Fermented Reflections on Philly Beer Week

Posted on by Denny Waxman

Beer Week in Philly has caused me to reflect on the history and nature of beer and other alcoholic beverages. I did not like to drink beer or any other alcoholic beverages until after I started to practice macrobiotics. As a teenager I preferred sweets and ice cream to alcohol. Over the years of eating grains, and other complex carbohydrates, I gradually developed a taste and appreciation for well crafted beer, sake or wine as well as miso, sauerkraut and other similar foods. It seems that naturally pickled and fermented foods, whether they contain an appreciable amount of alcohol or not, complement a diet based on grains, beans, vegetables and other complex carbohydrates.

After changing to a healthier diet and lifestyle I became intensely interested in the history of food and it’s various methods of preparation. My studies revealed that pickled and fermented foods are the most unique methods of food preparation in the world. For example, sauerkraut is much more than cabbage and sea salt. In the fermenting and pickling process unique and beneficial enzymes, bacteria, vitamins and other nutrients are formed that were not there before. The preparation and regular consumption of sauerkraut has been an important family tradition throughout China and Europe for more than a thousand years. People have know about it’s wide variety of health benefits for a long time.

Fermented beverages date back to the beginning of recorded history. These beverages have played an important role in religious and cultural ceremonies. There is also a lot of controversy about the the benefits or harms of alcohol consumption from religious and cultural or social viewpoints. When I lived in Japan, while out drinking sake, I often heard that sake is thought of as the king of one-hundred medicines. Later I heard the second and maybe more important part of this saying, sake is also the king of one-thousand poisons. Maybe this is the key to this controversy. It is unfortunate that our nature often leads us to excesses that can prove harmful.

After World War II, naturally pickled and fermented foods have almost entirely disappeared due to the use of modern food preservation techniques. Modern preservation techniques leave us with dead rather than living foods. The action of beneficial enzymes, bacteria and yeasts are destroyed rather than encouraged, the way they are in traditional food processing.

Slowly over the years naturally pickled and fermented foods have reappeared due to the work of the Kushi’s, Aihara’s and other macrobiotic teachers. Pickling and fermentation have been an important part of macrobiotic education since the 1960’s. The introduction of naturally produced and fermented miso, soy sauce, umeboshi plums and sauerkraut has slowly sparked new industries.

Since the 1970’s local micro-brewed beers that are naturally produced and unpasteurized have slowly reached the mainstream. In the same time there has also been an explosion in organic, unpasteurized sauerkraut and other naturally pickled vegetables and foods including miso. It is my hope that these new industries will also create an renewed interest in healthier foods. I hope you enjoy your local micro-brews sensibly this week with healthy vegetarian snacks.

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Holy Cow, Calcium From the Source!

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I just finished reading the NY Times blog on the dangers of taking calcium supplements. This was very predictable because so many things recommended as being healthy or necessary by the medical profession end up causing more harm than good. It turns out that taking calcium supplements can increase your risk of having a heart attack. What will also most likely come out in the future is that calcium from supplements causes brittle bones that break easily. Strong, flexible bones, come from plant sources of calcium. What I found most disappointing about the blog is that there no healthy sources of calcium were recommended. Dairy foods and mineral waters are not healthy sources of calcium.

Calcium is one of the most abundant minerals in the earth’s crust. Plants take minerals from the earth as their food. Cows accumulate great amounts of calcium in their milk through eating grass. Doctors and registered dietician’s tell us to drink cow’s milk and eat cheese in order to get calcium. This is second hand calcium and does not produce strong and healthy bones. Dairy foods also contribute to many of our modern health problems.

I find it interesting that people who have the highest calcium consumption from dairy products, also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. On the other hand, people who get their calcium from plant sources do not develop these problems. I have counseled many people throughout the years on how to remineralize their bones. Many of my clients have been frail, elderly women. Some of these women have had serious falls and have not broken bones. In every case, these women were shocked that they did not break bones from their falls. In situations where they did break bones, the fractures usually healed in about half the expected times. This also was completely predictable because plant sources of calcium build the strongest bones.

Now I would like to make you an expert on building strong bones. There are four main plant sources of calcium: green leafy vegetables; beans, especially white beans; toasted sesame seeds and miso soup. Eat a variety of leafy greens on a daily basis, including, kale, collards, bok choy and others. Eat a serving of beans often or daily. Use toasted sesame seeds as a condiment on your foods. Make miso soup with wakame seaweed and leafy greens and consume it often. To absorb the calcium and other minerals from these sources you need to use some vegetable oil in your cooking. A few or several times a week use sesame or olive oil in cooking your greens and beans. You can also cook greens and beans together sometimes. You do not need to go overboard on any of these these things. Good nutrition is natural. Just try to vary your diet with these healthy foods.

