What is healing food?
The world is made up of opposites, hot cold, up, down, night, day, male and female to name a few. In Chinese medicine these opposites are called yin and yang. Food can be used in a system of healing that is based on balancing these opposites. We all know that we cant survive in only heat or only cold we need a mixture of the two to thrive, this is warmth, balance. When our body’s are in balance everything works as it should, our immune systems are strong, our internal systems are functional, our mind is peaceful, we have abundant energy and we can maintain a state of gratitude in our hearts consistently. Healing food is a system that recognises the energetic root of each food, element, environmental factor, activity and emotion and teaches how to balance it out with its opposite.
Naturally we attempt to do this in many ways without being conscious of it. i.e. sugar is yin and salt is yang. You often see people drinking a can of coke and eating a bag of crisps together. Or the concept of desert, we eat a savoury meal which contains salt and we crave something sweet at the end.
The issue with balancing salt with sugar in this way is that sugar is extremely yin and salt is extremely yang and when you swing from one extreme to the other you create an environment of chaos in the body, this can lead to systems failing, mood swings, and almost any symptom of imbalance or instability.
When using food to heal we balance the two opposites gently like the soft tide of a gentle sea flowing in and out peacefully rather than huge waves that pull all the way out and come crashing back into the shore.
Jon Sandifer, founder of the macrobiotic association of great Britain, describes it as internal Feng Shui, Feng Shui is the art of balancing the elements when it comes to setting up external spaces, it focuses on making sure there is the right balance of earth, air, water and fire. To make the space as comfortable, calming and productive as it can be. Macrobiotics is the process of doing this with our internal environment.
How does this diet affect one’s overall health?
Most health issues that we have are not due to external factors but internal factors. A study was done where a live cold virus was implanted in a group of people’s noises, Only 12% of people actually showed symptoms of a cold. We breath in germs all the time, environmental toxins are everywhere, if our immune system (and other systems) are working well then it does its job by isolating and excreting the toxins from our bodies and we are none the wiser. If we get sick or develop a chronic condition it is usually due to consistent and chronic internal stress that the immune system cannot fight. Why would the immune system not be able to fight something? There are many reasons, starting with toxic overload, if there is just too much toxicity the system becomes tired and less efficient. Due to lack of appropriate nutrition, the immune system needs a host of vitamins, minerals and good quality macro nutrients in order to function as it should. Emotional factors play a roll too, stress (which causes adrenaline to be present in the blood) inhibits the immune system and limits its effectiveness.
Even when it comes to most genetic conditions, if we were not born with the condition and it developed later in life, there was a point when the gene was turned on. By definition if a gene can be turned on it can be turned off. We see that identical twins who have exactly the same genetic make up can have very different states of health. What turns on genes? It is the same things that impair the immune system, and to turning off the gene, or strengthening the immune system entails the opposite. Adequate nutrition, limiting as much as possible toxic input, sleeping well, laughing, working through emotional imbalances, building strong, compassionate relationships with people and ourselves,
(Please bear in mind that due to the limitations of this article I have been very general and every case is individual and needs the assessment of a professional to take all factors into consideration before coming to any determining conclusion)
What does Healing food consist of?
When it comes to healing food a basic principle is to eat unprocessed, unrefined foods.
This means vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, unprocessed oils, and good quality, organic, ethically farmed animal products.
All foods, the way they are in nature are not very energetically extreme. (By energetically extreme I mean extremely yin or extremely yang) The extreme foods come when they are processed and taken out of their natural state of balance.
Yin = cold, wet, sweet, no structure, up
Yang = hot, dry, salty, structure, down
Think of yin and yang as polar opposites with a sliding scale in-between them, everything can be found somewhere on the spectrum, the more yin it is the further it is to the right, the more yang it is the further it is to the left. Most things in nature are somewhere in the middle chunk, containing aspects of both sides, never going too far right or two far left which maintains balance.
Take an apple for example, it is wet and sweet inside, which is yin, it also has fibres and structure to it which is yang. It can be found moderately to the right on the spectrum.
Take the apple and turn it into juice, you have just removed the fibres and the structure (you have refined it), now all you are left with is pure wet and sweet. Juice is very yin and would be far right on the spectrum.
This does not mean that one should never drink juice (extreme yin), sometimes good quality juice can be used to balance out an extreme yang condition in someone’s body.
In nature we see how this plays out. Tropical fruit grows in hot countries. In general they are very sweet and have a high juice content (yin) which is needed to help the people in those places balance their bodies in the extreme environmental heat (yang)
Our bodies, environment, and health conditions change constantly depending on our age, stage and needs. The principles of macrobiotic teach you how to balance your constitution and condition depending on what you need at that time.
Another thing to keep in mind is the nutritional completeness of the food that you are eating. The process of refining foods is the process of taking the foods out of balance. Everything that G-d create he made perfectly balanced for example in order for a person do use potassium efficiently in their bodies they also need magnesium, in nature we find that the foods with magnesium also have potassium in them, the same is true of things like omega 3 and omega 6, vitamin C and iron.
Another example of this is whole grain rice; it is high in magnesium, b vitamins, trace minerals, vitamin E, and has over 70 antioxidants that can prevent cellular damage and boost the immune system, most of which are found in the fibre, the coating around the starch which is removed through the process of turning the whole grain into the refined version. These nutrition’s also give the body the tools to metabolize the white part of the rice.
Our bodies are very strong and very resilient and they do the best they can to balance themselves, for example if the blood is too acidic, the body will need to find minerals to alkalise it, if the minerals are not coming in with the diet the body will send you cravings for salt, which is usually a source of minerals, but if the salt you are eating is refined and devoid of minerals the body will start leaching minerals from the bones, which will not be apparent at first because it is a very slow and subtle process but many years down the line could cause issues like osteoporosis or brittle bones.
The biggest and most telling studies that have been done to show the effects of unrefined wholefoods on the body were conducted by Dr T. Colin Campbell, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University and heart surgeon Dr. C. B. Esselstyn. Both of which have published books and feature on the documentary ‘forks over knives’. The conclusions that they came to through there studies are that many degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes can be reversed and prevented through a wholefood diet.
This is only the food aspect though, there are many people who eat great diets but don’t have emotional balance or visa versa and this has a huge impact on their physical health. Emotional balance is vital.
The Rambam talks about these concepts constantly in his works on health.
In kitzur shulchan orech chapter 32 this concept is spelt out to us clearly. The following are some excerpts but really one should read through the whole chapter as it outlines the principles of macrobiotics in depth.
Men differ with respect to their temperaments, some are hot – tempered, some cold, and others medium. Foods also differ in respect to applying bodily heat, and one who is medium should eat foods which are medium but one who is not medium should eat food which is a trifle reverse to his temperament.
Therefore every person should, on advice of a physician, choose foods according to his temperament, the climate, and season
One who desires to preserve his health, must learn about psychological reactions and control them…
Other healing food principles mentioned in this chapter are: good digestion leads to vitality and good health, chew your food very well, only eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied (this mean moderately full) eat mindfully, eat whilst sitting down, exercise, drink clean water when you are thirsty, sleep well, breath clean air, learn how to attain emotional balance