Every few months, every cell in our entire body is completely replaced by the food that we eat, the water that we drink and with the support of the air that we breathe. It is not far fetched to say that food BECOMES us.
Eating healthy is not rocket science. Our ancestors have been doing it, otherwise we won’t be here still.
You don’t have to have a masters’ degree in biochemistry or nutrition to know how to eat healthy. It helps to have basic knowledge about the study of how food supports our health (nutrition).
Essentials of Nutrition:
Complex Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats – basic building blocks of a healthy diet
Vitamins, Minerals and Phytochemicals – needed in small amount but are essential in metabolizing the macro-nutrients to enable all our metabolic functions
• main source of blood glucose, which is major fuel for all body’s cells and the ONLY source of energy for the brain and red blood cells.
• Found almost exclusively in plant food.
• In many natural food sources, carbohydrates are “complex” – the sugar molecules are strung together to form longer chains. These foods have fibres and macronutrients. Examples: whole grains and vegetables.
• Simple Carbohydrates are “simple sugars”, a natural source is fruits (it has got “fructose”) and milk (it has got “lactose”). A processed food source is sugar in soft drinks and most commercial foods.
Refined sugar is extracted from cane juice (which has “sucruose”) but none of the vitamins and minerals other left in it. The body needs to deplete its own reserves of other nutrients to assimilate refined sugar.
• “Low Carb” trend – the nugget of wisdom here is that we will be healthier if we stay away from refined foods like refined sugars and products from refined flour. But our body needs complex carbs to function.
Foods which are rich in Complex Carbohydrates –
1. Whole Grains
For 10 – 20 thousand years, humans have been using grains as our main source of nutrients. Their sugars are “long chain” and attached to the cellulose of the grains. The nutrients need to break free from these to be converted.
It takes hours to release these nutrients into our blood stream and therefore does not cause abrupt raise in blood sugar and deplete our own mineral reserves.
The bran of the grains provides one of the best sources of dietary fibre, as well as an excellent source of minerals and B vitamins, necessary for healthy nerves and optimal hormonal functions.
The interior section provides starch, our source of energy. The germ of the grain provides vit E, minerals and small amount of protein and oil. The tryptophan in grains helps the body to produce serotonin, the “feel-good-and-at-peace” neurotransmitter.
(In Chinese, the word “Chi” (“life force”) is a combination of the roots “breath” and “rice”. That was how essential to life ancient Chinese believed rice to be)
Once the grain is cracked open, the nutrients in it start to oxidize. Therefore whole grain has more health benefits than milled grains.
However, unpolished or semi polished white rice is still more nutritious than pasta or other more refined forms of carbohydrate foods because it has a form of indigestible starch content which acts as a fibre.
White flour (in pastries, biscuits, white bread and most noodles) is made from wheat. Many people are allergic to wheat without knowing it. They feel bloated, sluggish or even constipated after eating them. Soba, however, is made from buckwheat, which is not related to wheat.
Make sure you chew properly to get the full benefits of whole grains.
Digestion of carbohydrates starts from the mouth with saliva. (Most people who think they get bloated when they eat grains actually have just overlooked chewing.)
The warming and cooling properties of grains:
Warming: Oats, Spelt, Sweet Rice, Quinoa, Basmati Rice
Cooling: Millet, Wheat, Amaranth, Wild Rice, Blue Corn, Whole Barley
Neutral: (Brown) Rice, Rye, Corn, Buckwheat (Within the same kind of grain, the shorter variety is usually more warming than the longer variety)
Vegetables have long been the main source of food for the human race. Upward growing part of the vegetables eg. greens are like the respiratory system of our body and they make us feel light, fresh and clean.
Downward growing part of the vegetables (eg. root vegetables) give a more grounded energy.
Greens are probably the food most missing and needed in modern diets especially for those of us who live in polluted environment and who rarely see fields of green. Greens help build our internal rain forest and strengthen our respiratory and blood systems.
In Chinese medicine, green is associated with spring, time of renewal and vital energy. And it is related to liver, emotional stability and creativity.
Nutritionally, greens are very high in calcium. Cup to cup, for example kale has more calcium than milk. They’re also high in magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, and a powerhouse for Vitamin A, C, E and K.
They are also crammed high with fibre, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals.
Some Of The Benefits From Eating Dark Leafy Greens Are:
promotes healthy intestinal flora
improves liver, gall bladder and kidney function
lifts the spirit, fights depression
clears congestion, especially in lungs, reduces mucus
Vegetables You Could Try
Green Leafy Vegetables
Chinese Bok Choy
Chards- swiss chard, red chard, and rainbow chard
Iceberg lettuce is lowest in nutrients among the most common greens. Some greens tend to absorb more pesticides than others and are best to go for organic. These include: spinach, collard, and mustard greens.
The darker the greens the more the carotenoids in them, which boost the enzymatic activities in the body that detoxify carcinogens.
Roots and Squashes
The Fat Burners
Natural sweetness from vegetables: many vegetables have a deep, sweet flavour when cooked, like corn, carrots, onions, beets, winter squash, sweet potato and yams. There are also semi sweet ones like turnip, parsnip and rutabaga.