Natural exercise is also important. To make sure the calcium gets into your bones, walk outside on a daily basis to get fresh air and sunshine. Take the stairs when possible and get a variety of other life-related exercises. You will find that these recommendations benefit other areas of your life physically and mentally.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Articles and Research, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotics

Sleep, Eat, Lose Weight

Posted on by Denny Waxman

When I wrote my book, The Great Life Diet, I decided to speak from my experience and not try to document anything I said. I knew in time the documentation would appear to me. The most important documentation in recent times has been The China Study by T. Collin Campbell. His research complements the common sense and practical approach of my book. The China Study is a must read for anyone interested in better health be it personal, social or environmental.

I just finished reading this interesting study correlating that late bedtimes and late mealtimes can lead to less healthful diets and to weight gain.

Over the years I discovered that there is a direct connection between how and what we eat. Regulating our sleep and meal times regulates our metabolism; our ability to digest, absorb and eliminate the unused excess from our food. When we sleep, our body cleans and repairs itself. We also gather physical and energetic excess to be eliminated in the morning when we rise. The healthier our diet and activity, the deeper we sleep and also need less time to be refreshed. We can get the most refreshing and healthful sleep when we are in deep sleep by midnight. We also have the greatest ability to eliminate excess close to sunrise. The later we sleep into the day, the more sluggish our metabolism becomes. Most people know this from experience. When you get up late you feel more sluggish and the day does not go the same. During the day we are nourished by solid and liquid foods, at night we are nourished by more subtle vibrational energy from the celestial world. Our body does not have the ability to process the more coarse energy from the sun when we are horizontal. The sun’s energy makes us feel more physically active. This is why we feel sluggish from eating and drinking too much and from sleeping ‘in’ too late.

If our metabolism is healthy, we never need to think about our weight. Being overweight is a symptom of an imbalance in diet and activity. When we adjust our diet, activity and daily schedule, our natural weight and health follow without effort.

Here is a checklist for losing weigh naturally, and of course for maintaing or improving your health. Please check my book for additional details.

Sit down to eat without reading, watching TV or driving.

Sleep before midnight and rise by 7 am.

Eat you meals at regular times, without skipping meals: breakfast by 9 am, lunch by 1 pm and dinner by 7:30 pm

Stop eating three hours before bedtime.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Articles and Research, Macrobiotic Diet, Weight

The Deal With Miso

Posted on by Denny Waxman

Miso is a unique food. It is a fermented soybean paste often made with brown rice or barley as well. It is used as a seasoning in various types of sauces, spreads, soups, and for pickling other foods such as vegetables, tofu or fish. Miso soup has become very popular in recent years. A good bowl of miso soup leaves you with a wonderfully satisfied feeling that is soothing, calming and strengthening at the same time. Miso is a very nourishing food that aids digestion and strengthens our blood.

Miso soup made with wakame seaweed and leafy green vegetables is a wonderful source of high quality protein, B-vitamins, calcium and other minerals. It also provides protection from environmental pollution from the air, heavy metals and even radiation. In Oriental medicine, it is used to promote digestive and reproductive health.

There are many types of miso to choose from. In macrobiotics we use three main types of miso for maintaing health and for healing: soybean/Hatcho miso, barley miso or brown rice miso. The two that I recommend most in my counseling practice are barley and brown rice miso. Hatcho miso seems to be too strong for regular use.

From a macrobiotic perspective Hatcho miso is the most strengthening. Barley miso also has a more deeply nourishing and strengthening effect on our health, though not quite as strong as Hatcho. Brown rice miso is the most relaxing and soothing. It depends on our health and desires to decide which miso is best for regular use.

We can use the principle of yin and yang to understand the nature of each. Soybeans are the most yin food of the group followed by barley and then brown rice. Since soybeans are by far the most yin they have the ability to absorb more yang and become stronger and more yang over time. Barley is more yin than brown rice. Using the same principle, barley miso has the capacity to become substantially more yang than brown rice miso over time. All types of miso have a strong polarity of yin and yang elements, which gives them the ability to balance out extremes. Miso can balance out the harmful effects from animal foods, dairy foods, sweets, alcohol and many pollutants.

