K a r i n E l i z a b e t h
Nutrition from a Holistic Perspective
When we approach our health and well-being from the holistic perspective, we include all aspects of who we are and the totality of the shared experience in this thing called life.
When we consider the foods we eat from the holistic perspective, we consider our physical bodies, our mental & emotional selves, and our spiritual & value-based selves. We consider the biologic relationships within our beings, and we consider the biologic relationships we share with the life forms whose bodies or by-products we ingest. We consider the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual quality of life of those same life forms. You are what you eat. If your food source ingests poison, you ingest poison. If your food source experiences trauma or suffering, you ingest the stored memory of trauma and suffering.
From the holistic perspective, every organism is part of a larger whole. Within your very being, you host colonies of microorganisms without whose life and functions you would cease to exist. In recent literature, we can find a great deal written about the microbiome of the intestine. Through overuse of antibiotics in our food supply and our personal use, these colonies experience tremendous loss to their populations. Antibiotics kill life. That's what antibiotic means. And while these medications may be used to kill a particular strain of life form, they do not discriminate; they are also deadly to the other microbiotics - the helpful and necessary ones - that reside within you. Overuse of antibiotics to treat human disease is a contributing factor, but routine antibiotic use in animals used in food production plays a significant role as well. If not organic, it is almost certain your milk or beef contains trace amounts of routine antibiotic consumption. When the gut microbiome experiences significant loss, the human body experiences loss, such as the inability to properly digest its food. This also promotes the opportunity for non-helpful colonies of microorganisms to flourish, Some strains of microorganisms eat sugar. When the human organism ingests sugars, the colony thrives. When these colonies thrive, the human organism may respond with inflammation, which we may describe as bloating, puffiness, or getting fat. These are two of the greatest reasons we're witnessing a resounding call to increase our intake of probiotics (pro = for; biotic = life) from fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and synthesized supplements. Probiotics support the proliferation of life, and the microorganisms in these foods and supplements out-compete the colonies that cause us harm or distress. Take care of your microbiome; we're all in this together.
The Influence of the Natural World
As you can consider the human body a universe to microbiomes, you can also consider it a mere particulate in the minutiae of a greater, larger whole. We are biologic forms within a natural world. While our species has managed to alter its host planet in incredible ways, the larger organism still reigns. The ocean tides respond to the cycle of the moon, rising and falling as she waxes and wanes. The healing energy of plants likewise rises and falls within the organism in rhythm with the 28-day cycles of the moon. When the moon is full, the healing power of the plant is richest in its leaves. As the moon wanes, the healing energy of the plant likewise winds down into the roots of the plant. So too does all of life respond to the rhythms of the planet as it orbits the sun, creating our climates and seasons. In a temperate climate, the bitter greens of spring work to cleanse the stored winter energy of the liver and kidneys, stimulating a spring cleaning. In the heat of summer the cooling powers of melon hydrate us with a vitamin-rich cocktail; just one slice stimulates sluggish digestion and helps cool the intestine. And as autumn approaches, the plant matter returning to the earth, we harvest the roots and rhizomes that will nourish our bodies through winter.
In a world where food can be grown in artificial environments that mimic nature, or foods can be flown across the world in a day, it is easy to forget these relationships. But while we can mimic nature, we cannot capture her in all of her intricate creation and expression. We are impressive creatures in our mastery of our environment, but we are not able to fully control anything of the natural world. Thunderstorms still alight our skies, and ice still limits our movement. Living organisms are an integral part of the environment in which they reside. The bees who pollinate the flowers in your neighborhood create a honey that is a homeopathic antidote to the seasonal allergies of the very plants they visit. One of the greatest remedies for poison ivy is a poultice of jewelweed, which is found growing with poison ivy. Humility is good for the spirit.
There is a sacredness to sharing food with others. It is an expression of our common experience, of our deepest caring for one another. Our mothers create our very first nourishment with their own bodies. We offer food to our deities as an expression of our devotion and reverence. We offer food and drink to visitors as soon as they arrive in our homes. We use the shared dining experience as a means for bringing us together; it is the most common expression of connectedness in our holiday celebrations and rituals.
And yet, we find ourselves in a time and place where culture tells us to share foods and drinks that we know are not supporting our health and well being. We find ourselves feeling unwell in body, mind, and spirit. We also witness resistance to change from those around us. We witness or experience challenges to the status quo, to the known ways of being, as personal affronts to those we love. It makes changing really hard.
For many, feeling it necessary to decline shared food with loved ones is the greatest deterrent from making lasting dietary changes. Here we are presented with a challenge. It is here we can seek peace, to create balance among one's own needs for self care, for honoring oneself, and the expression of love and communion with the others in your life.
Honoring the sacredness of breaking bread is essential to the ease and harmony in our relationships. To refuse food offered from a place of love offends. It creates separateness. It creates division. And, it presents a great challenge: for those of us who seek to change the way we eat as we come to understand food's direct implications for our health and well being, our challenge includes wanting those we love to also eat better so that they can live more fully. This is part of approaching your sustenance from the holistic perspective. It is a process of allowing, of accepting, of intending.
