(by Magrita Pfab & Richard Marranca)
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nima sana in corpore sano. What was true for ancient Romans still applies to us modern people.
It is very important to treat your mind and body like a temple – as something sacred and special. This is also in keeping with the mystical, natural path of respect for the divine being and planet, and yourself too. On this quest you must live the good life and eat a superb diet in order to give your soul a place to thrive. This diet is natural, colorful and close to nature. It consists of whole foods, not products of industrialization and gimmickry. It is extravagant in variety and color, not manipulation and size. It is an integral way of eating in keeping with the compassionate paths of yoga and meditation. There is a huge list of foods and combinations of foods that qualify as a natural whole foods diet. Take a look at T. Colin Campbell’s recent book, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, to see what happened to the food supply on the reductive road of industrialization.
“It’s easy to follow a natural diet, as there are so many exotic and tasty choices from around the world,” said Bridget Briant, a yoga teacher and Thai massage therapist in New Jersey.
The Asian and Mediterranean Diets have been appreciated for thousands of years for their healthful qualities; these diets include a variety of wholesome, fiber rich foods, but it’s important to note that all cuisines have their good and bad foods. A diet that is super healthy is also an anti-inflammatory diet (and anti-cancer, anti-heart attack, anti-aging, etc.).
We all know that inflammation manifests as swelling on the skin and that inflammation is a factor in heart disease. While inflammation helps the healing process, it can also cause havoc when it is out of control. So seek the good foods that don’t inflame your system. (Sugar, meat, white flour and other such foods encourage inflammation, along with smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, stress, and lack of sleep).
“In only a few months, I’ve given up the bad stuff, including meat and dairy and my doctors were astonished by the results,” said John Tooker, a college teacher who began a vegan diet (after bad blood test results). “They couldn’t believe it, so I handed them Campbell’s The China Study and McDougal’s book on diabetes to show what I was following in terms of a new diet and lifestyle.”
Eat as many colorful whole foods as possible (like broccoli, blueberries, avocados, legumes, arugula, whole grains, etc.); eat low on the food chain and on the glycemic index (complex, low carb foods). It is a matter of being mindful of portion size and overall natural essence. In all of history, there have never been as many food choices as there are now: hummus and falafel and more from Middle Eastern cuisine; quinoa and colorful potatoes from the Andes; seaweed and tofu from Asia; pasta and beans from Italy, to name a few. If you’re going to overeat, then let it be veggies: fill your plate with them and other healthy foods.
T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease and John McDougal’s Reversing Diabetes show the vast danger of a diet of meat and dairy foods and the necessity of eating vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains. These brilliant books help us stay thin and healthy and lower our chances for getting heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Campbell is one of the great researchers whose study involved thousands of people from around the world; he’s not corrupted by big business and the government. Dean Ornish is famous for bringing thousands of people, on the brink of heart attack, back to good health through exercise, diet, mind-body practices and more. Heart disease is deadly for people and expensive for society. Isn’t it better to be preventive? John McDougal, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has also helped paved the way to a more holistic, natural diet to prevent a long list of diseases.
In Asia, people eat much more seaweed, tofu and a variety of mushrooms than we do back in the West.
In Southeast Asia, for example, there is something that the locals call clear soup: tofu slices, mushrooms, baby corn, cabbage, carrots, onions, seaweed, rice or noodles and sautéed garlic. Seaweed contains a wealth of minerals and vitamins and high quality protein. It increases immunity and fights cancer. Tofu is high in protein and calcium and has no cholesterol, and it’s widely enjoyed in Asia, and now in the West too. In Natural Health, Natural Medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil wrote that “The low incidence of breast cancer among Asian women could be due to their high intake of soy foods.”
We have button mushrooms and on occasion Portobello mushrooms, but in Asia people consume a much greater variety. Mushrooms are high in minerals, low in fat; they raise immunity and fight cancer. Dr. Maoshing Ni, in Secrets of Longevity: Hundreds of Ways to be 100, notes: “Many mushrooms, particularly shiitake, maitake, reishi, and wood ear, have superb anti-aging properties.”
GREEN TEA OR ANY TEA
If we turn our eyes towards Japan, there are two things, among many, that stand out: the aesthetic sparseness of the interiors and the green tea habit. Koreans, Chinese and many other cultures also have the tea habit. It’s far more than a hot drink, as it’s an integral cultural practice.
