Michael and Lesley Tierra's Blogs
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After the period of feasting from Thanksgiving through Christmas, the New Year leads many of us to think about getting back in shape and losing some of those holiday pounds.
There's a wide variety of dieting approaches, ranging from raw food, juice, vegetarian, high carbohydrate, low carbohydrate, low fat, and paleolithic diets, to name only a few. Naturally, the contradictions between these different diets leads to a great deal of confusion. What may work fantastically for one person may spell failure for another.
After exploring all of these, it's my opinion that there is no single diet that is right for everyone. Rather than adhere to a rigid program, I think it's better to adopt the following principles that can guide us according to our individual needs and circumstances.
Ten Principles for Healthy Eating
1: Choose foods that you know are nutritionally dense. In that way, you will be more satisfied and experience fewer cravings. Don't rely on either dairy or soy as a primary source of protein. Dairy tends to be mucus forming and congesting while soy is too cooling and can cause low thyroid.
2: Develop a regular eating routine. The body operates best in regular cycles (night, day, the seasons, etc.). When the body recognizes a regular time to eat, digestive juices will flow into the stomach creating a sense of hunger.
3: All meals should be balanced in terms of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates with appropriate attention to serving portions (which I will address in my next blog post). This will help satisfy our nutritional as well as emotional needs and provide a balance of Yin (cooling, detoxifying, eliminating) properties and yang (warming, repairing, building) properties.
4: Give thanks and bless your food before eating. This fosters a more centered approach to eating and cultivates the virtues of appreciation and gratitude. One way this can be done inconspicuously is to reserve a small portion, say a half teaspoon, of every type of food on your plate to one side. This tiny portion is not eaten and is left as an offering to the Great Spirit.
5: Eat slowly in a quiet, peaceful and undistracted atmosphere. This may mean eating alone most of the time which is best. Feeling anxious or distracted often leads to overeating as a way to dull the senses. Eating too fast does not give the body a chance to signal that you are full until you may have already overeaten. Setting down your fork or spoon in between every couple of bites slows down the process and can give things a chance to settle.
6: Eat when you are hungry and only what you feel you need. Your parents may have told you to eat everything on your plate, but as we get older this tendency should be reversed. A woman I know who is 98 and remarkably fit for someone even 20 years younger makes it a practice to eat only half of everything she is served, saving the leftovers for later.
7: If you tend to overeat, try drinking a glass of room temperature (never cold) water 10 minutes or so before your meal. This helps give a fuller feeling in the stomach and thus you eat less.
8: Eat according to what is as local and seasonally available as possible. Foods that are locally grown acclimatize and adjust your body to the seasonal and environmental influences where you live. This practice is one of the best ways to prevent and treat seasonal allergies. It is also best for the economy and the environment
9: Don't unduly deny yourself. It is better to have a small amount of something that you desire, even if it is not the best for you, than to avoid it altogether; abstaining completely often leads to binge-eating later. If at all possible, try to understand what the real nutritional need is behind a desire. For instance, a diet of carbs, vegetables and fruit, lacking in protein, will often precipitate ravenous sweet cravings later. Protein deficiency leads to exaggerated sweet cravings, making a sweet in the form of candy or ice cream seem irresistibly attractive. Furthermore, excessive self denial contributes to a rigidity that will effect other areas of your life.
10: Avoid ice-cold drinks and foods. Heat is energy; when we ingest ice-cold drinks and foods, we tend to cool our gastric fires and deplete our energy reserves. The feeling of bloat and gas that occurs after eating means imperfect digestion, where food is not fully processed in a timely way, failing to move smoothly through the GI tract. Ingestion of cold drinks and foods can cause this, as well as inappropriate combinations of heating and cooling foods such as proteins with vegetables (especially raw vegetables) and fruit.
What About Exercise?
The notion that building muscles greatly accelerates weight loss is overemphasized by many gyms and fitness experts.
The fact is that muscle building, however good for you, has comparatively little effect on weight loss if you cannot come to terms with the issue of portion control. Have you ever seen what happens to the muscles of body builders when they stop building those muscles? They typically turn to flab. Muscles should be cultivated based upon our daily work and activity needs -- not for the sake of appearance. (I used to live in Venice Beach and watched musclebound wonders working out in front of my doorstep each day. The Beat poet Clare Horner wrote, "Hey muscle man, when are you going to start using those muscles you are building?")
Aerobic exercise in the form of vigorous walking, jogging or some other such activity is preferred to muscle-building because it burns more calories and it benefits the cardiovascular system. Getting outside for fresh air (preferably in a natural setting) allows us to get our daily dose of Vitamin D, which is so essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. Anyone who cultivates and appreciation for taking their 'daily constitutional,' be it a walk or moderate jog, will readily tell you how much better they immediately feel. It is the cure for so many ills, including obesity, weak digestion, respiratory diseases, pains of the joints, and of course, cardiovascular disease.
