In a recent entry , I began to discuss the benefits of cooking food. Cooking is a lifetime study that makes humans unique. It is a practice we can enjoy and learn from everyday without end.
Each method of cooking affects the color, taste, aroma, and textures of foods in different ways. The best cooking looks good, smells good, tastes good, and holds our interest for the entire meal. We receive the most nourishment and satisfaction from the variety of flavors that are present when enjoying the combination of raw, cooked, and naturally pickled and fermented foods at our meals.
Cooking enhances the bioavailability of nutrition in foods by concentrating certain nutrients on the surface, making them easier to digest and absorb. I’d like to illustrate these points by looking at just a few methods of preparation.
-Naturally pickling and fermenting foods is a unique method of preparation because nutrients and probiotics are produced that simply did not exist before. Naturally fermented sauerkraut is much more than cabbage and sea salt. We recommend miso (grain and bean ferment), sauerkraut (vegetable ferment), and umeboshi plum (fruit ferment) in our macrobiotic practice because they aid in the digestion and assimilation of the full range of plant-based foods.
-Baking makes foods look and taste richer. It is considered healthy, but the main result of baking is that the fats and proteins in the food become more bioavailable.
-Blanching brings out the intense brightness of vegetables. This is because it enhances and concentrates the B vitamins, vitamin C, as well as minerals.
-Currently, there is much controversy over the use of oil in cooking. Is cooking with oil beneficial or harmful? It is a question I have been pondering a long time and I would like to share some thoughts. Oil has been used in cooking for thousands of years in the world’s long-standing civilizations. It is also used in the cuisines and cultures with the highest longevity. I wonder if cooking with oil is being studied out of context.
It seems to me that high quality sesame or olive oil, used sparingly, has a similar effect as salt in combining with foods. In macrobiotics, we only use salt in cooking in a way to bring out the natural flavors of food without leaving a salty taste. We recommend using oil in a similar way so that it enhances the flavors and energetics of the food without leaving an oily taste. My observation is that the elimination of oil for periods of time (weeks or months) can provide substantial benefit. However, do these benefits last over sustained periods of time? I think it will be seen over time that oil, used properly, has a deeply nourishing and protective quality for the bones, joints, blood vessels, and nervous system.
I hope that these ideas stimulate your creativity to prepare meals that are deeply satisfying and nourishing. The final act of cooking is our enjoyment, chewing well, and giving thanks to nature, the food, and to the cooks. All of these thing wake up the goodness in the food. I will be further exploring these ideas in future blogs.
Recently, The New York Times published a piece Angelina Jolie Pitt wrote regarding her recent medical decisions as they relate to her family’s history and struggle with cancer. In the article, she wrote about her choice to have a double mastectomy and later, to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She offered readers the type of options she was offered, such as testing and surgery.
I appreciate her courage to share such a deeply personal situation; I am sorry she had to struggle with such difficult decisions. While I applaud Mrs. Jolie Pitt’s dedication to making her choices known, I believe that many possible options for health and well-being were not offered.
In my 43 years of experience, the combination of dietary practices, activities, and attitudes produces lasting health. It all begins with the desire and willingness to take control of these factors. The daily habits that we form have the biggest impact on shaping our long term health. The science of epigenetics shows that our daily life choices control how our genes express themselves. Cancer genes can be turned on or off through dietary and lifestyle practices.
This checklist will help you move in the direction of health.
– Lasting health starts with our desire to be healthy through natural means.
– Health is natural. Our body wants to be healthy and tries to maintain and return to health at every moment.
– Health is not all or nothing. You will experience the benefits of any healthy dietary and lifestyle practices you incorporate into your life.
– It takes time to gain confidence in your body’s ability to heal through daily lifestyle choices. Once you start to see results, you will gain stronger confidence in your ability to maintain and recover your health.
– Our daily lifestyle practices promote mental clarity and calmness that will help us make important life choices.
