Blog : Nutrition
Animal and vegetable sources of fat provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet and also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. They act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well. Dietary fats are necessary for converting carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other important bodily processes.
Fats—or lipids—are a class of organic substances that are not soluble in water. In simple terms, fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms filling the available bonds. They are classified as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Saturated: A fatty acid is saturated when all available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom. They are highly stable, because all the carbon-atom linkages are filled—or saturated—with hydrogen. This means that they do not normally go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes. They form a solid or semi-solid fat at room temperature. Your body makes saturated fatty acids from carbohydrates and they are found in animal fats and tropical oils.
Monounsaturated: Monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond in the form of two carbon atoms double-bonded to each other and, therefore, lack two hydrogen atoms. Your body makes monounsaturated fatty acids from saturated fatty acids and uses them in a number of ways. They tend to be liquid at room temperature. Like saturated fats, they are relatively stable. They do not go rancid easily and hence can be used in cooking. The monounsaturated fatty acid most commonly found in our food is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil as well as the oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados.
Potatoes are an important food staple and the number one vegetable crop in the world. There are more than 5000 varieties potatoes around the world that range in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor. The potato belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos. Potatoes are technically tubers and not root vegetables. Essentially, they are enlarged stems that are higher in starch and complex carbohydrates.
Potatoes originated in the Andean mountain region of South America. Researchers estimate that potatoes have been cultivated by the Indians living in these areas for somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 years. Since potatoes are good sources of vitamin C, they were subsequently used on Spanish ships to prevent scurvy. They were introduced into Europe via Spain. The potato was first brought to the United States in the early 18th century by Irish immigrants who settled in New England. People in this country were slow to adopt the "Irish potato" and large scale cultivation of potatoes did not occur in the U.S. until the 19th century.
Health Benefits of Potatoes
Unfortunately, most people eat potatoes in the form of greasy French fries or potato chips. But take away the extra fat and deep frying, and a baked potato is an exceptionally healthful low calorie, high fiber food that offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer. In a future newsletter we will talk about cooking oils and how to select healthy oils for different types of cooking – including frying.
Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C, as well as dietary fiber and pantothenic acid. Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity with some darker skinned potatoes containing more antioxidants than others.
Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzymatic reactions, is essential for the formation of virtually all new cells in the body and plays numerous roles in our nervous system, many of which involve neurological (brain cell) activity. B6 is necessary for the creation of certain neurotransmitters that the nervous system relies on to transmit messages from one nerve to the next. Some of these neurotransmitters include serotonin, a lack of which is linked to depression; melatonin, the hormone needed for a good night's sleep; epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones that help us respond to stress; and GABA, which is needed for normal brain function.
From Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan Iyer.
For the Salad
- 1½ pounds new red potatoes
- 6 medium-size to large red radishes, scrubbed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
- 4 ribs celery, leaves discarded, thinly sliced
- 1 large English cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded, and thinly sliced
- 4 scallions, beards trimmed, green tops and white bulbs thinly sliced
- ¼ cup baby capers, drained
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh chives
For the Dressing
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns
- To make the salad, scrub the potatoes well under running water, cut them in half, and place them in a medium-size saucepan. Cover them with cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Briskly boil the potatoes, uncovered, until they are just tender but still firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Take care not to overcook the potatoes.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse them under cold running water to cool them down. Give the colander a few good shakes to rid the potatoes of excess water, and transfer them to a large bowl. Add the radishes, celery, cucumber, scallions, capers, dill, and chives to the potatoes.
- To make the dressing, place the anchovy fillets, egg yolks, mustard, and garlic in a blender jar and puree, turning off the blender and scraping the inside of the jar as needed, until smooth. Combine the two oils together in a small bowl. With the blender on low speed, drizzle the oils through the hole in the cover in a steady stream. Once the oils are added, you will have a thick emulsion, which is your own homemade mayonnaise. Add the Worcestershire, lemon juice, cayenne, salt, and peppercorns and pulse the dressing to ensure a smooth mix.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and give it all a good toss. Serve at room temperature, but because this is a mayonnaise-based salad, do not leave it at room temperature for long periods of time.
