How many times a day do you hear a commercial telling you, what you need to ingest in order to get your nutritional needs met? I bet it’s every time you look at or listen to a media. The truth is sponsors are made for making money and not for helping people. Therefore, you better have a clear idea of what are your body needs not only in terms of macro- and micronutrients but also in a more holistic perspective.
Vitalist nutrition is for example a philosophy that goes beyond merely materialistic body demands. It embodies the holistic way of looking at the body which is seen as a sacred temple, where both spiritual and physical levels cross and overlap each other. Let us explore together how these two realities, intrinsically connected, cooperate, when we talk about optimal human nutrition.
Macronutrients and micronutrients: the building blocks of life
Macronutrients are those compounds you need in large quantities. The main categories are well known to most: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. These molecules are necessary to our body for repairing tissues as well as energy source since they can, to different extents, all be converted into glucose, the sugar our body use to produce energy. According to the largest amount of literature a whole food plant-based diet is preferred over diets including animal products as it, not only will provide all the necessary macronutrients our body needs but also the right conditions for those nutrients to be absorbed.
I believe that a topic not discussed enough is the duality between the nutrients ingested and nutrients absorbed. The probability of a nutrient to get absorbed in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract depends on many factors: for example, digestion, bowel conditions, nutrient necessity, chewing process but also, at a more molecular level, the presence of co-factors that enable or not the passage through the different GI cellular barriers.
A common concern regarding plant-based diets is protein intake. Can a meat-free diet provide the right amount of protein? Well, good news for plant-based eaters, as science clearly shows that this is not only possible but to be preferred over a classic western diet. Plants not only provide more than enough protein to our body (Figure 1), but it also helps regulate the digestion, assimilation and metabolism, especially if including living foods in form of raw salads, fresh juices and sprouts.
And what about iron? Research shows that meat eaters have elevated amount of heme-iron (the kind of iron you find in meat) stored in the body, which is associated with insulin resistance and diabetes II onset. On the contrary, a plant-based diet will provide lower, but more than adequate body iron stored, which has shown to increase insulin sensitivity. A whole food plant-based diet with living food is also the best way to meet the body needs in terms of micro-nutrients like Calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium, but also of antioxidants and Vitamins.
Plant-based diet VS standard diet
Inflammation is a completely natural body response, which is very important to fight infection. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it will start metabolic pathways which will ultimately trigger a
With all the different information we receive every day about diet, it is not surprising that a lot of people are confused about what are the real benefits of choosing a plant-based diet or the danger of the traditional western diet. The latter usually includes high amount of animal products like meat, fish dairy and eggs, which, according to research, is associated to the body inflammatory process and a large variety of disease. Chronic inflammation is indeed the starting point of all types of chronic diseases, from cancer to diabetes to autoimmune diseases.
In fact, inflammation will not only keep the body alert (immune system) high but will also sluggish it by stimulating the production of mucus. Mucus is a body protection, which is intentionally formed by the body to trap pathogens like with a seasonal cold. Unfortunately, when inflammation becomes chronic, mucus overproduction can make our lymphatic system and body fluids sluggish and malfunctioning. Therefore, it is extremely important to avoid food that trigger inflammation, like meat, fish, eggs and dairies.
Is a plant-based diet then enough for optimal diet?
Eating a plant-based diet is without any doubts in highly conscious choice in terms of health, ethics and environment, but it is certainly not enough for maintaining or obtaining optimal health. Indeed, there other three important aspects to plant-based diet that need to be considered in order to obtain the nutritional intake we need:
- If it comes from a plant – eat it, if it is made in a plant – do not!
The growing interest in plant-based diet has led the food market to invest in new types of processed plant-based food. Processed food is generally made from refined material, meaning food that has been processed to remove some undesired characteristics. A common processed food made with refined material is white bread (or white pasta). The refining process is removing the outer shell of the grain berries, removing thus not only important fibres that help our gut functioning well but also necessary nutrients. An example can be brown rice. The outer shell of brown rice contains fibres, Magnesium and a large amount of antioxidants, which is not present in the refined product. Refined carbohydrates, which are depleted of their mineral and fibre content make the body ultimately acidic. The body has a very important acid-base balance (constant pH) and when out of balance it will develop inflammation of the tissues with all the unpleasant consequences mentioned before (mucus formation, sluggish immune system, disease onset). Other ingredients contained in processed food are preservatives, colorants, sweeteners just to name a few. They are almost always synthetics and therefore they are perceived by our body as foreign, not natural and therefore they will trigger once again an inflammatory process.
- The living factor
Vitalist nutrition has a specific focus on living food, meaning foods in their raw form, and hence not deteriorated by the cooking process. Living foods still have in them their vital force in terms of enzymes, vitamins and oxygen, which are extremely helpful not only for improving digestion and assimilation of nutrients but also for healing tissues. In particular, the enzymes in raw food play a special role in saving energy during digestion – energy that is then used for metabolic purposes, like repairing tissues and fighting off external pathogens. When the pancreas is not working hard to produce highly concentrated digestive juices to digest cooked food, the pH in the stomach is also higher (less acidic) and many food enzymes are able to pass untouched into the duodenum and be assimilated. Vitamins are also denaturised during the cooking process; therefore, their content is much lover in cooked food. Someone would wonder about oxygen intake in raw food: is not oxygen something we breathe? The answer is yes, we breathe air, which also contains oxygen, but the body is always hungry for oxygen as the process that converts glucose in energy relies on this vital fuel. As a matter of fact, we can also absorb oxygen from food, especially greens and algae, which are high in chlorophyll. We mentioned earlier the foundation of disease is inflammation, and inflammation is a consequence of an imbalanced pH environment (acidity) in the body tissues. Under this condition, metabolic enzymes do not work efficiently, hence the cell is not working properly ultimately leading to the body getting sick. The reason cooked food and processed food cause acidity in the body is that it lacks the oxygen and enzymes necessary for food absorption. When food is not totally digested and absorbed, it is allowed to float around as waste products in the blood stream increasing the acidity level of the body.