Just as many of us prefer variety in our food we will find that variety in our physical activities is also preferred and best. Coupling a physical activity with play can be the most satisfying fitness endeavor, especially if we have achieved some level of proficiency in a sport.
In sum, regular aerobic activity along with adherence to some basic principles for eating responsibly rather than fad diets will take us a long way toward achieving our health and weight goals.
Next week we'll take a look at proper portion control.
Although I've already done blogs this last year on how to stay in harmony with each season, I can't help but give another reminder today since we've just started the winter season. This is perhaps one of the most important times of the year to pay attention to what you eat, wear and do since the energy you store now will affect your entire year ahead. Interestingly, I am in Hawaii as I write this, but this information pertains to us here just as aptly as it does someone in snowy Montana.
Winter is the time to stoke you inner furnace '“ to rest, nourish and replenish your reserve energies spent throughout the prior year. Follow the sun, going to bed early and getting up late. Since the outside cold drives the body's heat deep inside, choose foods and herbs to reinforce and support this.
Diet Suggestions for Winter
Eat all cooked food with more protein now. Especially good are lamb cooked with dang gui and ginger, oxtail or bone marrow soups, pork and beef, root and leafy green vegetables, aduki and black beans, roasted buckwheat, winter squash and walnuts. Cook fruit as well, adding spices like cardamom, ginger and cinnamon for digestion. A little salt and herbs high in mineral salts, such as seaweed and nettles, can be added to teas, grains and soups to help Kidney energy, the organ that normally flourishes at this time.
Vegetarians should especially only ingest cooked food, forgoing juices, salads, raw foods and soymilk since they have a cold, eliminative energy (tempeh and miso are fine). For juice, substitute drink hot cider, adding ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Be sure to cook all food with the warming spices listed above.
While spicy foods like salsa and curries seem warming, they also induce perspiration, which takes heat out of the body. Instead use internally warming herbs such as ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek, dill, cloves, cardamom, onions, garlic, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, dill and parsley.
Herbal Recommendations for Winter
Continue any immune tonics started in the fall, such as astragalus and eleuthero and add in Kidney tonics like deer antler, rehmannia, Chinese wild yam, walnuts and ashwagandha. Cook herbs with soups or in food '“ an excellent way to increase nutrition and strengthen the body's reserves '“ or decoct as teas. Tinctures, especially those made with red wine, are most appropriate in winter because alcohol has a heating energy.
|In Fall we harvest the fruits and labors of Spring's planting and planning. Shorter days and cooler nights send the surface fires into the body. Just as many people harvest bounty from their gardens to stock up for Winter, now it's time now to pull back from multiple summer activities and store energy in your trust fund reserves. This is the time to discriminate and separate out what is needed from what isn't. Change and old age represent this, and when we don't release the old or accept changes, we experience grief and sadness.
Fall Correspondences in Traditional Chinese Medicine
The ability to receive, or take in, and to release the unnecessary, is attributed to the traditional Chinese Metal element ruling the Fall, with its corresponding Organs, the Lungs and Large Intestine.
The Lungs open to the nose and control breathing and the skin, including the opening and closing of pores, while the Large Intestine rules elimination. If Lungs are weak, or if you overindulged in cooling summer foods or over-activity, then excessive mucus now builds in the Lungs, impairing their breathing function. Asthma, bronchitis, allergies and other lung ailments also result and often kick up at this time of year. Since the Large Intestine and skin eliminate what is unnecessary, skin eruptions and constipation often show a toxic condition of the body or suggest an overactive life. Colon purification and mucus elimination from the Lungs (letting go!) are beneficial now.
On the other hand, air is dry in Fall and can injure the Lungs since they need a certain amount of lubrication to protect against inhaling dry outer air. If dryness invades the Lungs or Large Intestines, then dry coughs, stuffy nose, sinus infections, constipation or dry stools can result.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips to Prevent Fall Ailments
People experience colds and flu now more than any other time of year. As well, shortness of breath, chronic sinus infections, stuffy nose, nasal drip, mucousy coughs, asthma and other upper respiratory diseases, chapped lips, dry skin and skin diseases often occur. The tips below will help you to prevent these illnesses.
I find that people have more difficulty adjusting to Fall than any other season. Although evenings are cool, the warm days entice us into enjoying any remaining good weather. We continue to eat Summer's cooling foods (watermelon, salads, ice cream, iced drinks, raw foods and juices), dress lightly (few clothes, exposed necks, arms and midriffs) and live as if Summer still exists (continuing at Summer's hectic pace, adding in night school while still working eight hour days and gardening afterward).
Even though days are still warm, remember that your body's energies are moving inward to store for the coming cold season. Support your immunity by stopping all cooling foods and eating only cooked food and warm drinks, adding in spices such as garlic, black pepper and ginger. Also limit intake of sugar as it depletes the immune system by 50%. Layer your clothes so you stay warm or cool as needed. Cover your neck with a scarf, even if it is warm outside, as Fall winds are cool (colds and flu invade the body through the back of the neck, the area most vulnerable to Wind). However, when it warms up, take off a few layers so you don't lock Summer's heat in, as this leads to coughs with fever.