Vegetables & Preparation Methods
By now everyone knows that eating more vegetables and fruits is beneficial for our health. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly three million lives would be saved each year if more were eaten, and that low intakes may cause nearly 20% of gastrointestinal cancers, 31% of heart disease, and 11% of strokes. Most “standard” dietary recommendations suggest at least five servings of vegetables and fruits daily, however many studies show that more is better. The benefits of eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits are many, including:
- Reduced obesity and hypertension
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Improved mental/cognitive performance
- Improved lung function, particularly those with COPD
- Reduced adverse effects of environmental pollutants
- Reduced risk of cancer
What to look for
It is best to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; variety in color being one of the more important characteristics. The color of a fruit or vegetables can be a good indicator of the nutrients it contains, and therefore by eating a wide variety in color, you are getting a wide variety of nutrients.
Much conventionally grown produce contains pesticides and chemical fertilizers, so you want to make sure to understand which fruits and vegetables are most likely to be grown this way. The Environmental Working Group publishes a list called “The Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” that is helpful in determining which you should buy organic and which are relatively safe to eat conventionally grown. If you download the guide from their website, there is this handy cutout that you can keep in your purse or wallet to reference when you get to the market (see photo). Several studies have shown that organic produce contains more nutrients than conventionally grown produce and also has fewer toxic metal residues. And organically grown produce is just better for our environment and maintains soil quality by including lots or organic matter that nourishes the soil. Eating mostly organic produce is especially important for women who intend to become pregnant or are already pregnant.
Look for vegetables and fruits that are in season, fresh and ripe. We have a few local farmers markets in our area that are definitely worth a visit, so be sure to check out the PTC Farmers Market, or the Fayetteville Market. We've mentioned before that attuning your body the the seasons is important to maintain balance in our health. While its nice that we can get a variety of fruits and vegetables from all over the world at the supermarket, it's best to stick with those that would normally be found in your area and to pass on those that have been picked unripe and shipped across the world. It is best to eat fruit fully ripened to get the most antioxidants.
Continuing with “What to Eat” as a part of a healthy diet, we look at legumes. Beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts are a source of high quality nourishment, and have often been called the poor man's meat. When served with whole grains and a small amount of animal protein with good quality animal fat, we are talking about an ideal, low-cost diet.
Legumes contain protein, fiber, with boatloads of minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and molybdenum, as well as B vitamins such as folate and thiamine. Legumes also contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, with kidney and pinto beans particularly high in omega-3. They are particularly good for the heart given the soluable and insoluable fiber that helps keep artery clogging cholesterol in check, and the magnesium and potassium that are frequently lacking in the American diet yet are vital for the normal functioning of the heart and circulatory system. These minerals help to regulate blood pressure as well as electrical impulses of nerves and muscle (including heart) contraction. Legumes, particularly lentils, contain high amounts of B vitamins which convert homocysteine in the bloodstream to a form that is not harmful. Homocysteine which is a byproduct of protein metabolism can damage arterial walls and is a very predictive marker of heart disease.
So why do we hear that legumes are bad? Well, if you go back to our article on grains, some of the same caveats apply. Like grains, legumes contain anti-nutrients such as phytates and trypsin inhibitors, and some have specialized complex sugars that can wreak havoc on our gut without proper preparation. Phytic acid also prevents the proper absorption of some minerals, especially iron and zinc. The good news is that we clever humans devised ways to prepare legumes so they are safe, savory and nutritious.
How to Prepare Legumes
Softer legumes, such as lentils and peas, are easily prepared by soaking for several hours before cooking gently until soft. The soaking helps break down the phytic acid, and gentle cooking makes the protein digestible, especially if served with digestion-enhancing spices, pickles, chutneys or fermented dairy products such as yogurt or sour cream. Indian spices are particularly helpful to enhance digestion.
