The biggest and most urgent nutritional question of our time – what should I eat? – happens to have the greatest assortment of confusing and contradictory answers. Fortunately I have a very practical suggestion on how you can become your own dietary expert and be assured of consistently making excellent choices, if not the best nutritional choice. If you were to give me the honor of being your personal nutritionist, for just one dietary change, if you asked me: “What’s the one simple nutritional strategy that could give me the biggest bang for my metabolic buck, improve my health and weight more than any other change, and make a positive impact on the lives of others and the Earth itself …?” then, here’s the guideline I’d urge you to follow:
Elevate the quality of your food.
Quality is everything. In every major nutritional study that’s ever been done comparing the diets of industrialized nations – the ones involving the most refined, mass-produced, and poor-quality foods – with the diets of traditional cultures – fresh, whole, locally cultivated and vibrant foods – those on traditional diets fare dramatically better in every major health category. Elevate the quality of your food and you elevate metabolism.
Quality means any or all of the following: real; fresh; organic; gourmet; lovingly crafted; homemade; locally produced; heirloom varieties; nutrient dense; low in human-made toxins; grown and marketed with honesty and integrity; tasteful; filled with true flavor, instead of biochemical or artificial flavors that mask the absence of nutrients and vitality.
Quality means that care and consciousness permeate a food – and that the food itself has a good story to tell.
As it is with cars or durable goods, with food: you get what you pay for. Would you expect a car manufactured with the cheapest parts, hastily assembled and designed without any care for the needs of the driver to give you the ride of your life?
Science doesn’t have a way to measure the value and the effects of the quality of food on the human body because we still have our training wheels on in the nutrition business, and can only maneuver ourselves around nutrient values. When we nutrition experts lay down the law about how the value of a food is gloriously revealed in its nutrient profile, it all sounds so scientific. And it is… except that this measure of a meal’s true worth is woefully limited and scientifically incomplete. When the artistry of food is finally elevated to its rightful place, then the science will speak with more wisdom and clarity.
What I’m talking about here is not so much a different way of seeing food and nutrition as it is a whole new approach to the world and our place in it.
When science studies food, nutrition, or a supplement, it rarely looks at quality. That’s one of the hidden reasons why the results of food studies often conflict and why you’re invariably fed contradictory messages about eating.
Recall the famous “French Paradox”: how certain Europeans populations can eat a significantly greater amount of fat without the same rise in cholesterol level and heart disease that we Americans experience.
Not only is this a function of the benefits Europeans receive from the metabolic power of relaxing, breathing, and taking their time with their meals, it’s also about quality. Much of European cuisine is at a level worth aspiring to. This higher quality means a healthier metabolism. The only “paradox” here is why researchers can’t see the big picture.
There’s still another very important rationale for choosing high-quality foods, which many experts tend to overlook, one that certainly deserves your attention if you are concerned about weight:
The poorer the quality of our food, the more quantity we’ll consume.
The problem with overeating in our nation is not that we have a collective willpower disorder. Yes, many of us eat too much. But we do so, to a great degree, because our food is nutrient deficient. It lacks the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and all the undiscovered x-factors and energies we require. The brain senses these deficiencies and wisely responds to this absence of vital chemistry by commanding us to undertake the most sensible survival strategy: eat more food. If a movie or a party you attended lacked substance, you’d walk away feeling unfulfilled and wanting more: it’s the same with food.
By choosing fresh, whole-state organic foods, your diet becomes more nutrient dense. That’s because pound for pound, fresh organic foods have more vitamins and minerals than their inorganic and mass-produced counterparts. They also have less xenotoxins – human-made substances such as pesticides and herbicides that function as anti-nutrients and disease agents. Organic, in this case, simply means “real.”
Of course, it’s easy to become apathetic when hearing endless messages about the carcinogens in our food, the evils of carbohydrates, or the mercury in fish. I often hear people lament how “everything’s bad for you,” but now you have a powerful tool to help bust through such nutritional confusion:
No matter what food you eat, choose the highest quality version of that food available.
