It’s hard to believe that less than five centuries ago, people believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal was published in 1543 shortly before his death. His treatise was then somewhat shelved. It took another 100 years to “come to light” when Galileo attempted to build upon Copernican theory. A sun-centered view of God’s creation was such a radical departure from the accepted earth-centered cosmology that the very idea was considered heresy against the Church and Galileo was promptly placed under house arrest.
Scientific understanding of our solar system is still evolving today as well as our view of our place within the cosmology of newly accepted theories. Regardless of human stellar opinion, the sun shines on.
Aveline Kushi once taught us a children’s song called “Amaterasu” which translates, “the Sun is our Mother”. This concept was something I had never really considered in this way. In fact the sun, in my mind, was just there. It came up in the morning and went down at night. For my whole life, I had taken the sun for granted.
From a child’s simple perspective, I recall a visceral and aesthetic moment in the sun. In one instance, I was laying on my back in the cool green grass, looking up at the swaying rhythm of the tree canopy above. The white sunlight dancing in partnership with limbs and leaves, was brilliantly blinding white in contrast to the cool, soft leaf shadows. It caused me to squint and my eyes to tear. I remember sinking into the delicious lullaby of dancing, green-shaded notes contrasting with the staccato of blinding white light.
Squinting through the narrowest of slits, I was fascinated to see a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of rainbow orbs caught within my lashes. I don’t remember how long I stayed in that moment, but the tiny memory stuck with me all these years. Perhaps that was the moment I became so enthralled with color. If there were no sun, there would be no color.
How is it that we can even see colors? The child within me wonders. Could it be because we internalize sunlight or that our biology evolved dependent upon sunlight?
We Are Solar Powered
If you think about it, our very existence is coalescent to the sun. If the sun was removed from the equation of life, there could be no life as we know it.
We literally “eat” sunshine, perhaps not directly as we think of ingesting a meal, but further down the food chain. Unlike plants, we cannot go outside and wave our arms in the air and collect sunlight to fuel ourselves. Fortunately for us, plants can. Through photosynthesis, plants turn sunlight into various forms of carbohydrate, which is the baseline fuel source for humans and animals. Carbohydrates are converted storehouses of sun energy primarily sourced through the vegetable world.
After plants do the work of capturing sunlight and converting it into carbohydrate, we humans are able to recover the sunlight through our process of digestion in order to become useable energy. Our bodies are designed to do so as a perfect compliment to the plant world.
The Sun’s Center within Eastern Cosmology and Healing
Ancient Chinese scholars were astute observers of the natural world. They understood the world to be subject to two opposing, yet complementary forces of energy. These two forces comprising the Whole, followed orderly patterns of change. This concept became known as the Unifying Principle, or the governing laws of Yin and Yang. Yin represents upward expanding energy sourced from the earth’s rotation and magnetic forces, and Yang represents downward contracting energy of forces emitted from heavenly movement, mosy closely from the sun. The mingling of these two forces in various proportions gives rise to all phenomena. Yin/Yang Theory further evolved into The Five Transformations Theory, which is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Feng Shui and Martial Arts.
Early roots of the Five Transformations Theory depict the Five Elements representing the four cardinal directions, with the Earth Element placed in the center as a fulcrum and stabilizing force through which all energies transform. Fire and Water form a central axis as Full Yang and Full Yin respectively. Wood (rising, expanding change) and Metal (descending, contracting changes) are transitions between the two extremes.
Truly, a miracle occurs when the two primary energies collide, sparking life. This miracle occurs in the mid region or earth plane of manifested energy depicted as the Earth Element n the Five Transformations Theory.
The human body can be viewed as a miniature version of the larger macrocosm of these two main energies at play: the ascending earthly Chi and the descending heavenly Chi. The center of the torso is where these two forces along the main axis are most equally balanced in proportion.
This is the home of the Five Transformations Earth Element, representing the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas. It is through this center that we digest our food. Digestion is the portal through which we unlock the solar energy within the food we consume and make that energy available as fuel. This process is referred to as “separating the pure from the impure”. The Stomach “cooks” the food, with digestive acids. The Spleen extracts the “pure” energy essence from the food, in contrast to the “impure” or physical food components. The Pancreas is the “brain” that signals the liver to release glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and determines how much glucose is needed to fuel the cells. You can see that Chinese Medicine views these “organs” more as an energy processesing center rather than the anatomical function of these physical organs in Western Medicine.