It is easy to think that a stronger miso is a better choice. This is not the case. We are after balance. If we move to either extreme too strongly, we can harm our health. For people that ate too many animal foods, well-cooked and salty foods, brown rice miso may be the best choice to help lighten their condition. The sweet richness of brown rice miso can effectively balance out the harmful effects from meat, hard-salty cheese and baked foods. It has a more relaxing, calming and soothing effect on us. If we became depleted from too many sweets, alcohol or other weakening foods, barley miso may be the better choice. It is more deeply nourishing and strengthening and can more easily cancel out excesses and extremes of yin. Simply speaking, barley miso for strength, warmth and activity, and brown rice miso for relaxation and unwinding.

Experiment with the various types of miso and try to observe their effects on your digestion, vitality and overall feeling of well being. You can also blend two types of miso for a unique effect.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotic Counseling, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy

Going Macrobiotic

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I read, The Challenge of Going Vegan with great interest and agree with many of the points of the blog. Change is always difficult, especially with something so basic as food. I am not completely vegan since I do eat fish from time to time. In 1969, I started to eat brown rice and move towards a macrobiotic diet. My diet has been based on grains, beans, vegetables and a large variety of plant-based foods since that time. I have never looked back at my old way of eating.

Before my macrobiotic practice, I was a confirmed junk food eater: hamburgers, hot dogs, cheesesteaks, pizza, toasted bagels, coke, pastries and Breyer’s vanilla fudge ice cream. I went from a picky eater as a child to a junk-food eater as a teen ager. I shunned most things that were considered real and healthy foods. When I started to eat brown rice on a regular basis I started to crave other foods that I had never eaten before in my life. Other healthy foods started to become appealing. It was a revelation for me. I experienced an intense excitement about discovering and adding new foods to my diet. With each new dish I added, cravings for past foods began to fade away. This process became self-perpetuating. Over the years, I developed my approach to health based on emphasizing adding over taking foods away.

When most people think about diets, losing weight or improving their health, they think about restricting themselves. They think about what they shouldn’t be doing and which enjoyable things they will be giving up. My long time observation and experience is that restriction leads to excess and that this approach is doomed to failure. Food is our strongest desire in life and our cravings inevitably win over time. When a client tells me that they are following my recommendations, but they do not enjoy the food, I know they are headed for trouble. I then spend some time finding out what they do enjoy and how to build on that.

Try to think about adding foods in three categories: grains, vegetables and soups. These are the basics of a healthy way of eating. Add foods that you are familiar with first. For grains try adding brown rice, couscous, oatmeal or polenta into your diet. Complement these grain dishes with steamed greens, sauteed vegetables or a raw salad. Next think about adding vegetable or bean soups made without meat or chicken stock. Try to observe how these new additions affect your appetites and cravings. Focus on finding new, healthy foods that you find exciting and satisfying. Go to restaurants that offer a variety of vegan dishes to get some new ideas.

Natural food and natural activity also complement each other. Go for a walk outside and see how this affects your appetite and taste for healthy foods. Try a yoga class or other more natural activities and watch your craving for foods that are spoiling your health fade away.

Over the years, I began to think that taste is more biological than learned, and is based on our health. When we eat healthier foods, we begin to improve our health and consequently other healthy foods become appealing and satisfying. This only works if we have an open mind and think about adding and eliminating. The process also works in reverse, the more junk-foods we eat, the better they taste. I tell my clients and students that taste for food is a barometer of health. The better your health, the more satisfying healthy foods become. If we lose our taste for healthy foods, something is off in our diet or activity that is causing an imbalance. Correcting this imbalance restores our taste for healthy foods. Think of these changes as a new adventure. Good luck on your new journey.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Exercise, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics, Recipes, Weight

Three Square Meals a Day

Posted on by Denny Waxman

The family meal has played an important role in the history of all cultures. A recent article published in the Daily Mail suggests that the family meal is disappearing. Our busy lifestyles are compromising this long-standing tradition. Snacks, alcohol, and microwaveable foods are replacing cooked and shared meals.

I define a meal as a cooked grain and a separate vegetable dish. This is the minimum requirement of components to get complete, balanced nutrition and to feel satisfied. The centerpiece of any meal should be a cooked grain, such as brown rice, pasta, or polenta. Granola, muesli, popped corn or other dried grains, such as rice cakes, do not count as part of the grain component for meals. The meal is then completed by any type of prepared vegetable dish, like a stew or a salad. Brown rice and steamed kale or pasta and salad are excellent examples of complete and balanced meals.

