Monday, June 22, 2009
The buzz these days in the raw food world is superfoods. What are they? Are they the same thing as a supplement? Why would I want them in my diet?
While the word “superfood” does not actually have an official definition, the implication of a superfood is that it is a food containing many unique healthful properties. These properties may include, but are not limited to: antioxidants, EFAs, DHA, a wide range of minerals, complete proteins, blood sugar stabilizers, immune system modulators, hormone balancers. Superfoods contain an assortment of vitamins, they may be anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and the list goes on and on. Many plant and animal based products contain a couple of these traits. What puts a superfood up and above the rest? David Wolfe states in his new book Superfoods : the Food and Medicine of the Future, “ These include foods that have a dozen or so unique properties, not just one or two. For example, the goji berry is a source of complete protein, immune stimulating polysaccharides, liver cleansing betaine, anti-aging sesquiterpenes, antioxidants, over twenty trace minerals, and much, much more.”
The list of foods that I consider to be super foods are endless, and while yes, most should be used only as supplements, this does not make them any less important than the staple foods that provide to us the bulk of our diet. A supplement is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as being “ something that completes or makes an addition”. If you were to take a glass and fill it with stones you would fill the glass, but there would be many empty holes. You would need other objects to fill those holes; pebbles, sand, water. So is our body system. You can fill the bulk of your body with your staple foods. You need foods to complement your staple foods, foods that supplement the missing puzzle pieces. A different beast entirely is the “vitamin supplement” which is separated from the whole food and extracted into a pill or powder form for our consumption. Most people in the superfood world are not promoting this at all. The processing of most of the superfoods is simple. Most superfoods are not processed more than how raisins are dried, nut mylks are blended, wheat grass is extracted, or seeds are ground. Something like Marine phytoplankton is simply phytoplankton grown in water and spun to separate the ocean water from the phytoplankton, in order to concentrate the phytoplankton. How is this anymore processed than wheat grass juice being extracted from the blade, since that fiber is indigestible for our human stomachs? Maca is a root, not unlike a turnip, that is dried and powdered in order to retain its nutrients. Nothing is isolated and refined. To call these foods processed and concentrated is to also call a vegetable juice, honey, seed crackers and nutmylks, anything but whole food in its whole state processed or concentrated. Does this make these foods unhealthy?
Taking a superfood is much different than taking a product that is isolated and concentrated. They are different than a drug that is derived to push the body beyond its natural limits. Superfoods are whole foods, and YES our bodies ARE dependent on minerals, vitamins, amino acids. These are nutrients that we cannot deny. Our body will not run optimally with out them. To provide them at the levels that we need will help our bodies to function at a superior level. There is an artificial energy that comes with stimulants such as caffeine and refined sugar. It is sustainable energy when your body has sufficient minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
When my six year old daughter was presented with the idea that you don’t need to eat superfoods, her response was quite simple “You do, to keep you healthy.” There is a lot of wisdom in her response. Many of us “health conscious” New Englanders are eating so called “fresh”, “organic” produce that is trucked in from across the country. Let us consider this. Okay, yes, the west coast is much more fertile than the east coast. Geologically, the east coast has been much more stable for a much longer time, giving it ample time to loose many minerals into our ocean. However, many of the companies that we are buying our “organic” produce from are large scale. How truly “organic” are these large companies, and how much have they been depleting their originally fertile soils? They are over-cultivating the soils, even though they are “organic”. Next, I must consider, when was my head of lettuce picked? Or my leaves of kale separated from the plant? Most likely at the very least it has been a week. How many nutrients have been lost in that week? Your produce starts loosing nutritional value from the moment it is picked. And for my fruit, how green was it when it was picked? How long has it been ripening off of the tree out of the sun’s energy? I am a huge advocate of fresh produce. My family survives on green smoothies, nut mylks, salads, and more fruit than you can imagine. I believe that this food is the best path to my family’s health. I also believe that this food is not as optimal as it can be and that we are missing a lot of nutrition. There are many ways for us to improve our nutritional intake from our produce. Support local farmers who are stewards of the land. These are farmers who build mineral-rich soils, farming the soil… not the crops. There are farmers who practice permaculture, letting the land remain truer to itself. There are “weeds” that can be wildcrafted; dandelion greens, wild grasses, docks, sorrels, wild berries and roots. These have all proven to be strong by recultivating a barren land. Wild foods are those that survive when people have stripped the land. These plants are remineralizing our soils just as these plants will remineralize our bodies. These plants will keep our bodies strong and healthy. Many people, including myself, consider them superfoods in their own right. Scores of these wild foods are potent herbs that we literally walk all over when we step out our door. That is, of course, unless we have doused them with chemicals to rid them from our lawns.
