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Of all of the lifestyle factors affecting our health, nutrition is the most important. Many health afflictions can be prevented and, if addressed early enough, cured with proper nutrition.
Due to the intake of highly processed and artificial foods, the bodies that acupuncturists treat today are different than the bodies that acupuncturists treated hundreds or thousands of years ago. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are natural medicines intended to adjust/cure bodies affected by natural stressors. A person subsisting largely on processed and artificial foods will be less responsive to Chinese medicine than a person eating natural foods.
Due to the abundance of nutritional information available and the various motivations driving the dissemination of this information, the layperson is often overwhelmed and confused when searching for guidance on improving their eating habits. A proper nutrition plan, however, need not be confusing at all. There is only one truly healthy and effective eating plan regardless of whether the goal is weight loss or disease management, cure or prevention. I call this the whole foods eating plan.
If you can’t picture where it came from, don’t eat it.
The Whole Foods Eating Plan is a natural eating plan. It is a lifelong eating plan consisting of a diverse diet of whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits, and vegetables - with small amounts of fish, meat and eggs if desired. When we eat a wide variety of these foods, there will be no concern as to whether we are getting the necessary amounts of the individual nutrients needed for proper health.
As the famous nutrition author John Robbins has said “Diversity Protects.” While calorie counting can help to educate a person about portion control, recognizing that the body is satiated is much easier when eating a whole foods diet. The body recognizes these natural foods and is satisfied by them. When eating these foods in a relaxed manner, a person is much less likely to overindulge. The overwhelming and impractical task of constantly keeping track of calories and nutrients becomes unnecessary.
Our bodies do not know what to do with artificially altered foods. These foods are addicting and unsatisfying. They fill us with empty calories and throw our confused bodies into a state of imbalance.
What does this food have to offer me? How will this make me feel immediately and in a few hours from now?
Focusing on what we should include in our diets can have a major impact on a person’s health. Many of us are so concerned with avoiding too much fat and too many carbs and calories that we end up eating Jello puddings and 100 calorie cookie packs rather than real food. These types of foods not only offer no quality nutrition to our systems but also do not satisfy us. Our society has largely forgotten that… FOOD IS FUEL.
The nourishment we receive from what we eat drives every system in our body including the metabolism itself. If we eat a Jello pudding we will have the energy of a Jello pudding. If we try to get through our days avoiding anything with fat, carbs and calories we are trying to get through our day without fuel. We end up with no energy and our metabolism slows down.
T. Colin Campbell, one of the U.S.’s foremost nutrition researchers, points out, in his book The China Study, that when comparing the least active people in China with moderately active Americans, the Chinese eat an average of 700 more calories per day than Americans – and they are much thinner.
The Chinese have a diet much richer in vegetables and fiber and much lower in processed foods and animal protein than Americans. Campbell links the Chinese diet with an increased metabolism or rather the American diet with a decreased metabolism.
Most chronic diseases have a significant element of inflammation. We in the western world eat diets full of inflammatory agents. Omega 6 fatty acids (found in processed foods and meat), salt, sugar, alcohol and dairy are all known to be inflammatory and make up a large part of our daily menus. Eliminating or reducing one’s intake of these foods can dramatically reduce their inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids (found in foods such as wild salmon, halibut and cod, flax seed and walnuts) and spices such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and cayenne are all anti-inflammatory.
Many people would find the Whole Foods Eating Plan to be boring and bland. This is largely because our palettes have been dulled by artificial flavor enhancers and too much bad fat and sugar. Chinese medical practitioners look at patients’ tongues as a diagnostic tool. Many patients have an abnormally thick white or yellow coating on their tongue. This coating is reflective of an imbalanced digestive system due to unhealthy eating. This coating dulls our sense of taste. Eating healthily - eating a whole foods diet, will restore an acute sense of taste by rebalancing the digestive system and ridding the tongue of its thick coating. It may take weeks but if you stick with it you will start loving and craving the flavors of natural foods.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at nutrition from a different perspective than western science. Instead of evaluating a food based on the nutrients it contains, it evaluates it based on the effect the food has on the body. According to TCM, foods are either warming or cooling, energizing or relaxing, moistening or drying. When a body is in a state of imbalance food can be used to balance it. Food can be medicine. For example, bloating, excess gas and loose stools can all be symptoms of a body being too cool or deficient in energy. Eating too many cooling foods such as raw vegetables can both cause and exacerbate this imbalance. Eating warming foods such garlic and ginger and using more warming food preparations such as soups would be recommended to this type of patient. An in depth intake would help a TCM practitioner to diagnose a patient’s imbalance and give personalized nutritional advice.
