Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take?

I suppose there is a certain irony that while nearing the peak of American culture’s affluence, abundance and wealth that we could suffer so much from preventable diseases and malnutrition.

This is my take on why and what to do about it. It’s hard for me to sit on the side lines, in anything, even though the focus of my attention and energy has changed course many times through the years. Admittedly, I couldn’t have cared less about diet and nutrition until reaching the age where the body starts to lose it’s youthful vigor and you find yourself spending way too much time parked on the couch, tired, yet restless enough to munch away the hours on M & M’s, brownies and red wine. Not that every couch activity is a total waste of time as reading, writing and good conversation often take place there.

Now matter how long I ponder what it is, or how it comes about that some new curiosity catches my eye and ear, there isn’t any clear way to understand it. Let the mystery stand I say. But my new found love of the study of diet and nutrition continues to inspire in me a desire to Eat to Live, as Joel Fuhrman says. What, but don’t you just want to eat a nice thick moist piece of chocolate cake? Well, I don’t anymore, but articulating why not may be a bit of a challenge.

When I first started consuming vegetables and fruits en masse, I was hungry all the time. I felt like I could not eat enough, even when my stomach was full. After some weeks of eating no animal products (no meat or dairy), I found I was eating a lot of beans, rice and cereal. At some point, maybe a month or so in to the diet change I began craving green vegetables in a way I had never experienced before. So, I lightened up on the beans, rice and cereal and added more greens and vegetables. This is the point when the new diet became very satisfying and invigorating. My sleep became deeper, more satisfying and shorter. 5-7 hours a night was enough. Mentally, I felt more alert and better able to remember things. As time goes on, happily, this trend continues.

Going vegan is a big change though. It’s not just the diet that is changing. Eating is a very social and cultural activity. Many Americans, as I did, with very few exceptions, eat the same foods, day in and day out. Along with our favorite food choices comes the common sense rationale of why we eat what we eat.

Meat for protein.

Dairy for calcium and Vitamin D.

Vegetables and fruits for vitamins that we never seem to sense we need, but we have to eat anyway.

Junk food (sweets, salty chips, soda) because we want to and everyone eats these things so it must be okay.

Alcohol to relax.

Coffee to wake us up.

I don’t think most of us question our food logic, or ever ask ourselves, well, how much protein do I need? We just get the feeling that we need to eat protein. We’re shaky, irritable and weak. Certainly, when I ate meat the bad feelings went away. But did it ever occur to me that other foods besides meat have protein and that I could be craving other foods? Or, that those particular feelings have to do with other nutritional needs? No, I think our food assumptions run pretty deep into the layer of cultural agreements much like wearing underwear, shoes and coats do.

Going vegan meant not only undoing the food habits and assumptions of a lifetime, but entering a dietary free-fall where I came to know that I knew nothing and had a lot to learn. In order to rebuild a sense of what I should eat I had to rebuild a knowledge base of what foods are and what they do for me. This is work, admittedly, and there are a lot of competing ideas on the subject.

Like many big changes of life experiences I have undertaken, there are very distinct periods of experimenting, learning, changing course, deepening of understanding and usually a sense of coming full circle. Now days, the internet makes the trip a lot faster. Not only is there a lot of information online, but it is impossible to ignore competing views. I think this is a good thing. It helps to clarify the arguments for or against a particular view, and frequently can bring up questions that never even occurred to you when absorbing the particular food paradigm that you’re drawn to.

My approach has been to dig down deep enough to understand the body as a whole system and understand what the body is trying to do at the level of cellular and organ well being. What I have come to understand about diet and nutrition is that it’s not just a matter of knowing what we need for health but what makes the body able to absorb nutrients and sustain the many different functions of each of the parts. It’s not enough to know that calcium is good, cow’s milk is calcium rich, therefore consuming cow’s milk will get you the calcium you need. Foods, minerals and nutrients interact with each other and our bodily systems as they are, and are multifaceted.

Also, many of us suffer broken digestive systems from years of eating in ways that harm us. So, it seems it is important to find out where you’re at nutrition-wise and work your way to a point that will bring your body back to a place where digestion and absorption are functional and optimal.

I can no longer believe that any consumption of animal product is deadly, but I do believe that we can live well without meat or dairy. It seems that over the last 50-100 years our culture has seen a glut of animal food in our diet, and it is cheaper and more plentiful than ever and we don’t have to do any of the distasteful dirty work to consume it. I believe that change in our culture has been detrimental to our health and has led to an over consumption of animal products for most of us.

As well, the nature of the animal products has drastically changed now that the number of producers and processors has been reduced to pretty much four large corporations. Animal products are higher in fat than ever before and full of whatever the industry needs to fill them with to make production cost effective. The fast food industry has been the main driver of this change. To protect their industry, the factory meat farmers have been very busy the last few decades enlisting the help of congress to legislate laws that favor animal food production over vegetable and fruit production.

It has been interesting to note that for all of the environmental data on just how devastating the meat industry has been on water consumption, deforestation and land overuse, that the populist environmentalists have yet to embrace the view that eating a lot less animal product would have a huge impact on environmental health.

But, my decision to go vegan did not stem from environmental or animal concerns. My concern has been personal well-being and a deep fear of getting sucked into the medical industry. But that is another huge topic for another time. For now I am happy to say that the answer to this posts theme is Vegetables, in all sorts of colors, varieties and shapes. If you don’t like veggies, try a green smoothie, take the green smoothie challenge: have one 12-16oz. green smoothie every day for a week and see how you feel!

You don’t need to make any other diet changes to enjoy the benefits of green smoothies. No blender, no time, no motivation? Try Odwalla Super Food or go to your nearest Jamba Juice and have an Apple and Greens smoothie today.

Special thanks to Harry Nilsson for the blog theme:

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