Begin reining in your energy -- slow down and let go. Do yogic breathing exercises regularly as they strengthen the Lungs, helping to protect from respiratory problems. Warm your abdomen and lower back with moxibustion, and on cooler nights, sleep with a hot water bottle over these areas. If you keep windows open at night, make sure they aren't near your bed to prevent waking with stiff neck and shoulders.
Eat more warming foods now. Eliminate juices and raw foods and have salads less frequently as these cooling foods are inappropriate for Fall and Winter. Excessive intake of cooling and dampening foods (greasy foods, flour products such as breads, muffins, pasta, cookies, pastries and chips, raw foods, juices and frozen foods and drinks, dairy) cause coughs or upper respiratory diseases, especially in Fall. Eating all cooked food, root vegetables, winter squash, barley, rice, spices such as garlic, ginger and black pepper, increased protein and roasted foods support Lung functions and alleviate Dampness. Cook seasonal fruit and add ginger, cinnamon or cardamom to prevent mucus formation. For dry coughs, cook pears with some whole sugar.
Fall Herbs for Balance
Spicy herbs like garlic and black pepper clear Lung mucus, as do expectorants such as elecampane, mullein, coltsfoot, mulberry root bark, platycodon, wild cherry bark and loquat. Herbs that strengthen immunity, such as astragalus, support Lung function and help prepare the body for Winter.
A good Fall immune tonic called Jade Screen is made of 1 part astragalus, 1/2 part white atractylodes and 1/4 part sileris. It helps the Lungs regulate the opening and closing of the pores, keeping Wind from invading and preventing colds and flu, chronic coughs and runny noses.
Other fall herbs moisten the Lungs to protect against Dryness, such as black sesame seeds, marshmallow and ophiopogon. Flaxseeds likewise moisten the Intestines to prevent constipation.
Grapefruit seed extract is extremely effective for sinus infections so prevalent now. Take 10-15 drops liquid internally, 3 times daily; use the nasal spray several times a day (both forms may be purchased at health food stores).
Corfu Bay: Practically every square yard of arable land is covered with olive trees or grapevines
|As someone who's worked in the health field for most of my life, I get to hear about all sorts of fad diets. Many of these come and go and have little basis in the long view history of the dietary habits of humans. One recent contender in the healthful diet arena is the so-called "Mediterranean Diet," based on the culinary traditions of countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
On a recent visit to the Aegean Greek island of Corfu, I was able to learn firsthand about the much-hyped Mediterranean diet regarded by many as the most healthful dietary regime.
Driving around Corfu with Spiros
The way I learned about the local customs was to hire a driver whose cab was parked ready and waiting near the dock where our boat was moored for the day's shore excursion. My driver's name was Spiros, a name that is ubiquitous on Corfu because the island's patron saint is St. Spiros. I learned that every family had to have at least one son named Spiros.
In Greece, Spiros told me, no one ever celebrates birthdays; instead, they celebrate their saint's day. This means that December 12, the feast day of St. Spiros, is an occasion throughout all the villages of Corfu for feasting and celebration.
So far as health and longevity is concerned, aside from the health benefits of the climate, air and wonderfully wholesome diet in Greece, not keeping track of one's birthdays at least has the potential of adding years to one's lifespan without one even knowing it.
As Spiros drove me around to the various villages, monasteries and high vantage points of the island, the first thing to deeply impress me was the importance of the olive in the lives of Mediterranean peoples. Considered the oldest cultivated tree, it spread from Syrian and Palestinian origins throughout the Mediterranean Basin approximately 5000 years ago. The olive (Olea europaea) tree has served as the life blood of the people for millennia.
On Corfu, practically every square yard of arable land is taken up with olive trees or grapevines (the two major crops of Italy and Greece). Spiros first pointed out how the black olives are the ones that are tree ripened and are allowed to fall to the ground. These are either picked by hand but most commonly there is a plastic net spread under each tree to pick them up after they fall which is usually in late fall. Green olives are picked green off the tree. These are soaked and cured in brine for several weeks leach out their bitterness.
As we drove around I saw some extraordinarily, large, gnarled trees interspersed with young ones. Spiros mentioned how it takes at least 10 years for a tree to bear fruit and that some of the oldest trees on the island date back over 700 years. Considering how plants that seem to take longest to mature usually are the richest in nutrients, the olive tree and the oil extracted from its fruits are a highly nutritious food. According to Spiros, after the oil is extracted, it sits in vats with the clearest oil being at the top. It is this clear oil from the first pressing which is sold as virgin or pure.
Olives contains many known vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. According to Olive Oil Source, olives contain "55.5% oleic acid, 0.9% linoleic acid, a polyunsaturate that lowers cholesterol and reduces platelet aggregation and linoleic acid at 0-1.5%."
Linoleic and linolenic essential fatty acids and the antioxidants found in olives have special qualities that promote energy, health, brain function and generally retard the aging process. All of this makes a good case for the use of olives and olive oil being a key nutrient for the longevity and vigor of Mediterranean people.