– Create a healthy support network of those that also make health a priority.
– Maintain and foster supportive relationships.
– A clear direction towards health provides the best results. Choose one diet and lifestyle practice that suits your needs and goals.
-Plan your meals around whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits. Use a variety of methods to prepare meals.
– The combination of books and seminars are important for supporting your journey towards health.
These choices that produce health and longevity are available to everyone. The world is polarizing into two groups of people. There are those who choose personal and environmental health based on aligning and harmonizing with nature. Then, there are those who choose artificial health through trying to control nature, the environment, and their bodies. Which side are you on?
Many believe that cooking destroys the nutrition in foods. Cooking literally transforms the nutrition that is available in foods. This can be done for better, or for worse depending on how food is prepared and cooked. All methods of preparation including pickling and fermenting are a part of cooking. Proper cooking can completely transform food. Michio Kushi called cooking the highest art form because it can create life, transform sickness into health, unhappiness to happiness.
The healthiest food looks beautiful, tastes delicious, engages all of our senses, supports health and clarity of mind, and inspires us to live to our fullest. Cooking brings to life and strengthens our connection to nature. It’s no surprise that some of our most memorable experiences come from a great meal. There’s no match for healthy food cooked over a wood stove or campfire.
Primatologist Richard Wrangham summed up his controversial research in “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” that gives credence to the act of cooking. Cooking increases and enhances the bioavailability of nutrition in food. Cooking lead to the smaller, more efficient digestive system and larger brain capacity of modern human beings. Primates spend most of their day eating to receive adequate nutrition. Cooking allows us to receive all of our nutrition in two or three meals each day. Cooking also enhances our ability to adapt to different climates, and is a uniqueness to human beings.
Cooking makes nutrition more bioavailable by bringing nutrients to the surface and concentrating them. Different types of cooking bring out different nutrients. Including a variety of foods and using a variety of methods of preparation is a key to receiving abundant nutrition. Changes in color, taste, and texture are evidence of how we’ve transformed the food. In a future post, I will explain more specifically the effects of different methods of preparation.
Part of a macrobiotic meal prepares by Susan Waxman and students at a recent Strengthening Health Intensive seminar
One of the common misconceptions about vegan diets is that they are deficient in protein due to the lack of animal and dairy foods. However, all foods in their natural state contain protein; it is nearly impossible to have a protein deficiency. Eating a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, naturally pickled and fermented foods, provides the most complete and high-quality protein available.
The research of T. Colin Campbell brings to light epigenetics, and how our food choices regulate how our genes express themselves. It seems the combination of animal and dairy foods moves us closer to the potential to develop cancer. His research demonstrates that consuming casein (dairy protein) has a stronger potential to cause cancer than red meat. At first, I was surprised about these findings, but upon thinking, it makes perfect sense.
When we eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet, we are getting protein directly from nature. On the other hand, when we eat meat, we receive second-hand protein as well as the toxic waste produced by the animal through processing the protein. When we eat dairy foods, we receive third-hand protein, as the food went through another stage of processing in the animal. What we are told about the source of superior protein is actually much more inferior. Not only that, but the commercial conditions in which most animals are raised increases the amount of toxicity we receive from these animal products.
What we eat today enters our blood plasma by tomorrow. Plasma is the liquid portion of our blood that carries nutrients and transports waste to be eliminated. It makes up about 55 percent of our blood, and renews itself every ten days. So choosing a variety of plant-based foods over a 10 day period creates the best quality blood.
My long term observation has been that people naturally lose their taste for animal and dairy foods once they base their diet on grains, beans, and vegetables. I find it interesting that most macrobiotic children are in the top 50% of their class for height and weight. They are generally raised on what is considered a low-protein diet. Macrobiotic children raised eating a variety of healthy foods are never thinking about individual nutrients. Food is a source of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual nourishment. Many of these children often have little taste for many protein-rich foods other than tofu and broccoli. Shifting our thinking away from food as a set of composite nutrients is one of the keys for adopting a healthy and satisfying way of eating.
