I started the last post with this: "There are two parts to Soul + Food. The soul refers to all things that connect us with our deepest sense of Self. The food refers to all things that nourish us." And I went on to dive deep into some soul talk. The focus of this journal entry, however, is food.
I have dabbled in this section, offering some recipes here and there, but I am ready to dive deeper into the topic of food. To begin, I am offering this article on the basics of nutrition. I will take you through a journey through the macronutrients, offering some basic nutritional principals that can be a foundation for understanding. I call it the basics of nutrition. Nutrition can be very complex. This article will take the incredibly vast array of nutrition info out there and make it both simple and accessible while covering the essential.
The Basics of Nutrition:
Sometimes we all need a little bit of history and science to understand why we do what we do. Science and education can motivate healthy change. It’s easy to forget this in the modern world, but human beings (homo sapiens) are mammals (warm blooded, live births, produce milk for babies, have hair or fur). We have evolved over time as omnivores, which means we eat both plant parts and animals to survive. We eat roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds. We eat eggs, milk, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other mammals.
For a long time, we ate food we could hunt and gather. In fact, we evolved as hunters and gatherers for tens of thousands of years before agricultural societies began to emerge. The first agrarian societies (communities of people supported by farming vegetables and animals) date back just 10,000 years. Industrial agriculture and packaged foods are a recent phenomenon that emerged in the early twentieth century.
Modern machines and technology continuously speed up production. Refrigeration, the packaging industry, and new methods of transportation allow for food preservation and widespread distribution. Emerging from the most basic outline of history told through the lens of food, we are faced with the modern human condition: We are mammals living in an industrial society. We wear hip clothes, talk hip talk, and sit down in hip spots to eat food that often hides its connection to nature.
The vast majority of us who live in developed countries, supported by industrial agriculture, now have a choice about how, when, what, and where we will eat. As mammals, we must eat to survive. To thrive, we must eat a variety of foods to fill our bodies with essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Modern-day business will adopt anything that is essential to our survival. Enter the era of the mass supermarket, nutrition craze, and restaurant business. We have fancy packages, branding, advertising, and numerous combinations of plant and animal products.
In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan wakes us up to the fact that we eat fewer ingredients than we think. The industrialized food system has taken three seeds (corn, wheat, and soybeans), broken them down into different parts (sugar, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, water), and reconstructed them to create food that has a stable shelf life and an appealing taste (salt and sugar in the form of corn syrup usually does the trick). Then, the marketing industry creates colorful, fanciful packages that appeal to our senses.
Rather than filling our bodies with a variety of whole foods, many of us are eating a ton of corn, wheat, and soybeans. And then we wonder why we don’t feel good and why our physical bodies are so dissatisfied. We keep eating and eating, hoping to feel nourished, but we still don’t seem to get what our bodies are craving.
Our bodies crave color, vitality, and life.
I taught nutrition to small children by encouraging them to eat from the rainbow. (I made sure to address the difference between the color of Skittles and the hues of vegetables.) If you are eating red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple whole foods, you are getting a variety of vitamins and minerals that are essential to the healthy, vital functioning of your body’s organs. And your food is pretty. How’s that for a win-win situation?
Now picture corn, wheat, soybeans, salt, and sugar. There is no rainbow in that motley arrangement. No rainbow equals minimal vitamins and minerals. Thoughtful companies have fortified many of their products with vitamins and minerals to address this concern. However, there are nature-designed structures to the whole foods we eat that support our body’s absorption process.
When we separate out specific vitamins and so-called life-saving or enhancing properties of food and put them into little pills or squirt them into orange juice, we miss out on the unique structures that are essential to our digestion process. Nature put into place a system that is far more intelligent than the modern human mind. We can trust nature.
As we learn to rely on our inner nature and the natural design that makes up the dynamic, interconnected, interdependent Earth systems, we begin to see that our answers to our questions of health and wellness are rooted deep within a world that emerges with clarity as layers of industry, culture, and disorder melt away.