I also learned that apart from its use as food, the mash (shown above), which is the residue left after the olives have been crushed, is saved and burned as fuel for cooking and to heat the home during cold winter evenings. Still another fine use is in the making of soap.
Retsina: Wine for breakfast?
According to Spiros, a typical Greek breakfast consists of bread (fresh, home-baked by his mother being the best), olive oil and olives. Fresh eggs are included occasionally. He said that those performing heavy manual labor requiring extra endurance and strength consume an entire liter of retsina wine in the morning as well. Now I know that anyone looking into the Mediterranean diet might never consider beginning the day with a quart of wine, especially the Greek retsina with its strong resinous flavor from pine pitch, which is at best an acquired taste.
However, realizing that in Greece making of retsina wine dates back 2,000 years I thought about the many other traditional cultures that integrate various pitch and resins as medicine such as the use of myrrh in the Middle East and traditional Chinese medicine, guggul in East Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and pine pitch by Appalachian people. In all of these traditions, indigestible resins are refined and taken internally in small measured amounts for detoxification, anti-inflammation and to counteract arthritic and rheumatic conditions.
Still, I wondered how the average person would fare beginning each morning with a quart of wine? Spiros assured me that while he didn't follow that practice, those whom he knew who did do not get intoxicated. Oh well, I considered, this is just another application of the Hippocratic dictum of "making one's food one's medicine."
Spiros said that upon turning 50, he decided to slow down, take life easier and not work so hard. Usually during the 10 months of tourist season he drives a cab in the morning and fishes in the afternoon. Now I knew of the importance of olives, olive oil, fresh vegetables fruits, goat cheese and such but I wondered about protein and the important role that fish holds in a typical Mediterranean diet. Spiros said he usually nets sardines for his 'catch of the day.' It turns out that one of the ways Mediterranean people avoid the risk of heavy metal contamination is to mostly feed on the small, fast growing fish close to the surface of the ocean since these do not live long enough to have accumulated heavy metals.
Sardines and other small fish, according to Spiros, are a staple, served daily in many ways for lunch and dinner.
Many years ago, the oldest man in the US (he lived in Florida) was asked about his diet and he replied that it consisted largely of sardines. One source I read described them as "little supermen" containing practically everything a body needs in terms of nutritional value with substances that are proven to benefit the skin, joints, memory and boost energy.
Sardines are naturally high in omega 3 fatty acids, which is the long chain variety of fatty acid that can only be found in seafood but not vegetables and fruit. They have high levels of Coenzyme Q10, a powerful antioxidant known to increase vitality and promote a strong immune system. In addition because the small bones are also consumed, they are high in calcium and vitamin D. On Corfu and throughout the Mediterranean, these are prepared and served in many ways.
Figs, goat cheese and vegetables
One of the most abundant fruits in the region is the fig (Ficus carica). Like practically every other food from the area near to the cradle of civilization, the fig, which is classified as both a deciduous shrub or small tree, is one of the first plants ever cultivated by humans. On Corfu, I think the fig is more of a shrub than a tree as I saw them growing wild everywhere, some spread out to cover the area of half a city block. The fig is high in calcium, fiber and powerful antioxidants. These are also prepared and eaten in many ways.
Cheese is also a supplemental part of the diet on Corfu. A wide variety of cheeses are eaten, but goat cheese is favored. The added nutritional benefit of goat cheese and other goat dairy products is well known. Goats graze more widely than cattle and the variety of weeds, herbs, shrubs and leaves that they consume adds greatly to the nutritional value of their milk. In addition, the milk of small animals such as goats and sheep is more like human milk, with smaller and more digestible fat globules than cow's milk. This makes goat milk far safer and obviously more beneficial for those who are allergic to (cow's) milk.
Last but not least, there is a healthy appreciation for vegetables throughout Mediterranean coastal regions. Spiros pointed out the small vegetable gardens adjoining almost every home we passed as we drove around Corfu. He said that every household in his village grows a wide variety of their favorite vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, assorted leafy greens and root vegetables, as well as a variety of legumes and beans. At one point, we spotted a man harvesting what looked like a common roadside weed. Spiros pulled over and asked the man for a sprig of what he was picking. It was a wonderfully fragrant sprig of wild oregano, which along with many of the other commonly used Mediterranean spices such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram, are generously incorporated into the diet both for their flavor and their well known medicinal virtues.
Greeks do not seem to consume as much pasta as Italians. However, Spiros said they do eat some occasionally.
My short visit to Corfu gave me a firsthand appreciation for the many elements, familiar and unfamiliar, that comprise the true Mediterranean diet. Occasionally adding just a few elements to one's own diet, such as olive oil, more seafood (especially the more common and abundant smaller fish), goat dairy products, vegetables of all types, modest portions of fruity red wine, and yes, even some al dente pasta, shouldn't be too hard for most of us who wish to gain the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. All we may simply have to do is change the emphasis we place on the use of some of these commonly available foods.