The words ‘certified organic’ have created quite a buzz the past few years – a buzz that continues to get louder. People range from those who eat only organic to those who think it’s a sham. Common sense says that eating food that has been doused with chemicals intended to kill bugs and weeds cannot be healthy. There a list of the “top 10” worst foods contaminated by pesticides (peaches, apples, bell peppers, strawberries, celery, grapes, spinach, pears, cherries, dairy/eggs/meat.) Many people who keep organic in mind try to eat these 10 foods organic. However organic is not just about pesticide use. What the ‘top 10’ does not consider are genetically modified foods (GMOs.) These are foods that science has tampered with so that they will be cheaper to produce – some are pest resistant, others grow more quickly and are more fruitful.
The other aspect of the use of pesticides that the ‘top 10’ doesn’t consider is the effect pesticide use has on communities. The daughter of a friend of ours went to Costa Rica on a school trip and upon return asked her mother if they could avoid bananas that weren’t organic. She said that in Costa Rica the banana plantations weaved through some of the towns that they visited. When the plantation owners sprayed their bananas they did so by airplane. They didn’t just spray the plantations. They sprayed the entire town and everything and everybody in it.
An interesting website on organic is www.organicconsumers.org.
The information on soy is particularly confusing. Experts cannot seem to agree on its health risks and benefits. Soy became a champion in the mid-1990’s when the results of a meta-analysis showed that diets high in soy protein helped reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. However, it quickly fell from the ranks when other studies showed that, due to its estrogenic properties, it may increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers. The most recent breast cancer study, a retrospective study (not randomized, controlled or double blinded) published in 2009 correlates soy intake with reduced recurrence rates of breast cancer. Still other studies have correlated very low breast cancer rates in populations with the highest soy intake. Okinawans have the highest soy intake in the world and also the lowest breast cancer rates and the highest longevity.
This is my opinion on soy:
Organic soy (non-gmo) in the form of whole soy products (tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame and soymilk) is a healthy addition to the diet when, like everything else, is eaten in moderation. Okinawans may eat the most soy in the world but that is 1-2 servings/day. We in the U.S. tend to go overboard. If we hear soy is healthy, we’ll drink soymilk with our cereal for breakfast, have a snack of eda mame a little later and then finish our day with a veggie patty (containing soy.) We must also bear in mind that almost all processed foods contain soy – even organic granola bars, in the form of soybean oil (almost all ‘vegetable oil’ is soybean oil), soy flour, and soy lecithin (used as an emulsifier to bind ingredients in things like chocolate) to name a few. When we eat a diet that includes processed foods we are consuming an indefinite amount of soy. This is just another reason to stay away from processed foods. I recommend limiting soy intake to 1-2 servings per day.
The combination of poor nutrition and inadequate sleep leads to a feeling that we can’t keep up with the busy schedules we set for ourselves. We are aging ourselves quickly by asking our body to perform without proper rest and fuel. This leads to a dependence on stimulants such as caffeine. Using caffeine to keep up is actually asking our body to use energy we don’t have. It makes us feel like super-people but, at the same time, takes us out of touch with our bodies and health. Caffeine intake can have a dramatic effect on a person’s physical and emotional state. Accounts of shaking, chest tension, even benign tumor growth as well as irritability have been frequently noted.
Soda is poison. Period.
Diet soda, which is sweetened with aspartame is even worse. To make the transition away from soda, drink water with lemon, flavored sparkling water (beware of those containing artificial sweeteners), or unsweetened iced tea.