The quest for optimal health and well-being has led to the development of many dietary approaches, each with its own philosophy and guidelines. Since each has its own benefits and features, it's up to the individual to determine an appropriate cours.
The quest for optimal health and well-being has led to the development of many dietary approaches, each with its own philosophy and guidelines. Since each has its own benefits and features, it's up to the individual to determine an appropriate course. A switch from the typical North American diet to a diet based on healthy eating habits can be beneficial to those simply wishing to maintain good health, but is especially important to those suffering from degenerative illness. Most popular health programs share some basic similarities in that they all tend to:
The Pritikin Diet
Developed by Nathan Pritikin, the Pritikin diet eliminates virtually all salt, sugar, fats and most meats from the diet. It is based on adhering to a nutritive ratio of eighty percent carbohydrates, five to ten percent fat, and ten to fifteen percent protein.
Sample Pritikin Diet Eating Plan:
Barry Sears pioneered this eating program. The main dietary premise of "The Zone" centers around the effect that macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate and fat) ratios have an eicosanoid production. Eicosanoids can be described as a powerful group of hormones (there are hundreds of them) that act as "master switches."
These hormones control virtually all human body functions including the cardiovascular system, the immune system and the systems that determine how much fat we store. The Zone which Sears refers to, is something like a metabolic paradise, a physiological state of near perfection, balancing hormonal functions (particularly insulin and glucagon) based upon eating what Sears considers to be the optimal ratio of proteins, carbs and fats.
This ratio consists of thirty percent calories from protein, forty percent calories from carbohydrates and thirty percent calories from fat. Sears believes in always eating protein with carbohydrates in order to maintain balanced hormonal levels. He recommends eating three grams of protein to every four grams of carbohydrates.
The Glycemic Index, the rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream, figures prominently in this program. Sears emphasizes that carbohydrates entering the bloodstream too quickly trigger the release of high levels of insulin which leads to undesirable blood sugar fluctuations and to the accumulation of body fat.
This program is less restrictive than many others with its inclusion of meats, dairy products and even frozen dinners. Geared primarily towards relatively healthy people wishing to maximize athletic performance and maintain their ideal weight, the Zone program is perhaps less appropriate for those suffering from degenerative disease.
There are several natural, unrefined sweeteners to choose from for the occasional sweet dish:
Aveline Kushi, a leading expert, teacher and proponent of macrobiotics comments, "Macrobiotics does not require any change in your religion, way of thinking, or personal lifestyle. It requires only that you eat in harmony with your environment."
Originating in Japan, macrobiotics places emphasis on achieving yin/yang balance by eating food that is in season and indigenous to your region, with brown rice being the foundation of most meals. Moderation is a key aspect of macrobiotics. Food preparation techniques, including chopping and slicing methods, mental approach, and condiment choices are also an important part of the macrobiotic approach. With its strict exclusion of most animal products and emphasis on fresh, whole foods, macrobiotics has been a popular dietary choice for people fighting disease.
Aveline Kushi describes the standard macrobiotic diet as consisting of:
The main macrobiotic food is whole grain, comprising fifty to sixty percent of the total volume of each meal. This includes brown rice, barley, millet, buckwheat, rye and corn. Grain and flour products, such as wholewheat or buckwheat noodles, seitan (a wheat gluten product), bread and rolled oats, may be served occasionally.
Twenty-five to thirty percent of each meal should include fresh root, round, or leafy green vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. One-third of the vegetables may be served raw in the form of a fresh salad or traditionally made pickles.
Ten percent of daily meals should include cooked beans or bean products such as tofu and tempeh. These may be prepared individually or cooked together with other foods.
Eat one or two bowls daily. Soup broth is generally made with miso or tamari soy sauce, to which several types of land and sea vegetables may be added during cooking. Soups made with beans, grains and a little fish or seafood may be served occasionally.
Seaweeds are rich in nutrients and are served daily. Use sparingly in soups, cook with vegetables or beans, or prepare as a small side dish.
