Food Fiber: Beyond Just Adding Bulk…It’s Prebiotic! by Cynthia Briscoe
I remember my first macrobiotic cooking class with Aveline Kushi. We drove from Kansas City to Chicago in our Hornet station wagon purchased for $150. Talk about trust in the Universe! The brakes gave out during rush hour traffic upon entering Chicago. Miraculously, we made it to the hotel ballroom where Aveline Kushi lightly floated behind butane-fueled cook stoves preparing a delicate blanched salad. I recall her words of wisdom as she blanched the whole stems of parsley. She advised us to include the stems because, “They are like little toothbrushes in the intestines.” The image her words invoked stuck with me, especially whenever I mince parsley!
This was in the ‘80’s (post Wonder Bread generation), when fiber was recommended to moisten the stool, cleanse the intestinal villi and add bulk in order to move the stool along, thereby preventing constipation and avoiding diverticulitis. The gamut of IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease), such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, gluten intolerance and other subsequent related inflammatory diseases were not yet common medical diagnoses.
Oh, life gets more and more complex! It seems that generationally, diseases progressively compound to mirror our ever-increasingly refined dietary practices. Also, subsequent generations inherit the health conditions arising from the previous generation’s dietary patterns, both at the dinner table and through their genomes.
Here’s the good news, though. Aveline Kushi’s words still ring true, as does the wisdom within a macrobiotic diet centered on whole grains, vegetables and legumes. Current science reveals much more than little fibrous toothbrushes scrubbing the lining of our intestines. While fiber was previously thought of as indigestible to humans, turns out to be an essential food for literally hundreds of commensal bacteria (helpful microbes) in our colon with outstanding implications to our health. Perhaps it is the microbes that are wielding teensy tiny little toothbrushes.
Fiber is found exclusively in whole plant-based foods. You will not find a speck of fiber in flesh foods or dairy foods. Fiber provides a source of energy that plants can utilize, but fiber is virtually unaffected by the digestive enzymes of humans. Fiber travels all the way through the digestive tract intact until it reaches the colon. Most of the excess water and nutrients have already been extracted along the way. At the end of the line, we have colonies of specialized bacteria waiting for the “goodie wagon” to arrive so that they can have dinner. These bacteria thrive on fiber and are able to digest the complex carbohydrate locked within fiber and turn it a myriad of chemical substances and short chain fatty acids.
One of the most notable of these by-products of microbial fiber digestion is butyrate. Butyrate repairs the gut mucosal lining so that toxic waste and pathogens do not leak through the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream. It keeps our heart healthy by removing plaque from our arteries. Butyrate acts as an epigenetic switch that serves a healthy immune system by stimulating the production of regulatory T-cells in the gut. By keeping these friendly microbes fed with plant fiber, we can avoid the cascade of autoimmune diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, and diabetes to name just a few.
An interesting experiment conducted by Tim Spector, Professor of epidemiology at King’s College in London illustrates the significance of fiber. He collaborated with his 23-year-old son who was working on his dissertation toward a college degree in genetics. His son ate only a fast food diet consisting of burgers, fries and Coke for ten consecutive days. As a special “treat” he could also break the burger monotony by sometimes substituting chicken nuggets in place of the burger. He was also allowed extra “nutrition” in the evening in the form of beer and chips.
His microbial gut profile was carefully monitored and recorded through 3 different labs to ensure that the results were accurate. The lab results showed that in 10 days, he had lost over 1200 microbial species, a 40% reduction in microbial diversity. Spector stated that this experiment had changed he and his son’s perspective on why junk food is bad for us. Previously, they had thought that junk food is bad for you because of the sugar and high fat content. After the experiment, they concluded that the 10-day diet, lacking dietary fiber had literally starved off these helpful bacteria that need fiber to survive.
So next time you are craving French fries, a burger or a soda, think of your colon friends and have mercy upon them. Cook up a yummy dinner with whole grain, veggies and beans. And when you are mincing parsley, remember Aveline Kushi’s wise words and think twice before tossing those stems into the compost.
Your Own Morning & Evening Self-Health Review
by David Briscoe
The morning, when we first wake up, and the evening right before we go to sleep, are unique times of our day. In the morning, we are just beginning our day, and in the evening we are coming to the end of our day. Both of these times offer us a special opportunity to do a self-review of our health and well-being, whereas during the day we may become too busy and end up missing valuable messages from the body and the mind.