Last month we looked at “how we eat” and this month we move on to “what to eat”. The question of “what to eat”, unfortunately has become overly complicated. There are so many diets that proclaim to be “the perfect diet”. Research studies (many that are flawed) about “superfoods”, foods that will kill us, and those that will heal us abound. There's the high protein/low-carb diet, many variations of the Paleo diet, the low-fat diet, the gluten-free diet, as well as vegan and detox diets. It's just downright confusing to try to wade through all of the hype to know what you should really be eating. With this and future articles, we are doing a deep dive into the various components of a healthy eating plan in hopes that we can help you sort it out.
The Traditional Approach Toward Food
Let's just take a step back for a minute and look at how our ancestors approached food. Over time, they figured out the ways of eating that made them healthy and those that didn't. They took into consideration what was available locally and seasonally. There were no supermarkets that brought foods from all over the world. Foods were grown without chemicals, cows ate grass, not grains, and they weren't given antibiotics and hormones. Our ancestors adjusted their diet to meet their needs based on their age, level of activity as well as the climate that they lived in. Growing youngsters, pregnant women, those whose jobs were very physical, and those who lived in cold climates needed more rich, nourishing foods. Those who were elderly, had weakened digestive systems or were recovering from illness needed to eat more light foods that could be easily transformed into nutrients that could be readily absorbed. They understood that we all have different needs and there is no single diet that is right for everyone.
Contrast that with our “modern” diet that tends to include more rich foods rather than light foods and things that aren't even “real” food. Rich foods are those that are loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and artificial flavoring. Processed foods that line our supermarket shelves can contain ingredients that our bodies don't even recognize as food like artificial (chemical) flavors and colors. Many times nutrients are damaged, removed or altered. People that consume mostly rich foods and processed foods typically have a range of health issues including being overweight, diabetes, heart problems, autoimmune issues and more. One result of the modern diet is that most people consume drastically less fiber then their ancestors did. This is one explanation for the rise in intestinal diseases and even cancer.
Balance and moderation are the key to a healthy diet. Thankfully, farmer's markets are making a big comeback and we can easily apply the logic of our ancestors to strike a balance of rich and light foods based on our individual needs, while considering foods that are in season and grown locally.
But what specifically should we eat? One of our teachers used to say “look at our own physiology to determine the ratios of what we should be eating.” One example of this is to look to how our teeth are constructed for dietary guidelines. About 60 percent of our teeth are molars (and premolars), these are the grain-grinders; 30 percent are incisors, these are the fruit and veggie eaters; 10 percent are the canines, these help with meat. Generally, if we use this as a starting point for our food selection and then listen to our body, we will be hard pressed to go far off. Factors such as age, climate, stress and physical activity all play a part what the ideal ratio will be. Just keep in mind that these ratios change over time, so we need to pay attention to the signals our body is giving.
Thus a healthy diet is a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fat that includes meats, vegetables, grains, and other real foods. Understanding how to combine these in a way that provides your body with the balance of nutrients it needs deserves our attention. In the clinic, part of the treatment process is to raise awareness of how ones diet is affecting them. By knowing what cues our body is sending and learning to pay attention to them, we can make the adjustments necessary keep our body in balance. When we know the cues,what they mean and how to respond to them the question of what to eat becomes surprisingly, refreshingly simple. Rather than give you a cursory overview of each component of a healthy diet today, we want to provide adequate detail to each aspect and it’s importance in our health. Let's start with one that has, unfortunately, somehow become controversial – grains.
Are Grains Good or Bad --- or Both?
Most Paleo and low carb diets advocate against grains using the argument that modern grains are inferior, have been subjected to chemicals and genetic modification, are difficult to digest in their whole food form, and have become so processed that no real nutrients remain. This is all true in the majority of grain products on the market today. In fact, the prevalence of inferior, improperly prepared grain products have become so common that a great many people has actually never had high, quality properly prepared grain-based foods.
