Broadening Your Diet

July 10, 2008

Question: I am feeling the need to broaden my whole foods diet more but after hearing and reading about certain foods I fear that adding some of these foods may cause cancer or some other serious disease. Any suggestions?

The negative use of the word cause or causes when associated with a particular food is enough to invoke fear and concern in the bravest and most courageous of beings intent on nourishing themselves with a healthy diet based on traditional foods.

Upon hearing or reading that this food or that food “causes” disease or even “too much” of this or that food “causes” disease can easily set one up for a dietary experience based on fear of food that can have long lasting and damaging effects on ones health and more so, on ones happiness. The expression “too much” meat, cheese, fish, grain…“causes” cancer and or other diseases or even the same expression without the “too much” where a particular traditional food alone is presented as dangerous or even poisonous to health is a way of relating to food that is beyond strange when you think about it. Yet, at the same time, this mindset is not exclusive to any specific health food diet. In fact, it is common expression among diet proponents of natural food diets of all types, especially vegan, raw food and macrobiotic diets. It is an unhealthy mindset as it stifles creative thought and limits ones understanding of real food and its potential as our primary means of nourishment.

Even western nutritional science does not use this type of expression in their food/disease connections although theirs is not much of an improvement. When speaking in the negative about a particular food they use terms like such and such “has been linked to” or when speaking in the positive “may help to prevent” cancer or heart disease. Furthermore, when nutritional or medical science speaks to us about food they rarely speak of quality and mostly speak of isolated components. For example, with the exception of the rare scientific report researched by pro-organic organizations, you are not likely to hear from mainstream science how nutritionally superior organic broccoli is compared to commercial broccoli. It is simply, “broccoli may help to prevent cancer” or you will hear about the polyphenols or anthocyanins in blueberries as if these chemical components were more important than the blueberries as a whole giving one the impression that these chemicals are the sole reason you should eat blueberries.

When speaking in the negative, they tend to speak in generalities but their data and research are based mostly on processed or poor quality foods; “Saturated fats have been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease,” is one of many examples where all foods fitting that category of fats are inaccurately grouped together. It is no wonder all this terminology around food has contributed to such confusion among people trying to eat a healthy diet.

When nutritional science does use the word cause in connecting food and disease it is used to describe the effects of eating food in general. An example being, “Overeating disrupts entire networks of genes in the body, causing not only obesity, but diabetes and heart disease, in ways that may be possible to predict, researchers report.”

Alternately, when proponents of natural diets use the word ‘causes’ when connecting a food with a disease it is just as confusing. Unless this accursed food/cause connection can be clearly described as to how it does so, and so far, it cannot, then perhaps the word cause is best avoided when attempting to connect it with a traditional nourishing food.

Connecting a food as an influence on an organ as done in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine or describing a food as having an energetic effect on an emotion is not the same as accusing a food of causing a disease. Many of these energetic food and mind/body connections are thousands of years old and recognized in every traditional culture in some form as traditional folk medicine, many of which are being validated through modern scientific research – but nowhere do we find a historical precedent for a traditional food as a cause of disease. Energetic correspondences between foods and human physical/emotional health are simply examples of a food’s potential to influence you based on a particular food’s unique characteristics and your relationship with it.

While it is obvious that poor quality processed foods are strong contributors to degenerative diseases and that this connection has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is no causal connection what so ever that can be made to disease by any naturally grown traditional food of any kind through western science or energetic science. On the other hand, foods can contribute to biological and psychological symptoms like digestive distress or worry, food poisoning… but even these are bound to other factors that include combinations, eating late at night, eating to fast and not chewing, spoiled food…

The closest historical examples we have to natural traditional foods being causal factors to diseases are as follows. War, occupation of foreign lands and peoples, famine, drought and other environmental catastrophes all have an effect on a culture’s food and health but even with these problems one would be hard pressed to find a traditional natural food that caused any health problems during or in the aftermath of these events. The food related diseases associated with these events are primarily the result of deficiency and malnourishment due to loss of vital food crops and basic supplies for living.

