The Beginner's Guide to Natural Living
The ultimate healthy lifestyle guide on how to prevent disease, lose weight, improve energy and live vibrantly.
  
 


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Healthy Eating
Eat Whole Organic Food Every Day

There are many eating and dieting philosophies on the market today: they tell us to consume more protein and fewer carbohydrates, count our calories, eat certain fat-to-carbohydrate-to-protein ratios, or even to eat certain foods based on our blood type. Yet, eating for vibrant health does not need to be that complicated. The solution is simple: eat whole, fresh, raw and unprocessed foods, as nature intended. The majority of health problems plaguing most Americans today—degenerative disease, obesity and low energy for starters—is primarily due to the national habit of eating over-processed, devitalized, pre-packaged, slightly toxic foods on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. It all adds up: we are what we eat!

Eat For Optimum Health
In order to achieve optimal health, your goal is to eat a variety of fresh, whole, organic, nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, beans and legumes; and to eat only organic meat, if you eat meat. The organic produce section of your grocery store is your best friend. “Fresh, fresh, fresh—and organic” is your motto when shopping for food! In our culture most of us constantly feel pressed for time, therefore we believe it takes too much time to prepare nutritious meals every day. We want convenience, so we buy prepackaged, canned or frozen foods. We are more than encouraged to choose this option by television, radio and print advertising and by the plethora of fast-food joints and junk food products that are readily available wherever we go.  But these culturally-sanctioned habits can literally destroy our health. Fortunately, the solution, unlike many diet programs, is not complicated.

Whole & Alive Food
There are two important components present in whole, raw foods that are critical to optimal health: 1) natural digestive enzymes and 2) the electromagnetic life force (in Oriental medicine this is referred to as “chi” or “qi”) that flows through all living things. You’ll learn more about the importance of chi in Chapter 9. Natural digestive enzymes are critical for good health and are found only in raw, whole organic plant foods. These important enzymes predigest our food and aid greatly in the absorption of nutrients. They are destroyed by cooking and industrial processing. Without them, only partial digestion occurs, placing a burden on the rest of the digestion process. An in-depth explanation of enzymes and their importance to our health is provided in the Supplements chapter.

As you might guess at this point, packaged, canned and frozen foods do not contain the live enzymes or chi that is present in fresh, organic foods. It is the “aliveness”—this electromagnetic life force—in fresh organic produce that we need for vibrant health! It is this same life force that pulses through our bodies and gives us our energy. Virtually all packaged foods are devoid of this life force. It’s not present in animal foods. Cooking and freezing subdues it. Pasteurization deliberately destroys it. Thus, even most naturally processed food is usually devoid of the original life force. Eating a variety of raw organic plant food every day is extremely important for good health, and far outweighs the benefits of any other dieting program.


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Packaged Foods
Should you shun all packaged foods in order to maintain health? Absolutely not. But packaged foods ought to be a small portion of your diet, not the majority of it. Why use frozen or canned vegetables when you can use fresh, organic vegetables? Perhaps the fresh version is out of season, you say. In that case, don’t buy the canned or frozen version; instead, buy a different vegetable—one that is available in its raw, fresh form.  If you know that certain produce is in season in your area, buy it instead of whatever has been shipped halfway around the world to your market. Buying local keeps money in your community, lowers pollution created by transporting non-local foods and provides you with what nature intends for you to eat during each season. 

My general guideline regarding packaged food is to use canned, boxed (including bulk) or frozen food only if:

• It doesn’t come fresh from the store (grains, beans, legumes, nuts, etc.), and
• It is going to be a small part of the larger meal, but rarely a meal unto itself.

Although I do eat pre-packaged meals on occasion (particularly Trader Joe’s organic, frozen, vegetarian burritos), I don’t make a habit of it. For example, instead of buying a can of chili, I’ll buy a can of organic chili beans and then add fresh veggies, sautéed tempeh, spices and tamari (soy) sauce to make my own chili. My version is easy to prepare, tastes better, and is far more nutritious! My personal shopping list and quick-to-prepare meal plans are included in the Appendix to help give you a “jump start” as you explore this type of eating.

Acid/Alkaline Balance
Understanding the acid/alkaline balance is another key to achieving optimal health. Some foods cause the body’s chemistry to be more acidic, while others cause it to be more alkaline. I’m not referring to stomach acid, but to the blood’s pH and to the state of the fluids between our cells, which is called intercellular (or interstitial) fluid. An overly acidic condition (caused by eating too many acid-forming foods, by over-exercising or by habitually entertaining intense, negative emotions) forces the body to borrow minerals, including calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium, from organs and bones to buffer (neutralize) the acid and safely remove it from the body.

Many experts in the alternative health field believe chronic acidity to be a primary cause of degenerative disease, because an acidic state allows pathogens to thrive, whereas an alkaline state does not. An acidic condition can cause severe damage to the body, which may go undetected for years. The kidneys are particularly susceptible because they flush out excess acid and must work much harder when such an “environment” is sustained. So our goal is to keep our bodily fluids more alkaline by eating alkaline-forming foods.