Consider the basic plant parts and the nutrition information they provide. The essential nutrients found in plants are vitally connected to the structure of the human body. Plant parts are the body’s main source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential to the central nervous system and provide energy to our hearts and brains in the form of glucose. Plant parts also provide vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat.
ROOTS AND TUBERS: When we eat carrots, potatoes, radishes, turnips, beets, and sweet potatoes, we are eating roots or tubers, which are full of energy and starch. Roots and tubers provide grounding, wholesome energy. They are the plant’s connection to the earth. So when you’re flying high as a kite, consider cooking some roots as part of your next meal. They will bring you back down to Earth in a jiffy. Colorful roots and tubers—such as carrots, beets, and yams—indicate vitamins, particularly vitamin A, which is essential to the healthy functioning of our eyes, lungs, and skin.
STEM: When we eat celery, asparagus, or rhubarb, we are consuming stems. The stem is the plant’s system for transporting water and maintaining structure. Stems feed our own structural system with calcium and cleanse our digestive and urinary systems. When we eat stems, we are supporting our kidneys, which regulate fluids in our bodies.
LEAVES: When we eat leaves, we are taking in energy from the sun and CO2 from the air that the plant has converted into incredible structures that support life. As we eat leaves coated with delicious salad dressing, we absorb vitamins and minerals that help us maintain energy and improve our immune systems. Leaves provide vitamin C and help cleanse our bodies of harmful toxins. I love leaves.
FLOWER: The purpose of a beautiful flower is to attract pollinators. Edible flowers can have medicinal purposes, and they can also enhance the experience of eating when added to a salad, as they invite beauty into mealtime routines. Calendula, nasturtiums, rose petals, pineapple guava petals, and borage are some of my favorites.
FRUIT: The flesh of the fruit provides a sweet, nourishing, protective layer for the seed. Fruit is generally full of color, sugar, and fiber, providing a perfect combination of properties essential to digestion, quick energy, and a density in vitamins that keeps our bodies thriving. Apples are fruit, as are tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and cucumbers, even though we commonly refer to them as vegetables.
SEED: Seeds are incredible structures of stored energy and DNA, providing the opportunity for reproduction and survival. Grains such as wheat, corn, quinoa, amaranth, and spelt are seeds. Beans, lentils, and peas are also seeds. Tree nuts, as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds, are also common snacks. Seeds provide us with essential fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and sustained energy. Unlike the quick energy the sugars in fruit provide, seeds consumed in their whole form create long-lasting fuel for our brains and hearts.
Isn’t nature’s plan fabulous? We can eat from the rainbow and we can learn from the plants. And this brings us to a discussion about animals. As we eat products from animals or animals themselves or mock versions of products from animals, we are fulfilling our body’s requirements for protein and fat.
Some people are such intelligently educated vegans and vegetarians that they are able to get all their protein and fat from plant parts. They know the combinations of plant parts that provide enough protein and fat to keep their bodies functioning in prime condition. But this requires education and preparation. If you are not into eating animals, eat seeds (they contain protein and fat) and research the combinations of foods that will create the essential amino acids in your body for tissue repair. And make sure you find a way of getting the essential energy-giving vitamin B12, which is important for your vitality and survival. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, and is light sensitive. So this may be one area where you choose a supplement over a fortified product. Or you can choose to allow some eggs, milk, or yogurt into your diet. If you are conscious and mindful enough to become vegan or vegetarian, then take on the education and the planning like you love yourself. And then truly, deeply love yourself.
In the long history of homo sapiens in agrarian society, we grubbed on meat and eggs, and we drank milk and made milk products from goats, sheep, and cows. We did this because we need to eat protein and fat to survive. Without these nutrients, our brains start getting fuzzy, we become light-headed, and our skin turns lackluster. And we never feel full.
Protein is critical because it builds and repairs tissues in the body. Protein is essential for your bones, muscles, skin, cartilage, and blood. The amount of protein you need depends on how much you move your body. Industrial agriculture has made meat so readily available, the average North American now consumes way too much protein. Too much or too little zaps the vitality. But nature allows for a bit of flexibility. The most basic recommendation is to include a small portion of protein in each meal, and to educate yourself about plant-based proteins and incorporate them into your meals. If you take both these actions, you will likely have enough protein to keep your body in tip-top shape.