What about pasta?
Being myself of Southern Italian descent, I noticed that the one thing most people who recommend the Mediterranean diet never seem to mention is that Italian staple, pasta.
As a boy I watched my two Sicilian step-grandparents eat pasta literally three times a day. Yes, even for breakfast (for this it was plain and dressed only with olive oil).
Recently, Andrew Weil wrote an article entitled "Bringing the Pasta Back to the Table." In defense of pasta, Weil refers to the fact that most traditional Italians prefer eating their pasta firm, known as al dente (meaning 'to the tooth'). Prepared and eaten in this way instead of overcooked and soft, the starches convert to glucose much more slowly. This chewier pasta does not cause the heavy insulin spike that leaves one feeling heavy, lethargic and tired. Instead, it is actually more filling and less fattening.
I don't know when Italians learned to prefer refined and enriched semolina wheat flour as opposed to the grittier whole wheat pasta but many think that the whole wheat pastas currently available are much improved over those of previous decades with the added benefit of whole grain fiber.
Besides pasta, I remember my grandparents eating a lot of other things that might not exactly fit into today's well-known Mediterranean diet. For example, such things as tripe and certain organ meats were enough to make me gag. Fulfilling at least the minimum requirements for Catholics, they substituted fish for red meat on Fridays. They did eat lots of vegetables, which is aligned with the modern idea of the Mediterranean diet.
I remember that each spring, when the yellow-flowered mustard would begin to bloom in the nearby commercial orchards, my grandparents eagerly filled large paper grocery bags with verduti (meaning 'greens', specifically mustard greens). These would be boiled and taken as a soup-tea to 'purify the blood,' I was told. Years later, I would come to preach, as I do now, that this practice of tanking up on fresh spring greens in season is a wonderful health practice conforming to the age old Hippocratic dictum of "Let your medicine be your food and your food, your medicine."
Given my traditional Italian upbringing, when people refer to the Mediterranean diet assuming it to be high in vegetables and seafood (which it is), I wonder if they realize the amount of refined starches in the form of pasta, delicious bread, and incredible desserts, including gelato, that are at least also a part of the diet of southern Italians.
The Noble Olive
In ancient Greece, the olive tree was regarded as sacred to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, skill and warfare. Athena was worshipped at Olympia, the site of the first Olympic games (around 776 B.C.). The only thing bestowed on the victorious champions during the early games was an olive-leafed wreath.
During the period of the games, which occurred every four years, there was an agreed upon truce and suspension of all warfare throughout the Greek empire to allow the participants safe passage to and from the site of the games. Thus, the olive leaf has become the universal symbol of peace with numerous citations from both biblical and Islamic sources regarding its practical and symbolic significance:
And the dove came back to him in the evening and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. (Genesis 8:11)
The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us'. But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored, and go to sway over the trees?' (Judges 9:8-9)
Allah is the Light of the heavens, and the earth; a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern or western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not - light upon light... (Surat ul Nur 24:35).
|Summer is the essence of life, growth, heat and activity. With the sun at its zenith, nights are short and days are long. Our energy is expansive now, flowing outward to act on the plans and seeds sowed in spring. Similarly, the body's heat, or "inner fire," starts rising close to the surface, cooling us inside. We are motivated now to pursue sports, gardening, yard work, hiking or other outdoor activities. We feel compelled to get things done, to work and to socialize.
Not surprisingly, in traditional Chinese medicine, the fire element and its corresponding Organs, the Heart and Small Intestine, correlate with summer. With increased heat, circulation and joy (the Heart's emotion), we generally feel more optimistic, find it easier to work on relationship issues, and experience increased sex drive.
Summer Ailments and Diet Tips
Because our fires are closer to the surface, we can easily overheat through over-exposure to the sun, heated environments, or hot-natured foods. Lighter, easier to digest foods are appropriate now, such as fruit, salads, grains and legumes. Red meat and excess meat eating should be kept at a minimum, if eaten at all.
People with Excess Heat often feel worse in summer and are generally tired, sluggish and easily overexcited or impatient in hot environments. Many are easily prone to heat exhaustion, headaches, arthritis, colds, allergies, hypertension, chest pains and palpitations. Eating too many hot, spicy, greasy, fried foods, red meats, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, or smoking tobacco aggravates these symptoms. Instead, eat fresh vegetables, salads, fruits, legumes, white meats, mung beans, watermelon, soy bean sprouts and room temperature herbal teas.
Drinking excessive amounts of cold and iced drinks causes Stomach Heat (in any season) with headaches across the forehead, bad breath, bleeding gums, ravenous hunger, extreme thirst (especially for cold drinks), constipation, nausea, vomiting, sour regurgitation or mouth ulcers.In fact, iced drinks taken with fatty or fried foods causes cholesterol according to the Chinese because cold drinks "encapsulate" fat, making it indigestible and turning it into fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Although we like iced drinks in the West, they also ultimately create Heat because the body has to increase metabolic warmth in order to digest them. People who live in hot climates mostly drink hot teas and eat spicy foods since these make the body sweat, ultimately cooling it.