Salt, Oil and Seasonings
Sea salt, miso, tamari soy sauce and umeboshi plums may be used in cooking to impart a salty flavor. Unrefined dark sesame oil is the most suitable for daily cooking although light sesame oil, corn oil and occasionally other unrefined vegetable oils may be used. For a sour taste, brown rice vinegar, sweet rice vinegar and umeboshi vinegar are used. Food should be mild, not overly salty and seasonings should be added during cooking rather than at the table. Kuzu root powder and arrowroot powder are used as thickeners for gravies and sauces. Herbs, spices and other aromatic substances are avoided.
A small amount of gomashio (roasted sesame salt), roasted sea vegetable powders and tekka root vegetable mixture may be used on grains, beans or vegetables at the table.
Homemade pickles may be served each day to aid digestion.
A moderate portion of fish or seafood may be served a few times a week. All other animal foods are strictly avoided.
Nuts and Seeds
Roasted nuts and seeds can be lightly seasoned with sea salt or tamari soy sauce and served occasionally as snacks.
Cooked or naturally dried fruit may be served a few times per week, as a dessert or snack, provided the fruit grows in the local climate zone. Fresh fruit may be consumed in moderation during its growing season.
Rice syrup, barley malt, amasake and apple juice may be used to sweeten cakes, pies, cookies and other dishes. These desserts may be served several times weekly. Molasses, corn syrup, honey and all types of refined sugars should be strictly avoided. Maple syrup may be used very sparingly.
Use clear and pure spring or well water for drinking, cooking and preparing teas. Bancha twig or roasted grain tea is commonly served at meals.
The acid-alkaline system of eating is based upon the classification of foods as being acid-or alkaline-forming. This classification is not made on the basis of how foods taste, but rather on the ash or residue that is left after the food has been metabolized in the body.
According to this dietary concept, since our body tissues and blood are slightly alkaline, we need more foods that break down into alkaline elements.
Fruits and vegetables, except for cranberries and most dried fruits, are the most alkaline-forming foods.
Slightly acidic ash-forming foods include whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Millet, buckwheat, corn, almonds and all sprouted seeds tend to be more alkaline-forming.
The most acid-forming foods include milk products, meats and refined flour and sugar products.
Plant or Animal Foods?
Are humans meant to be meat eaters or vegetarians? Ancient peoples were hunter-fisher-gatherers. The body's digestive system and liver have not changed significantly since ancient times. Human teeth, jaws and the digestive system can handle meat, vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts.
It is important to note, however, that red meat was not a daily staple of ancient societies. Meat could not be kept fresh by means of refrigeration, so an animal had to be eaten at once, and often by an entire clan. Animals were typically kept to provide eggs, milk and leather. Wild animals were hunted with intense effort and only seldom caught.
The quality of meat and seafood available has degenerated drastically since ancient times. Fish that used to be healthy are now contaminated with toxins from polluted waters. Animals eaten in traditional diets were lean, healthy and free of pesticide residues, antibiotics or hormones.
The meat in supermarkets today is quite different from that eaten by ancient hunters. It comes from domesticated animals that are lacking physical exercise because they are kept in cages to speed up maturation and fed grains instead of grazing on green pastures. This has made the animals fat, so there are more saturated fats in the meat. Cattle are fed antibiotics and hormones to encourage weight gain. Meat is no longer a good source of important nutrients, but instead causes heart disease, cancer and other serious health problems.
Dr. Lothar Wendt's Protein Theory
About fifty years ago, German physician and researcher, Dr. Lothar Wendt, developed ground-breaking theories about nutrition, arguing that protein overconsumption was a leading cause of disease. Despite initial criticism, he finally gained acceptance in the medical field in Europe.
Wendt died in 1989 at the age of eighty-one, but his ideas, first published in 1949, are no less significant today. Wendt argued that protein, not fat, causes arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis leads to strokes and heart disease and remains a serious problem in western society.
Wendt argued that fats only became considered a leading cause of heart disease because of a faulty assumption. Increasing numbers of heart attacks were correlated to increased consumption of animal fats. However, according to statistics, it was actually animal protein consumption which increased tenfold, while fat consumption remained relatively stable.
Wendt also questioned the widespread acceptance that besides minimal storage of carbohydrates in the liver and muscle cells only fat is stored in the body while excess proteins are eliminated. According to Wendt's theory, proteins are stored as collagen in the connective tissue, just as fats are stored in fat cells. In addition, some amino acids are stored in mucopolysaccharides, a substance between collagen fibers, together with glucose, fatty acids and water.