Green tea is a powerful antioxidant. It could be one reason that the Japanese have among the highest longevity in the world. In studies, it seems that green tea can help prevent tooth decay, lower cholesterol and help maintain weight. According to Dr. Andrew Weil in Spontaneous Healing, green tea contains many healthy substances. “Catechins lower cholesterol and generally improve lipid metabolism. They also have significant anticancer and antibacterial effects.”
But again, you don’t have to acquire a taste for ‘exotic’ teas if your taste is more traditional. Look around where you are living and you’ll probably find a dozen herbs with medicinal benefits that also taste nice in various blends. Plus, if you find a local distributor or even start planting/collecting the herbs yourself, you can lower your energy footprint on the planet.
If you want to give self-planted herbs a try, start with peppermint. It grows almost everywhere, looks very decorative in a pot and tastes delicious, no matter if you dry the leaves or use them freshly. Also, try chamomile tea, as it encourages relaxation, good sleep and also helps stomach ache. In Germany, doctors sometimes tell patients to have chamomile, a traditional healer.
From there you can work your way up to more capricious specimens that need more attention and require some knowledge in the art of gardening. Collecting herbs in nature is in many ways rewarding – you get out into the fresh air, you exercise, you get to know your surroundings – but it is also a bit tricky. You have to know a little something about herbs and which of them are protected. Go to the authorities first and make sure that the spots you’re intending to go herb-hunting aren’t restricted. Also, never collect all the herbs; always leave back enough so that they can re-grow.
MEDITERRANEAN TRAVEL BOOK
In Italy, you will come across a wide variety of pizza, some of it with cheese and some of it in the more traditional way without the cheese. With salad and wine it can be an amazing meal. With cheese heaped on top, pizza becomes less healthy in any country. So be moderate with cheese or go cheese-less. The road to joyful eating and health is not in excess. According to Lao Tzu, the Buddha and any nutritionist today, moderation is best.
In Turkey, for example, you can have some amazing food. For breakfast at a regular hotel, you don’t get the usual cereal with juice and milk. Instead you are served a spread of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, breads, yogurt and such.
Parents of small children are probably nodding in agreement while reading this. When children start eating their first “solid” meals, they usually go for plain dishes with just a little or no salt at all. This very natural approach to food gets lost on our way to adulthood, for we acquire a taste for salt, sugar, fat and artificial flavor that can lead to serious health problems. We’re not tasting the actual food as much as the unhealthy add-ons.
Great food can be found anywhere at almost any restaurant and in almost any supermarket. It’s just a matter of making good choices. You can make bad choices in a health food store and a few great choices in a mini-mart. Great food doesn’t have to be expensive – just think of rice and beans, tofu and veggies, lentils over pasta and various soups, such as minestrone or pasta fagioli (pasta and beans, with garlic and tomatoes), dark bread and many of the healthy toppings Germans love.
It is also important not to rush through your meals. The Slow Foods Movement began in Italy and recognizes the importance of slowly eating great food, being with friends and family, being part of nature rather than the industrial machine. It’s about retaining ancient patterns of life and buying local products. These patterns are being killed by modernity; in fact, we are becoming more robotic and mechanized in our way of eating.
These unhealthy habits partly derive from the fact, that in our time, food is always readily available – and not just an apple or a loaf of bread. In practically every town on this planet, you’ll find some place where you can get food around the clock. So being hungry is a state we do not really know any more. We have a hankering, or an appetite. We are not hungry.
We live in a culture where the look and taste of food is more important than its real use: to keep us alive and abundantly healthy. Sometimes we seem to forget the most important fact of all: food is sustenance and medicine, and deserves respect. What we eat is what we vote for, what we support and what nourishes us – or not.
Meet the Authors:
Richard Marranca’s long career in writing and teaching culminated in his Fulbright to teach American studies at the University of Munich, where he became friends with Magrita. He has also been awarded 6 National Endowments for the Humanities for
summer research projects at home and abroad. He is the author of Dragon Sutra, a novel that unfolds across Southeast Asia. He is certified to teach yoga and meditation and also dabbles in life-coaching. He has a doctorate from New York University and lives just outside New York City. Website: RichardMarranca.com
Magrita Pfab’s career in writing started about five years ago after she finished university. She has an M.A. in American, English and German Literature from the LMU in Munich, where she met Richard for the first time. Currently, she is studying at LMU again to become a teacher of English and German Literature. She lives with her husband and four year old daughter in a small village just outside Munich, Bavaria.