It is beyond the scope of this article to begin to delve into the world of herbal medicine. I do, however feel that the powerful benefits of herbs must be acknowledged. Herbal medicine has been practiced for centuries and is embraced by most cultures. There are herbs to support, stimulate or calm every system of the body. You can order Amazonian herbs such as cat’s claw or pau d’arco. If you are knowledgeable in the medicinal mushroom realm you can harvest your own immune modulating mushrooms. You can walk out into your backyard and harvest powerful medicine such as dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, red clover, thistle and SO much more. I have a friend who is harvesting his own herbs while living in New York City. These medicines are free, or very inexpensive when bought. There are many classes and local herbalists, incredible books that you can work with to educate yourself. It wasn’t until modern times that we began to shun herbs and turn towards man-made drugs, to take the place of what nature has provided to us from the beginning of time. Herbs can be taken in many forms, tinctures, capsules or tea. Whether it be an infusion (pouring hot water over leaves or flowers) or a decoction (simmering roots and barks) a tea can be amazing medicine. Used either as a preventative tonic or relief for an acute or chronic problem.
Elixirs are herbal teas turned into nut milks, and blended with superfoods. They are a wonderful modality to take herbal tonics, add to them the sustained energy from nuts or seeds and to combine it with your choice of nutrient dense superfoods, in order to maintain health and longevity. If you are unfamiliar with elixirs, I highly recommend checking out Daniel Vitalis’s Elixir Craft videos on youtube.
Holistic health is not one straight path. It is a windy road with many options. There are many choices for you to consider in determining which is right for you. A combination of many modalities is what will keep you healthy. There is no one prescribed formula that will work for everyone. The healing path can include spring water, ferments, meditation, herbs, exercise, raw foods, superfoods, reiki and other energy healing arts, acupuncture, acupressure, massage, rolfing yoga, tai chi and other internal arts, among many other things. The balance that you establish will increase your energy and sustain your personal vitality.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
In May I posted two blogs describing my concern about all this interest in superfoods. (See The Superfood Debate: Parts One and Two). In all fairness I offered my daughter Gina an opportunity to respond to my blogs and give an alternate perspective. The following is the first of three guest blogs that she has written.
A brief introduction of the defense…
At the young age of fourteen, my father decided it would be a good idea to expose me to John Robbin’s Video of “Diet for a New America”. For any of you who have ever read the book, or worse, seen the movie, you can imagine the horror I felt. I’ll never forget the nausea as I tore into a piece of steak later that weekend. That was that, for the last eighteen years the thought of eating an animal has completely revolted me.
For many years I ate a pastatarian diet, which also consisted of bagels, pizza and coffee. As I progressed through my college years I began to learn about “health food”. I ate tofu, whole wheat, stir-fry, soy substitutes, and veggie burgers. My now husband and I experimented quite a bit with a vegan diet, but really, we were far from healthy.
When my oldest daughter was born we knew that we couldn’t raise her on these foods. Through Ruth Yaron’s “Super Baby Food” and Cynthia Lair’s “Feeding the Whole Family” we began to learn the value of a whole foods diet. We switched to brown rice, steamed vegetables, beans, lentils and homemade bread. We felt much healthier than we had for the years we survived on a processed vegetarian diet. We were learning the flavors of real food and the art of food preparation.