Meals serve a valuable function in our life. Eating at regular times without skipping meals regulates all of our body’s functions including digestion, elimination, blood sugar, appetite, and moods. The time at which we begin our meal regulates our metabolism and our ability to digest, process, and eliminate the unused portions of our food. Eating at the proper times makes our metabolism healthy and active. Skipping meals stagnates our metabolism and contributes to excess weight gain and blood sugar problems. Try to make lunch your most regular meal. By starting your lunch before 1 pm you will help to stabilize your blood sugar and metabolism.

I think of meals as the glue of society. Meals bring stability to the family and build communication and a sense of belonging. Even though my mother passed away many years ago, I still have fond and powerful memories of our family meals, especially at holidays. Now my own children look forward to these family gatherings, even after they have grown and moved on to develop their own lives. I even observe my three year-old grandson already walking in the door, anxiously awaiting a family meal. Meals also connect us with the past. They preserve our traditions and unite us as a family. Meals brings a richness into our lives that cannot be replaced. The rewards of emotional and spiritual nourishment and enrichment are well spent.

No Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotics

Health is Natural

Posted on by Denny Waxman

When I first started to explore macrobiotics, I discovered George Ohsawa’s “7 Conditions of Health.” These conditions of health were a revelation to me. George Ohsawa divided health into three main areas: physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual. He assigned the most importance to spiritual health and the least importance to physical health. From the macrobiotic view, health is primarily a spiritual rather than physical or mental quality and capacity. Ohsawa taught that spiritual health and endless appreciation for all of life guide mental and physical health. According to Ohsawa, health is something that we can learn to grow and improve throughout our life. Contrary to what we are taught in modern life, health is not something that we inevitably lose over the years. Sickness is not the necessary eventuality that we must prepare for all of our life.

In thinking about health, it became apparent to me that health is more natural than sickness. In most cases, we spend years spoiling our health and losing touch with our needs in various areas of life. We usually lose our health little by little. We often do not even notice the gradual decline of our health until it becomes significant and interferes with our life. On the other hand, we can make amazingly fast progress once we decide to start improving our health. I am always amazed at how much improvement my clients experience in one or two weeks after starting to implement my counseling recommendations. I am also amazed at how much progress people make in five days of attending our Intensive seminars the Strengthening Health Institute. You can actually see people transform day by day when they are exposed to good food, good activity, and a good environment.

The quality of our food has steadily declined since the end of World War II. Food science has taken over and transformed food into a long list of chemicals and preservatives. While it is hard to understand what these chemicals are made of, it is not hard to understand that they are detrimental to our health and well-being. During this same period of time, we have gotten increasingly less outdoor physical activity. Walking outdoors on a regular basis has virtually disappeared from modern life.

I am continually amazed by the marvels of the human body, with its quick responses to positive changes in diet, activity, and lifestyle. Even making small changes yields positive results in a short period of time. When it comes down to it, good diet, good activity, and a good attitude all lead to long-lasting good health. Really, all you need to do is get to the right starting line and then let nature run its course.

No Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotics

Thoughts on Eating Breakfast

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I had a dilemma. I wanted to start eating breakfast but I was addicted to coffee shops as well as coffee. I looked forward to starting the day outside my home to read and work on ideas before starting my day officially. It was starting to become apparent that I would have to give up my coffee shop addiction to start eating breakfast at home. In my previous blog I wrote about my relationship to coffee.

Recently I re-read Ben Franklin’s autobiography and was impressed on many levels. It is clear that Ben Franklin was a creative and practical genius in just about all areas of life. It was also clear from reading his autobiography that he was actually practicing macrobiotics. He had an orderly lifestyle and eating habits. He was a vegetarian from the age of 16 and he ate grains. He constantly worked on self-development and self-improvement. He had the spirit and practice of a real macrobiotic person.

One of Ben Franklin’s sayings that caught my attention was his sage advice to eat breakfast and lunch, but to eat little to no dinner. This caught my attention because, for many years, I had little to no breakfast, other than coffee. I adopted this practice because my teacher, Michio Kushi, didn’t eat breakfast. Upon reading Franklin’s saying, I realized that eating breakfast has a grounding effect on us and balances creativity. I knew then that I needed to break my coffee shop habit and start eating breakfast.

For many years I have recommended that people have regular meals at specific times. You can find the details in my book, The Great Life Diet. I have observed that eating and rising at earlier times makes us more practical and physically active. Blue collar workers eat earlier than white collar workers. Time has shown that an earlier schedule makes workers more productive. Now it has also become apparent that which meals we eat also have a profound effect on us.