Does naturally raised meat cause prostate cancer or liver cancer? Does raw un-pasteurized milk from grass fed cows cause breast cancer? No one really knows but historically; there has never been a reason to connect these or any other traditional foods as causal factors to any degenerative diseases especially when consumed proportionately with other traditional foods and certainly, no single traditional natural food in and of it self has caused a degenerative disease that anyone knows of.

Does hormone-injected, artificially raised cows or chickens cause cancer? Does pasteurized/homogenized milk and related processed products cause cancer? They certainly have been linked to diseases, for the most part, due to what has been done to these foods and their combinations with other processed foods but even these cannot be said to individually cause cancer or degenerative disease.

All diseases are the results of numerous influences in our lives so create the diet you need for your lifestyle with the highest quality foods you can get and rest assured none of those foods will cause the problems you fear.

Question: How and why do raw foods have a cooling effect on the body?

Let us begin by making it clear that not all raw foods are cooling. As mentioned before, nutrient dense foods, those higher in fat and protein tend to be warming foods, as do some starchy foods. Raw food diets generally contain an ample amount of nuts and seeds in their preparations. Olive and coconut oils are also used on a regular basis. These foods can have thermogenic properties and thus are warming compared to fruits and leafy vegetables. It is also important to note that the addition of cooling foods in ones diet is just as important as warming foods. A balanced diet contains a wide variety of both cooling and warming foods all year round.

Food Temperaments

Each food has a temperament that it is grown or raised with. This temperament is a food’s identity, what it is, and has the potential to effect the human body with that identity. Food temperaments are comprised of four basic temperatures, hot, cold, cool, and warm. These four are then paired with one of two degrees of moisture, dry and moist (damp).

Generally, those foods that fall into the category of cold/cool are foods of plant origin that are high in water (juice), grown in water, high in vitamins and anti-oxidants, high in simple sugars, grow in tropical or semi-tropical climates, are fermented, and are lower in fat and protein.

Generally, those foods that fall into the category of hot/warm are foods of plant and animal origin that are lower in water content, grow in temperate climates, are high in fat and protein or high in starches like some root vegetables, beans and some grains.

I say “generally” because once you add that stamp of dry or moist to the warm or cool food it is more specifically defined in temperament.

Temperaments are easy to observe in people. A heavy set man, overweight by 70 or 100 lbs., perspiring profusely, with a red face and irritable and angry disposition is obviously carrying a general temperament of hot and moist. A skinny man with sunken cheekbones, dry hands and feet, pale complexion, poor posture…is obviously carrying a temperament of cold and dry. These temperaments are not unlike those of foods and like foods, they can be changed. Our temperaments change through our life choices and food temperaments can be changed through preparation methods (steaming, boiling, roasting, marinating…)

Using the two examples of men in the previous paragraph, let us now put them on one of two diets in order to determine the cooling or warming natures of foods on the human body. Diet 1. Fresh raw fruits, raw vegetables, raw nuts, and seeds. Diet 2. Cooked animal products, moderate amounts of fats and oils, some vegetables, and grains.

If all we wanted to do was cool down the heavy set man from the first example it would not take very long with Diet no. 1 but it might take some time with Diet 2. Likewise, in order to warm up the skinny cold man we would obviously suggest Diet 2. While these examples do not describe exactly how raw foods cool it does reveal that the principle foods of some raw food diets have the potential to break down excess, reduce fat, and thus cool the body.

All is relative of course but here is another simple example. Conventional ice cream and soy milk ice cream. I think we can all agree that these are cooling, cold foods. However, which one is more cooling with longer lasting effects? The soy based frozen dessert is more cooling because it does not contain the thermogenic qualities inherent in animal milk.

Getting to know the temperaments of foods is one way to begin understanding the warming and cooling properties of foods.

