By Jesse Boudreau
The rise in popularity of whole food diets has spawned various diet fads all purporting to have diet “understood.” Depending on ones inclination one can choose from the raw food diet, the Rave diet, the Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, and on and on. People the world over in the pre agricultural era ate a mixed diet of predominantly wild plant foods, augmented with gardening, and with meat occasionally when the hunting was successful (with some exceptions like the Inuit who were predominantly meat eaters and African tribal people such as the Masai who eat meat, dairy and blood almost exclusively). When people began practicing agriculture (large-scale mono-cropping as opposed to natural gardening which increases biodiversity and the fecundity of all life; soil, plant, and animal) we began to hoard, create classism, domesticate and over consume animals, and through this action have deforested the earth. Clearing forests to raise grain for human and animal consumption is the main culprit in environmental degradation and our health crisis. In contrast, the natural way of living and eating can help us restore balance in our bodies, our society, our mother earth and our hearts.
Permaculture food forest
I have been eating a raw vegetarian diet for over two years now and have experienced great healing though this diet. But as time goes on I have come to realize that a strictly raw food vegetarian diet or prescribing any diet for ALL people can have deleterious effects on the people and planet. For instance, my wife over the years has grown five human beings inside her body, had a thin build and cold nature to begin with, and has type O blood. After a few months of eating only raw foods, she began to be able to feel what her body’s needs were and she intuitively felt that her body needed meat. When seen from the perspective of Chinese traditional medicine, which holds that everything we consume as well as our very being itself has a yin aspect and a yang aspect, one can see why she felt this way. Too much of a yang element will cause a predisposition to heat, excess, aggression etc. Similarly too much yin will lead to quiet, cold, deficiency. So my wife, who may be said to be deficient due to childbearing etc., can benefit greatly from the building aspect of meat, dairy, and eggs. I am typically warm, loud, active, and aggressive so raw foods will benefit me inducing a calming, cooling yin type action. If one looks at American culture as a whole, it is easy to see that we are partially in a state of excess. We over consume everything (including meat), are loud, aggressive, and ridiculously stressed out and busy. That is the reason I feel raw food is of benefit to everyone at this time. We can, though diet recalibrate and reset our system, so we can then see what it is that we truly NEED.
To state that one diet fits all is preposterous. Our dependence on grain, meat, and chemical industrial agriculture has led us down a road of ill heath for all. The hollow lifeless foods raised on chemicals and shipped from afar have been highly refined and denatured. The addiction to refined sugar and the overconsumption of unnaturally raised animal foods have also weakened our genetics. Poorly nourished mothers generation after generation create an ever degenerating progeny. At this point in time we have created a state of simultaneous excess AND deficiency. What we need to do now is embrace a culture of life that promotes healthy people AND ecosystems by utilizing all the kingdoms of earth (animal, vegetable, fungal and mineral) working synergistically to heal ourselves and the earth.
However beneficial it is to me, my diet of raw foods comes from all over the earth and a great amount of energy is spent in bringing it to me. Food grown naturally and nearby is tastier, more nutritious, more attuned to circadian rhythms inside and outside of us, and utilizes almost no energy in transport. While I personally believe that plant foods are more naturally beneficial to us as organisms, and while I do believe in a spiritually based reverence for all life, I do not think we need a dietary dogma which states that meat should never be consumed. The fact is that balance increases functionalism in all things.
Everyone needs a balance of good fats and cholesterol as well as leafy greens, fruits and vegetables. The misnomer is that cholesterol and fats are bad for you. I recently watched a film about plant foods being infinitely good for you and that the cholesterol in meat was what was responsible for the major debilitating diseases of our era. It cited the Framingham study which has been cited again and again as the study that proves cholesterol is bad for one’s health. However, this study did not take into account rancid fats, which are the main culprit of ill-health. Forty years later the top researcher of the Framingham study stated that ” …we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were most physically active.” Ones own body produces more cholesterol than we typically eat. 85% of the cholesterol needed by the body comes from the liver. The other 15% comes from dietary sources. Low levels of cholesterol can be dangerous to your health. Cholesterol is transported in the blood as a lipoprotein (either HDL or LDL). LDL’s attract free radicals that damage cells. HDL’s gather up LDL’s and carry them out of the body (with enough fiber and lecithin). When cholesterol is oxidized (rancid) those LDL’s can damage arterial walls (as can stress, smoking, and pollution). More Cholesterol, calcium, platelets, and other debris move in to repair the damage. Over time this causes the arterial build up often associated with high cholesterol diets. Another important role cholesterol plays is in the assimilation of vitamin D which, is one of the vitamins we lack most due to having little relationship with the sun as we did in our anthropological past. The body needs sunlight to make vitamin D and it needs cholesterol to assimilate it.
Fats and cholesterol help build the brain and nervous system, sex hormones, cellular health (cells are made mostly out of cholesterol) and are important for full balance and function. The best fats are saturated fats because they never become rancid (due to their molecular bonds having no place to oxidize) and they have the correct balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. The best vegetarian sources are coconut oil, and (pastured or grass-fed) butter. The best animal source is through fish. Vegetable oils are composed of monounsaturated or poly unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats have one molecular bond to receive oxygen and polyunsaturated fats have two or more molecular bonds for oxygen and therefore easily become rancid. These rancid vegetable oils are seriously detrimental to the health of people as rancid fats create free radical damage in the body. Heating these oils further oxidizes them. The best form of vegetable oils are from fresh raw, sprouted,nuts and seeds which are minimally rancid as they are unheated and in their whole state.
Of all foods the most detrimental are carbohydrates in the form of highly processed cereal grains and sugar. Carbohydrates send the pancreas into a confusion that imbalances ones insulin production; usually tipping the individual into diabetes. Insulin also oxidizes LDL particles (cholesterol). These oxidized LDL particles attach to the arterial walls creating inflammation and plaque formation. Eating animals fed on grains ( which is not their natural diet) can create a similar effect.
Given that the high carb, chemical produced, preservative and additive rich standard american diet is the norm, raw foods can serve as an excellent remedy for cleansing and providing antioxidants to revitalize the system and repair free radical damage. However at a certain point one needs to rebuild and maintain the body/mind. Cholesterol, and good fats provide that needed building material. Considering the toxic barrage we are all inundated with (in the form of radioactive fallout, lead in the air from burning petroleum, mercury fillings, electrosmog, residues from chemical agriculture, fluoride and chlorine in the water and everything else we are exposed to) we must be aggressive about our health. In traditional Chinese medicine these things are consider “jing leaks” as is eating too many raw foods (raw foods are yin foods). The Chinese believe that a person has three components to their make up. Jing is likened to the wax of a candle, chi is the flame or light coming from the candle and shun is the ineffable spirit within. If one’s jing is low or leaking than ones’ candle will not burn for long. By utilizing herbs like, reishi , maitake, shitake, and chaga mushrooms, as well as shizandra berry, goji berry, He sho wu, ginseng and gynostemma one can maintain a state of balance even on raw foods only. These “immuno-modulating” tonic herbs instruct white blood cells on how to deal with contamination and help support kidney and adrenal function.
No matter what you choose as a dietary path; one can live a healthy lifestyle in accord with nature by carefully choosing your foods, insuring ample room for saturated fats, using tonic herbs, and leveraging our purchasing power into healthy and sane practices for people and planet. By so doing, our diets can uplift us and all beings.