Food For Thought

Those people who eat sensibly will never suffer from the diseases of excess like hypertension, diabetes, ulcer and constipation.

Few people realize just how important food is in their lives. It is not until we deliberately try to stop eating that we see how many hours are spent each day in buying, preparing, eating and washing up after the thrice daily ritual of eating.

Recently, the subject of diet and nutrition has become increasingly popular. In fact, there are now thousands of books and magazines which are almost totally dedicated to this subject. Though they mean well, many of these publications tend to make people worry excessively about their food habits and whether they are consuming the right foods in sufficient quantity to avoid vitamin deficiency. Food neurosis is actually far worse than failing to get enough nutrients. Therefore we emphasize 'try to avoid food fads and fanaticism'. The best way to do this is to learn about nutrients and the body. Then you will realize that all the nutrients which the body needs are to be found in a wide range of food types. If you are eating a reasonable, varied diet, it is certain that you negating all your necessary food requirements.

Nutrients and the Body

By learning the basic facts about diet and the constituents of different foods, we are better able to decide what we want and need to eat. Taste, desire and fantasy then play a lesser role to objectivity, knowledge and understanding. In this way food becomes part of a scientific approach to life, rather than just a means of satisfying hunger. This is the yogic approach to nutrition.

There are 5 main components of food: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates and Fats

These provide our body with energy, about 75% of which is converted into heat and maintains body temperature. We need less carbohydrates and fats in hot weather, but in winter our digestive fire burns like a volcano and we need to eat more. The rest of the energy is used by the muscles, motor system, heart, brain and internal organs. Fats also form a protective layer, shielding organs from injury and allowing a storage of energy for future use. Over-consumption of these foods, however, leads to overweight. Batter and oils are almost pure fat, while sugar is 100% carbohydrate. Potato, rice, bread and grains contain mostly carbohydrate along with vitamins and minerals, and very little fat.

Proteins

Out of these remarkable materials, the body tissues are built. Proteins repair worn out tissues and this process goes on continually. They are also necessary for the production of essential special substances that help build up the body's resistance to disease called immunoglobulins. Protein is found in meat, milk, cheese, fish, eggs, grains, beans, lentils, nuts, etc.

Mineral Salts

These essential elements are present in certain foods in minute quantities. Phosphorus and calcium are required in relatively large amounts for building bones and teeth, and activating muscles and the brain. Iron helps the blood to carry oxygen through the body and it is used by the blood cells. It is found in eggs, raisins, spinach, whole grains, apricots, potatoes, meat and liver. Iodine is used by the thyroid gland to control the whole process of metabolism. It is found in iodized salt, sea foods and vegetables. Salt, in the form of sodium chloride, is essential for the maintenance of normal acid to base balance. Too much salt in the body raises the blood pressure and causes swelling in the legs; only a moderate amount in the diet is recommended.

Vitamins

Vitamins are engaged in many different and diversified functions. Vitamin A is used in all the organs of the body, especially the respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts. It keeps the mucus membrane of the nose, throat and windpipe strong and healthy. In this way it helps to prevent colds and other infections. It keeps the skin smooth and clear. It is perhaps best known for its use in the maintenance of vision; a lack of it can cause night blindness. The best sources are carrots, fruits, vegetables, cream, butter, whole milk and egg yolk.

The vitamin B complex has more than a dozen different components. Bl or thiamine is important and is concerned with nerves and muscles. It is thought that a lack of thiamine causes alcoholics to suffer from nervous system and liver degeneration. Without thiamine the body would be in a constant state of aches and pains swelling, and heart and liver failure. It is most prevalent in liver brewers yeast, peanuts, whole grains, meat, and eggs.

Riboflavin another important member, is necessary for skin, eyes and digestion. Niacin is also important for digestion. All the elements necessary for this essential component are found in whole grains, milk, cheese, eggs and liver.

Vitamin C is the great healing vitamin, essential for the building of connective tissues, bones, small blood vessels, teeth and gums. A lack of this vitamin causes scurvy. It is found in fresh fruits (especially citrus), green leafy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes. Vitamin C is destroyed by cooking so we must assume that any cooked food does not contain it.

