortch Campbell, 1913, p.727

Unsuitable or ill cooked food has serious effect on the mental powers; and when we consider the case of a mental worker we see that in order to carry mental power right on through a long life, proper diet is of great importance.

                                       Louisa Lust, 1921, p.533

Contemporary naturopathic physicians pride themselves on an excellent blend of theory, clinical education, and practice in the area of nutrition. The quest to unravel the mysteries of what creates and sustains a healthy brain that could meet the demands and duties of daily work was a challenge that the early naturopaths accepted gladly and successfully. The early literature reveals an abundant legacy of knowledge entirely relevant to the modern era. It is not surprising, then, that to help their patients augment brain functions, for example, they consulted the realm of dietetics for answers. What may surprise us is that a century ago, the early naturopaths had a remarkably comprehensive and erudite understanding of dietetics. They simply did not leave a stone unturned in their pursuit of understanding health in relation to food.

I have just finished the third book in the Hevert Collection series, Dietetics of Naturopathic Medicine, published this month by NCNM Press. To prepare Dietetics, I was able to study hundreds of articles on the subject of diet that appeared in the early naturopathic literature from 1900 to 1923. What has become very clear is this: the early naturopaths delved into nutrition with gusto, resulting in exceptionally sound theories and principles. But more importantly, the early pioneers of naturopathy knew that the essence of health sprung from eating healthy diets. In the words of Otto Carqué, the timeless “German proverb ‘man is what he eats’ is a true one… We cannot build a healthy body with poor material, neither can we develop our mental faculties to the highest possible degree, as long as it is a matter of indifference to us what we eat.” (Carqué, 1905, p.151)

We are what we eat has been repeated often. Our choice of nourishment determines what kind of body tissues we produce. In this regard, the blood and its purity was the primary goal of the early naturopaths as they tackled the food question. For example, Benedict Lust ponders,

One of the most vital questions of the day and which the physician will be called upon more and more to answer properly and intelligently, is… how to acquire and maintain a state of pure blood within the body, since we must admit the fact that the health of our bodies, of our offspring, and even of our thoughts, is dependent upon a pure and healthy blood supply, and in the same manner that these things are dependent upon pure blood, so is pure blood dependent upon proper nutrition. (Lust, 1909, p.509)

Lust, like many of his colleagues, clearly saw the vital relationship between the intangible variables of health with the physical food that we eat. The early naturopaths saw as clear as day that “diet has to do with the spiritual and mental parts of man as well as with the physical.” (Lust, 1909, p.509)

The prevailing attitude in the community in those days was that a strengthening diet consisted of meats and flesh foods which needed to be consumed in health or when sick. Without flesh foods, the diet would be lacking in adequate protein. Lust begged to differ:

Again, much of the ignorance must also be accredited to the false and misleading teachings of the medical writers and dietists of the past. Most of these writers sustained the fallacious theory that meat was a strength giver, and that alcohol, spices, tea and coffee were essential or at least non-injurious as foodstuffs.” (Lust, 1909, p.509)

Like Lust, the other early naturopaths did not believe that a meat-based diet was conducive to health. In fact, their stance on vegetarianism is very familiar in our time. These early naturopaths made some impressive breakthroughs with respect to the properties of vegetarianism. To illustrate, we are quite familiar with gluten-free, raw vegan, dairy- and eggs- and fish-eating vegetarians. From the earliest years of the rise of naturopathic medicine in North America, the vegetarianism espoused by our forebears yielded very similar presentations and, in fact, any of our notions that the trends today are new need to be revisited. The early naturopaths had already done it! One can conclude, then, that we are copying these diets once again.

The question so often asked, “What foods, in plain English, must we take to replace meat, and how much of each kind?” (Hara, 1906, p.223) In Hara’s opinion, there was no question as to what constituted a healthy diet. Hara raves, “The dietary of uncooked fruit and nuts, the best, purest and most natural of all has remained unexploited… For perfect health and strength and the ‘staying’ power boasted of by meat eaters, nothing can beat a fruitarian diet.” (Hara, 1906, p.223) To strengthen his point, Hara recounts a walking race in 1906 that took place between Dresden and Berlin, a distance of 129.5 miles. He notes, “the first six to arrive in Berlin were fruitarians and vegetarians.” (Hara, 1906, p.223)