Then there are vegetables that don’t taste sweet, but their effect on the body is similar to sweet vegetables. These include red radishes, daikon radish, green cabbage, red cabbage, burdock, etc.
All these vegetables don’t raise blood sugar level abruptly like sugar does and provide healthy sources of sweetness.
3. Special Note About The “Nightshade” Family:
tomatoes, potatoes and all peppers and chillies, and eggplants. They contain a toxic alkaloid which may affect human calcium balance and may be implicated in complaints like arthritis. Limit those foods if you have arthritis.
Protein is a component of food, called amino acids, that comes in many different forms. Amino Acids are the building blocks for major parts of a lean human body.
They are crucial to the minute-by-minute regulation and maintenance of bodies. They are needed in the manufacture of hormones, enzymes, antibodies and all cells and tissues.
When our body makes protein – when it builds muscle, for instance – it needs a variety of amino acids for this process. These amino acids may come from our food or from our body’s pool of reserves.
Beans Contain a more complete set of amino acids than other plant foods. If you suspect that you don’t digest beans well, use fresh beans that are smaller like split peas, mung and aduki beans. They are easier to digest.
Soy bean is a rare plant source of complete protein and therefore is favoured by health conscious people. Chinese has a long tradition of using soy beans.
However, soy beans are the most difficult bean to digest; therefore traditionally, people ate baby soy beans, known as edamame, or took time to ferment the soy beans and make tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari and fermented black beans.
These are the best ways to consume soy for most people, unless they have problems with fermented foods. Also tofu was traditionally cooked with warming counterparts like ginger to balance its cooling property. (Overeating tofu can have “feminizing”effect on men)
Nowadays soy bean is often genetically altered so it is important to go organic. Black soy bean is probably not yet widely genetically altered yet. Also black soy bean has less of the “cooling” property than white ones.
Soy milk – It is a highly processed food unless it is home made.
Mushrooms – are a good source of protein and have immune boosting properties. Both a building food and a detoxing food. Very balancing.
Protein bars – Some are much better than others. Many contain a lot of chemicals. These are not meal replacements.
Protein powder – Check for high quality ingredients. Not recommended in frequent large amounts. Use whole foods as much as possible. It is rare in this day and age to be protein deficient.
Nuts – Generally considered a fat, not a protein. Great for people who want to gain weight. Peanuts are far higher in protein than any other nuts.
Grains – Not significant source of protein but when combined with beans complete the amino acid profile. Quinoa has the highest percentage of protein than other grains.
Bees Protein – from bee pollen and royal jelly digest easily and have many other nutrients. Good for vegetarian types who do not want to eat animals.
Dairy – Many people have negative reactions to cows’ milk. If you can’t live without milk, try other animal milk like goat and sheep. Buy organic. The nutrients in raw milk are much easier to assimilate than in pasteurized milk. Or try fresh unsweetened yogurt or make your own.
Fish/Seafood – Enjoy fish as a lighter protein source. Eg. Cod, salmon, catfish, flounder, trout, sole, sea bass, etc. Beware of mercury poisoning, over-fishing, genetical-engineering.
Egg – Quick, practical, inexpensive, protein source. Especially good for thin people as the protein is easily digested. When eating eggs, try to have one, not two or three. Go for free range.
Meat – Chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, beef, buffalo, ostrich, etc.
Use meat in a small way and go for quality.
Animal foods have what we call “complete proteins” because they contain ample amounts of all the essential amino acids.
Plant sources of protein have what we called “incomplete proteins” because they don’t contain all the essential amino acids, with the exception of soy beans.
However, plant sources of protein are generally more easily assimilated by our body. Also by combining plant source of proteins we can get all of the essential amino acids that the body needs.
Nature has its own perfect system (Imagine how often our ancestors got to catch an animal and eat its meat…other times they got their proteins from plant sources, or from diary, later in our evolution)
Combinations From Plant Sources That Provide Complete Amino Acids:
Beans with: Brown Rice
Wheat (if you can tolerate it)
Brown Rice: Beans
• Fat is satisfying and pleasurable. Fat helps us feel full and feel grounded. Too much fat makes us feel sluggish.
• Fat is needed to assimilate fat soluable nutrients – Vit. A, D, E, K and calcium.
• Fat is essential for the building of cells, used mainly in the cell membrane, which regulates flow of nutrients and wastes in and out of our cells. It is therefore essential in maintaining integrity of every cell in our body.
• 3 major kinds of fats: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – based on the number of hydrogen atoms in the chemical structure of a given molecule of fatty acid. Most foods that contain fats contain all 3 but it is the ratio that makes a difference.
• Saturated fats are high in most animal products, also in some vegetables products like palm oil, coconut oil. The liver uses saturated fats to manufacture cholesterol. Excessive intake of saturated fats have been linked to raised level of LDL (“bad” cholesterol)
• Polyunsaturated fats are high in soybean, sunflower, safflower and corn oils and may actually lower cholesterol.
