The U.S. is undergoing a collective eating disorder. Food has been frozen, freeze-dried, canned, fried, genetically modified, sugared, salted, stripped of nutrients, dyed, preserved, sprayed, radiated, and transported long distances. And much of it this food is labeled ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ and marketed to us by national corporations who are taking advantage of the fact that most of us are so bewildered by the myriad of choices, misinformation, and doctors’ warnings, that we haven’t a clue anymore about what to have for breakfast.
If you are interested in this topic, and in how our country reached this point, I highly recommend reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. According to Pollan, one of the reasons we are so susceptible to unhealthy marketing influences is because we are a country of very diverse peoples, lacking a cohesive food tradition.
Eating well is really quite simple
The hard part is letting go of some of the unhealthy habits we have become addicted to. In a nutshell, focus on local, fresh vegetables, fish, eggs, meats and legumes, and buy organic whenever possible. Shop at your local co-op, farmers markets, and/or have weekly fresh produce delivered directly to your home from local farms. Limit carbohydrates, especially refined. (See ‘Notes on Carbohydrates,’ below.)
If you can only afford a few organic foods, you can refer to the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list to prioritize: Organic foods are pricier, but this is an investment in your health, and in the health of our agricultural practices for future generations. Cooking more often at home, buying grains, lentils and spices in bulk, and saying ‘no’ to the muffin at the coffee shop, will help keep your food budget reasonable.
If you are concerned about genetically modified foods, purchase only organically grown corn, soy and potatoes and products made from these foods. If the ethical treatment of farm animals is a priority for you and your family, talk to the meat purchaser at your local health food store, research the farms and ranches they contract with, and definitely purchase eggs from small, local farmers.
If you wish to support small, local food producers in general, here is an interesting reference www.organicconsumers.org
Minimize stress by understanding how to eat
- Eat only when you are hungry.
- Give your brain time to recognize and respond to your food—CHEW and BREATHE. A crucial part of proper digestion is one we have complete control of—that’s the part that takes place in the mouth. (If you often forget to chew, ask me to tell you a story that will help you remember.)
- You can not digest food under stress. Do not eat under stress, such as at a business meeting, while working at your desk, while watching a suspenseful or gory TV show, while talking on the phone or listening to the news. Do not eat in a hurry. Try not to eat while standing. Sit with your food, and consider all the work it took to create this food and bring it to your plate.
- Eat some raw, fresh food with each meal. Also, eat nuts raw (soak almonds overnight) and limit or avoid peanuts.
- Limit caffeine to the morning.
- Limit the following: hot pepper, deep-fried and oily foods, nuts.
If you have chronic digestive distress, and/or low energy, also try the following:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Eat desserts, fruit and starches (carbohydrates) alone, or an hour before or 2 hours after a meal. The fewer of these you eat, especially refined carbohydrates (bagels, bread, muffins, pretzels, cake, cookies…) the more energy you will have. You digestion will probably also improve. (See ‘Notes on Carbohydrates,’ below.)
- Eliminate iced drinks and cold foods (like ice cream).
- Common over-the-counter herbal remedies for indigestion include DGL (licorice extract), fennel, digestive bitters, and digestive enzymes derived from pineapple or papaya.
- The pH levels of our entire digestive track are often at unhealthy levels when chronic digestive problems are present. This situation is exacerbated by antacids. Your natural health practitioner or nutritionist can help you restore proper pH levels, which are essential for healthy digestion.
- If you have a hiatal hernia, in addition to all the above, there are certain herbs to avoid (such as peppermint), and simple exercises that can help. If you suspect intestinal parasites, your natural health practitioner can arrange for a stool test and then explain your best options for recovery.
- Be sure you do see your doctor to rule out any serious problem, or if the above steps do not improve your condition.
A note on food allergies
Many food allergies are not true allergies, but sensitivities brought on by an inflamed colon. Often, the colon has become inflamed by courses of antibiotics and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen. In an inflamed condition, protein strands that normally are further broken down by the gut, leak out into the bloodstream. The immune system reacts to these as foreign particles. This condition is referred to as ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome,’ Your natural health practitioner can help you heal from LGS. Click here to read Dr. Andrew Weil giving introductory information about LGS.
Notes on carbohydrates, oils and supplements
Carbs: Reduce simple, processed, and fried carbs. These include sugar (‘organic cane juice’), pizza, most cereals, pastas, bread, muffins and baked goods, fries, pretzels, soda, chips. Gradually shift your carbs to favor root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and whole grains such as brown and wild rice, quinoa, millet, kasha, steel cut oats and bulghar wheat. Incorporate some lentils and beans. You can try mixing these in combo, such as a little quinoa in with the rice. Cook rice in broth instead of water to increase flavor. Rice and lentil salads are great in summer. There are many tasty 100% sprouted grain breads available as well. Eat twice as many vegetables as fruits. Use barley malt, stevia, and agave syrup as sweeteners.
Avoid corn syrup (now the #1 contributor of mercury in our diet).
Cooking Oils: Use cold processed grape seed or coconut oil for cooking, or another oil with a high burning temperature (smoke point). Virgin olive oil is best used raw. Avoid canola oil. The name comes from CANadian Oil Low Acid, a low-erucic acid (a suspected carcinogen) oil extracted from genetically modified rapeseed. (According to: www.annieappleseedproject.org/ Rape (Brassica napus), a member of the mustard family, is listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a poisonous plant with toxic effects which include pulmonary emphysema, respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, irritability and blindness in cattle.)
Personally I am a big fan of butter, but I usually add a bit of oil when sauteing, to prevent burning. Ghee is another good option. EFAs, or Essential Fatty Acids: Foods balanced in EFAs or highest in the desirable Omega 3 fatty acids include sardines, wild salmon (avoid farmed), black cod, walnuts, avocados, eggs, extra-virgin olive oil, flax seed.
Supplements: Another quagmire of misleading and misinformed marketing ploys. My strongest suggestion is that if you do self-prescribe nutritional supplementation, be sure that the primary ingredients are concentrated whole food sources (words you recognize), an opposed to fragmented or synthetic vitamin isolates (mostly made by pharmaceutical companies, with chemical-sounding names like “ascorbic acid”). If you live in Seattle or the Northwest, the next time you get a blood test, ask for a vitamin D assay. If you are taking a salmon oil supplement that does not specifically state that the source is wild, it is most likely from farmed salmon.
After all those guidelines, my strongest suggestion is for you not to get overly-concerned by what you are eating! There are times for celebrating, where the focus of a meal is on enjoyment and friendship. Other times, such as while traveling, your food choices can be limited. And we can’t always afford the highest quality foods. Guilt is bad for the digestion!
Be gentle to yourself and to others.
The rock of Chinese Medicine dietary advice is All things in moderation. The most we can aim for is being conscious of all the choices we make. If you are motivated to read about recommended foods for specific health issues, here are two good books which are great resources with helpful indexes:
Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford incorporates Eastern medical philosophy.
The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Murray and Pizzorno includes suggestions for mineral and vitamin supplements.
Illustration by Denise Anderson as featured originally in the Odiyan Country Cookbook.