Is it possible for Oprah to disappoint? Well, I think she fell short on a recent episode titled “The Harpo Vegan Challenge”. In the episode, Oprah Winfrey challenged over 300 of her staffers to eat animal-free for one week. I love how she touched millions to think differently but I think she missed the mark on what exactly a healthy diet can be. In one clip, Kathy Freston, author of The Veganist, took an executive producer on a shopping trip at Whole Foods to learn how to shop meat-free. In the end, her grocery cart was filled with packaged, processed, meat alternatives and not one vegetable or legume was in sight! It was a huge, brown pile of soy products. Where were the whole foods?!? This inspired me to dig up this blog by Rylen Feeney, Holistic Nutritionist here at Blossom Clinic in Portland, Oregon.
Diet: Finding the Middle Path
Enjoying sustained energy, vitality, strength and emotional stability can be as simple as nourishing yourself with healthy foods, which is not so easy if we eat for taste, comfort, emotional expression or company, rather that nourishment. Luckily, perfection isn’t necessary, because our bodies are amazingly resilient. The diet right for you should allow you to enjoy food, while enabling you to prevent illness and be vital.
Traditional Chinese Medicine counsels moderation in diet. Practicing the guidelines listed below will help you find a middle path with your diet that raises the quality and smoothes the flow of Qi through your body. Qi (pronounced chee) means life energy or essence and flows through all things. We feel full of energy when Qi flows freely, and we feel ill or tired when Qi stagnates or is blocked. A healthy diet relies on more than blindly following rules. Tune in to your body’s ever-changing needs and the energetics of season and climate, and then eat what helps you feel better, stronger, and calmer.
Quality determines a food’s energetic vitality. High quality food is organic, whole, free range, pasture raised and finished, chemical and hormone free and prepared with care or homemade. These foods are much higher in Qi and vitamins and minerals. Support your local farmer’s markets, co-ops, health food stores and farmers. Locally grown, in-season food is usually higher in nutrients because it is picked ripe. It also tastes better and is more full of life.
We energetically assume the qualities of what we eat. We have all heard the axiom you are what you eat. This is, of course, absolutely true. For what else does your body have to use to create new blood, cells, tissue, fluids etc… Energetically we can take it a step farther and suggest that the foods we eat lend us their ‘personality’ as well. For example, if a tense and nervous person eats chicken, the chicken’s high-strung energy can increase the person’s nervousness. So, a wound up career women who tries to be primarily vegetarian chooses chicken as her occasional source of animal protein may not be helping herself as much as she thinks. A small quantity of organic grass-fed beef is may a better choice. In wholistic nutrition one animal protein is not necessarily ‘superior’ to another, rather it depends on the person, as each possesses it’s own energetic configuration. In fact food is always “neutral”, neither good nor bad. All whole foods provide important sustenance to our bodies, what is important is our relationship, quality and quantity of the food we consume.
Eat a variety of foods to ensure a wide exposure to many nutrients. Try new vegetables, grains and spices in simple combinations. Spread variety over a week, not all in one meal.
Eat a varied diet that consists of:
- 40-60% grain
- 30-50% vegetables and fruit (90% vegetable 10% fruit)
- 10-20% legumes, beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, animal proteins, fat.)
Eating the following food in excess can stress your system. However, this doesn’t mean to avoid them completely. Some can be essential to good health if eaten in moderate amounts. Combined, all of the foods below should comprise less than 20% of our total consumption. Although they contain nutrients essential to good health, animal proteins are difficult to digest, highly concentrated, toxic in large amounts and prone to cause disease if eaten in more than small quantities. 2-4oz, eaten 3-5 times a week (depending on activity level) is usually sufficient. Eat only organic, or pasture grazed, hormone free, antibiotic-free animal proteins. Many of the foods below, if eaten in excess can create a condition known in Chinese Medicine as dampness, characterized by fatigue, digestive distress, and reduced focus.
Avoid excesses of :
- Commercial Cow dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Sugars (refined, raw, juice, fruit)
- Saturated fats
- Shellfish and Large fish
- Fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates (muffins, pizza, pasta, breads)
- Raw or cold foods
- Iced beverages
- Chemicalized, refined and/or processed foods
The foods below build blood and Qi, many are a good source of vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids, which ease the free flow of Qi, helping you, avoid stagnation which is a primary cause of our discomforts and diseases. These foods strengthen the immune system and elimination organs and deliver long lasting energy.
- Cooked vegetables all varieties but especially dark leafy greens, such as collard greens, mustard greens, kale, swiss chard, beet greens, arugula, mizuna, and spinach
- Whole Grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rye, brown rice varieties, and barley
- Fermented foods such as fresh sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, kimchi etc…
- Eat moderate amounts of clean sustainable fish: Check out the Environmental Defense Fund or the Monterey Bay Aquarium websites for up to date recommendations for sustainable low toxic seafood choices.
- Avocados, raw nuts and seeds for essential fatty acids
- Legumes and Beans such as Lentils, Mung beans, Black, Navy and Red beans
Sit down and eat mindfully. Turn off the TV, put down your book, avoid unpleasant conversation and enjoy your food. Focus on taste, nourishment, and gratitude.
Don’t drink with your meals. Drinking with meals dilutes the enzymes and acids necessary for proper digestion. Other than small sips of water try to wait to drink 20 minutes before or after you eat.
Chew your food well to aid digestion. Chewing is essential to digestion and proper elimination. Eat slowly and thoroughly. Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth with the enzyme called ptyalin. Chew each mouthful 30 times, or until food is of one consistency.
Eat a nutrient-rich breakfast. Chinese medicine asserts that the Qi is most abundant in the digestive organs, Stomach and Spleen, between 7- 11 a.m., this is when you can gain the most nourishment from the food that you eat.
Eat a simply prepared dinner early. Qi necessary for digestion is weakest from 7 – 11 p.m. Eat few combinations during late hours to avoid digestive discomfort.
Try a Convection oven for convenience. Some studies are suggest that microwaves may not be so safe: Salmonella and other viruses can survive this cooking process, microwaved food does free-radical damage when ingested, and some of the plastics leach particles into food that can change men’s hormone levels. More importantly, from an energetic perspective microwaved food is stripped of Qi or vitality, it’s energetic qualities destroyed. Convection ovens prepare food quickly with out the dangers of microwaves.
Be patient with yourself. Eating well is a process that very few of us get right once and for all. Keep the information coming in and continue improving your choices. Find out what works for you, and let others find their own way. Everyone has different needs, so no one diet is right for all people. Healthy eating is not about deprivation or guilt. Instead it is the highest form of self-love and respect.
Rylen Feeney, B.A., LMT (14733), Dipl. Chinese Herbalist & Asian Bodywork Therapist (NCCAOM), Holistic Nutritionist, AOBTA Certified Instructor has been practicing as a Certified Amma Therapist and herbalist for over 19 years. She is available for appointments through Blossom Clinic.