Further, a parallel can be drawn between the Earth Element and the solar plexus in the chakra system
. The rainbow colors of the 7 chakras depict the various vibrational waves lengths of pure sunlight. This system, too, acknowledges the sun’s significant central position within the body. The solar plexus, or sun center, represents the union of the pure non-manifest vibration of the heavens with the earthly forces of more dense physical vibration that gives us the gift of life within a physical body.
Briefly, the solar plexis rules:
1) turning food matter into energy through digestion.
2) Digesting thoughts and ideas and transforming those ideas into goals, and goals into action.
3) It represents who we are in this life, our intellectual clarity, and also our will power.
As we enter the summer season of longer days and more direct sunlight in the northern hemisphere, let us celebrate the sun both outside and inside of us for the role it plays in giving us life. When we reside in darker days remember that you are made of sunlight. Remember when you eat the food that sustains you, that you are ingesting the sun’s power. May the power of that gift activate your dreams into reality.
In Part 2 of “Here Comes the Sun”: An informative and clarifying interview with Cynthia Vann regarding a healthy relationship with the sun and Vitamin D production.
Whole Salt or Refined Salt: What’s the difference?
by Cynthia Briscoe
Most Americans unknowingly consume a great deal of poor quality, commercial salt in the form of snack foods, prepared foods, fast foods and restaurant fare. The salt used in these products is highly refined. You can think of it as the white sugar of the salt world. Common refined table salt looks like salt and tastes like salt. However, you are getting much more and much less than you bargain for. Let ‘s look at the difference between commercial refined salt and naturally harvested sea salt.
Common table salt is mined and stripped of its naturally occurring trace minerals, which are then sold separately for profit as supplements. Magnesium is extracted by processing the original salt with caustic soda or lime, fetching a higher price
Other valuable elements in the sea salt are also lost or extracted. Some folks argue that the trace minerals are of such miniscule proportion that they are insignificant to human health. It’s true that we do not need huge amounts of copper, manganese, selenium, boron, etc., but our human biology is evolved to include this subtle but vast array of trace minerals to support cell metabolism. Natural sea salt contains 60 to 90 trace minerals.
After stripping the salt from its naturally occurring minerals, commercial salt is heated at high temperatures and supplemented with iodine and various agents to make it free flowing. The most common free flowing agent is aluminum silicate. Aluminum concentrations have been found in the nerve dendrites of Alzheimer sufferers. Many people avoid aluminum cookware for this reason, but are not aware that they are consuming aluminum everyday in salt.
Remember this cute little girl dressed in yellow, holding an open umbrella over her head? She adorned the carton of Morton’s Salt with the slogan, “When it rains, it pours”. The addition of aluminum silicate to Morton’s salt eliminated those pesky lumps in the saltshaker making it free flowing. Naturally processed sea salt has a softer texture and is hydroscopic, meaning it attracts some moisture from the air, which can form lumps. I would definitely “take my lumps” over “when it rains it pours.”
Perusing salt cartons in the supermarket, I noticed another agent listed on the back of Morton’s Sea Salt and also on Morton’s Kosher salt: yellow sodium prussiate? Hmm, what is sodium prussiate?
Sodium prussiate or sodium ferrocyanide (YPS or E535) is another free-flowing chemical agent industrially produced from hydrogen cyanide. It is added to road salt to keep it from clumping and a stabilizer for the coating on welding rods. In photography it is used for bleaching toning and fixing.
According to the MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet), it is a hazardous irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Advised in case of ingestion: Do not induce vomiting. Loosen tight clothing such as the collar, tie, belt or waistband. If the person is not breathing, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and seek immediate medical attention.
Obviously, the FDA must have approved a certain proportion of these anti-caking agents in food grade salt, but one must question the subtle long-term effects on human health, especially if an individual’s health is compromised. For me, I prefer the inconvenience of a few clumps in my salt box by the stove.
