Oliver's BlogWednesday 10th June 2020
What is Holistic Nutrition?
One of the unique things about our courses here at International Macrobiotic School is that we take a holistic view of health and food, but what does holistic really mean? It means looking at all the effects of food on our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing, as well as on our planetary health. Our food is not just a bunch of nutrients, it has far more qualities and effects on us and our natural world. So let's take a look at some of the ways our foods affect us.
Scientific Study Of Nutrition
Recent scientific study is confirming what macrobiotics and many traditional societies have known for a long time – that food is the primary foundation of our health. It is becoming widely accepted that diet is the biggest cause of not only heart disease, many types of cancer and type 2 diabetes, but many other diseases as well. Changing to a balanced plant-based way of eating is the simplest and most effective thing we can do to protect ourselves from becoming ill, whether mild or serious and life threatening illnesses.
In the last 25 years the NHS in the UK has changed its dietary advice from containing a large proportion of meat and dairy foods and sugary and processed foods, to a diet mostly made up of whole grains, vegetables and fruit, beans and other sources of plant protein, with only small amounts of meat and sugary foods. It’s a no brainer! Moving to a plant-based diet would greatly reduce individual and global levels of illness.
How We Cook Our Food Makes A Big Difference Nutritionally
I want to put a word in here about cooking – as well as our choice of foods, how we prepare foods has an enormous effect on how they affect our body and mind. Cooking needs to be respected as a way of not only creating deliciously tasty food, but also as the primary human activity that creates health.
To take one example of how cooking can dramatically change the way food affects us, let's take the humble carrot. If we finely grate a carrot for a salad, it feels light, refreshing and cooling, and in Oriental medicine has a more cleansing effect - particularly helping our liver to function well. But if we cut the carrot into big chunks and bake it or cook it in a stew, it becomes sweet tasting and has a warming and comforting affect on the body. In Oriental medicine, this way of cooking would nourish and strengthen the function of the pancreas and stomach. Very different effects.
Cooking is an art, creating balance, strength and health in the body and mind.
Healthy Food Healthy Emotions
Our emotions are a big part of life. We go through so many like joy, depression, anxiety, fear, sadness and elation. Our food is intimately wrapped up with our emotions - who hasn’t gone for some sweet or heavy comforting food when feeling emotionally down? Not only can our emotions lead us to eating certain foods, but also eating different foods can contribute to us feeling different emotions.
For example, if we eat lots of stimulants like coffee, alcohol and sugar the body becomes exhausted, and we are much more likely to suffer feelings of depression and hopelessness and to harbour negative thoughts.
If we eat a lot of heavy fatty foods like red meat, poultry, eggs and cheese, these can create a lot of heat and tension in the body, and feelings of impatience and irritability, anger and frustration.
There are many other examples, well studied in macrobiotics, underlining how creating balanced and robust physical health helps us feel emotionally stable and mentally positive and clear.
Many traditional cultures teach that if we want to develop our spiritual awareness - which we could say is our awareness of there being a greater whole, and of our connection with all people, life and creation - choosing certain foods over others really helps. To perceive this more subtle aspect of life, it helps to avoid eating a lot of heavy, dense foods like meat, eggs and cheese, and to eat mostly plant foods like whole grains, beans and vegetables. It also helps to avoid stimulants like coffee, sugar and alcohol which make our thinking mind very active, taking away the inner calm and quietness which is often the place where our perception of life expands to feel our connection with everything outside of us.
Thinking of food holistically also means considering how our choice of foods affect our natural environment – eating more locally grown foods cuts down on food miles, pollution and global warming; eating a plant based diet results in more food for more people; and avoiding beef fed soya-based feeds directly reduces the amount of the Amazonian rainforest being chopped down. Let's eat for the whole planet as well as our own health.