The well-selected vegetarian diet consisting of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and mineral salts provided the perfect nutrition for humans. Otto Carqué had published frequently on the subject of “the great importance of diet in relation to health and disease as well as to mind and morals.” (Carqué, 1905, p.151) From his perspective, a plant-based diet won, hands-down. “Plants really are accumulated sunshine,” he wrote. He adds,

They practically store up the electrical and chemical forces transmitted by the rays of the sun and if we consume these plants or their fruits, this energy is transferred to our system, where the complicated organic substances, having served their purpose of sustaining vitality, are again broken down into the waste products of animal life (carbonic acid, urea, etc). (Carqué, 1905, p.152)

In this regard, the fruit and nut diet provided nutrients considered by the early naturopaths as a valid alternative; indeed, the ideal food. Another early naturopath, Dortch Campbell, weighed in on the brain food conversation…

Brain Food

Campbell was champion for his investigations in brain health. He states, “Many people ridicule the idea that there is such a thing as ‘brain food.’” (Campbell, 1913, p.727) Yet, these same people would not deny that there are foods to build muscle and strength. Campbell continues, “We are all aware of the ancient superstition of the value of fish for brain nourishment.” (Campbell, 1913, p.727) Today, our use of essential fatty acid oils for brain development corresponds to this old notion.

There were many good brain foods, and fish belonged in this category. Other foods in his list of brain foods included legumes, dairy, eggs, and even meat. This list of foods utilized a grading strategy based upon their digestibility and suitability as a healthy food. Without question, for Campbell and others, the best brain foods were the incontestable nuts. Campbell qualifies the conditions: “To get full benefit, however, [nuts] should be properly combined with other foods, eaten at meal time only, taken in average quantities and thoroughly masticated.” (Campbell, 1913, p.727-728)

Sophie Leppel

Another who endorsed nuts as a brain food was Sophie Leppel, who made her mark as one who was well informed about diet and especially about brain foods. Her disdain for white bread is clear: “Probably there is not a food so lacking in brain-feeding properties as bread and butter, and yet it is considered an excellent diet, and is popular among all classes; this means the ordinary white bread.” (Leppel, 1910, p.473) Leppel established a list of foods consisting of various nuts and fruits that were superb brain foods. She created numerous recipes of what would be easy to make with our modern kitchen appliances. I have included one of her recipes at the conclusion of this article.

The Fruit And Nut Diet

The fruit and nut diet was considered ideal for the whole body. Paul Koerper comments, “Fruits and nuts contain all the elements of bone, muscle, blood and nerves in an easy digestible way.” (Koerper, 1909, p.508) The fruitarian diet included nuts, which served to offer an excellent source of protein and to “supply an abundance of oil, partially emulsified, so that it is more readily handled by the digestive system.” (Lust, 1900, p.141) Nuts provided an excellent base for several staples in the kitchen, such as cream, milk, and main course protein. One of the popular nut foods was nut cream, which offered an excellent substitute for dairy as well as protein. “The comparative value of Almond Cream as against Devonshire Cream will be seen from the following” (Wilson, 1909, p.570):

Table 1. Almond Cream vs Devonshire Cream – Comparative Macronutrient Values

  Protein Fat Starch
Almond Cream 20.8 54.8 17.2
Devonshire Cream 4.0 65.0 0.0

(Wilson, 1909, p.570)

Nuts were used in various ways and offered an opportunity to mass-produce food products that were at the time highly novel and valuable, especially for vegetarians. Numerous enterprising manufacturers of these ingenious nut products, in order to popularize and incorporate the use of nuts into the diet, offered products that “if properly cooked…closely resemble roast or boiled meat … [and] the appearance of meat.” (Wilson, 1909, p.569)

In some ways, nuts offered a wonderful means to provide protein for the new wave of vegetarians that were adopting naturopathy and its tenets on food and diet. The companies producing these new nut products were among the first to launch what would eventually become a health food movement.

Another argument in favor of nuts over meat was that nut foods “contain[ed] none of the poisonous substances which are so common in meat, and are not so likely to become decomposed as meat.” (Lust, 1900, p.141) Koerper insisted, “Nuts contain protein and fatty matters in absolute purity; nut meat is three or four times healthier than roast beef or steak.” (Koerper, 1909, p.508) Nuts, after all, do not decompose like meat and “contain none of the poisonous substances which are so common in meat.” (Lust, 1900, p.141) Edwin Wilson examined vegetarian sources of foods and made comparisons with the standard fare of meat. Lean beef had 19.3 protein and 3.6 fat, while almonds, on the other hand, contained 23.5 protein, 53 fat, and 7.8 starch. (Wilson, 1909, p.569) Wilson does not give his units of measurements, but we can suppose that the measurement would be of their times.