I remember Cornellia Aihara advised folks to choose a clean, white naturally harvested sea salt over colored salts such as the gray or pink salt. She said the colored salts were too yang or contracting for humans: that these salts were OK for pickling or for animals. She never fully explained why. I questioned whether this was a “Cornellia-ism” or simply because she exalted Mr. Muramoto and the salt he produced. I know many camps highly promote the gray Celtic Sea Salt.
So I called David Jackson, who processes and provides the brand, SI salt, available through Goldmine Natural Foods and is sold at various natural foods stores. His opinion agreed with Cornellia’s that the colored salts are more yang than the cleaner white salts and that he had observed that consumption of the colored salts over time produced some pretty yang folks. From a macrobiotic perspective (big view) perhaps the more mineral rich impurities in colored salt may benefit those whose condition is more yin or needing more minerals, perhaps for certain lengths of time.
So use your informed judgment and select a quality, naturally harvested salt that appeals to your personal needs and biology. Number 1, choose a salt produced by natural elements of clean water, wind, sun and earth with minimal processing. Number 2, choose a salt free from chemical additives.
Na/K – Dr. Ishizuka Was Onto Something, Part 1
by David Briscoe
Ever since coming across the first mention of Dr. Ishizuka’s sodium and potassium (Na/K from now on) theory over 40 years ago, I have been on a mission to find out more. George Ohsawa based his macrobiotic theory on Ishizuka’s teachings. It was Ishizuka’s books on Na/K applied to food and health that first caught Ohsawa’s attention, and by following these teachings he was able to recover from serious illness. Over time, Ohsawa created his yin-yang interpretation of Ishizuka’s theory, and macrobiotics was born. In the process, unfortunately in my opinion, Ishizuka’s original Na/K theory faded from view.
Regretfully, I don’t read Japanese, so I have never been able to explore any of Ishizuka’s original writings. My search to understand Na/K and its relationship to food and health began, in its early days, by spending endless hours combing through dense scientific tomes and researching medical journals in university libraries. Most of it I couldn’t comprehend as I am not a trained scientist or physiologist, but I persisted. With persistent research discovering new bits of information, the pieces of the puzzle filled in to form a more comprehensive picture. Here’s my interpretation of Dr
I. Ishizuka’s theory in a nutshell:
For an example of a food, let’s look at a banana. It’s Na/K ratio is 380:1. From Ishizuka’s viewpoint, banana, though it can certainly be enjoyed as a treat now and then, would not make a good primary and daily food for human consumption because its Na/K is way high in K. An opposite example is bacon. Bacon is extremely high in Na and low in K.
George Ohsawa categorized foods that are high in Na and low in K as “yang.” Foods that were high in K and low in Na he categorized as “yin.” There are other factors that can be used to determine the yang or yin of food, but Na/K ratio was a significant determining factor in Ohsawa’s view. Ishizuka’s theory offers us another tool for determining how to appreciate a food, not just for taste and satisfying hunger, but for healing as well.
Goma Wakame Saved Me From a Dumb Mistake!
By Cynthia Briscoe
When Cornellia Aihara taught students how to make miso soup, she always explained the significant protection of wakame in miso soup. Wakame has the ability to chelate or bind with heavy metals and remove them safely from the body. Remembering her lesson helped me recover from an unwitting mistake.
This occurred perhaps 12 years ago. I enjoy repairing things around our home, a lovely solid Craftsman Style house constructed in 1924. The window screens and their original wooden frames sorely needed refurbishing. I bought this great little orbital sander to buzz off the peeling paint from the wood frames rather than messy stripping. I marveled at the many layers of paint. In my imagination I made up a history of the aproned women who chose yellow, apple green, peach or standard white. I pictured how they must have dressed or what color hair they had as I happily buzzed off layers of history back down to the bare wood with many changes of sandpaper.
I completed the project, but then started feeling very weak, so very tired to the point I could barely get out of bed as well as flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea and abdominal pain. A more seasoned repairman friend brought up the fact that I most likely had inhaled and ingested a great deal of lead paint dust due to the age of the house and the fact that lead based paint was used until 1978.
Who knew? I hadn’t known or I certainly would have worn a mask!
