The Strivingly Herbal Guide To Healthful Eating Practices
This guide is meant for use as a source of information for those who are looking for ways to improve their overall health through the use of nutrition. The views expressed in this document are based on my experience, observations, and the shared experience with others, and as such may not necessarily reflect conventional nutritional theory.
A health benefiting dietary practices defies strict definition and refuses to be governed by a definitive set of rules. In my experience a person who wants to benefit from good nutrition needs to understand the basic function of food in our bodies as well as the general metabolic pathways through which we process food. Of equal if not greater importance is that one learns to listen to their body and heeds the signals that their body gives them not only about when to eat, but also about what to eat as well as what not to eat. It is through listening to bodies signals that we can start to build trust in our own ability to tell what is right for us and what is not. Over time we can learn how to best feed ourselves and therefore increase our sense of well being which I believe to be the foremost goal of health benefiting dietary practices.
My goal in this dissertation is to help inform you on two levels; 1) basic nutritional physiology, 2) lay out some basic guidelines for selecting types of food.
Basic Nutritional Physiology
On a structural level we quite literally are what we eat. Within a six-month period we almost completely replace every structural part of our bodies. As a society we tend to have a false notion that our physicality is a static thing as is evidenced in the burial of our dead. When a person is placed in a casket the notion that their body is being kept in tact in many ways is false. Though the corpse of someone we know may visually be identifiable as the person we once knew the fact is that physically the body is almost a completely different body that the one you knew just six months earlier.
Our bodies are constantly breaking down and rebuilding new structural elements. We have many different kinds of cells whose job it is to seek out and demolish infected, damaged, worn out, and mutated cells. There are other cells yet that will scavenge the demolishing cells when they get worn out also. Once a structural cell is broken down and the waste products are sent on their way out of your body through one of many excretory routes another group of "construction" cells come in to replace or rebuild. This constant biological ballet creates great demand for raw materials with which the "construction crew" can build structure anew. Also creating demand for raw materials is the construction of the "work crew" itself. In general the assemblage of various non-structural elements in our bodies such as hormones (messengers between various parts of our bodies), vitamins (important in many functional aspects of being a biological entity), and immune proteins (the fighting force within) create demand for basic building blocks. Since there is a universal law that one may neither create nor destroy matter then the raw materials needed for our bodies to rebuild structure must come from an outside source.
This source is food. It is my belief that every aspect of the human body has some purpose and hunger is no exception. It seems to me that hunger is a signal that outside sources of raw materials are needed in order to maintain structural integrity and metabolic functionality so that the body can continue to function in such a manner as to avoid death. Luckily we receive that signal well before we are at a stage where death is an immediate threat. For many, food hunger and the pleasure received from eating certain foods have undermined hungers original functionality. People who eat to calm down or to feel an emotional high are examples of people who may be reacting to hunger that stems from desire for a pleasure response rather than from the need for raw materials. Pleasure itself I believe to originally have been a signal from our bodies to let us know we were doing the right thing. Due to reasons that are too vast for the scope of this dissertation has become something that many people have learned to turn on and off through many modalities including food.
Food of course comes in many different forms. To our bodies the value of the food we eat is determined on a molecular level. From the moment we put a piece of food in our mouth we begin a process that breaks down that food into smaller and smaller pieces until it is separated into its basic molecular components. This happens via chewing to break down large chunks into smaller bits, saliva which has enzymes that break apart things on a molecular level and antibodies that help to kill bacteria that may be on the food, stomach acid which helps to break proteins down to a manageable size, and the pancreas secretes fluid in the small intestine and the liver secretes bile which help to break down carbohydrates (starch) as well as fats. Further down in the small intestine is where the broken down food is absorbed into a specialized blood vessel, which pumps it to the liver. It is in the liver where these basic building blocks are rearranged and built into structural or functional components, which are then shipped out to the target destination in the blood via the circulatory system.
Aside from structural or functional elements, certain components of food are used as fuel or stored for later use. Every action that takes place in our bodies requires fuel to facilitate it weather it is on a skeletal movement level or on a cellular or even molecular level. We quite literally burn fuel to keep our metabolic machine running. Of course the type and quality of the fuel we burn is largely dependent on what we eat.
For those of you who might want to invest in more unusual or hard to find herbs, I would like to list a few of the stores and companies I trust to have quality herbs in bulk, tincture, and salves. For the cynical in heart no I do not have a financial interest in any of these stores or companies. (You wouldn't want to follow my financial advice anyway. I'm the guy who said cable television was a fad, personal computers would always be a rich man's toy, cassettes would never have the quality of reel to reel, and CD's would never catch on).
Principles of Nutrition and Food Selection
There are four main types of nutrients that your body derives from food. These are water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Beyond this there are vitamins, minerals, and miscellaneous other chemical compounds that we derive from food. All are necessary for you to live and function properly. It is important to make sure that you are getting enough of the main four nutrients in proper proportion. If you concentrate on getting enough water, carbohydrates, protein, and fat in accordance with the other two principles (variety, and quality) you will be well on your way to achieving good health through nutrition.