I started my macrobiotic journey with a balance of practicality and creativity. It seems that my practicality has declined in favor of creativity over the years. Now that I have passed my 60th birthday it it time for the pendulum to swing back towards practicality. I am hoping that you will be able to observe my progress from my newly found breakfast habit.

No Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics

Coffee: another addiction

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I started drinking coffee in 1969, shortly after starting my macrobiotic practice. Michio Kushi, in his attempt to make macrobiotics more relaxed and approachable, introduced his coffee-flavored style of macrobiotic practice. Around this same time, I also heard that coffee shops were referred to as “penny universities” in the colonial days. I always liked the sound of this term. It conjured up images of the founding fathers brewing up and debating the ideas that formed this great country.

At first I did not like coffee much. It made feel nervous sometimes and kept me awake at night on other occasions. However, I grew to appreciate the mental stimulation, the flow of ideas, and the active conversations that grew out of coffee drinking. Over the years coffee became an integral and essential part of who I was. I started to feel that I could not teach or counsel without my cup of coffee. I almost felt that it was my obligation to keep me at my best.

Over the years I began to realize that coffee had another, somewhat darker side. It seemed that coffee actually made me feel more tired than energized. I loved the jolt I got from a good cup of coffee, but my overall energy and stamina seemed to be declining. Maybe it was age, but I really thought it was mainly due to the long-term effects of daily coffee drinking. The one thing that bothered me most about my coffee drinking was the addiction. It began to weigh on me that I simply could not begin my day without my cup of coffee. Over the years I had tried to give up all my addictions and coffee was still getting the best of me.

This thought process went on for a year or two until I woke up one day and realized that I did not need my cup of coffee. It was a revelation. I started to drink black tea and began to appreciate the subtleties of a well brewed cup of black tea. I began learn about the tea drinking culture and, in time, I did not miss my morning coffee at all. When I travelled I would drink some coffee and go back to the black tea on my return home. Then something interesting happened. A few people sent me articles on the health benefits of coffee. Also, a few friends questioned my choice to not drink coffee. As a result, I began to think about coffee again. I had heard that Rudolph Steiner was a fan of coffee and I began to read his essays on coffee and tea. According to Rudolph Steiner, coffee creates thoughts that flow in a logical order. Tea, on the other hand, creates more diverse thoughts. One day, while struggling with my blog, I tried an experiment and drank a cup of coffee. Sure enough, my ideas started to flow freely.

I found that now that I have reintroduced coffee into my life, I am more than satisfied with my one morning cup. I hope you enjoy the results. At some point I may wish to return to tea and if I do I will let you know.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotics, Mental Health

Adding: The One Thing You Should Be Doing to Improve Your Health

Posted on by Denny Waxman

When we think about going on a diet to improve our health, we usually think about restriction and hard work. We think about cutting back on, or completely avoiding our favorite foods and activities. We want to schedule time to get over to the gym or health club for an intense workout.

In my experience and observation over many years with my clients, this restrictive approach has great limitations. It leads most people to think about when they can stop their diet, or to worry about what happens when they “cheat.” We do get short-term benefits from stopping things and increasing exercise. Many of us have experienced this. However, these improvements are usually short-lived. If we are really interested in more long-term benefits, we need a different approach. Long-term benefits are a result of what we do, rather than the results of the things we don’t do.

Small positive changes over time create substantial and long lasting benefits. Think of a long distance run rather that a sprint. It is best to pace yourself. You want to create new and health-producing habits. Do as much as you can to improve your eating habits and lifestyle without feeling stressed about it.

Remember, small changes produce big benefits over time. Think about being consistent.
Start by taking time for your meals. Try to eat one meal every day, or even a part of a meal, without working, reading or TV. How does eating without distraction make you feel? Did you enjoy your food more or feel more satisfied?

Here are a number of things that you can think about adding into your diet and lifestyle:
Try to start eating your lunch by 1 pm as many days a week as possible. Plan one meal a day around a grain and a separate vegetable dish, even if it is in a restaurant. Have a vegetable soup with one of your meals. Stop eating two to three hours before getting into bed. Go outside for a walk, a few times a week, even if it is only for five to ten minutes. Bring some more green plants into your home. Let some fresh air into your home daily.

The important part is to try these things, as consistently as you can, for two to three weeks. See how they make you feel. When you notice the positive benefits, see how you can improve upon your new good habits. Notice your energy level, moods, and how you enjoy your foods. You will find that as you improve your health you will start to enjoy your meals more and naturally lose interest in the foods that are spoiling your health. You will also find that creating healthy habits in this way can actually be fun and inspiring.

1 Comment | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Exercise, Macrobiotic Philosophy