I thought, “How am I going to get myself out of this one?” Then Cornellia’s voice came into my head, “Wakame protects against lead poisoning, radiation exposure and other toxic pollutants we are exposed to every day.”
Thank you Cornellia!
I got busy and poured on the wakame – wakame in miso soup, baked wakame onion casserole, and goma wakame. Goma wakame afforded a concentrated amount of wakame that I could sprinkle on just about anything edible. I used it heavily on my breakfast porridge. It tasted great, so I knew my body needed it. After 5 days, I felt stronger. After 2 weeks I was fully recovered.
That’s the beauty of macrobiotics: the cure often lies in your kitchen. I would like to share with you a recipe for Goma Wakame (see below). It is delicious and rich in minerals. It is suitable for children or people who wish to reduce sodium, as contains less sodium than Gomashio or sesame salt. It builds strong bones and teeth and is highly alkalizing. Best of all, it can save you if you are dumb enough to sand lead paint without proper protection!
Powdered Wakame and Toasted Sesame Seed Condiment
1/2 cup sesame seeds
12 inches of dried wakame
5. Drain the seeds in the strainer.
6. Dry the sesame seeds before roasting. Place in a skillet over a medium flame. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon, drying until the seeds no longer stick to the wooden spoon.
7. Heat a stainless steel frying pan over a medium flame.
8. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of seeds.
9. Place a lid on the pan. Shake the seeds in the pan in a back and forward motion similar to popping corn
. The seeds are done when you can crush a few seeds easily between the thumb and fourth finger.
11. Pour the finished seeds into the suribachi with the powdered wakame. Continue roasting the seeds as described above until all the seeds are roasted.
11. Grind the seeds in the suribachi with the powdered wakame until about 2/3 of the sesame seed are crushed.
12. Serve a sprinkling on grains as a condiment. Goma wakame may be stored in an airtight jar for about two weeks for maximum flavor and freshness or store in the refrigerator to keep the oil in the seeds fresh.
A PERSONAL HEALING CELEBRATION & INSPIRATION –
We recently received this wonderful letter from our friends, the Cusenzas…
“Hope this finds Cynthia and yourself well and enjoying life. I thought I would write you and let you know how Carol is doing after 10 years of being cancer free, with your help. You may remember she was diagnosed back in June of 2005 with stage 4a cervical cancer, which had spread throughout her body. The doctors gave her 6 months or so to live with no hope of curing it, and said there was nothing medical science could do. Basically the 6 doctors on the diagnostic board (surgeons, oncologists, and radiologist) told her to go away and die. I am so glad they did because you were there to give her hope and empowered her to fight the cancer and cure it. Following your advice and guidance on changes to a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle, based on Carol’s needs, not one size fits all, 6 months later her oncologist told her the tumor was gone, the metastasized sites were clear, and her lymphatic system was back to normal. He also told us “You can’t dissolve tumors!” while looking at the CT scan. That was our greatest Christmas gift ever.
Today, Carol is doing well, active as always and enjoying life. As you often said, “Cancer can heal you,” and it certainly has. Carol and I still follow a somewhat macro diet, every morning it is miso soup, vegetables, and grains, though we do cheat a bit mostly at dinnertime, but since we know when we over step the line we also know how to steer ourselves back to a balanced diet. Knowledge is power. Can’t get our kids to follow it though, but then they have to live their own lives. Someday they may ask for help and we will be there for them. Here is our Christmas photo (see below) from last year and I think you can tell how happy Carol is to be here. I may be even happier than she. Thank you for all your love and support. May God continue to smile on Cynthia and you, and all the good people you help
. You truly are a blessing.”
Outward Impatience & Internal Digestion
by David Briscoe
“If you have no patience, you’ll become a patient.” – Herman Aihara
You’ve probably noticed: it’s become a very impatient world. Individually and collectively, patience seems to be fading. On the road, in traffic, in stores, in relationships, in politics, international relations, finances, waiting in line, fast food, fast medicine, etc., lack of patience is expressed in many ways. There can be many explanations and opinions as to why this is so.