As soon as we wake up in the morning, we may receive a variety of messages from the body, but these messages often recede from our awareness, or disappear physically, after 20-30 minutes of being up and about. Paying attention to how we are feeling, and to signs and symptoms that may be present as soon as we get up, can give us helpful insight into the current state of our health.
It often happens that a person finds sticky substance coming from around the eyes upon first awakening. Or another person may notice especially swollen bags or puffiness around the eyes upon waking. Really dry mouth or “cotton mouth” is another common symptom noticed in the morning. Someone else gets out of bed, and upon standing feels pain in the bottoms of the feet and/or the ankles. Other kinds of joint stiffness, pain, and swolling are often noticd in the morning. It’s not uncommon for many people to feel stiffness in the neck and shoulders upon first waking up. The most obvious symptom in the morning is fatigue, sometimes coupled with the thought, “I just don’t feel like getting up.”
There can be many different reasons for these morning symptoms. The most common cause is the over-eating of acid-forming foods and drinks, especially late at night before sleeping. If a food is concentrated in protein, fat and/or simple sugar it is acid-forming in the body. This acid builds up in the fluid surrounding cells in the body, causing the cells to weaken, and as a result, organs and glands start to poorly function. Acid can also increase inflammation, pain, and general achiness. Increasing the consumption of plant foods that are alkaline-forming, while decreasing acid-forming foods and drinks can help over time. Most green vegetables are alkaline-forming in the body, as is vegetable soup seasoned with miso. Edible sea vegetables are off-the-chart alkaline supportive in the body. Whole yellow millet is a wonderful whole grain for giving alkaline support in the body. A varied plant-based macrobiotic diet is alkaline supportive overall.
The evening, right as we are lying down for sleep, offers another self-review opportunity. Complementary to the morning time with its opportunity for reflecting on physical symptoms, the evening can offer an opportunity for emotional and personal happiness self-reflection. We often find ourselves thinking, after we turn the lights off, “How did my day go?” or “Did I do what I really wanted to do with my life today?” We may think back for a moment on our behavior, or the behavior of others toward us, and our responses to them during the day. We might anticipate tomorrow. It’s a moment where we can get a sense of how we feel about our life as it is currently going.
I view one day as the concentrated version of one’s whole life. In the morning we are “born” into the day. It’s a brand new day like no other has been or will ever be again. In the evening, we “die” to the day. We must let it go. In between we live our day, and it gradually grows from its morning infancy to it pinnacle of youthfulness at noon, and then begins the natural process of declining into mid-afternoon, late-afternoon, early-evening, and finally nighttime. One day is the reflection of life itself. So, the morning, when we are born to the new day, and the evening when we die to the day, are wonderful opportunities to reflect on our life, physically, emotionally, etc. For example, if we find ourselves thinking every night before sleep, “I didn’t live my life like I really wanted to today,” and if we feel that way night after night, for years, it may be that at the end of our life we look back and think, “I didn’t live my whole life as I really had wanted to.” So, by taking a moment in the evening, before sleep, and reflecting on how we lived the day, may give us insight into changing and finding ways to live our days as we really want. This could have a profound impact on one’s whole life. Same thing if we find ourselves waking up in the morning and thinking, “Oh, no, I don’t really want to get up and go out into my day.” Of course, this might happen once in a while, but if it becomes the common thought morning after morning, something is calling for change. Our first thoughts upon awakening and our last thoughts before sleeping are wonderful messages to us if we listen.
As you reflect upon your waking up time and before sleep time, may you find peace and health!
More About What Your Fingers Reveal: Self-Diagnosis & “Unique Techniques Not Found In Books”
by David Briscoe
As one eats a plant-based macrobiotic diet over time, bodily changes can be observed externally, reflecting what’s going on inside.
The fingers give us much information, including how the body condition is steadily being restored from the past effects of what I call “hard protein” consumption. I use this term to distinguish protein from different food sources. From a modern nutritional viewpoint, all protein is the same no matter what it’s source. From a macrobiotic view, on the other hand, protein has different qualities depending on the food source. Therefore, there will be different effects on the body cells, tissue and organs. The experience of many people has been that when they change from eating the hard protein of beef, pork, chicken, eggs, shrimp, lobster, cheese, and most other animal foods, and switch to eating protein from plant-based sources, they feel their body becoming more flexible, resilient, and softer in the healthy sense of “soft.” The body starts to recover from the premature-aging effects of regular consumption of hard protein to a more naturally youthful state that a plant-based macrobiotic diet supports. Go to any macrobiotic gathering and observe the older, long-time macrobiotic, people there and you’ll see what I mean.