• Monounsaturated fats are high in mostly vegetable and nut oils such as olive, peanut, walnut and canola. These fats actually lowers level of LDL’s without affecting HDL’s.
• A fourth kind of fat is not found in nature and is unrecognizable to our body – TRANS-FAT – these occurs when polyunsaturated oils are overheated or hydrogenated (a processed used to harden liquid vegetable oils into solid foods like margarine or shortening). Trans Fat is found in most commercial packaged foods and in fast foods. This is the kind of fat that raises LDL and lowers HDL levels.
• Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids.
• Essential Fatty Acids: the fats that the body cannot produce and must get from food. The most lacking essential fatty acid in our diet is
Omega 3 because it is easily destroyed by heat and food processing.
Omega 6 is more stable. It is usually present in foods that are rich in Omega 3 anyway.
Omega 9 is the most abundant in our diets.
Fats affect ecosanoides, the master hormones of our body. Omega 3 is essential in regulating hormonal function and reducing inflammation. It supports the body’s calcium balance, immune system, heart and lung functions, skin health, and especially the function of the brain, nerves and eyes. It is especially important to the development of babies and children. It actually keeps our insulin (a kind of hormone) level in check and makes us lose weight, if we are overweight. (It is insulin that tells the body to store fat and not release it)
Good sources: fatty fish (eg salmons, sardines, herrings, mackerels, etc), nuts and seeds (eg walnut, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds) as well as soy beans.
IV. Vitamins & Minerals:
We only need a small amount of vitamins and minerals although they must be present and in balanced level to assimilate the carbohydrates, proteins and fats and enable metabolic functions.
Theoretically if one eats a variety of whole foods and have their macronutrients taken care of, they need not worry about deficiencies of vitamins and minerals.
In all whole foods, vitamins and minerals are present so that we can assimilate the nutrients in them – such is the perfect design of our natural system.
However, with modern farming methods, the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc, our soil is depleted of minerals and our crops contain much lower levels of micronutrients than in the old days when all farming were organic and bio-dynamic.
Therefore it is important to go for organic when buying vegetables and to include good sources of minerals in our diet.
Food Sources Of Minerals:
The most concentrated food source of minerals is sea vegetables – nori, wakame, hijiki, kombu, etc. Replacing table salt with natural sea salt is also a way of introducing more minerals into your diet.
Drinking mineral water and natural Spring water also give us a steady source of minerals all through the day.
Organic minerals are much more usable to the body than synthetic ones.
Living in a highly stressful environment (environmental stress, physical and emotional stress), our body loses more vitamins than our ancestors would have everyday. Our body loses nutrients, especially Vitamins B’s, A and C when under stress and in polluted environment. Therefore it is crucial that we eat lots of vegetables and some whole fruits (and organic if possible) to replenish.
Highlight Of Vitamins:
Vitamin B complex: It is a host of vitamins found in most vegetables as well as fermented foods. They are essential in maintaining the integrity of our nervous system and our experience of life.
Vitamin C: for immunity, collegen synthesis (skin and bone health), etc
Vitamin A and D: essential in brain function and works in synergy with fatty acids. Vitamin D is crucial in calcium assimilation. (Best form is synthesized by our body through sun exposure)
Food Sources Of Major Vitamins:
Vit A: carrot, cantaloupe, papaya, liver, egg yolk…
Vit B’s (they are usually present as a group nad interdependent of others): whole grains, soy and legumes, fruits, avocado, egg yolk, mushroom,
Vit C: fruits and vegetables
B12 and strict vegan diet:
The most easily assimilable form of B12 is from animal sources only, including egg and diary. It is also present in smaller amount in fermented foods and seaweeds and algae. B12 cannot be produced in sterile environment where no bacteria can strive. Deficiency can cause depression, fatigue, paronoia and memory loss.
They are substances found in plants that give them their colour, flavour and natural disease resistance. They have been found to prevent cancer by blocking the steps that lead to cancer.
Better known phytochemical are Flavonoids found in citrus fruits and berries, and Indoles, found in brussels sprouts and cauliflower, etc.
Almost every grain, legume, fruit and vegetable has phytochemicals so it is easy to obtain them and they are not as easily destroyed by heat as vitamins are.
Many phytochemicals are just being discovered and they are not replicable in supplemental form yet. So eating vegetables and whole fruits is key to getting these nutrients.
The Nutrients In Our Body Work In Synergy:
-For example, Vitamin A, D, E and K work in synergy with fatty acids and vice versa.
-Raising a single vitamin or mineral would throw off the intricate balance of the entire plan. (“The dose makes the poison”) For example, elevated level of Vit C would interfere with chromium and copper absorption.
High calcium level would make magnesium level appear low. Sodium and potassium needs to in equilibrium to maintain body’s pH and nerves and muscles function.
-So the key is to eat a balanced diet of whole foods.
-And if you find the need to take a supplement, make sure you cover a broad base and the supplement is derived from food sources and bio-available.
You can find much more information on living a holistic lifestyle in these free magazines and on our YouTube channel.
Lakshmi Harilela – www.lovetruefood.com