I’d like to present one that is not commonly considered, if at all: we’ve become impatient at the physiological level; and very specifically we’ve become digestively impatient. The human digestive system has a very natural and gradual way for food to be digested, before it is absorbed into the blood and then assimilated by our cells. Let’s look at carbohydrate, for example. The way the body works is that carbohydrate digestion is supposed to begin in the mouth; that is, when the carbohydrate we are eating is the complex kind, polysaccharide. Complex carbohydrate is meant to be chewed, mixed with saliva, and through the action of the enzyme, salivary amylase, begins to be broken down to disaccharide, a simpler form of carbohydrate.
If you’ve ever chewed brown rice really well, you noticed that it starts to taste sweet. You are tasting the complex carbohydrate in the brown rice being slowly converted to simpler carbohydrate, preparing it for the next stage of digestion. The body is smart. It likes to digest slowly and patiently. Next, the complex carbohydrate that has been chewed is swallowed and goes down to the stomach. No further digestion of the carbohydrate takes place in the stomach due to stomach acid that stops the action of the salivary amylase. The chewed carbohydrate moves from the stomach to the duodenum, the passageway between the stomach and small intestine, where is stimulates the secretion of pancreatic amylase from the pancreas, further breaking down the complex carbohydrate that wasn’t broken down through chewing. This disaccharide now enters the small intestine where the enzymes lactase, sucrase and maltase, break it down into monosaccharide, single sugars, that can then be absorbed through the small intestine and released into the blood.
This is a gradual and natural process, relying on digestive patience. It’s how the body wants to digest carbohydrate, if given the chance to do it right. In today’s world the carbohydrate most widely consumed is not complex carbohydrate.
It is chemically processed simple-sugar carbohydrate such as white sugar, candy, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. Even many so-called natural sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, evaporated cane juice, and others, are highly processed into simpler and concentrated sugars. And honey, long-considered by many to be the favored natural sweetener, is 100% simple sugar, pre-digested by the bees. All simple sugar bypasses the body’s need for natural and gradual complex carbohydrate digestion, since it has already been reduced to its simplest form. It travels quickly through to be released into the bloodstream. This impatient, hurry-up digestion has become the norm, and over decades of modern eating, the body has become habituated to it, though it doesn’t respond well to it. It is well-known that many physical and mental health problems today have their roots in the over-consumption of simple sugar.
One argument to this idea of “patient digestion” is that all sugar eventually ends up in the small intestine as simple sugar prior to absorption into the blood, and therefore it doesn’t matter if it started out as complex carbohydrate or manufactured simple sugar. But it’s the rapidity and the quantity of delivery of simple sugar to the blood that is the difference between consuming complex carbohydrate and processed simple sugar. And I would further clarify this by emphasizing “complex carbohydrate with its natural fiber intact,” such as whole grains, fresh vegetables, and beans, as the healthiest carbohydrate to for digestive patience and overall health. Also, when the simple sugar, fruit sugar or fructose, is consumed I suggest eating the whole fruit, with its fiber, rather than in the form of juices, concentrates, flavorings, syrups and powders. Fiber in food has long been proven to support natural digestive function (digestive patience).
There is a saying, “Biology precedes psychology.” I would adapt it and say, “Physiology precedes psychology.” If we hurry up our digestive physiology, demanding that it work faster through the consumption of simple sugar of various kinds, we will see a reflection of that outward in all kinds of expressions of impatience. Outward behavior is influenced by what’s happening inwardly at the physiological level. The two cannot be separated.
Inevitably, all of the body’s internal organs are made to work harder by the modern diet of excess protein, fat and sugar, ultimately causing over-stimualtion of the metabolism and nervous system, giving further rise to personal and social impatience. Re-estalishing inward physiological and digestive patience, eating in a way that supports the body’s natural stability, we see outward patience being restored over time.
© 2016 David Briscoe
Yin-Yang & Truth
by Cynthia Briscoe
When people first begin to study macrobiotic principles, they often get frustrated trying to pin down yin and yang. There are columns and lists of yin and yang to be memorized, but the lists are shifty as items may change columns relative to what is being compared to. Why? Because yin and yang are not ‘things’. Yin and yang in actuality are more verb-like, describing the active, relative movement of energy. In macrobiotics, we use the terms yin and yang as a relative means to describe states of energy in its movement from an expanded state of vibration to more dense state of materialization with relationship to time.