In this series of articles, we are focusing on nutrition. Chinese medicine has long understood that diet is fundamental to health and longevity. In fact it has been viewed as a branch of medicine in it's own right. As early as the Zhou dynasty (11th - 3rd centuries BCE) , medical services classified dietary medicine as the highest form of practice. We are frequently asked for advice on what foods should be eaten or avoided to help with a condition or disorder. In this series we will look at nutrition from several different perspectives. First we'll look at how we eat. Later we'll look at the specifics of what we eat and other aspects of living a healthy lifestyle. You can find some information that we've posted in the past regarding diet here and here.
1) Eat less.
“When eating stop when you are seven-tenths full.” Chinese saying.
The way we eat may be even more important that what we eat. Eating the right amount of good quality food, perhaps less that we are accustomed to eating, is the key. Finishing meals when we are 70% full is best for optimal nutrition, can offer significant health benefits, and helps us age gracefully and with vitality. Recent studies have shown that in addition to cognitive benefits, eating less can increase longevity, improve function of the nervous and immune systems, and reduce incidence of several diseases that are prevalent in our country, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes, kidney disease, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and autoimmune disease. There is now strong evidence that obesity has harmful affects on the brain while reducing food intake can improve mental functioning by producing new nerve cells in the brain.
One way to accomplish eating less is to only eat when truly hungry. True hunger is when our body genuinely needs nourishment. This means that we aren't eating when we are bored, emotional or crave certain foods. Moderate hunger also makes all food taste great, so you can get great satisfaction by eating the simplest of foods. That said, don't wait too long before eating. Eating at regular intervals is important for our digestive health as well, providing adequate time between meals to give the digestive system a break. By establishing regularly spaced intervals between meals, we are also less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.
One thing David's teacher suggests to his patients is to chew every bit thirty times for the entire meal. At home, for one meal, try to do this. As you are chewing,what you additional things you notice? How does this change the flavors of the food? What do you notice in your mouth? What happens to the conversation (if you are eating with others)? Did the amount of food you consumed change?
When you do eat, follow the Chinese rule of eating until you are seven-tenths full. It takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full, and eating too fast has been shown to contribute to obesity and the risk of type 2 diabetes. By eating slowly, chewing thoroughly, and observing how full you are during a meal, you will realize that you will feel better if you stop eating before you are full to the brim. Your stomach needs some room to digest the food you consume – about 30% of its capacity to be exact. This improves your digestion and maximizes the nutrition you get from your food, and can even help you lose some weight.
Of course, those who are ill or recovering from illness, the elderly, those with eating disorders may be require more food to overcome serious insufficient nutrition.
2) Minimize liquids with meals.
Another consideration in how we eat includes the consumption of liquids with meals. Drinking water and other liquids with meals dilutes the digestive fluids required to break down the foods we put into our digestive system. Digestion is further hampered by having cold drinks with meals, because cold liquid puts out the “digestive fire” needed to efficiently break down your food and make nutrients available to your body. You may wish to try eating warm soups or tea before your meal to help prepare the stomach to receive the food. This may also help slow eating and create a sense of fullness, making it easier to sense the 70% full threshold.
Spring represents a new beginning and a time to refresh the mind and body. The organ systems associated with spring is the Liver and Gallbladder. Spring is the perfect time to bring more self-awareness to your body and the toxins that are ingested on a daily basis. Since your liver is responsible for eliminating toxins, pay closer attention to your diet and get rid of processed foods. eliminate alcohol, saturated fats, coffee, and chemical additives.
Think spring and green when it comes to foods. Seasonal veggies such as spinach and other greens, green onions, garlic, broccoli, brussel sprouts and asparagus are beneficial. Visit your local farmers market to see what is in season. Try these elegant Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms as an accompaniment to some grass fed beef or chicken.
Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms
- 1 cup cooked spinach
- 8 large mushrooms
- 1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
- 2 Tblsp butter
- 2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- sea salt and pepper
Chop cooked spinach and place in a strainer and press out the liquid. Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Chop stems finely and saute with the onions in butter and olive oil until tender. Add the spinach and cook another minute or so, mixing well until all of the moisture has evaporated. Add nutmeg and season to taste. Fill the hollow of each mushroom with the spinach mixture and place in a buttered glas baking dish.