Processed foods (breads, pasta, cereals, coffee, sugar, white rice, boxed and canned foods), along with meat and dairy foods, contribute to an acidic state, whereas most whole, raw (unprocessed) organic plant foods contribute to an alkaline state. Although some raw foods are more acid forming than others, if you significantly limit meat, dairy and processed foods of all kinds, your acid/alkaline balance should be just fine. For more information, read the excellent book Alkalize or Die, by Theodore A. Baroody.

Yin/Yang Balance
The counterpart of the Western concept of the acid/alkaline balance is known in the Orient as the yin/yang principle. Yin is an expanding, feminine quality and yang is its complement: a contracting, masculine quality. Whereas the acid/alkaline balance is bio-chemically measurable, the yin/yang polarity is less concretely defined and is based on an electromagnetic energy model. Nevertheless, food (and everything else in existence) falls somewhere within this spectrum. And, like everything else, foods aren’t purely yin or yang, but can be seen as containing more or less of each quality in relation to or in comparison with other foods.  For example, meat is considered to be very yang (grounding, contracting), and ice cream (especially because of the sugar it contains) is considered to be very yin (airy, expanding).

A predominance of either too much yin or too much yang energy not only throws our physiology out of balance, but also creates unbalanced states of consciousness. Have you ever talked with someone who seemed “spacey” to you? Perhaps s/he had trouble completing a sentence or fully explaining a thought or an idea before skipping to another, and another. That would be considered an overly yin (expanded consciousness) condition. On the other hand, you may know someone who has inflexible opinions, can’t incorporate new ideas, may be loud and boisterous and doesn’t want to listen to others. That is an overly yang (contracted consciousness) condition. The goal is to find ourselves balanced physically, mentally and emotionally between the two states, or just slightly more yang (grounded, but not overbearing and inflexible).

The Japanese macrobiotic philosophy incorporates the yin/yang principle and applies it to food very specifically. Thus, what we eat plays a major role in how yin or how yang we are (see chart).

Overly yin conditions are usually caused by sweet foods and sugar, while overly yang conditions are often caused by too much meat and salt. Eating foods containing processed sugar (e.g. soda pop, candy, desserts, etc.) can create an extremely yin (expanded/“spaced out”) state. Children who eat a lot of these foods (especially sugared cereal in the morning and soda in the afternoon) often have trouble concentrating in school. On the other hand, meat is extremely yang (grounding/contracting); therefore over-consumption of meat can cause aggression and inflexible attitudes. One reason why dessert is desired after a meat-based meal is to counter-balance the yang effects of the meat. Pretty interesting!

The effects of each food will be different for different people as well. A person whose constitution is more yin than yang may be thrown off balance by eating ice cream, while someone with a generally yang constitution may enjoy the same dessert without experiencing any imbalance. It’s a complex, ever-changing dance of one element flowing into the other, but eating closer to the middle of the food spectrum (avoiding extremes) is wise. Limiting your intake of meat and eliminating sugary foods/candies/soda, as well as processed foods, is your best bet to developing yin/yang harmony.

Try to make food choices with the yin/yang balance in mind. Although you may desire to explore macrobiotic eating more closely, the most important thing to do is to avoid the extremes: sugary foods and too much meat. If you eat a variety of raw and cooked plant-based foods (cooking makes the food more yang), avoid sugar and refined foods and use tamari and sea salt for seasoning, you should stay well-balanced. For a deeper understanding of the yin/yang principles and macrobiotic cooking, read Herman Aihara’s excellent book, Basic Macrobiotics, which can be found on Amazon.com (since it’s no longer in print).

For vegetarians, who tend to be more yin because they aren’t eating meat, I recommend making meals more yang by cooking part of the meal in tamari sauce (e.g., rice, beans, tempeh, veggies, etc.). Cooking makes the food more grounding, as does the tamari. Sea salt has the same effect. The one thing I find missing in most vegetarian philosophies is this crucial understanding of the yin/yang balance. The reason behind those “spacey” vegetarians is not a lack of protein, but rather a lack of yang energy.

Vegetarianism
A vegetarian shuns eating meat, but will eat eggs, fish and dairy. A vegan vegetarian (pronounced “vee-gan”) avoids eating all animal or fish products.

I began eating a vegan diet in 1990. After I adopted this lifestyle, I lost about 30 pounds, had more energy, didn’t get sick as often and found that my mood was more consistently balanced and optimistic. Fourteen years later I still eat predominately a vegan diet, except for salmon every now and then. Many people assume it’s difficult for me to eat this way, but as is the case with adopting any habit, I have found it to be fairly easy.