Wendt supported his ideas by comparing the tissues of overfed people with those of normal and underweight subjects. The tissues of an overly fed person showed not only an increase in fat and fat cells, but also an increase in collagen, which is made of pure protein. During periods of hunger, collagen as well as fat diminishes. This suggests that general overeating causes an increase in fatty tissue through fat storage, and increases connective tissue through protein storage.
While it is well known that some excess proteins are broken down and eliminated, Wendt reasoned that most people cannot process all excess proteins and at least some of them are stored in the connective tissue. An overabundance of proteins in the blood causes a thickening and slowing of the blood flow, encouraging the inner cells lining the blood vessels to store proteins in collagen and mucopolysaccharides. As a result, the blood thins again, but the artery walls thicken, causing the beginning of arteriosclerosis.
In addition, the saturated fats in red meat also increase the risk of arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Protein from red meats forms an excess of uric acid in the body, which precipitates arthritis, gout and kidney stones. Meats also break down to acid ash which increases inflammation in the body.
Many risk factors for heart disease, strokes and blood clots, such as high blood-pressure, adult onset diabetes and high cholesterol can be explained by an overconsumption of animal protein, as well as too much fat and sugar in the diet.
By observing the diets of wild animals, eating mostly plants, it is clear to see that a plant food diet does not contribute to obesity. Wild animals are rarely obese. Overconsumption of animal proteins will cause problems but you can eat as many vegetables as you like without gaining weight. To counteract the effects of too much protein, Wendt recommended the elimination of all animal protein from the diet for at least four weeks. Besides all types of meat and fish, this diet eliminates eggs, milk and milk products, as well as any foods containing these items.
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Too Much Animal Protein?
Protein is used by the body to build and repair cells. Except for times of starvation, protein is not needed for energy. Complete proteins are essential, but they are best taken from a variety of vegetable sources. A bowl of pea soup, a slice of wholegrain bread and a salad provide complete proteins. All soy bean products, such as tofu, are complete proteins. (For complete-protein, meatless dishes, see the recipes listed at the end of this section.)
Today, we are a step closer to accepting the idea that eating too much protein is just as harmful as overindulging in fats and sugars. Nevertheless, protein, especially animal protein, is still a major part of many people's diet. According to Dr. Wendt, restricting animal proteins along with sweets and refined, saturated fats will improve your health and prevent future health problems.
Improving health through a vegetarian diet is widely accepted as good nutritional sense. Vegetarians are likely to eat more fiber and vitamin-rich foods, and for this reason, are generally healthier than meat eaters. Vegetarians have less cholesterol and uric acid in their blood, tend to have normal blood pressure and normal weight, and suffer less than meat eaters from constipation and ulcers. People suffering from chronic disease often can experience a dramatic improvement with a vegetarian diet.
It has been suggested that a strict vegetarian diet leads to vitamin B12 deficiency over the long term. However, this has been disputed recently since vitamin B12 can be found in vegetable sources such as spirulina, fermented soy bean paste (miso), tempeh and yogurt. A vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy products reduces the risk of vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies.
Purely from a health point of view, eating primarily vegetable-source foods will promote optimal health. A vegetarian diet is often an ethical choice as well.
Fasting is one of the oldest and best recipes for good health. It has long been used for religious and spiritual purposes to cleanse and strengthen the body and spirit. During stomach flus and high fevers, the appetite naturally declines so that the body can cleanse itself of germs and nurse itself back to health. This inherent response can be used purposefully both as a preventative and a treatment for many illnesses, or to invigorate poorly functioning organs and give the digestive tract a rest.
Many people feel a tremendous sense of well-being and increased vitality as a result of fasting. It will often normalize hormonal irregularities, and counteract depression, moodiness and memory problems. Others believe fasting inhibits liver detoxification pathways and causes tissue damage. While professional guidance in fasting is necessary for those with serious health problems, anyone in relatively good health will benefit tremendously from including a fast in his or her own health regimen.
By helping the body make the switch to a healthier, more natural diet, fasting can provide long-term relief from persistent health problems, particularly arteriosclerosis, heart disease and high blood pressure. Fasting can combat these conditions before they become severe and treat a wide variety of other problems, including skin problems, arthritis, leg ulcers, constipation and allergy-related illnesses.