Nature provides for us abundantly, and choosing plant-based foods that nourish us directly gives us the additional satisfaction of feeling a deeper connection with nature.
2 Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet
Everyone seems to be concerned about aging these days. People take special preparations and treatments to reverse the natural process of aging. Most of these treatments are based on hormonal and/or nutritional supplements, creams and injections, or surgery. Unfortunately, these treatments are only temporary and oftentimes these treatments backfire. What are the differences between those who age well and those who do not?
The process of aging is a natural cycle of growth and maturity where we come to understand what is important to us in our lives. In a healthy aging process, we grow out of and discard the things that do not have lasting value and meaning. Healthy people naturally follow and enjoy this process.
In macrobiotics, we approach aging with the attitude that we have the ability to grow and create our health through all stages of our lives. As we age, we get better at creating our life. In healthy aging, our thinking ability, mental clarity, and memory enhances and becomes more powerful. Aging is something that we can look forward to and enjoy.
The keys to anti-aging are good nutrition, good digestion, and good circulation. These things enhance our ability to continually clean, refresh, and renew ourselves.
-planning meals around whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits
-have a variety of naturally pickled and fermented foods (miso, natural vinegars, pickles, sauerkraut, micro-brewed beer)
-choose foods that can naturally store for long periods of time without canning and artificial preservation
-include variety in the selection of ingredients and methods of preparations for meals
These foods and practices in combination create an abundant balance of all nutrients essential for health, longevity, and vitality.
-sit down to eat without doing other things.
-eat slowly and chew your food well
-stop eating at least two hours before bedtime
These practices improve your digestion, help you eat less, and feel more satisfied. Digestion begins in the mouth, and chewing well helps to keep your condition more alkaline. Sleeping on an empty stomach helps your body clean and repair itself while you rest.
-outdoor activities including walking
-rub your skin with a hot damp cloth for ten to fifteen minutes everyday
-adopt practices that encourages natural, deep, and rhythmic breathing
Activity outside cleans and refreshes our energy. Rubbing our skin deeply cleans and renews our skin and activates our circulation in the deepest parts of our body. Practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation naturally bring in more oxygen, keep us fresh, and promote health and longevity.
Bonus: sleep and rise early
It’s becoming apparent that macrobiotics is the healthiest approach to diet and lifestyle. I’ve spent the past 43 years developing and refining the best possible ways to achieve the maximum benefits from this way of eating and living. A student of mine once said that no one can dispute that the practice of yoga is more than just a physical practice around movement and stretching. Yoga is based around a core of spiritual beliefs that guide the practice. The same can be said about macrobiotics. The development and cultivation of a deep sense of appreciation for food and all of life guides and completes the practice. In a practical sense, we emphasize an orderly and structured approach to eating and living.
The most important aspect of these practices grows from a desire to be healthy. The approach that we take helps people rediscover their natural appetite that leads to lasting health. We stress eating habits as much as food choices so we can experience deeper satisfaction from our meals and greater enjoyment of our food. I’ve compiled this list of things to keep in mind to move you in the direction of health. Use this guide as a primer for planning anything from meals, to menus, to outlining goals for transforming your lifestyle practices.