In your personal journey toward wholeness of being, you can choose to allow ease and peace to prevail. You can make important changes in your personal diet and still experience inclusion and harmony in your relationships. For some, it is sometimes important to retreat or abstain from what was, for a time or forever. This may ring true for you if you are making a commitment to abstain from animal products, or if you are choosing to abstain from sugar or grain. Retreat is a valuable experience. It allows the retreatant to experience the self free from the influence of that which was removed. It informs. From this perspective, one can politely decline the offering by simply sharing that he or she is 'taking a break' from the inclusion. For the other, this is often easier to hear and accept a temporary retreat than a permanent situation. It is less likely to be taken personally. In time, the new-normal will be more readily accepted.
And, not all of us need absolutism. Not everyone wants to say, 'I will never eat chocolate cake again.' That doesn't preclude you or limit you from setting intentions and creating new habits. You may decide that you no longer want to eat animal products - except at family cookouts and holiday dinners. It is all okay. This is YOUR journey. You decide.
If your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it.
This common-sense phrase simplifies the sometimes muddy waters of what-to-eat. There are agencies, websites, and books; there are lists, tables, and charts. There are so many people and groups, each so incredibly certain that this new research or this new protocol is the one-to-follow, it is easy to become overwhelmed...despondent...and frustrated to inaction.
If you can't pronounce it, it's probably not real food. If it hearkens back to seventh grade science terms, it probably isn't naturally-derived. If it's synthetic, your body probably won't recognize it and will excrete it. If it's highly processed, it may cause toxicity in your body before it gets excreted. You could memorize a table of one hundred additives and each one's detrimental effects on the body; you could obtain a list of sixteen different names for MSG and learn how it gets hidden in your foods; you could learn every side effect of each chemically-processed sweetener and weigh your options before baking your next cake. And you could get so busy reading it all, you could leave no time for making dinner. Start simple: If your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it.
Start in your own pantry. Start with one shelf, a nearby empty counter, and a waste basket on the floor. Pick up each item in turn, and read. Imagine your great-grandmother sitting next to you as you read the ingredients to her aloud. When you hear her say, "What??" Pause a moment and consider, "Is this really a food?" If your answer is, No, or, I don't know, toss it. For example, garlic is a very different ingredient than hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Salt is a very different ingredient than sodium hexametaphosphate.
An important point about this practice: the suggestion here that if it isn't real food, toss it. Depending on what your pantry looks like, that may mean the whole thing empties into the trash, and with it your family's food budget for two weeks. Consider that transitions can come gradually, and so instead of tossing away five jars of spaghetti sauce and two boxes of pancake mix, use up what you have, and when you go to restock at the grocery store, give yourself time to read labels and make a real-food choice. You can also donate unopened packages to a food pantry, knowing that the next time you donate, you'll donate even higher quality food to help nourish those who need it most.
This suggestion is a realistic first step. As time and interest allows, you can clarify your pantry's contents more and more. As you learn more, you will naturally start to discern between white sugar and Turbinado sugar, between grass-fed and grain-fed beef. But for now, keep it simple.
You may go through the pantry or cupboards in an afternoon, or this may take three or four visits. Make changes at a pace that is realistic for you and your family. If you've got five jars of store-bought spaghetti sauce in the cupboard and you're ready to start making your own sauce, slowly use up your store-bought as the base for your new homemade varieties. As you grow accustomed to making your own sauce and realizing it's not as daunting a task as you had feared, you may decide to double and triple your recipes, jar up the excess, and have your own sauce ready-to-eat in the fridge. By next season, you'll be ready to do some canning.
Whose Foods First
We find ourselves in a place and time that encourages moving quickly and opting for conveniences that enable us to do more in less time. Remember this basic truth: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. How does this relate to your food choices? When we remove a food from its natural state, when we alter it, the quality of the food is often affected. It is often compromised. Sometimes we can confirm this through our tests in science, and sometimes we aren't so sure. Keep it simple: choose foods in their unprocessed state for the greatest nutrient-density and greatest nutrient bio-availability. Shop the perimeter first. Then, fill in the gaps in the aisles.
Start giving yourself a few extra minutes at the grocery store to read the ingredient lists on the foods you buy. Think of this like considering a new recipe: If it has a long list of ingredients, there's no need to read any further. Find a comparable product with a few simple, recognizable ingredients. You can also use the ingredient lists to avail yourself of making your own. When you read the ingredients on a box of pancake mix, for example, you realize you're paying top dollar for a factory to mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and milk. Buy these ingredients yourself and you not only save money, but you gain control over the quality of the ingredients you feed your family.
And while everyone enjoys their pancakes on Saturday, you can secretly smile that with every bite, you're not only nourishing their spirits, but nourishing their bodies as well.