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Food And Diet: The Healthful Yoga Way - Articles Surfing
Man is as he eats, so George Bernard Shaw was fond of saying. He happened to be a vegetarian on principle, but whether or not he would have lived to his 94 years had his diet included meat no one can say. One thing is certain, however.
His frugal habits, his abstemiousness, his spareness of body doubtless had a great deal to do with his long life and vigorous health.
It is not what we eat that is of paramount importance, but how we eat, when and how much. Always remember that eating really includes not only the intake of food but its digestion and assimilation. In a sense, breathing should be considered part of the process too, since bodily nourishment must of necessity include the intake of oxygen; the more oxygen is inhaled into your lungs, the better fed and cleansed your bloodstream will be.
Keep in mind the fable about the senses: "Without breath there can be no life." It is possible to exist on breath alone for many days while fasting, but the most perfectly balanced diet could not sustain you longer than a few minutes were your supply of oxygen cut off. Consequently our discussion of diet cannot be considered as separate from other aspects of your way of life.
We all know how a large meal, gobbled fast, especially when one is tired or in a state of nervous tension, may and often does produce indigestion or painful gas. So does anger. The ulcers from which high-pressure executives so often suffer are the direct result of emotional strain, for when the system is not at rest the digestive juices fail to flow freely and an acid condition is set up which, literally, corrodes the sensitive mucous lining of stomach and intestines. The habit of gulping food is in itself lethal, for the gulper starves himself even as he overeats.
Here are some of the pertinent facts, which you doubtless already know but are likely to disregard in practice a couple of times a day:
Chewing food slowly and thoroughly serves a double function. First of all it is good for your teeth. Unless you give them a daily workout by chewing solid foods, they will weaken and decay for want of exercise.
Secondly, unless you do chew your food properly you do not give the saliva a chance to penetrate it. Saliva is, as you know, an important digestive juice. It contains ptyalin, an enzyme which transforms starches into maltose, or body sugar. Such foods as potatoes, bread, noodles, cereals, and mealy vegetables - in other words, the carbohydrates - must all be saturated with ptyalin if they are to do the body any good.
This process must be accomplished before the carbohydrates leave the mouth, for once they have been swallowed, the hydrochloric acid in the stomach prevents any further digestion. That is why fast eaters seldom grow fat regardless of the quantities of food they consume. And while you may argue that nothing could be pleasanter than being able to gorge and still stay thin, in reality this is a fine way of cheating yourself; for the net result is undernourishment and a consequent lack of energy.
Finally, chewing food thoroughly also diminishes the appetite or, to put it another way, the more you chew the less you will want or need to eat, for small amounts of food will keep you well-nourished provided, of course, that your diet is a balanced one. Taking time to taste and to savor will also enhance your enjoyment of food. And this will in turn pay added dividends, for pleasure in the tasting helps a free flow of gastric juices, which helps digestion. To put it another way, be glad if a dish that is set before you makes your mouth water.
Is it necessary to adhere to strict diet rules to follow Yoga teachings? The answer depends on each person's personal goals. The highly developed Yogi is a teetotaler and a most frugal eater, but contrary to popular misconception there are no strict rules; the Yogis are neither food faddists nor even necessarily vegetarians, and their attitude toward eating is not one of asceticism.
Their general approach to diet, as to all other aspects of human behavior, is one of moderation and self-discipline. They do not consider enjoyment of food synonymous with gluttony and would never advocate robbing you of the pleasures of savoring the taste, smell, texture, even the appearance of the dishes you like. Nor do they believe there is any special virtue in vegetarianism as such - if, by that, one means helping make someone into a better man or woman. But Yoga teaches that certain foods, among them milk, fruit, cereals, butter, cheese and all vegetables (preferably eaten raw) are Sattwic food-stuffs and render the blood-stream and the mind pure; while meat, fish, eggs are Rajasic and excite the passionate nature of man. From this you may readily see how a highly detached philosopher will make a choice of foods.