The fruit and nut diet was advocated by many to be the diet of choice, since it was the true natural diet. In a letter to the editor, a writer who had adopted the nut and fruit diet wrote a lengthy piece on the merits of this diet. “Why should man, of all creatures, to cook in order to sustain life? Did Nature make a mistake in creating man, or is it not more likely that man has made the mistake in his diet?” He continues, “Do the birds, the fishes, or the animals cook their food? Certainly not, and yet they are healthy except when man interferes with their natural diet.” (Author unknown, 1903, p.66)

The early naturopaths recognized that the bounty from the earth was best when eaten in its natural state. Carqué explains, “Fruits, nuts, vegetables, and cereals furnish us all that is necessary for the healthful nutrition of our body. In selecting and preparing our food, we should, however, bear in mind that we cannot improve on nature, and that everything that we can relish in its natural and raw state is best adapted for the nourishment of our body.” (Carqué, 1905, p.155) These words sound quite familiar, echoing what we hear from today’s raw vegans who ascribe to a similar dietary regime.

Many of the early naturopaths also endorsed fruit as an economical means of sustenance, and foundational to healthy brain function and body balance. Today, the Environmental Working Group report something they call the “Dirty Dozen,” pointing out that some 1-dozen fruits rank as the worst offenders of GMO and pesticide contamination. Apples, strawberries, and grapes, for example, are the worst foods for pesticide contamination. (EWG, 2014) The early naturopaths had quite a different experience surrounding the sourcing and consumption of high quality fruit, and of food generally. There really was no concept of “bad food” in the form of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. These foods were natural, not compromised in the ways that they can be today. They were invariably and reliably “organic,” to iterate a contemporary descriptor.

In this regard, Carqué, extolling the virtues of fresh food generally, writes, “More than other products of the soil, fruits enjoy a free and uninterrupted exchange of the influences of light, heat, and atmosphere.” (Carque, 1905, p.152). Vitality, he goes on to argue, is stored up in fruits in a higher degree and

… while we cannot grasp or determine this subtle power by chemical analysis, we can feel its enlivening effects through our whole system. Flesh-foods can never impart this beneficial influence to our system, because they are devoid of the imponderable vitalizing properties which have been lost by the oxidizing processes going constantly on in the organism. (Carqué, 1905, p.152-153)

Let us have a closer look at what the fruit and nut diet looked like a century ago. John Gray outlines how to embark upon the fruit and nut diet. He writes, “The following quantities of food or their equivalents are quite sufficient for a grown man or woman per day: 5 oz. shelled nuts, 12 oz. dried fruit, and 2.5 lbs. fresh or ripe fruit.” (Gray, 1904, p.274) The amounts seem more than enough; indeed, such quantifying puts me in mind of an experience from my pre-ND days. With a small baby in my arms and a toddler in tow, I encountered a fellow who informed me that I was “killing” my children with cooked foods. His own diet, he said, consisted of apples and nuts. His explanation gave me pause, more particularly since my family and I were living in remote Yukon Territory where fresh fruit and nuts were expensive for a large part of the year. Even so, my acquaintance, although aged 65, looked no older than 40 and understood the notion of “local,” in terms of accessing food, not to mention storing up for the dark and cold of the Yukon winter.

Experiences such as that, coupled with the rich terrain of the literature of the early naturopaths which I discovered much later, remind me that for our patients, all too often, dietary choices are often more about habits and prevailing marketing than about what is nearby, healthy, or right. Patterns of unconscious, convenient consumption persist to this day, but we are making progress. Naturopathic doctors have long held a space in their clinical practices which addresses these concerns, despite its absence until recently from allopathic paradigms of care and patient education.