Building Up and Breaking down

Another way to understand the cooling or warming energetics of foods is through their effects in the human body. The human body builds mass from warming foods that tend to be protein and fat based and there is no doubt the Western world has consumed these in excess but a simple fact is that muscle, tissue, organs and cells are built by proteins and fats. High fiber raw fruits and green vegetables are lower in these two components yet high in vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. These cooling foods are break down foods in the sense that they have the ability to reduce excess fat and protein in the body through high enzyme activity, especially when eaten raw. When fat and protein reserves are diminished the body cools, blood pressure drops, and numerous other changes occur.

One could argue that fruits and vegetables are building foods for apes and monkeys but if you think about an ape and its eating patterns you will find that it eats massive quantities of plant foods at one sitting and a cow grazes all day long. Furthermore, we human omnivores are neither apes nor cows so the argument is not even worth debating. Further, most herbivores get their daily share of animal foods in the form of insects for grazing animals and insects and small rodents for monkeys and apes.

Enzymes and Fermentation

Witness the powerful effect of papaya on meat. A single slice of papaya placed on a piece of meat will immediately begin digesting, breaking down the meat. Fruits are high in enzymes and one of the primary roles of food enzymes is to break down concentrated nutrient dense foods in the human body. A diet high in breakdown foods (raw fruits, vegetables and seeds and nuts) can be beneficial for those wanting to cleanse the body of excess heat and lose weight. It may not be the best approach for everyone but it is an option that does get results. However, like a strict macrobiotic diet and vegan diets it too leads to the physiological reactions ranging from being hungry all the time to intense cravings for fats and proteins.

In summary then, cooling break down foods are mostly plant foods that contain high levels of enzymes, high fiber content, high simple sugar content, high chlorophyll content (green foods), and fermented foods.

Fermentation actually facilitates the break down of plant fibers and alters the cellular structure of plant cells. This form of decomposition also has a cooling effect on the body. Fermented foods are essential in any healthy diet because they assist in the break down and absorption of warming fats and proteins.

What about that tofu? Is it cooling? Hold it in your hand, feel it, squeeze it, bite it. The temperament of tofu is cold and moist. Okay, now slice the tofu and fry it. Add it to a hearty stew of root vegetables and fish, seasoned with miso. Now what is the temperament of that tofu?

How about that papaya? Temperament, cold and moist. Dry that papaya and its new temperament is cool and dry. A foods temperament can be altered by what is done to the food and by what other foods are combined with it. There is no one correct way to eat foods. By that, I mean 100% raw is not the way to go nor is 100% cooked the way to go. Both are essential for a healthy human diet. Should we eat a carrot raw simply because it has more enzymes that way and were it cooked those enzymes would be destroyed? Carrots are also high in carotenoids, beta-carotene, which is a fat-soluble vitamin. Sautéing carrots frees the carotenoids for absorption and offers another way of getting benefits from carrots you would not get if you ate them raw all the time. Both are great ways to eat carrots depending on what you are preparing and what kind of energetics you are looking for.

Digestion and absorption are part of an organized process that requires warmth. Your digestive fire is activated and sustained by fats and proteins and the regulation of your metabolic fire is dependent on these two macronutrients as well. They are the foods that keep the digestive fire burning. This does not mean one should eat excessive quantities of these foods but to maintain healthy digestive fire one should consume these warming and building foods in small quantities to offset the cooling break down effects of a high plant based diet.

Other ways you can learn to understand the warming and cooling natures of foods are to think about how a food grows and the environment where it is grown; near water or in water, on moist fertile land or dry land, in a forest, high or low sun exposure…? How was the food eaten by traditional people and why? These and other important qualities of food are all influences on the human body and mind. Some are subtle while others are obvious. Many of these unique qualities of foods, which were clearly understood by our ancestors through energetic science, are often taken for granted or given little thought by us. Meanwhile, more and more of these energetic qualities are being rediscovered and confirmed through modern science. One of the latest fields of food research has to do with plant communication.

Oh yes, food does communicate with us. Listen, observe, savor, and learn.