This gives you the best Las Vegas odds that the food will be healthful, whether you’re eating bacon, bananas, bread, or birthday cake. Yes, quality foods are definitely more expensive. But this is the real health insurance. It’s your life we’re talking about, yours and those of the loved ones you feed.
Food is …
Before we look at specific suggestions on how to include quality foods in our diet, let’s better understand the true metabolic power of quality by examining more closely what food really is.
Most people would say that food is a collection of vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and other chemicals. To determine the value of a meal, we’d measure the amount of nutrients it contains – read any product label and you’ll see this philosophy in action – but it’s time to catch up with the new millennium. This approach to food is no longer adequate in describing the nutritional reality. Food is much more than a bunch of chemicals. Food is energy and information.
This definition applies to any substance we consume. Be it water, an herb, a supplement, a drug, caviar, or cotton candy… whatever metabolic effect the body receives from any of these happens because that substance communicated a specific message to our cells.
The caffeine in coffee literally tells the heart to beat faster and our blood pressure to spike and instructs the nervous system to accelerate its functions. The fiber in your oatmeal actually chats with your intestines, telling them to contract, and has a side conversation with your liver, pancreas, and bloodstream, asking your LDL cholesterol to drop and your blood sugar to stabilize. The bio-flavonoids in your berries instruct the body to keep tiny blood vessels strong and supple to reduce cellular inflammation, and to slow down the aging process of specific tissues, such as the macula of the eyes.
Food talks to your body and your body talks back.
This is not a fanciful notion about metabolism; it is a scientific reality. With his simple formula E=MC2, Einstein proved that matter and energy are one and the same and could shape-shift to and fro. And both are loaded with information. Indeed, every speck of creation – from a humble particle of dust to a galactic sun – holds vast quantities of information, also called memory.
Simply because we can’t always perceive with our five sense this hidden library within all matter doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Consider, for example: the tomato. If the soil it grows in is depleted, then the tomato has a measurably low mineral content, less natural sugar, and more acid, which means it’s going to be mealy, tasteless, and nutritionally inferior. If it’s sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, it will also carry instructional messages to your body that are carcinogenic, mutagenic, and neurotoxic. If it’s grown on an impersonal factory farm, the tomato will be lifeless and have no charm. If an underpaid migrant worker who’s given no benefits and few workers’ rights picks it, then the tomato is hypocritical and lacks integrity. If it’s chopped by machine along with thousands of other tomatoes, delivered to fast-food joints, and slapped together with a bun and meat from a cow whose suffered even worse traumas, then our tomato is now suicidal, or even murderous, because it’s lost its soul and has no reason to live.
… I think you get the picture.
Ancient healing systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have long recognized the energetic nature of food. Rather than describe the chemical elements of a meal, these approaches look at the “archetypal” elements. They see the Earth, Water, Wood, Fire, and Metal; Kapha, Pitta, and Vata; Yin and Yang as well as the Qi, Prana or Life Force which is present in our foods. None of these elements are seen under a microscope, but they are plainly observed in action, much the way our character is revealed for all to see, yet is nowhere to be found as a substance within us. The principles of Yin and Yang are as real to the Chinese as Proteins and Fats are to us.
The true worth of a food, then, will never be discerned from a label. Its real value is found in all the Energy and Information it contains. Yes, this includes the vitamin, mineral, protein, fiber, and fat content, but it also means: how the food is grown, handled, transported, manufactured, advertised, cooked, served, and eaten. All this information lives inside a food as surely as you live inside your body.
So, if we want to truly quell the rise of heart disease with the help of diet, then it’s time to put more heart into how we create food, eat it, and share it with the hungry. If we want to slow the unchecked growth of cancerous cells in the human family and limit the amount of carcinogens in our food, then it’s time to slow the world down, take stock of our unchecked growth, and rethink the manic ways in which we manufacture our nourishment.
Many people want their food to provide them health, happiness, and all the blessings of beauty. Well, the only way food can possibly deliver such a huge bounty is if we create it in that image. When the energies of love and beauty are cultivated into a foodstuff, such will be our harvest.
What has been your experience including higher quality, nutrient dense foods into your meals?
Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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