- Earth, fire, water and air
The ancient populations knew that already: materially speaking we, like the rest of the living creatures in this world, are made of the four traditional elements, which turn into each other in a never ending “becoming” process. Food comes from earth, which is only one of the four source of energy we have. But let us not forget our need for air, water and fire (the sun).
Air is represented by the breathing process. None of us could imagine survival without air and that is true. The automatic act of breathing brings oxygen into the body every day, but in our polluted cities and with the inactive lifestyle that do not force the heavy breathing, most people do not get enough oxygen to power a healthy body. It has been reported that being all day in a office (or at home) with inadequate aeration enhances acidification of the tissues due to lack of oxygen. Therefore, a regular aeration of the locals, or even better, a 30 min walk outside can bring back pH level in the body to alkaline levels (healthy pH).
Another necessary element is water. There is no life without water as we are made 80% by water. Water is the solvent, where every single body process occurs and the lack of it, makes life at a cellular level, impossible. Research has shown that most of people’s bodies are crying out for water and it shows by craving food (as food contains water) or by developing symptoms in form of diseases. We need at least two litres of water per day to make up for our daily liquid loss, but many people do not even get close to that, but instead drink diuretics like coffee and tea, which are extremely dehydrating for our body.
Last but not least fire, the sun, the light which everything rotates around. Sun light is also necessary for our nutrition, not only because it catalyses important reaction like the synthesis of endogen Vitamin D, but also because it regulates our body in the different phases of the day by means of the circadian rhythm. But there is more, as plants can absorb sun light through photosynthesis, there is evidence showing we also might have some metabolic pathways of absorbing, storing and utilising sunlight.
Coffee and tea are commonly consumed daily to improve energy levels and focus attention. Research shows that not only this temporary benefit happens at the expenses of our own health but that it can be dangerous in the long run. Coffee and tea dehydrate the body and stress both kidney and adrenal glands, which are the organs associated to our vital force and energy levels.
In the same fashion alcohol use or abuse is also, as many know, unhealthy. First of all, it passes the brain blood barrier and depress the central nervous system and second, it will deplete our body of water, oxygen and enzymes, making the body acidic and endangering vital organs like the liver. To gain and maintain high energy level, it is better relying on an optimal nutrition and, among others, the consumption of superfoods.
Superfood or superheroes?
Since the word superfood has become mainstream, there is a lot of confusion around the concept: are superfoods supplements? Which one is best for each individual need? Or which benefits can I expect when taking super foods?
Well, the first distinction to make is between supplements based on synthetic nutrients and supplements, which contain food powder. While the former it is a mix of substances, which have been ripped out of their food context and hence they are not easily absorbed by the body, the latter, which contain the raw and unrefined matrix containing the desired nutrient, have all the co-nutrients and co-factors to allow a proper absorption. Therefore, taking a vitamin complex is not like taking e.g., the fruit powder containing those vitamins. That being said, everybody has their own needs in terms of missing nutrients, but some general guidelines can be given.
Superfoods, which are green in colour like wheatgrass, spinach, kale, spirulina, chlorella and other types of algae are high in chlorophyll, which not only has anti-inflammatory properties but also contain, as mentioned above, a large amount of oxygen, which helps metabolization and maintenance of healthy pH levels.
Dehydrated raw food (not heated above 40°C) as well as sprouted seeds (included grains and beans) have a high content in active enzymes. Sprouts, in particular, have the highest level of enzymes found in food. In fact, during the germination process seeds unfold their potential in terms of nutrients and enzymes content.
If sugar metabolism is an issue, superfoods that contain healthy fats need to be preferred. The healthy fat supports removal of bad fats, which are coating cells and thereby hinder the absorption of sugar from the blood stream. Examples are sesame seeds, sunflower seeds (better if sprouted), but also spirulina, chlorella, seaweeds and the herb fenugreek.
Moreover, nutritional yeast is a great source of vitamin B12, a vitamin which most of the people are lacking.
In general, all superfoods with a high content in antioxidants (for example turmeric, garlic, rosehips, mung bean sprouts, cacao, chlorella) will be anti-inflammatory and therefore beneficial for a large variety of inflammation-triggered diseases, like arthritis and cancer.
The spiritual side: Creating new paradigm in nutrition
The commonly endorsed view of life and body comes from the atomic view of the world, which teaches us that if something cannot be measured it does not exist. This can be a legitimate approximation of reality, but let us remind ourselves that it still is a simplification, simply a way to reduce reality to something our brain can easily manage and deal with.
In many ancient traditions, the first priority in nutrition is given to personal awareness. Personal awareness, as a feeling of emotional balance, presence and gratitude, is to be trained every day to allow the correct function and energy flow in the body. The second priority is given to physical activity as a minimum of one hour daily moderate exercise like walking, gardening or yoga to allow the lymphatic system to be moved and work properly. Only in third place we find food intake. Body and mind are heavily interconnected and continuously influenced by each other. Therefore, it should not be surprising that body health is only possible if spiritual health is present and vice versa. A positive attitude, a personal propension to gratitude for the food received, together with compassion for ourselves and for others are the first steps for a good digestion, absorption and metabolization of the food we eat.
Conclusion: quantity VS quality
In this short text we have tried to outline important aspects to achieve optimal human nutrition. The take-home-message is that food quality – not quantity – is important for properly fuelling the body. Choosing carefully the food you are eating, the water you are drinking as well as being present when eating it, is really the key for obtaining and maintaining optimal nutrition for our body.
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