Movement is the natural state of energy. Life is energy and we are made up of energy. Our lives express the undulation of energy between these two polarities. In our traverse between opposites, we cross that middle point of balance and that fleeting moment is the moment of truth: who we really are when the relative world is stripped away. It’s the eye of the hurricane, the stillness in the midst of the change swirling around us.
So what is truth? I think of it as that center core within us that rings the bell of peace independent of the swirling relativity around us. It’s our core, our home base. Perhaps truth lives in the center of the spiral in our DNA that we share collectively as human beings regardless of race or religion or nationality and individually as a singular unique expression of energy. As we traverse between polarities and cross that sweet spot, we take a snapshot to hold in our soul memory. We hold it up to the light in times of darkness to remind ourselves of who we truly are and what we came to experience in this relative world.
In macrobiotic practice, we try to move the edges of polarity closer to home center
. Then as we oscillate between the poles of vibration, we cross that peaceful point more frequently and perhaps we are able to linger there just a moment longer. Macrobiotics considers the energy nature of everything and how the movement of that energy takes form in our health and conscious awareness.
In the book Food for Thought by Saul Miller, he popularized the simple visual of the yin/yang teeter-totter seen in the version below.
On the yang or contractive end of the food spectrum are condensed energy expressions such as meat, chicken, hard cheese and eggs. It takes about 16 lbs. of plant food to produce a pound of beef and 10 pounds of milk to produce a pound of cheese. On the yin or expansive end of the food spectrum are foods that express concentrations of that energy. For example, it takes 3 feet of sugar cane to make one teaspoon of sugar. When the extremes on both ends are reduced or eliminated, the pendulous swing between opposites becomes less extreme biologically, hormonally, emotionally and mentally. Eliminating the extreme yin and yang foods from the teeter-totter of our diet translates into less extremes of energy expression within our bodies, biologically and emotionally. In our lives, even though there may be the extremes of expressed energy chaotic and swirling around us, we are better able to maintain our stability and peace and to respond with stable and peaceful action.
The Heart Is More Than Just A Symbol of Love
by David Briscoe
There’s a reason the heart is a symbol for love. It’s not just a Valentine’s Day graphic for commercial purposes. The heart is in fact the physiological base of love
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Cardiology studies for years have shown that those who are most natural in their expression and reception of love have the healthiest hearts. And we use many phrases such as “warm heart, ” “open heart, ” “expansive heart, ” and “deep heart,” for a reason. They are not just figures of speech.
The physical heart is the organ that circulates blood and warmth to all cells, tissue and organs of the body. To be a “warm-hearted” person actually requires that the physical heart and circulation be unobstructed and free-flowing. When we say someone is “cold-hearted” we are expressing an observation of his or her behavior, but if we were to examine such a person, we would most likely also find that they are actually colder on the surface of their body, natural warm circulation to the surface having been blocked by long-standing internal muscular contractions that prevent blood from fully reaching the skin. These contractions are the result of life experience that has required the person to withdraw away from the external life and go inward. This causes a concurrent withdrawal of energy and feeling from the surface of the body toward his or her core, as a means of self-protection. The Latin word for heart is “cor.” To withdraw feeling from the surface of the body back toward the core, requires a physiological withdrawal of energy, including blood circulation.
Many people today experience heart problems, not only because of unhealthy diet, but also because life has brought them trauma, abuse, betrayal, alienation, and isolation. If you would like to read more about the role of the heart in happy living please read, Love, Sex and Your Heart by Alexander Lowen, MD.
On a daily basis there are many ways to open the heart. For example, finding ways to give to others in our local community can be a good place to start. One such way of giving would be to sign up to be a reading or math tutor at your local library. Or give some time to a local school or a local food pantry. Your giving doesn’t have to wait for a global catastrophe far away, there are people who need you right where you live. The world right where you are is waiting for your heart to open to it. Join me in finding ways to let our hearts flow openly to the world around us, and find our heart becoming far healthier than good food alone can make it. This is my wish for us all on this Valentine’s Day weekend 2016.
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!