Four years ago I started learning the amazing benefits of a raw food diet. I became serious about it when I learned I had a health issue that required medical attention. One month later that issue was almost completely resolved and I was feeling better than I ever had in my entire life. I feasted on many varieties of greens, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. What an amazing summer! I was so full of energy and was at the top of my game.
Then came the fall. Living in New England, winter is when the weather gets colder and signals the time for heavier foods. Our bodies need warmth, grounding and the raw food was making my body cold, and a bit spacey. I transitioned to a cooked foods diet. I inevitably began again with wheat, cooked oils and dairy. These were substances that my body had already proven to me to be sub-optimal. I pushed through the winter, and in the spring we started the transition to a new level of health.
Each year the cycle was the same. Spring brought a new level of health, leading into an amazing living food summer. This was followed by a fall and winter that would leave much to be desired.
A raw foods diet is a detoxifying diet. It is an amazing tool that can do WONDERS for our health. The lightness, freedom and strength that accompanies living food is beyond anything that can be described. The speed in which this live food can heal dis-ease is astonishing.
Our bodies need to follow the seasons in their own right. They need a cycle of detoxifying, building and maintaining. Spring has an abundance of wild and cultivated greens and liver cleansing herbs. Summer brings its bounty of fruit, carrying vibrancy to every cell in our being. Fall is a time of rebuilding, grounding the lightness of summer for the hibernation of winter. In New England, we see this with our winter squash, roots, and autumn olives. They are crops that root us in the earth and supply us with our stores for the winter. Winter is a time for maintaining our connection to the earth and of feasting on stored grains and legumes.
The challenge that I face is that consuming starchy vegetables, legumes and grains on a daily basis keeps my body, mind and spirit feeling sluggish and puts my body in hibernation mode. Winter for me needs to be home-centered, nesting with my family. However, like many folks in this current paradigm, I cannot spend my winters following the rhythms of the sun. I am awake well after the last glimpse of sunlight and in the morning I wake while the stars are still bright in the sky. I am a mother of three wonderful and energetic children and need to be a bit on my toes during those winter months.
This winter I made new discoveries. I explored new passions. These connections made for winter months in which I felt a strength I had yet to experience. I stayed grounded and focused and accomplished more than I ever imagined.
And this leads into…
THE GREAT SUPERFOOD DEBATE!
Monday, June 15, 2009
This is what I have discovered: Food is like a person whom we have a relationship with. We love food, we hate food, we avoid food, we crave food, we abuse food. And that is where I found myself this week. I am not in a good relationship with food. I'm a selfish partner. I take the good, but when it comes to being considerate and giving, I'm a taker all the way.
I don't treat food with respect. Yes, I have a nice healthy green smoothie for breakfast and a super superfood chocolate banana smoothie for lunch, but comes 4 or 5 o'clock and I'm an unfaithful husband who cheats with every sweet little (and big) tart that comes knocking at my door. I swear to God I lose all sense of rationality and nearly binge on whatever tasty is in the house. And if that isn't enough I'll drive down to the nearest Cumberland farms and buy a Butterfinger, the extra large size.
Yes, my personal relationship with food needs some couples counseling. I need to love food, not as a consuming lover, but as a kind and considerate guy. I need to treat food with respect and eat it thoughtfully and slowly. I need to keep enough awareness so that I can be grateful in the process. If I treated a woman the way I treat food she would be gone before I swallowed my next mouthful of M & M's.
I am beginning to realize that food is not my servant. If anything, I should be serving food. I should honor food for giving me life and health. I know that by abusing food we only bring disease and suffering to ourselves. I need to become a gentleman with food and not act like some wild lover.
It is not going to be easy to change my behavior, but at least I know now that I have not been a good partner and that is a start. The next step, and it's a big one, is to be with my food and take the time to eat it consciously, slowly, and with awareness. I know this sounds dumb, but I'm going to try to treat food with the respect she deserves. No more wolfing down dinner. There's going to be a lot more romance at the table. Maybe even a candle or two.