A fast is not a crash diet. Weight loss varies widely among individuals and is not the only goal of a fast. Since the body quickly grows accustomed to a lack of food, it learns to conserve energy within a few days and metabolism slows down considerably. While weight loss is typical in the first several days, it will not generally continue. Breaking a fast properly is important, since the body tends to gain weight more quickly after fasting due to the change in metabolism. However, a fast combined with an improved diet and exercise is the best start to a weight loss program, and can provide the incentive to eat healthier and break bad habits.
The increased vitality of body and spirit, and improved system functioning is partly attributed to the detoxification that occurs during a fast. Because our air, water and food contains many harmful substances from pollutants, pesticides and additives, cleansing the body of toxins is essential for achieving optimal health.
Once the body is deprived of food as an energy source, it uses reserves stored in the liver, muscles and fat cells. Energy is no longer expended on metabolizing food and the body focuses on detoxification. The cleansing organs, such as the liver, kidneys, bowels and skin, rid the blood and tissues of accumulated wastes so that all organs can work more efficiently. With this cleansing process, the blood naturally becomes thinner and flows more easily, easing the heart's workload.
The basic method of fasting is the water fast, in which only water is consumed for days or even weeks, and provides the most intense fasting experience. Today, most people opt for variations on the water fast, consuming fruit or vegetable juices and/or herbal teas instead of water. Health care practitioners also tend to prefer this type of fast because of its gentler approach. Juices offer the body some essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes and some calories, which lessen the impact of food deprivation on the body, while still incorporating many benefits of a water fast. Herbal teas are used in both the water and juice fasts to further encourage detoxification by stimulating the kidneys, liver and bowels.
Fasting does require commitment. If you cannot fit a fast of several days into your schedule, fast for a day, replacing food with fruit and vegetable juices. While taking the time for a complete fast of several days will produce many more benefits than a one-day fast, short-term detoxification will stimulate body maintenance and give the digestive system a rest. One day of fasting is often a great way to begin if you have never fasted before, although hunger pangs are usually at their worst on the first day. A day of fasting can be incorporated into a monthly or weekly schedule.
If you are planning a fast for the first time, set manageable goals. A water fast should be kept short (a maximum of five days) while a juice fast can last a week to ten days. Fasting for longer periods of fourteen to twenty-one days can be carried out under professional guidance or if you have considerable experience fasting. It is most useful to fast for a long period to heal persistent, long-term health problems.
Preparing for a fast is very important. Several days before a fast, all stimulants, chemicals and drugs should be eliminated, including nicotine, alcohol, sugar and caffeine (coffee, black tea and soft drinks). Only the most essential prescription drugs should be allowed during a fast; if you are on heart medication, insulin or similar drugs, seek professional guidance. Dr. Otto Buchinger, a German expert on the subject of fasting, recommends eating only raw fruits, vegetables and juices at least one day before beginning the fast. If your diet is poor (for instance, one which includes many saturated fats, sweets and processed, low-fiber foods), then be sure to take several days of preparation to make the switch to fasting easier.
During the water fast, drink only purified, spring water and unsweetened herbal teas, such as camomile and peppermint. Some people like to include clear vegetable broths as well. In a juice fast, fruit or vegetable juices must be unsweetened and freshly made (not from concentrate). Organic, freshly juiced fruits and vegetables are preferable.
At regular intervals during the fast, daily or every second day, take either herbal laxative teas such as cascara sagrada, or enemas to ensure the full elimination of toxic waste from the bowels.
Drinking enough fluid is crucial to give the kidneys the extra support in flushing out metabolic toxins eliminated during the fast. Drinking also reduces feelings of hunger. Approximately twelve glasses of liquids are recommended each day, but individual requirements vary. For a juice fast, drink about one quart of liquids in juice daily, dividing it into six small portions to reduce hunger pangs. Chew the juice before swallowing or drink it by the spoonful. Think of the juice as a liquid fruit or vegetable, not as a thirst quencher.