Other people eat excessive amounts of cooling foods in summer, such as salads, raw foods, iced drinks/foods, juices, smoothies, soy milk and too much fresh fruit (especially melons). Since these cool the digestive "soup pot" of the body, they cause poor digestion and assimilation, resulting in undigested food in the stools, gas, bloatedness, sleepiness after meals, low immunity, weakness, tiredness, nausea, loose stools, or diarrhea. Thus, if you tend to feel cold, even in summer, limit intake of cold foods, eat all cooked foods, add spices (such as ginger and cardamom), increase protein (such as red and white meats) and drink warm herbal teas. Balance the cool nature of raw fruit intake by eating its more warm-natured seeds or a bit of its peel. These are ancient Asian secrets to "keep the doctor away."
Protect your energy
While the fiery energy of summer pulls us into activity, we need to guard against over-activity and over-excitement, as these injure the Heart, depleting our energy reserves and robbing our bodies of the vital Essence that we need year-round. If we experience low energy now, it's often because we didn't rest sufficiently during winter, or we're over active now. Tiredness, exhaustion and "burnout" result, particularly if we go from dawn to midnight, accomplishing many different tasks, socializing more, working out a lot, skipping meals and snacking instead, having more sex and fitting in vacations, house repairs and yard work with everything else.
Summer is actually the time to protect your energy, especially for those who already have low energy. Thus, rest during the hotter hours of the day (this is siesta time in many countries), pace yourself, delegate, prioritize, moderate activities and exercise, and eat three regular meals daily. Take Siberian ginseng to enhance endurance and immunity.
Dressing in summer seems easy - the fewer the clothes the better. Yet, regularly baring midriffs exposes the Kidneys and abdomen to Coldness, ultimately depleting Essence and metabolism respectively. Those who frequently feel cold should maintain body heat by covering up on cooler summer days. Air conditioning can lower immunity and cause colds or chills, especially if kept too high, or if indoor/outdoor temperatures differ extremely. If air conditioning is a must, keep it at a higher temperature to more closely match that of the outdoors, and wear a sweater.
Summer Herbs for Balance
The cooling and drying qualities of the bitter taste strengthen the Heart and Small Intestines and eliminate excess fluid and cholesterol from the blood. Spicy herbs, such as chilies and curry blends, open the pores and create perspiration to cool the body. Herbs such as mint, lemon balm, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, red clover, violet leaves, honeysuckle, borage, rosehips and green tea also cool the body and make refreshing summer drinks. Hawthorn and longan, because they nourish the Heart, are good now as well. Don't take ginseng or other strong warming tonics during summer (unless you're weak) because they're too heating and stagnating now, potentially causing headaches, chest pains, stomachaches, or excessive thirst and sweating.
We're already halfway through January! How are you doing with your health-centered New Year's resolutions? In my last post on diet and weight loss,
I discussed exercise and making reponsible food choices. In this post I'd like to address another option for detoxification, balancing and weight loss: Fasting.
All fasting is essentially a process that gives the body a rest and restores normal metabolic function. There are generally two types of fasts: a more extreme detoxifying juice-only fast, and a milder yet still balancing and detoxifying fast based on legumes and grains.
Four-Day Apple Juice Fast
If you have previously overindulged in rich foods, meat, fat, dairy and so forth, you may reap remarkable benefits from a mono-fruit juice fast. For starters, I recommend the four-day apple juice fast.
Purchase or be prepared to juice the equivalent of at least a half-gallon of organic apple juice per day for three days.
The drill is simple: to maintain blood sugar levels, have at least one 8-ounce glass of warm or room temperature apple juice every two hours or anytime you feel like eating.
To maintain healthy fats during this (or any) diet I also recommend a teaspoon of olive oil three times daily.
After three days of taking apple juice only, you 'break-fast' on the fourth day. This day is the day that can either make or break the gains achieved by the previous three days. On that day, one can have warm vegetable soup with added beans and brown rice, accompanied by a wilted salad garnished with olive oil and Bragg's amino acids (an alternative to soy tamari sauce).
A "wilted" salad is the a traditional Asian dish made by chopping up salad greens and putting them into a cheesecloth bag and dipping them briefly into a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds or so. This is then placed on a dish with another dish on top and a weight to press out the excess water in the salad.
The nutrients in greens are encased in a cellulose-like bond that is difficult for our digestive fluids to dissolve. Heat dissolves this bond just as it will quickly crinkle any piece of cellophane passed over an open flame. Many may ask, "Don't you lose some of the nutrients through this flash-heating method?" Yes, but the loss is very little compared to what you will now absorb. The experiential test for this is how comfortable and good your stomach feels when you have your salads prepared in this way as opposed to greens that are raw.