One indicator that reveals the type of protein a person consumes is in the fingers, particularly the area from the top of the middle knuckle up to the cuticle (see illustration above). When the body condition is showing the influence of regular consumption of hard protein, the skin on this area of the finger will be thick, and there will be few and very deep horizontal lines (see Figure A below). As the consumption of hard protein foods changes, and the protein consumed is from plant food sources, the lines gradually change from the fewer deep lines to significantly more horizontal lines going up from the top of the knuckles, and these horizontal lines become very shallow, and in some cases almost imperceptible (see Figure B: finger of someone who has been on a plant-based macrobiotic diet for many years.)
It takes time for these changes to be reflected in the lines on the fingers, but in time they will happen. By observing the fingers we can watch these changes and the natural restoration of the body from an increasingly less flexible, prematurely aging state, to one that is increasingly flexible and youthful.
Other “Unique Techniques Not Found In Books,” based on my 35+ years of doing macrobiotic counseling, can be learned in the 1-Year Online Macrobiotic Counselor Training Course. A new course will begin on October 15, 2015. $3000 Scholarship Discounts available for three lucky students until October 5. Click here for more information.
Figure A Figure B
Know Your Physical Limitations: A Lesson From Herman Aihara by David Briscoe
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It is wonderful to feel unlimited. Even the prisoner in solitary confinement can be free in his imagination. Our culture teaches us to think of ourselves as free and unlimited. But we are actually free only in spirit. Physically, we are not free or unlimited. Probably one of Herman’s most powerful, simple and often repeated statements was “Know your physical limitations.” Many times this was misunderstood by his students. Some saw this statement as negative, and they didn’t pay much attention, but in this statement was contained the essence of many of Herman’s most positive teachings. In order to be in the physical world for a normal, healthy lifetime, it is important to know how the physical world works. It has rules. The body, being part of the physical world, needs to operate by the rules or it will get sick much more than it normally would, and then it will age prematurely.
We all know that we need oxygen. If we go into outer space or under the water, we must take our supply of oxygen with us. This is one of our physical limitations. We just can’t go anywhere we want, we can only go where there is oxygen. We all come to learn soon in life that the body’s temperature maintains itself at 98.6 F. It can go up a little, maybe down a little, but it can’t go up too high for too long or down too low for too long. If it does, our life is in real danger. This having to maintain a certain body temperature is another of our physical limitations. Nobody can buy their way out of this. So, knowing this, we make sure that our temperature never gets too high or goes too low. It’s become common sense.
We all have to maintain a constant blood sugar level, we all have to consume food and water. These things we understand easily. When we study more about the body, we discover that it has even more, not-so-obvious limitations. In our blood we have to maintain a certain concentration of minerals like sodium and potassium.
This concentration of minerals must be maintained constantly or we are in big trouble. Fortunately, there are automatic functions in the body that maintain this internal mineral concentration.
Perhaps one of the most important physiological limitations is pH or acid-alkaline balance. Human blood must be maintained constantly at a pH of 7.4. If it varies from this number by much, we would go into a coma or convulsions. Our lungs, kidneys and blood buffer system help the body remove acid so that the pH of 7.4 can be steadily maintained. It is a natural process going on night and day without stop.
When we select food and drink, it adds acid or alkaline-forming elements to our blood after it is digested. Protein, fat and refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol, etc.) all add acid to the body. Of course, we need a certain amount of protein, fat and unrefined carbohydrate, the body can handle
them. It’s when we eat concentrated amounts of these nutrients that we create an acid blood condition. Many, many health problem have their roots in an acid blood condition. When we learn how to wisely choose foods according to macrobiotic principles, we discover that we can easily support our body in maintaining an alkaline blood condition. When we do this we are learning to live with a physical limitation, and we know how to stay healthy longer. By understanding that we do have physical limitations, and that be learning to embrace them and live with them, we become stronger and happier people. Living with our physical limitations allows us to root ourselves strongly in the reality of our biological life. When we accomplish this, our spirit is able to soar freely and without limitation. It is like a majestic tree, firmly rooted in the earth, supporting its branches in their reach to the heavens.
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