Since Yoga principles for mental and physical health coincide so amazingly with the findings of modern medicine, it is not surprising to find their basic diet rules similar to the health diets advocated by our own up-to-date experts. The accent, as was already mentioned, is on fresh fruit and vegetables, high-protein foods like eggs, cheese, meat in small quantities, nuts, and milk, modest amounts of fats and carbohydrates - and as few condiments as possible. It is important to eat natural, not processed foods, in order to get the full benefit of what the earth can give us.
There are many vitamins, minerals and other elements necessary to human diet, and if you wish to know them in detail any good book on nutrition will list them for you. In a general way, though, all you need to remember is how to cater to the body's three vital vitamin needs - how to supply it with sufficient amounts of Vitamins A, B and C and give it enough protein and mineral. A good rule to remember is that few foods are so specialized they give you one thing only. You are more than likely to get adequate amounts of everything your body requires if you make sure that its main demands are cared for through a balanced, common-sense diet.
Vitamin A is what enables the body cells to resist infection. It is contained in green and leafy vegetables, dairy products, fruit and meat, especially liver and lamb. Along with this vitamin you will be absorbing calcium, iron and the much-needed body-building proteins. And if you substitute fish for some of the meat, you will be getting precious iodine without recourse to iodized salt, which sometimes makes the skin break out.
The Vitamin B-Complex influences digestion. Whole wheat is one excellent source of this vitamin. Unfortunately, bread made with commercially-prepared flour is hopelessly impoverished. It is, in fact, almost wholly devitalized, its bran, natural minerals and semolina removed, the living wheat germ isolated and sold separately for good money while the "dead" flour must now be artificially "enriched" or "fortified," another process that adds to its cost. Thus white bread is virtually valueless nutrition-wise. Your best available sources of Vitamin B, in this day and age, are dark bread, nuts, peas, beans, lentils, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, soy beans and yeast; also the dairy products and liver already listed under Vitamin A.
Digestion is not the only thing controlled by this Vitamin group. As you probably know, massive doses of the B-Complex, given by injection, have proved effective in the treatment of arthritis and that little-known degenerative disease of the nerve endings, multiple sclerosis. For regeneration of tissues and maintaining healthy nerves scientists recognize it as being of paramount importance. And more is being learned about its importance every year.
Vitamin C is the youth-preserver as well as the substance that keeps you from getting colds, and helps combat them if they settle in. The best source of this vitamin is the citrus fruit family - oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. These should be squeezed fresh and never strained, for the pulp is too precious to throw away. Tomatoes and tomato juice are a second good source. Lacking either, there is some Vitamin C in potato jackets and also in turnip greens and spinach. But remember, this is a volatile vitamin which does not keep, nor can it be stored in the body. Consequently, you need your daily allotment regularly.
Before we leave the subject of vitamins, it is important to point out what processing does to foods in general. Rice, for instance, like wheat, is robbed of half its nutrients while it is elegantly polished, then processed for quick cooking. The canning process, while often unavoidable, destroys much that is valuable. Then the average cook, out of habit or ignorance or because of a desire to serve food that looks pretty, robs her family by discarding the green outside leaves of lettuce and romaine, by peeling potatoes instead of either baking them or cooking them in their jackets, and by overcooking vegetables and throwing away the water - and half the vitamins and minerals with it. There is also the tendency to buy fresh vegetables in quantity and to store them in the refrigerator, allowing much of their nutritive value to be lost. In fact, we are constantly committing sins against our stomachs simply because we do not stop to think about the right way to eat.
But even before we have a chance to ruin food ourselves, and before it has been processed, part of the job is already done by the grower. Fruit and vegetables out of season, as well as jumbo-size and picture-pretty food, bring high prices. Consequently the grower forces his produce with various chemicals. And these chemical fertilizers result in food that is tasteless (in our family the word for the winter tomato, for instance, is "factory-made," and I know of no better way to describe it!), but, what is far more serious, chemicals are not an adequate source of basic nutrients. That is why so many health authorities continually stress the importance of naturally grown foods - which means foods grown in soil enriched with natural fertilizers - garden compost, manure, bone meal, wood ashes and so forth.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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