Until now, I have talked about importance of real food and ancestral wisdom, abject failure of the science of reduction-ism and oversimplification of nutrition in preventing diseases, calories-in calories-out fallacy in dealing with obesity and the big bad influence of BigFood and BigPharma along with their big bad influence on the medical community. If you have read my earlier posts, some alarm bells are likely (and hopefully) to be set off when you are told to eat ‘Whole-grain cereal fortified with calcium, fibers , iron, magnesium’ or when your doctor tells you that an ‘aspirin a day’ will prevent you from getting a heart attack in some future date.
I also dedicated 2 posts on the ‘Energy’ series to explain that the whole essence of our life is the production of energy by our cells 24/7. We are a power plant and when we shutdown, we shut down forever. Our cells need the right fuels to keep the energy furnace burning. I explained how our fat reserves have tons of stored energy waiting to be used. I will come back to this topic later to explain how to unlock your fat stores for energy.
Off the blog, my friends and family, are already getting endless ‘funda’ on the good and bad stuff of everyday life. Which oil to use? Which salt? What about carbs? Can I eat rice? …….It just makes sense to bring those ‘fundas’ here on this blog as well.
Okay, look. I know I’m pretty bad at keeping things short and sweet. All I really want to do is make clear what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat. But I don’t want to just make lists of “good foods” and “bad foods,” or say that you can eat as much x, y, and z as you want, but you should limit intake of a, b, and c. I think it’s important to explain ‘why’. WHY should we limit some things and not worry so much about others?
I can tell you that ghee is great, cereals are bad, eggs are super, wheat is mostly bad, milk is not required, high stomach acid is essential, good salt is very important, cola is a killer, fruit juice is a no-no etc. etc. There are a million websites where you will probably read just the opposite. Why should you believe me or anybody else unless you know WHY? You must know WHY! And then, HOW do you start implementing the changes?
During my long-ish hiatus from blogging I was thinking about how to bring these aspects of everyday food choices in my writings. Instead of bashing the bad guys (BigFood, BigPharma) all the time, I wanted to move on and start talking about ‘what can we eat to stay healthy’ given the situation we are in. How to move on and start the change in our homes and kitchen. I want to tell you about super foods, reasonably good food, the okay-ish food and the throw-it-out food, and at the same time get a bit ‘sciency’ to explain in simple terms the ‘WHY’ and the ‘HOW’ as I understand it.
I feel like it’s irresponsible of me to trash-talk cottonseed oil and praise butter if we don’t even know what those things are on a chemical level, or to say we should eat certain foods and avoid others without knowing what they do inside us because of their chemistry. When we stick to the facts, we can tune out the TV pundits, the supermarket tabloids, the misinformed practitioner, and our ‘wannabe supermodel’ neighbour, who lost 30 pounds by drinking shakes for a month but will gain back 40 next month.
Good or Bad?
‘Are you feeling good or bad? good or bad?’ – words of a song written and sung by a very talented kiddy girl band from Germany, the Singing Flowers.
I am often asked whether a particular food is good or bad. My answer might be “good for me or good for you?” or “ handful of it or a whole lot?” or “today or last week?” or “how often?”. That’s because the answer depends on these questions. They are:
- What food?
- Who is eating?
- How much are they eating?
- How often?
- When are they eating?
From our traditional Ayurvedic point of view, food and nutrition can be sub-divided for individuals based on a number of variables like prakriti (constitution), agni (metabolic status), kal (age/time/season), desh (geographical location), satmya ( compatibility) and many more.
Matra (quantity) is individualized, dynamic and flexible, contrary to the serving size idea of modern nutrition. In Ayurveda, food requirements may differ among people of the same gender and of similar age. In real life I see it everyday with my twin daughters.