Certain herbs will greatly assist the detoxifying weight loss process you are trying to accomplish with this fast. For this, I recommend Planetary's Triphala Garcinia Program, two to three tablets taken with the apple juice three times daily. This formula combines the legendary balanced detoxification properties of the three Ayurvedic fruits of Triphala with the thyroid supporting effects of kelp and L-Tyrosine, which all purify the blood and lymph. Also included in the formula are burdock and cleavers, which increase the elimination of excess fluid; Chinese white atractylodes, astragalus and ginger to help raise metabolism; and dehydrated apple cider vinegar, which regulates acid-alkaline.
It is important to note that no herbal formula will directly result in weight loss. Stimulants are used medically and do suppress the appetite to some degree, but should not be exclusively relied upon in place of dietary and lifestyle solutions such as the ones I discuss on this and previous posts.
This being said, a formula such as Triphala Garcinia Program can be a powerful aid to all the elements necessary for balanced weight loss. It can be safely used in an ongoing manner to assist the body's normal digestive, assimilative and eliminative processes.
After an initial four-day fast like the one mentioned above is a good time to implement or renew your New Year's diet principles and resolutions.
For those whose diets are not so extreme in indulgences but still would like to detoxify and cleanse, a 10-day diet based on whole grains and beans with the judicious use of spices is recommended.
The most ideal fast that has been used for millennia is based on the Ayurvedic food called kichari or kichidi. This is one of the most satisfying and healing foods. It can be taken as a complete food for detoxification, purification, weight loss, weak digestion or recovery from illness. You may modify it as you wish, adding vegetables, using chicken stock, adding fish, and so on. However, it is pretty complete unto itself. Depending on the type of fast you would like to do, you may choose to have it once, twice or for all three meals of the day.
With the addition of some cooked vegetables, one can live on kicharee. Here is the recipe:
Kicharee (Indian Dahl and Rice)
You will need the following ingredients:
- Split yellow mung beans (dahl)
- White Indian basmati rice (or other white rice)
- Ghee (clarified butter)
Spices are important to kicharee and have their own healing properties:
- Ground turmeric
- Ground coriander seed
- Ground cumin seed
- Sea or rock salt
The final product will be very soupy and not like normal rice and beans. You can choose to make it thicker or thinner by using more or less water in the beginning.
In a saucepan, cook one part rice and mung beans (can be a quarter to a half cup of each) in 7 to 10 parts water until rice is tender.
In a separate large skillet, heat a level tablespoon of ghee. Add and sautee 1/4 teaspoon each of turmeric, ground coriander seed, ground cumin seed and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
This should only takes a few minutes to lightly brown so that the wonderful aroma of the spices begins to arise. Then mix in the precooked mung beans and rice.
During your fast, have a bowl as often as you like. The ancients said that if one eats only kicharee for 10 days, it can cure all diseases. True or not, it is certainly a wonderful foundation to healing. To enhance the detoxification process, take three triphala tablets twice a day with water before or after eating kicharee.
While it is best to make a fresh batch everyday during your fast, kicharee will keep refrigerated for three or four days. Don't forget that you can add vegetables or small amounts of organic meats to the above basic recipe to make it more like a stew.
I look forward to hearing what your experiences with either of the above fasts are in the comments section.
Dhal image by © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com
It's the new year and guess what's on (almost) everyone's minds: Losing weight and dropping some of the pounds they put on, especially during the holiday season.
Of course, there are a number of those 'airy' thin, yin, fiery types who seem to be able to eat as much as they want and hardly put on a pound. You might guess that these types have a high metabolism. This is correct, but is that the whole story? Could be, but these preternaturally skinny types might also be using that high metabolism to digest a diet that's actually helping them to stay lean and healthy. Read on:
Refined Sugar: The Enemy!
I'm going to have to assume, perhaps wrongly, that most people who might visit my site and read my blog already know most of the problem foods and activities to avoid. But just to be clear at the onset, just as money is sometimes called the root of all evil, sugar would be considered the root of all gustatory evils. And just like money, sugar is not necessarily bad in itself, especially if in unrefined forms like honey, agave and maple syrup which contain minerals that our bodies need.
Traditional medicine classifies foods in terms of flavors and therapeutic effects. The sweet flavor is practically ubiquitous in the foods we commonly eat. These foods contain the kind of carbohydrates and proteins that the body needs to function at optimal levels. From the perspective of traditional herbal medicine (THM), this means that if we crave and overeat sweets, some part of us is malnourished.
When we overindulge in sweets made with white sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners derived from corn and refined grains such as white flour, our insulin spikes which causes our bodies to quickly store the unwanted calories as fat. Instead of being satisfied, our bodies feel even more deprived, because like a child promised a present that he did not receive, the body acts up with even more cravings for sweet, rich foods. Ever notice how one indulgence in a refined sweet like candy leads to another? I offer that this fierce internal need is the root for all addictions.
This may not be easy, but if you're really serious about achieving optimal health and weight, the first order of business is to eat, whole, organic pure foods. If you have any suspicion that you may be not eating the optimal diet, check out the latest issue of Men's Health Magazine's 20 Worst Foods In America. If you think you are in this category of individual seeking to lose weight, you may have to start with the basics.