—good eating habits lead to healthier food choices and greater satisfaction
—orderliness and regularity with our eating habits leads to an increase in openness and variety
—balance perpetuates itself
—our sense of balance comes from aligning with nature’s orderly cycles
—indigenous and local foods create the strongest connection to the environment
—format meals around grains, beans, vegetables, and local, seasonal fruits at home or away
—have vegetable soup with one meal every day
—emphasize life-related activities (such as walking outside, cleaning, or taking the stairs)
—surround yourself with green plants in rooms where you spend time
—create a strong and nurturing support network
8 Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Anti-aging, diet and health, digestion, Eating habits, Environment, Exercise, healthy eating, healthy living, Macrobiotic Counseling, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics, Neal Barnard, Plant based diet, plant-based diet, Weight loss, whole-foods
I was recently interviewed for a Pilates Glossy in The Netherlands. Thank you Marjolein van Sonsbeek, for reaching out over the ocean and sharing macrobiotics with your audience.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
The Strengthening Health Institute is a 501 c3 non-profit educational center based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the SHI, we offer educational courses for both personal study and professional training with our unique approach to macrobiotics. I also have a personal counseling practice in both Philadelphia and New York City, and recently online via Skype. My ability is to do what medicine can’t and I help many people with serious illnesses recover and create lasting health. I also counsel healthy people to live long, productive, healthy lives.
I do not really consider macrobiotic practice to be a set of rules to follow. Rather, we do have guidelines that we can use to create an orderly approach to life. These guidelines help us make healthy choices in diet, activity, and lifestyle practices. When I was younger, George Ohsawa’s message about personally creating the health and life that you want started me on the macrobiotic path. His message was dramatically different from trying to fit yourself into a mold.
Before I became macrobiotic, I was not a happy camper. I found no satisfaction from food or life. Now I wake up each day wondering about what I can do, what I can learn, what I can discover; how I can live more and more fully each day.
I have been practicing for forty-five years now. My life is now more about making conscious choices about how I want to live and being more aware of how my choices impact my family, society, and the environment.
There are certain changes in lifestyle that may be perceived of as difficult, such as buying food and finding somewhere for dining out, which requires a bit more forethought. These considerations are a deterrent for some. But overall, I find many peoples’ attitude towards macrobiotics and lack of acceptance (or the unwillingness to give the practice a chance) to be the most challenging thing as a practitioner. Even though macrobiotics is the longest-standing way of eating and lifestyle practice, it is also still the most progressive at the same time.
My life style is primarily plant-based, but I occasionally eat fish, and wear leather shoes and belts. Considerations such as quality and sustainability always factor into any decision.
Originally, my inspiration was to seek a more meaningful life. I did not want to go to Vietnam, so I began reading from various authors (such as Herman Hesse and Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi”). All of the practices and philosophies however, said that a teacher or mentor was necessary and I did not have a relationship with one, and had no way of finding one. Yet, George Ohsawa taught that we as individuals could create our own health and happiness as well as provided the guidelines to make that possible. That was a revelation for me.
I try to base all of my meals around grains and vegetables with a variety of local and indigenous foods. The most substantial meal of the day is lunch, which is more grain and vegetable based, and dinner is a lighter meal, usually with more Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or Mexican influence. My practice is dynamic and has evolved over the years, and is usually based on the needs of our clients and students. My practice has expanded to include more choices and varieties of cuisines. My experience and observation is that eating healthy food becomes more and more satisfying over time.
I still weight the same as I had when I was 16, and I am still relatively flexible. I find that as I age, my thinking has become more clear and open as the years go on, which is in contrast to the idea that as we age, our minds deteriorate.
My view on macrobiotics is that it is the practice of expressing and living the spirit of gratitude and having an endless appreciation for all of life. The spirit of Macrobiotics is based on Nature’s model; one grain naturally produces 10,000. In practice, I find it to be the most embracing and open way of life. This is why I have dedicated my life to exploring and sharing the spirit of macrobiotics since I was nineteen years old.
Originally, macrobiotics appealed to hippies, who helped develop the practice. I believe though that the practice appeals to innovators. In the 60s, macrobiotics became more widely available in the West through the work of the author, William Dufty, who translated “You Are All Sanpaku” and authored “Lady Sings the Blues”. Historically, some of the world’s most prolific contributors were primarily grain and vegetable eaters, from Ben Franklin to Albert Einstein. Macrobiotics appeals to young people and to those on the cutting edge of their fields: be they scientists, musicians, architects, etc.
