Food and your health

Let’s take a (mini) deep dive into food and your health.

Today’s starting point:

The standard approach to nutrition by a typical thinker in medicine would sound like this: “Sure, diet is important. I know eating healthy is important for my patients. It’s up to them to do what’s possible as far as they can understand and afford. In the meantime, I know a lot about screening for disease, diagnosis of disease, and the medicines you need when you get sick.” Not a huge emphasis on nutrition there.

Something more, please:

There’s a more developed idea in health about food and the intelligence of spending a significant portion of your budget on high-quality food to avoid spending very much of anything on medicines for chronic illness. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Organic, biodynamic, and local are the buzzwords here.

This is in the direction of “food is medicine.” It’s also in the direction of “avoiding ingestion of industrial toxins is smart.” In today’s world, we can avoid a lot of modern illnesses by avoiding overt toxins found in processed food, tobacco, and alcohol. This idea rejects the concept of eating industrialized foods and then taking industrialized medicines when your diet leads to problems.

And more again:

Once you’re eating clean, fresh whole foods, the next level of exploration will be to fine-tune the diet. This step includes the discussion of items like superfoods, brain foods, and other must-haves in your diet. Also, there is an education on all the toxins to consider avoiding: nightshade vegetables, lectins, gluten, sugar, oxalates, and saturated fats to name a few.

Furthermore, it’s of great relevance to know what healthy traditional cultures eat. Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions is a favorite. Also, it’s fruitful to explore what habits are found in people who enjoy longevity. We all know some of what the blue zone professors tell us about food. For example:

  • tofu scramble or rice and beans is better than cereal for breakfast
  • socialize more at meals
  • grow your food

Commentary

Here we are trying harder to find the sweet spot of “food is medicine.” Beyond the basic tenants, we risk losing the forest for the trees here. Smart people have conflicting ideas when it comes to diet. There are lots of fads and lots of theories preaching what to avoid and what to not avoid. It can get more than a little confusing and boring, if not a little toxic. Where to from here? It seems like we’ve gone as far as we can.

I have one more idea I’d like to add to the discussion. Maybe it can open up some possibilities.

Food is not at all what you think. Eating food is a major challenge to our system. We spend a lot of energy processing this regular stream of content from the outside world that we put into our mouths every day and call “food.”. We have to destroy it for it not to destroy us. We have to defend ourselves from it. That’s why there’s so much immune tissue in the digestive tract. There are a lot of vital breakdown processes that take place in the mouth with chewing and salivating and then in the stomach with actual acid. Bile is added from the gallbladder along with enzymes from the pancreas. Then it goes into the tumble cycle (small intestine) and through the dehydrator (large intestine) and is discarded. After food is absorbed into the bloodstream, our liver makes a pass at detoxification of any content in the bloodstream that needs further neutralizing.

Please consider with me the viewpoint that all food is poison, even the superfoods, to a certain extent. It is a huge challenge to us every day that we have to overcome. The activity of overcoming builds strength. “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” is a phrase that fits quite well the discussion at hand.

There’s much to glean from our learned rituals about facing this profound challenge. They stand as best practice when we face hardships elsewhere in our lives. 

  • We shine with resilience and we thrive when we deeply appreciate our challenges just as in the same way it is important to like the taste of our food as well as give thanks.
  • We reframe our challenges in such a way as to make them palatable just as the chef transforms the raw material they find in the garden.
  • It’s healthiest to meet our challenges with the support of our friends and community just as a social meal is the real deal.
  • Prayer is probably most utilized in anticipation of facing our challenges and prayers before meals are no exception, in my mind’s eye.

Food is poison, but overcoming poison is strengthening. Food is a mild poison and a mild medicine. Nature’s poisons have been long recognized for medicinal purposes. “Small doses of opium, mandrake, henbane, and hemlock numbed the pain of surgery for more than 1,000 years.” If food is a mild poison, properly breaking down food is the priority, no matter what you are eating.

Takeaways

If you try to avoid natural toxins in foods you might find yourself very limited with your diet. I say eat good quality food and focus mostly on optimizing the breakdown of food than on anything else. Do not scrimp on mastication (chewing 20 x please) and salivation and do not overeat. Your mouth is the chamber where optimal digestion starts. Let the mechanical (chewing) and chemical (salivary) changes which combine with thermal action taking place there (warming) set up the downstream subconscious activity in the gut for success. We can control a lot with our oral activity at mealtime. And the best part is the only way to stick with it is by training to stay focused while eating. Without mindfulness, digestion becomes immediately suboptimal.

The powers generated through overcoming a challenge, whether it be a meal or a hardship in our lives, are foundational to our well-being. Have an appetite for it and remember the best practice items above!

Bon appétit!