The first one to three days of fasting are the most difficult. Once these have been conquered, the stomach becomes accustomed to its lack of food and an overall feeling of strength and lightness of being prevails. This wonderfully clean, light feeling occurs as a result of the endorphins, substances the body produces to ease the hunger pangs. Some people experience a short crisis in the beginning of a fast due to the detoxification which occurs. Symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability and dizziness are typical signs that toxins are being eliminated. These symptoms should ease quickly and not last longer than a few days. Signs of a head cold are also common. Other normal signs of detoxification are odorous perspiration and bad breath.
Other Activities During a Fast
Fasting is an excellent time to concentrate on your body and your health. It is also a time to set priorities and reduce responsibilities substantially so that you are able to rest more and focus on the fast and detoxification. If possible, plan holidays, especially if you have chosen to do the water fast. Focus on taking better care of yourself and doing things you enjoy. Write, draw, organize and get plenty of sleep. Exercise should be light and manageable. Stretching, walking, gardening or swimming are excellent. Intense aerobic exercise will cause undue strain on the body, but getting out into the fresh air and sunshine is highly recommended, as are regular trips to the sauna and massage therapist to support elimination and circulation. Avoid becoming chilled since the metabolism slows considerably during a fast and you will feel cold more easily than normal.
Many activities help promote detoxification and ease the discomforts it may cause. Brushing your teeth and gargling regularly with camomile, sage or myrrh tea or tincture diluted in water counteract bad breath and sore gums that may develop during this time. Regular showers and baths wash away perspiration and, when combined with alternating hot and cold baths and showers, encourage detoxification through the skin. Lavender or camomile added to a bath is both soothing and good for skin health. Dry brushing the skin with a dry towel or loofah brush is an excellent method of cleansing the skin of dead cells.
Water therapies and dry brushing improve circulation and encourage the lymphatic system to help remove waste. Going to bed with a hot-water bottle pressed against the right lower ribcage/upper abdomen gives the liver extra pampering.
Breaking the Fast
Breaking a fast must be carried out with the same care and attention as the fast itself. Noticeable fatigue after having felt energetic, renewed hunger or excessive weight loss are indications that you should stop the fast. If you are unsure, break the fast anyway. You will have more experience next time and your body will still have attained significant benefits, even over a short duration. Breaking a fast must be gradual above all, so you will need several days before diving into a full meal, however eager you are to begin eating again.
When you make the transition from a juice fast to solid food, eat small, simple meals of raw fruits and vegetables, and be sure to eat slowly. Chew longer than neccessary to stimulate the flow of digestive juices which have been inoperative after several days of rest. Also, keep food combinations as simple as possible and avoid overeating. On the first day of breaking a juice fast, start with an apple for breakfast, another for lunch and a light potato soup with wholegrain bread for supper. The following day incorporate a meal of soaked prunes or figs to keep the bowels moving. Lightly steamed vegetables with crispbread are also suitable for dinner on the first day if all else is well tolerated. On the second day or third day, depending on how your body accepts the transition, you can add whole grains, soaked nuts and legumes. Be sure to keep meals simple and healthy for the following days, using only unrefined, cold-pressed oils such as flax seed in salad dressings and, avoiding salt and fried foods. The diet should consist largely of wholesome fruits, vegetables and soaked whole grains, such as rolled oats or muesli.
After a water fast, make the transition to foods with diluted fruit juices and vegetable broths before progressing to whole vegetables and fruits. Start with a few tablespoons of freshly pressed juice mixed in a glass of water, increasing the amount of juice with time. You will need to incorporate foods more slowly into your schedule, starting with only fruit the first day, raw vegetables the second and leaving steamed foods and whole grains for the third day or later, depending on how you feel.
Breaking a fast is a crucial step which cannot be rushed because the body must relearn to accept and metabolize food. Launching into a dinner of meat and potatoes will cause stomach distress with nausea and vomiting. Immediately after a fast, you should also rest for several days, avoiding stress as much as possible and refraining from heavy exercise. You will find that some muscle strength will have been lost as a result of the fast and this can quickly be regained by starting slowly with mild forms of exercise.
Danger of Chlorinated Water
Chlorine in foods occurs as chloride salt. When chlorine is added to drinking water, it may join with other inorganic minerals to form harmful substances which destroy intestinal flora and vitamin E.