Some individuals experience uncomfortable transitional symptoms when they begin to detox. Yet others feel really good from day one.
I offer lectures and courses around Philadelphia. We also offer all of our courses at The Strengthening Health Institute online. I have also taught throughout the United States, Eastern and Western Europe, the UK, Scandinavia, as well as in parts of Asia, mostly in Japan and Taiwan.
I study macrobiotics everyday; it is a never-ending exploration. Lately, I am excited about the recent, large-scale acceptance of the important relationship between individual food choices and overall health, even if there are no unanimous agreements on which approach is the healthiest. Scientific research has, for some years now, slowly been validating the major premises and lifestyle practices of macrobiotics. Now, I see the potential that macrobiotics has with verifying trends to current nutritional scientific theories.
I was never one much for sports, but I was a gymnast as a teenager. Now I find Yoga to be a good complement to my lifestyle and activities.
I have not had the experience of Pilates yet.
My dream has always been to create and experience large-scale social change. I have been working to share and bring into the mainstream our Strengthening Health Approach to macrobiotic practice because it is open and flexible and can be combined with other approaches to a plant-based lifestyle.
I believe that the combination of our knowledge and understanding of history and tradition together with science can develop into a medicine for the future. I’m currently working on making macrobiotic education available online to more people and trying to establish networks with like-minded, interesting individuals and groups who are constantly looking to play the game of health.
I wrote “The Great Life Diet” as the handbook for our style of macrobiotic practice. My wife, Susan, and I have recently updated and expanded the book to twice the length of the original. “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” Is available online and at retail bookstores countrywide; it includes the spiritual philosophy underlying the practice as well as recipes and menu plans developed by Susan. Our hope is that “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” helps to change the image and perception of macrobiotic practice so that it is more acceptable for the modern audience. We are very happy to have received endorsements from T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Neal Barnard (founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine), two forerunners in the medical field who have dedicated much of their career to promoting the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about a study in San Diego that researchers conducted on mice. In the study, they restricted some mice to certain eating times; some mice were fed within a five hour window, some an eight hour window and some a twelve hour window. Others were allowed to feed at all times in a twenty four hour period. The mice whose feeding times were restricted had a healthier metabolism than those who could eat any time. Many of the mice who ate at all times of the day began to develop illness and degenerative diseases. Furthermore, when the sickly mice were restricted to regulated eating windows, some of their symptoms actually began to disappear, and their health began to improve. The study concluded that to maintain overall health and weight, eating all daily food within a certain time frame lowered the risks of disease. Results were consistent even if the food was not the healthiest.
This article is an example of how both experience and observation make scientific inquiry more meaningful for our lives. Furthermore, there are studies currently being conducted that validate what many have always known. Yet, the article did not mention another very important practice that regulates metabolism, and that is the times of the day in which we take our meals. Mealtimes have more effect on our circadian rhythms than dark and light cycles. In fact, mealtimes actually regulate our sleeping and rising times. Most people recognize that eating and drinking before going to sleep interferes with our sleep and our ability to wake up refreshed and clear in the morning. Even if you don’t want to change the content of your food, simply eating regularly at certain times has a substantial health benefit.
Because our digestion is most active at certain times of the day, we can optimize our metabolism by eating during these times. I’d like to invite you to conduct a similar study on yourself. Try to observe how eating at certain times of the day impacts the way you feel, the energy you have, and your ability to fall asleep. To get the full benefits, try to minimize snacking between meals. Most people will start to notice changes after the third day, so if you’re casually interested, try for three days. If you’re more serious, give this a try for two or three weeks.
-Jumpstart your metabolism each day by having breakfast by 8.30 a.m.
-Start eating lunch before 1 p.m.
-Observe the differences between sitting down to lunch before 1 p.m., and sitting down to lunch before 2 or 3 p.m.