Fat has been widely misunderstood and undervalued in society. Eating fat does not make you fat. I repeat: Eating fat does not translate into your body storing fat. Rather, fat can protect your heart and build your brain. In fact, your brain is largely made up of fat. Fat is also essential for the absorption of vitamins. Eating fat makes you feel full. If you are eating and eating, while remaining conscious, and you find yourself turning into a bottomless pit, you probably need a little bit of fat to balance out all the carbohydrates.
Fat is high in energy (calories), so as people began to grow in size in industrial societies, we looked to fat as the cause. We also blamed fat for heart disease. Despite all of the nonfat and low-fat diets that have emerged in response to this fear-based approach to fat, we are not getting healthier. Building a healthy relationship to fat takes some common sense. If you get all of your fat from French fries, bacon, and Snickers bars, you might want to rethink your strategy. If you are including olive oil, avocados, coconut, nuts, seeds, and a moderate amount of other fats you love (like butter, milk, meat), your skin will grow and your brain will thank you.
The final ingredient to our recipe for basic nutrition is water. Our bodies are 60 percent water. Plants are 90 percent water. Water is essential to our survival. Drinking water regulates our body temperature, moves nutrients through our cells, keeps our insides and skin moist, and flushes waste from our bodies. Water makes us glow.
We like to add a lot of sugar to our water. We drink soda, sweetened iced tea, sugar-enhanced coffee, alcohol, and fruit juices with added sugar. The secret of this whole wild war on weight and illness is this: Fat is not the enemy. But if we need enemies, we can blame added sugar (not the sugar in whole fruits). We consume much of this added sugar in our drinks. Rather than flush out waste by drinking water, we are flushing in quick, crazy energy that our body quickly metabolizes into stored fat unless we expend it. So before you pick up your next drink with added sugar, recognize that you have a choice. Perhaps you can add chocolate soufflé to the menu and savor your sweetness in candlelight instead of downing the can of cola at your desk (which has 35 grams of sugar, 10 grams more than the recommended allowance per day).
To sum up the basics of nutrition, we need an integrated balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water to survive. Eating whole foods allows nature’s design to feed the body with an ideal balance of nutrients that function together as a whole. Rather than separate out nutrients into powders and magic pills, eating whole foods creates energy that stems from a divine system that was created to support life on Earth. This is essential to our survival.
If we eat plant parts that form the rainbow, drink mostly water, and include protein and healthy fats in our diet, we are likely to thrive. We will glow from the inside out, lighting up the world within and around us. Eat well for your heart. Eat well for your brain. Eating well is not eating perfect. Perfect isn’t fun. And perfect isn’t healthy. Let life be messy and unpredictable. And then eat well, because the life you will lead as you nourish yourself consciously will be full of vital, connected, soul food energy.
Journal Activity: The Basics of Nutrition
Concept: We need vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water to survive. Eating plant parts that represent the colors of the rainbow provides many of the vitamins and minerals we need. We get many of our carbohydrates, protein, and fat from seeds and from animals. Eating fat does not make you fat. Healthy fats feed our brains and help our bodies absorb vitamins. Added sugar is metabolized into stored fat by the body. Drinking water rather than beverages with added sugar creates a daily cleanse for the body.
Journal Activity: Colorful Produce
Part 1: Make a list of your favorite local produce by season. Notice the range of colors.
This is my list based on Northern California, where I live.
Summer: nectarines (orange/red), apricots (orange), blueberries (blue), cucumbers (green), eggplant (purple)
Fall: apples (red/yellow/green), figs (purple), persimmons (orange), purple carrots (purple/orange), butternut squash (orange)
Winter: kiwis (brown/green), oranges (orange), kale (green)
Spring: strawberries (red), fava beans (green), peas (green), lettuce (green)
Part 2: Plan a breakfast, lunch, and dinner that includes all of the colors of the rainbow and a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Be Well 🙏💕