Water: We have all heard that we should drink eight glasses of water per day. I strongly disagree with this. It is ridiculous to think that a person who is 6' 1" tall weighing 190lbs would need to drink the same amount of water per day as someone who is 5' 6" tall and weighs 145lbs. There are many factors that effect fluid volume including size, metabolic rate, physical activity, and external temperature. My best advice is to experiment for your self to find what feels right. If your skin is too dry, if you have dry mouth, or if you find yourself constipated often you may need to drink more water. If you find yourself sweating excessively or urinating more often than you feel is comfortable then you may be drinking too much water. In any of the above situations there could be other explanations that have nothing to do with fluid intake, but they are signs to watch for.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are important not only because they are a source of quick fuel, but also because of what they come packaged with. Carbohydrate containing foods are rich sources of fiber that is important for colon health as well as giving us a healthy sense of being full, vitamins and minerals that support numerous functions in our bodies, and amino acids that serve as the building blocks for proteins.
Good sources for carbohydrates are whole grain products such as breads and cereals. Better yet are the whole grains themselves such as oatmeal or other rolled grains that can be cooked into porridge. It is important to note that when selecting grain products for best nutritional value that "white" flour products will not be effective. These products (such as white bread) are derived from grains that have been striped of their husks (the part that makes whole grain products brown). It is within the husks that most if not all of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are found. When the husk is striped away and grain products are made with the remaining white part what you have is food that contains energy to burn for fuel with no other nutrients. Eating white flour products is in essence nutritionally equivalent to eating white sugar.
It is important then when making choices at the supermarket to read the labels with a discerning eye. On the packaging for a bread item it can say 100% wheat flour and still be a white flour product. It is not a lie because the bread was derived from wheat berries. What you do want to look for is packaging that says 100% whole-wheat flour.
In general when selecting carbohydrate rich foods you want pick items that are "nutrient dense". By this I mean foods that have a high level of vitamins, minerals, and other organic compounds relative to their caloric (energy) content. Again, whole grain breads, grain cereals, and corn are all good sources of Carbohydrate.
Protein: Many of the structural and functional physical elements of our bodies are made of proteins which are molecules made of building blocks called amino acids along with nitrogen. There exist twenty known amino acids in all that get combined with each other and nitrogen into a seeming infinite number of configurations in order to form proteins. Dietarily we derive amino acids from pre formed proteins as well as in free form. When a protein from another life form is ingested we need to break it down beyond recognition otherwise our immune system will recognize it's DNA as belonging to another organism and therefore mount an immune response (often at the expense of your discomfort). When proteins are broken down the amino acids are sent off to the liver to be rearranged into new proteins and the nitrogen portion (which is toxic) is sent out to the body in the urine.
When deciding what needs to be eaten in order to get the protein you need it is less important to choose protein rich food than it is to pick food that is rich in amino acids. Good sources are eggs (the white part has the most complete set of amino acids known to people. When eating eggs it is wise to discard the yolk as it is high in cholesterol), meat (including poultry, beef, pork, and fish. When eating meat I recommend that people stay with white meat and fish for their low fat attributes.), combinations of grains and legumes (This is important for vegetarians. The combination of whole grains and legumes will give a vegetarian a full range of amino acids needed in order to make all the necessary proteins for healthy tissue structure and function.), and lastly vegetables while low in proteins are a rich source of amino acids.
Fats: Fats are the most misunderstood yet one of the most important aspects of nutrition. Every cell in our body has a cell wall. One of the major components of that wall is fatty acid. There are many types of fatty acids but two major groups are those that are "saturated" and those that are "unsaturated". The saturated fatty acids are mainly used for fuel, and when there is excess it gets stored as the dreaded adipose (or fat) tissue. Then there is the unsaturated fat, which is the preferred material for use as structure in every cell wall.
the problem...Most Americans get none or very little unsaturated fat
in their diet. Your cell walls however still needs the fatty acids
incorporated into their structure. This will be compensated for by
using saturated fats in the cell wall structure, which is problematic,
because a cell wall made from saturated fatty acids is not as strong
and is more prone to inflammation. Conditions in which there is chronic
skin inflammation such as eczema and psoriasis can be aggravated or
even caused by poor cell wall structure. The difference can be clearly
analogized with the house made of straw and the house made of bricks
from the story of "The Three Little Pigs". Low quality and
saturated fats also play into patterns that can lead to heart disease.
Minerals, and other Organic Compounds: All of the aforementioned categories
of food contain vitamins, minerals and other organic compounds many
of which are vital to the proper function of our bodies. Vegetables
tend to be the richest source for many of the more complex compounds.
It is important to note that though vegetables and fruit are not a
major source of any of the big four nutrients they are still very
necessary. In fact I recommend that one eat as many vegetables as
possible. Almost no one gets enough veggies in their diet.