Ayurveda recognizes that food quantity may vary depending on the individuals agni bala (digestive capacity) at a given time. This too may change depending on season, time of day and age. Prakriti is a genetic- epigenetic conceptualization of Ayurveda which also influences food requirements. Depending on the metabolic levels the 3 body types are categorized as Vata (or irregular metabolizers) who require smaller and more frequent quantities of food, Pitta (or fast metabolizers) who require large quantities of food per meal also frequently and Kapha (or slow metabolizers) who require smaller quantities of food less frequently. This is extremely important in determining the fasting tolerance of individuals.
Even the same person is a Kapha dominant in early age, a Pitta dominant in middle age and a Vata dominant in old age.
Even the time of day requires consideration – morning is the time of kapha ( therefore small meal). Daytime is marked by pitta (substantial consumption). Evening again is a period of kapha.
Not just in Ayurveda. In “Regimen in Health” written in the fifth century BC, Hippocrates, who we recognize as a father of western medicine, outlined guidelines for healthy eating which profoundly influenced western thought for two millennia. Later classified by Galen in the second century AD, the system describes foods according to their natures (hot, cold, dry, damp and so on) and advocates that we eat to balance the nature of the prevailing season as well as according to our own temperament. Although the modern scientific view no longer describes foods in these terms, such an understanding of food has characterized western thought until very recently (until the advent of smarty-pants nutritionism).
In Chinese thought, the five flavours (sweet, pungent, salty, sour and bitter) are a literal description of a food’s taste as well as indicators of a food’s effects. Each flavour, for example, moves the body’s energy in various directions. Sweet foods moisten, harmonise and nourish; pungent foods move energy from the centre to the surface, stimulate circulation, disperse stagnation and tend to be drying; salty foods sink, moisten and detoxify; sour foods are contractive, move energy inwards and tone the body’s tissues; bitter foods have a drying action and tend to move downward. Balance is understood to be the skillful blending and inclusion of the “five flavours” and the balance of “thermal natures”. The question of balance also includes balancing the person with their environment, eating in harmonious relationship with the climate, weather and season. A balanced diet is also one which is individually tailored according to a person’s constitution, condition and lifestyle.
So, the answer to whether a food is good or bad will be moderated by for whom, when and where it is being eaten. At the midwinter solstice in the arctic circle you are offered the choice of a slice of watermelon or a slab of chocolate. Which do you choose? It’s a no-brainer really. At midday in the heat of Dubai desert?
So, the answer to whether a food is good or bad will always be, it depends…
There is no ‘one size fits all’. There never was!! Some ancestral diets were very high in meat and fats – such as the Inuit. Others, like the Kitavans and Okinawans, were heavily carbohydrate dependent. Yet both traditional diets were associated with good health. Balancing our genetic make-up with climate, seasons, local bio availability play an extremely important role in the diets we need to predominantly eat.
Obviously, none of the traditional diets included large amounts of processed food – whether they were processed meats or processed carbohydrates. The toxicity is in the processing.
If we go about copying the highly processed Standard American Diet (SAD) or any other diet which is not in harmony with all factors (genetic and epigenetic) which influence us as individuals, we will be sick. That is the simple truth.
Even though every persons requirement of food is unique, there are some basic rules for everybody. I will start with those.
One thing I must warn every one of you reading this blog and hoping to incorporate some lifestyle changes: YOU HAVE TO START COOKING (or have someone cook for you) !! There is no way around this, I’m sorry. This is the real deal. This was a given, a normal, when we grew up a few decades back. My grandma and mother would cook meals for us everyday. So why not do the same for our kids and give them the chance to be healthy individuals.
Cooking is fun, it is a family activity, no gender bias, you can be creative, you can experiment, you can make the tastiest treats and sometimes not so great dishes. And most importantly you know what you are eating.
First things first: Clean out your kitchen of all the junk. Whether you cook or someone cooks for you, lay down the rules. Even if you have only seen your kitchen from the outside and left everything that goes on inside to your trusted cook, please make sure that you buy the right stuff.
Let’s move on to the ‘Kitchen series’ where I will kick off with the most debated subject – FATS !!