-One day have dinner between 5 and 6 p.m., one day between 7 and 8 p.m. and one day after 9 p.m.
Think of an older, vital, and active person in your life, and ask about their mealtimes. Our digestion is more active earlier in the evening. The longer we wait to have dinner, the longer it takes for the food to digest. This article was evidence to me of how scientists are beginning to verify human experience and common sense about health. I would like to emphasize that we can regulate our metabolism through mealtimes, and there is a major benefit to eating meals at consistent times. Many common issues including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity can actually be reversed through dietary and lifestyle practices. For more details and guidance, check out this interview in Philadelphia Weekly.
I was happy to find an article in The New York Times that reinforces the importance of eating healthy meals at regular times. This is an issue I have been writing and teaching about for more than 20 years, so it is nice to see these ideas getting mainstream support. The article links the effects of eating late and consuming sweets, soft drinks, and fatty foods with acid reflux. According to the author of the article, Jamie A. Koufman, MD, acid reflux produces a variety of symptoms in addition to heartburn and indigestion. Postnasal drip, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, chronic throat clearing, coughing and asthma are often reported symptoms with patients dealing with acid reflux. I find it interesting that many of these symptoms are perceived as being unrelated to acid reflux, but according to Oriental medicine, they are related to digestive and kidney function. Dr. Koufman comments that there has been a significant rise in the number of people dealing with acid reflex in the last 30 years as our food choices and meal times deteriorate.
In our new edition of The Complete Macrobiotic Diet, we have provided clear guidance around the content and times for healthy meals. Our digestive system is only able to digest and process our food at certain times of the day, and these have become recognized as meal times around the world.
These are start times and the meal actually begins when you sit down at the dining table. We recommend that breakfast start anywhere between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and even possibly 9 a.m. Lunch should begin between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And dinner should start between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
In addition to not eating three hours before bedtime, it is important to make lunch a regular, consistent practice. The midday meal is the one meal you do not want to miss. In today’s hectic world, it is important to take the time to share meals together. Meals are a time to return to balance and reconnect with family, friends and loved ones. Sharing food together is not only an expression of our appreciation for food and nature, but also for each other.
A number of my longtime clients are elderly women who have come to me with a variety of health concerns. I have counseled these women over many years regarding their diet and lifestyle practices according to macrobiotic principles. Some of these women have had serious falls where you would except them to break a bone, and surprisingly they have not. I attribute their strong bones and quick recovery to their macrobiotic practice. Even those of my clients that have experienced broken bones, have healed in about half the time expected. This would not be the case if they had osteoporosis.
In addition, my longtime observation is that children who were born and raised following the macrobiotic diet and lifestyle have stronger and thicker bones than their peers. This is something I have found to be true around the world. Both of these situations lead me to believe that there is not a problem with phytic acid and mineral absorption from the amount of grain we eat as part of our macrobiotic practice.
There is a general consensus that soaking grains is desirable for taste and digestibility; however there is not a general agreement on the best method for soaking grains. I found the information in the blog post from macrosano.com very interesting and helpful. I would like to inform you of the way we recommend soaking grains. Experiment and see which way you like best. The only way to really know is to try a specific way for weeks or months and try to see which method is more suitable. If you are not sure, you can always vary your soaking method.
This is our method for soaking and cooking rice. We recommend rinsing the rice in cold water two or three times. Measure out the water for cooking and soak overnight or longer, basically between 8-22 hours. Overnight soaking is more beneficial. When ready to cook the rice, add a pinch of sea salt or a half inch square piece of kombu and then boil or pressure cook as normal.
We’ve been soaking grains in this way for many years and feel very comfortable in it. Brown rice is the most sensitive food to our intentions, feelings and emotions; it is uniquely sensitive to our own condition. Taking time to properly prepare rice in this manner ensures a happy and satisfying meal. Soaking and cooking rice in this manner is not an afterthought; it is an act that conveys respect and appreciation.