There are many sound nutritional and environmental reasons to eat a plant-based diet. The human digestive system is created to easily digest plant food, but not flesh, which makes us herbivores by nature. Consider that the hydrochloric acid in the human stomach is only 1/20th the strength of that found in carnivores. Carnivores require the stronger acid to process the flesh they consume. Human hydrochloric acid is designed for plant food, which means it can’t fully process flesh. Furthermore, our intestines are 12 times the length of our body, whereas carnivores have intestines three times the length of their body. This is important because once a carnivore digests its prey, the remains needs to be quickly flushed through to prevent putrification (rotting). On the other hand, when humans eat meat, the combination of weak stomach acid and long intestines means putrification occurs throughout the digestive system, which can, and often does, lead to disease. Plant food, however, requires the longer journey to properly break down the fats, proteins, complex carbohydrates and nutrients.

The meat and dairy industry would have us believe that we can’t get all our nutrients from just plant foods. This is simply ridiculous—our bodies are designed for plant food! Eating a variety of organic plant food grown in optimum soil conditions gives us all the vitamins, minerals, fats, essential fatty acids and protein we need.

Non-organic meat may contain any number of contaminants, including multiple disease-causing organisms, high concentrations of pesticides and herbicides, tranquilizers, artificial growth hormones, food colorings, preservatives and the rendered parts of other diseased or dying animals. These contaminants contribute to a wide variety of diseases found in Americans today. And meat and dairy in general contribute to weight gain.

Raising animals for food takes a huge toll on our water supply, as the following stunning statistics will illustrate. Over half of all the water used in the United States is for animal production. The water required to produce five one-pound hamburgers is equivalent to the amount of water a single-person household will use in a year!  On the other hand, it only takes 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat.

To make matters worse, the animal industry in the United States produces 130 times more excrement than humans do, and is the single largest source of water pollution in the U.S. What’s worse is that virtually none of this excrement gets treated, and instead winds up polluting our water supply—decimating fish populations and aquatic life in the process.

Raising animals for food is also the single greatest reason for deforestation throughout our planet. For every acre of American forest that is cleared to make room for parking lots, roads, houses, shopping centers, etc., seven acres of forest is converted into land for grazing livestock and/or growing livestock feed. Every single day—worldwide—tropical rainforest about the size of New York City is decimated…forever. Most fast food chains get their beef from Central America, and the Rainforest Action Network (www.ran.org) estimates that about 55 square feet of tropical rainforest is required to produce just one hamburger.

Our demand for meat is so great that virtually all animals used for food today are grown in “factory farms.” The problem with factory farms is that the animals—pigs and chickens—live in highly confined cages their entire lives, or, in the case of cows, live in cramped feedlots during the later part of their lives. They are fed scandalously substandard “food” such as their own excrement or rendered animals (including diseased and dying animals as well as deceased pets from veterinarians), and often go insane from their confinement. Sickness is so rampant that animals must be given an assortment of drugs and antibiotics just to keep them alive long enough to get them to the slaughterhouse. Since profit is based on the weight of the animal, all sorts of cruel and unusual practices are used to make the animals gain weight unnaturally. Any person with ordinary sensibilities would find the conditions of any factory farm heartbreakingly cruel and abhorrent. But, out of sight, out of mind—you would never know by looking at the cheerful packaging in which the dead animals are presented.

If you eat meat, I strongly encourage you to switch to organic meat. This meat is by far much safer, and from what I’ve heard, much better tasting, than conventional meat. If you are interested in adopting a vegetarian diet and would like more information, I recommend reading the best book available on the subject: The Food Revolution — How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World, by John Robbins. Your life will be forever changed for the better when you read this excellent book.

If you’re interested in eating a plant-based diet, the trick is to eat a variety of organic foods—grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruits. What you don’t want to do is eat processed foods or limit the types of plants you eat. Rather, mix it up and be adventurous. Plenty of examples are provided in the meal plans listed at the end of the book.

Summary
For most of us, obesity, low energy, mood swings and health problems are associated with improper diet and can be corrected by changing what we eat and by following the other principles outlined in this book. When the body no longer takes in minute amounts of toxic chemicals and food additives every day, and instead receives bountiful nutrition, it begins to repair itself, shed pounds and move into balance. A balanced body contributes to a wonderful, deep-seated feeling of well-being that is not easily shaken by outside circumstances.  If you try it, you’ll love it! Let others debate the controversies over optimum amounts of calories, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. All you need to know is that the true secret to eating properly is to avoid the foods discussed in Chapter 2 and to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense organic food. By following this plan, you’ll get all the calories, fats, proteins and carbohydrates you need, in the correct proportions. Eat whatever your body desires, because that’s what you need! It’s that simple.

Here is a quick review:
1. Eat a variety of whole, live, organic plant foods (fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, beans and nuts).
2. If you eat meat, eat only organic meat.
3. Use pre-packaged foods sparingly (boxed, canned, frozen).
4. Minimize acid-forming foods (meats, packaged/processed foods).
5. Maximize alkaline forming foods (organic plant foods).
6. Avoid extremely yin foods (soda pop, sugary foods, candies, desserts).
7. Minimize extremely yang foods (meats).
8. Use sea salt instead of iodized salt.
9. If vegetarian, use tamari sauce and cook some of your food (for grounded energy).
10. Follow my personal shopping list and meal suggestions in the Appendix and you’ll get the hang of it in no time!

>>> Continue to Chapter 6: Supplements