To cook, add ¼ inch of water to the baking dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
Differences between Western and Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine is a science and medicine in its own right, with its own stringency and strictness of diagnosis and treatment similar to Western medicine, with procedures and protocols based on centuries of observation of how the universe works The ways of understanding the body's relationship to health and disease are very different between Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine. Chinese medicine focuses on increasing health to unseat disease, and supporting the body's inherent qualities to regain health.
Much of Western science is the direct product of the reductionism of Grecian origin. The scientific approach assumes that one must break a thing down into its smallest component parts or behaviors in order to understand it. This way of looking a problem involves a deductive reasoning process. Western science attempts to assess its cause and effect relationships in a linear or sequential fashion in order to measure, quantify, describe and hopefully predict phenomena. The process of Western science looks something like this:Hypothesis/theory (guess) -> experiment (experience) -> Laws. (Quantitative). Whereas the process of Eastern science looks like this: Natural phenomena (laws) -> experience (experiment) -> Thesis. (Qualitative). Both yield highly accurate information about totally different aspects of reality.
Chinese medicine uses the method of inductive reasoning that is associative and synthesizes, recognizing the inter-relatedness of simultaneous events, to interpret and treat disease. The question in Chinese medicine is not, “what bug is causing this disease?” so much as “what weakness or interrelated conditions are causing this person to be susceptible to it?”.
To use an analogy, let’s suppose that we walk into a room in our house only to find lots of flies in that room. Western Medicine might apply some bug spray to control the flies. A solution in classical Chinese Medicine would be to examine what the flies are attracted to. Upon observation we notice that someone left a ham sandwich in the room, which the flies are feeding on. Treatment would focus on removing the ham sandwich, so the flies have nothing to eat. Then we would ask the question, how did the flies get into the room in the first place. We look around and see that there is a crack in the window, so we fix the crack.
The goal of Chinese medicine is simply to restore balance. Chinese medicine does not treat disease, it treats individuals whose imbalances manifest in certain symptoms as the body attempts to regain balance. Illness is seen as an imbalance between internal influences such as diet, exercise, rest, and emotions; and external factors such as weather, trauma, microbes or poisons. Health is not just the absence of symptoms, it is a state of being in balance.
The preferred ways of restoring balance and staying healthy are the simplest ones. A balanced healthy, nourishing diet, lots of clean fresh air, adequate rest and regular sensible exercise are all a healthy body needs to stay healthy. When we get further out of balance than our normal internal mechanisms can restore, outside means may need to be employed to restore that equilibrium. That's where acupuncture and herbal medicine come into play.
Causes of disease
Your body is designed, like any other living system, to stay healthy and in balance. All of its mechanisms are programmed for survival. This is called homeostasis. Although your body has many elegant mechanisms by which to maintain balance, it constantly encounters things in the environment which can upset that balance. Extremes of temperature, physical or emotional stresses, microbes and toxins, can throw the body out of balance. A healthy body is in balance and is able to resist disease.
Before looking at the causes of disease, it's important to understand the relationship between ones inherited constitution, immune system and harmonious functioning of the body and mind (ie, health), and pathogenic factors that can unseat health.
When the constitution is strong and pathogenic factors are relatively weak, we can more easily resist the harmful effects and not become ill. We are better able to remain unaffected by those around us who suffer from colds and can better handle emotional and physical stressors. Even if the pathogen is strong, a person with a strong constitution may be able to battle it vigorously with high fever, and rapid recovery. Note that a high fever indicates a the body is fighting the disease with vigor.
However, if our constitution is weak, exposure to even a mild pathogen may cause us to become ill. We may catch infectious disease more easily and may be more affected by emotional and physical stress. When we do become ill, the symptoms may be milder because we don't have the same strength to fight the disease. The illness may also last longer, and may be able to penetrate further into the body creating a more chronic condition.