Basic steps to achieve optimal health and weight:
- Eat whole, pure foods, avoid 100% of the foods sold in the center aisles of grocery stores, and for that matter so-called health food stores as well. Learn the dozens of ways to identify refined sugar on labels.
- Plan your meals and either prepare all your own food or hire someone to prepare your food for you.
- Regularly exercise - a half hour of most exercise maintains weight; at 45 minutes of continuous exercise is where one begins to lose accumulated fat stores. One can practice a more aerobic type of yoga, Qi Gung (and don't fall for the myth that slow Asian exercise that doesn't increase your pulse and cause you to break a sweat isn't going to do anything to dissolve fat). Running or walking are great options too. For the winter, I like to use my Nordic track while watching my favorite TV show. (And please, guys, how can you allow yourselves to lie back on the couch, slugging down pizza, beer, nachos, sodas and other fattening snacks while watching your football heroes who are fit as can be get such a great work out? Let them inspire you to get on a stepper, glider, stationary bike, or trampoline for at least for 30 to 45 minutes during the game.)
- A special reminder for computer addicts (I'm one!): Try to make it a point to get up and get physical for 10 minutes or so every hour.
OK, so those are the basics. Screw up any of these and I guarantee you will fail to achieve optimal health and weight.
Refined Foods, Alcohol and Emotional Eating
Refined foods in general are trigger foods that just make you want to eat more. Even refined salt increases our salt craving because the naturally occurring minerals in salt have been removed mostly to enable more convenient dispensing. Avoid refined foods like the plague. In fact in our society they are a plague and the major underlying cause of all disease.
As for alcoholic drinks, everyone should know that alcohol is a byproduct of fermented sugar. Therefore, as alluded to previously, alcoholic addiction should be considered from one perspective as another form of sugar addiction. (If you think this is hyperbole, check out the sugary snacks always present at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.) From that perspective, it is really trading one terrible self-destructive addiction for another.
If you want to preserve even a semblance of health while indulging, make it a point to consume alcohol that has no added refined sugar. In the old days, cheap alcohol made from refined sugar was called "rot gut." In my clinical experience, I have seen that it is so much easier for an alcoholic to recover if he or she only drank good quality alcohol rather than one who drank booze spiked with sugar to cheaply increase its alcohol levels.
Emotions are a big part of our food cravings. Tell an Italian to give up pasta, or an Irishman to lay off the whiskey, and it's tantamount to denying a cultural inalienable right! (As for you pasta lovers, did you know that cooking pasta al dente lowers the glycemic index so that the carbs are not so quickly stored as fat? Al dente means "to the tooth" -- in other words, the pasta should not be too soft, still giving your teeth some work to do when chewing. For healthier, less fattening pasta, it should be put into the a pot of rolling, boiling water and cooked, depending on the type of pasta, no longer than 5 to 8 minutes. Test your pasta toward the end of cooking time to be sure it is not too hard nor too soft -- just al dente.)
It's really hard to completely overcome our associations with food that stem from the most festive and happiest remembrances of our childhood and young adulthood (whether these are pasta, beer, wine, desserts, ice cream, candy -- you know what they are), and now that we are grown think of all of those things as "bad" for us. I bet most of you are rejecting that thought as you read it here. It's the same little voice that creeps up in our moment of tiredness or weakness that says, "Aw, that can't be completely bad" or "Just a little bit can't hurt." Well, a little bit may not hurt, but let's face it: it's awfully hard to have just a little bit!
Making Responsible, Principled Choices for Diet and Health
I have found that categorically rejecting anything in life (food or otherwise) either drives one to a state of overblown opinionated insanity (where you find yourself shunning certain foods and indulgences as if they were going to be instant death), or else eventually one caves in and indulges to excess in moments of stress, tiredness and weakness.
Have you ever noticed that living in community makes us just as vulnerable to the healthful foods others offer us as we are to the not-so-healthful foods? Think of the last time you were at a potluck gathering or party, standing before a spread of sugary treats that would never find their way into your own home, let alone your mouth. (It's funny we call them "treats"; is it really a "treat" if it makes you sick? In my more lucid moments I have to ask myself that.) The same goes for liquor or even other things like drugs. What are we to do in such situations apart from extricating ourselves from them entirely and becoming an antisocial rogue animal?
To be honest, I really don't have a reasonable suggestion for that one because we would all like to think of ourselves as being gregarious and open, but then we all have our weaknesses. Forging a set of principles around diet can help. Principles are contracts that we agree with ourselves to live by and they are simply not open for discussion. Remember, a principle is not a "rule" -- rules are more fixed. Some principles can become close to a rule, but by definition they are ideas that we choose to live by.
If you are committed to losing weight and becoming healthier this new year, you may find yourself having to make some serious adjustments not only in terms of diet and exercise, but also in terms of who your friends are and what your activities with them are. Try to create a team of friends and a tool kit of exercises, foods and principles that will support your goal.
Stay tuned for next week's blog post when I'll share some ideas about fasting for weight loss and health!
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