A century ago, patients adopted only very gradually the fruit and nut diet advocated tirelessly by the naturopaths. As Gray explains, “To get thoroughly accustomed to the new diet will take from five to six months.” (Gray, 1904, p.273) An accompanying development for many was that fruit consumption made water drinking somewhat redundant in that, as naturopaths such as Gray explained at the time, there was no need for 8 glasses of water since “fresh juicy fruit is largely distilled water, and consequently little liquid of any kind is required with fruitarian diet.” (Gray, 1904, p.273) In any case, the amount of fresh fruit in the recommended diet measured between 2 to 3 pounds. Hara recommended that the fruit be weighted and divided in half, to be eaten at the 2 meals. He goes on, “I advise only two [meals] daily, but it is best to eat when you are hungry.” (Hara, 1906, p.224) He and Campbell went on to recommend that the fruits eaten on the fruit and nut diet include a variety, such as strawberries, raspberries, cherries, plums, apples, apricots, pineapples, grapes, melons, currants, pears, oranges, and bananas, to name the most available and common choices. (Hara, 1906, p.224; Campbell, 1913, p.728)

Whatever the volumes and combinations, Carqué and others understood this diet choice to be about balance. He writes, “The preservation of health, therefore, is only a matter of living in perfect harmony with nature. (Carqué, 1905, p.152) Lust adds, “The doctor who wants to bring about satisfactory results in treating patients should give his attention to the root of almost all of the ailments that he treats―he should reform his patient’s diet, and in this way not only remove the cause but build up a foundation of future permanent health by promoting a supply of pure, rich blood in the body.” (Lust, 1909, p.509)

Nut Cream for Brain Workers

Three blanched almonds, 2 walnuts, 2 eggcupsful of pine kernels (if pine kernels are not obtainable, roasted or boiled chestnuts may be used; but pine kernels are the best), pound all very fine, and then soak all night, in lemon or orange juice, or in half lemon and half orange juice.                      

The Nuts will swell; hence sufficient juice should be allowed so as to form a thick cream when taken. The lemon juice is a powerful digester (solvent) of the nuts.
                                                                                                                  (Leppel, 1918, p.576)

The enthusiasm of the early naturopaths for healthy brain food, in fact for an overall healthy diet regimen as fundamental for strengthening and sustaining the whole body, persists to the present day. Naturopathic doctors have substantial expertise in nutrition which, among other nature-cure modalities, equally well known to our forebears in the mission to support and educate their patients, is a true method of prevention, as contrasted with the notion that earlier and more testing, notwithstanding wretched diets and poor lifestyle choices, constitutes prevention.

Czeranko_Headshot_2014Sussanna Czeranko ND, BBE incorporates “nature-cure” approaches to primary care by including balneotherapy, breathing therapy, and nutrition into her naturopathic practice. Dr Czeranko is a faculty member working as the Rare Books curator at NCNM and is currently compiling a 12-volume series based upon the journals published early in the last century by Benedict Lust. Four of the books have been published: Origins of Naturopathic Medicine, Philosophy of Naturopathic Medicine, Dietetics of Naturopathic Medicine, and Principles of Naturopathic Medicine. In addition to her work in balneotherapy, she is the founder of the Breathing Academy, a training institute for naturopaths to incorporate a scientific model of breathing therapy called Buteyko into their practice. She is a founding board member of the International Congress of Naturopathic Medicine and a member of the International Society of Medical Hydrology.


  1. Author unknown. (1903). The fruit and nut diet. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, IV(3), 66-67.
  2. Campbell, D. (1913). Building brain by diet. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XVIII(11), 727-728.
  3. Carqué, O. (1905). Nutrition in relation to health and disease. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, VI(6), 151-157.
  4. The Dirty Dozen. Environmental Working Group Web Site. Accessed March 30, 2014.
  5. Gray, J.A.R. (1904). The fruit and nut diet. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, V(7), 273-274.
  6. Hara, O.H. (1906). Fruit and nut diet. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, VII(6), 223-225.
  7. Koerper, P.A. (1909). The value of fruits and nuts as food. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XIV(8), 508.
  8. Leppel, S. (1910). A brainy diet. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XVI(8), 473-474.
  9. Leppel, S. (1918). A nut and fruit dietary for brain workers. Herald of Health and Naturopath, XXIII(6), 575-576.
  10. Lust, B. (1900). Nut foods. The Kneipp Water Cure Monthly, I(8), 141-142.
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  14. Wilson, C.E. (1909). Substitutes for meat and their values. The Naturopath and Herald of Health, XIV(8), 569-572.


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