Vitamin D is necessary for the development of strong healthy bones. A deficiency causes rickets (softening of the bones) but this is rare as the body can manufacture its own supply from sunshine and fresh air interacting with oils in the skin. It can also be found in milk, eggs and vegetable oils.

Vitamin E helps the nucleus of the cells and the reproductive functions. It is extremely valuable in all heart and artery diseases as it reduces the need of the tissue cells for oxygen, prevents clotting (thrombosis) and dilates the smallest blood vessels. It aids the healing of burns and ulcers, prevents formation of hard scar tissue and softens old scars. Muscles, including those of the heart are strengthened by vitamin E, blood circulation is improved and production of the sexual hormones is regulated. It is found in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, soya beans, tomatoes and eggs.

Vitamins are found in a great variety of foods, so there is really no need to take extra vitamin supplements if you are eating well. At times of stress, more vitamin B and C may be required and a supplement may be useful.

Dietary Suggestions

Most people who have any degree of sensitivity will know what diet is best for them. The body tells us in so many different ways. For example, if the breath smells bad then the food is not digesting properly and is acting like a poison. Our appetite also tells us what we need to eat and when we start eating, the taste buds of the tongue tell us whether the food is good for us or not. The trouble is that too often we just don't listen!

Better Alternatives

The following chart will enable you to avoid foods that are either detrimental to digestion or are processed in such a way to lose their prana and nutritional value.

Foods to avoid Foods to use
Denatured foods: white flour, white bread, cakes and buns; polished white rice Whole wheat, barley, rye or corn flour bread; whole or partially polished rice
White sugar, sweets, jam, sweet syrups, fruit in syrups, light treacle, heavily sugared drinks and glucose drinks Honey, brown sugar, molasses, black treacle; fresh fruit
Fats and oils of animal origin; saturated acid fats Vegetable oils and clarified butter
Heat treated, canned foods; processed foods in which artificial sweeteners, flavourings and chemical preservatives are used (always read the small type on labels before purchasing) Fresh foods, naturally processed foods like dried fruit or lentils; organically grown products

Helpful Hints

Here are a few basic suggestions which can help you and your family on to the road of good health:

  1. Buy fresh foods and store at a cool temperature. Fruits and vegetables in season are cheapest and also best suited to body needs.
  2. Rinse surface dirt and chemical sprays off the surface of fruits and vegetable. There is no need to scrub away the skin or peel the skins as they have a great deal of nutrients and also add roughage to the diet.
  3. Steaming or baking is better than frying or boiling. At the ashram we fry the vegetables first in a little vegetable oil, then add some water and steam until soft. This gives them a nice flavour and makes them easy to digest.
  4. If you eat meat, do not fry it. Remove all fats before cooking in order to reduce the amount of saturated fatty acids. This is better for the heart and blood vessels. Boiling, baking and broiling meat is preferable.
  5. Large amounts of fat, oil or ghee should be avoided.
  6. Use salt sparingly, more in summer and less in winter. Try to season your food with herbs, lemon juice or natural soya sauce.
  7. Do not overcook.
  8. Prepare food just before serving in order to maintain the maximum prana and nutrition.
  9. Cook with care and attention in order to increase prana. Make meals attractive and tasty to stimulate the appetite and digestive enzymes.
  10. Keep meals simple. Remember, all the different foods you put on your plate will mix in your stomach.
  11. Take meals at regular intervals
  12. Do not eat in between meals.
  13. Bathe before meals or not until half an hour after, as this diverts the blood from the stomach and intestines to the skin.
  14. When eating always take small mouthfuls. Chew each mouthful about 30 times, fried foods a little longer.
  15. Try to keep conversation to a minimum until the end of the meal.
  16. Eliminate problems from your mind during the meal. Do not take food when you are tense or angry. Calmness is conducive to good digestion.
  17. Take food with the attitude that it is health giving, the gift of God or nature.
  18. Only take what you need; never overburden the digestive system. The body needs a little food and a little fasting if it is to grow in a balanced way, just as a plant will die if it is watered too much and does not get enough sun.