Eating healthy is an enigma indeed. This of course is on account of there being as many opinions on this subject as there are people themselves. It doesn’t help that those at the forefront of publishing these “scientific reports” often have business interests, or are in the business of selling diets to lose weight, beat cancer or peddle similar miraculous cures or sell so called super-foods -all with an intent to pad their pockets.
As you read, please bear in mind that this article doesn’t qualify as medical advice, so follow things at your own risk. My research has been done on my own person for a couple of decades. I cannot guarantee that it will work for you. However there is no harm in trying it out as there are no drugs to take -only natural food -as it is available in nature.
Like a lot of people, I have longed to know how to be healthy and what good food really is, as over time I have become a firm believer in the ability of the human body to heal and renew itself. I never take prescription drugs, except for the couple of times when I’ve been admitted to hospital and have had no say in anything -like the time when someone drugged and robbed me on the train. I seldom fall ill though. At the most, it is a few days of inefficiency and tiredness at work, or a day or two of casual leave to rest my body. However I haven’t been known for eating healthy food regularly, even though I order and cook mostly organic food. I mostly eat only when I’m hungry and in small quantities. Whenever I’ve gained weight and people tell me I’m looking all filled in and good, I fall sick and am down for 15 days or more. I’m not totally against commercial drugs as they work well when you need to have a surgery or are the victim of a road accident. However I would never pop pills on a daily or long term, sustained basis or for every little ache, pain or runny nose as some others would.
The road to health or wellness is not an easy one, not everyone can swallow the bitter pill of wellness even though all want to be healthy. I’ve tripped up so many times, but I feel that the important thing is taking small steps in the right direction rather than constantly penalizing yourself for the occasional regression. The road to wellness is a multi-pronged approach which involves the spiritual, nutrition, exercise and emotional wellness. This post looks into nutrition or healthy eating only. As far as exercise is concerned, I do all my house work manually without the use of labour saving devices and love to take long walks and treks. This has kept me in good standing. I did lift weights when I was younger and still have a Bullworker III with me, but I find it redundant. The media would love to impress upon you that if you have unnatural muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger and other body builders’, you are in the pink of health. They couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t need bulging muscles to be healthy.
If you thought that the bitter pill I was talking about applied to one or more of the other three aspects of wellness, then you were wrong. Like me, you might find your favourite foods listed on this page. Before you proceed, I’d like to remind that you needn’t be discouraged if you can’t keep everything that is listed here, I can’t do it always either as I travel quite a bit. Some may not be able to afford organic produce or it might not be easily available where you live, so start by implementing whatever is possible and take one small step at a time and work on it till it becomes a habit. As you feel the changes in your body and health, you might be willing to risk buying the relatively expensive organic products which work out far cheaper than paying for expensive “health care” (-which should rightly be called ‘sick care’) which is almost always a recurring expense thanks to their bevy of side effects and increasing doses as your body develops a tolerance to the drugs.
For starters, you can definitely make changes in how you cook your food. Once you’re there and comfortable, try saying no to using refined products and buying processed and ready to eat foods. Finally, take the next step and move on to organic and grass fed products. Do remember that when you grow stuff in containers or in your kitchen garden from heirloom seeds without adding any kind of pesticides or fertilizers, it is organic. I personally don’t believe in using pesticides but let the “pests” eat a bit so that we can exist together in harmony with them. If you buy greens from the market and spot greens with holes in them, buy them off promptly, you might even get a discount! The added bonus is that no pesticides were sprayed on the greens as they were growing. When we were kids, all greens sold in the market had holes in them. I remember sitting with mum and my brother helping to shell peas and our delight at finding little green caterpillars in them. We would place them in bottles along with a few pea pods and tie the mouth of the bottle loosely with a cloth. We would watch the caterpillar metamorphose into a moth or butterfly and then let it go! Those were the good old days. Unfortunately, those days are gone and as I see pristine identical shiny pea pods without a hint of damage, I swallow hard knowing that I will be eating those very same pesticides.
Then this is not a list of I don’t eat this so you shouldn’t either. I love animals, plants and nature in general, but I’m not like those barmy environmentalists (some one has rightly dubbed them shrub-cuddlers) going around telling people not to eat animals because there is a lot of cruelty being meted out to them. The solution is to stop being inhumane to animals, not eating them is optional -educate the people and let people decide for themselves what they want to do. By that same logic, we should stop eating plants as well as they are alive too. If that’s not reason enough, in the wild animals do get preyed upon. Being a survivalist and naturalist, I’ve eaten enough stuff to put some of those fakers in survival shows to shame. Being from the sea coast, I’ve eaten everything available in the fish market and relished it. Then I ate dog in Nagaland, goats testicles and kidneys in Bombay (Yuck!!), hare, deer, buffalo, Neelgai in Madhya pradesh (was told it was beef), brain and of course raw mutton liver, intestines and almost drank blood at a wedding. This was in addition to sting ray, shark, wild boar, squid, crane and bat. Eating anything and not throwing up was a challenge for me. However over time I realized that not everything is good for health in the long run. Besides, you can’t live life as you would in a survival situation. Speaking about survival situations, there are so many species of wild edible plants that if you know your plants, you won’t have to go around eating worms and snakes!
What produce to eat and what not to
Many of you would know the following basics as they are widely published on the Internet
- Your food should be Organic. Of course wild food is infinitely better than farmed food as farming
(even organic) without respite season after season depletes the soil of nutrients and makes for nutritional deficiencies in the crop. Not many of us have an option here. However I do forage for berries and leaves that I can identify when I am trekking making the most of the opportunity.
- Organic is only a way of growing products without artificial fertilizers and pesticides, although it also excludes GMO’s, farmers could prey on the ignorant and grow genetically modified produce and call it organic. So check carefully. If you have your own garden, grow heirloom/natural/wild varieties of veggies and fruits. I’ve often seen vegetable vendors in India passing off vegetables as “desi” (heirloom) to gullible customers, veggies which are clearly hybrids.
- Do not eat packaged, ready to eat or instant foods which you can eat or drink off the store shelves (This includes instant coffee). They are bad enough without the sterilization, hydrogenation and pasteurization at Ultra high temperatures (UHT) with additives such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, colors, preservatives whether or not they are “nature identical” or “permitted”. I don’t even buy bottled water. It is a last resort for me. The only use I have for these packaged and instant foods is to act as a small percentage (5%) of my bugout rations. The greater part consists of home dehydrated foods. Packaged foods act as my cold rations to eat on the run in a SHTF situation. I wouldn’t eat something like an MRE for any amount of money. The only MRE equivalents I would use are freeze dried stuff and this too as a last resort.
- There is an emerging trend in India of selling organic refined food. Any kind of refined food is bad for you. Eat whole foods only. Oils should be filtered as well, not “triple refined”. For example, cloudy olive oil is better than the super refined golden extra virgin oil available in the market. In fact most of your foods already have amounts of oils, sugar and salt in them. I plan to reach a level of cooking where I don’t need to buy oil at all as many food items such as nuts already have oil in them.
- Refined and bleached sugar and bleached iodized salt -avoid these like the plague. I don’t consume either sugar or salt anymore. Sometimes when I have the craving though, I use organic jaggery or brown sugar and pink Himalayan unrefined salt or Sendha/vrat ka namak which is cheaply available in India. It could be the same as pink Himalayan salt as the sendha namak has reddish-orange streaks in it. I’d love to use sea salt, but there is too much pollution and contamination in the sea. However in a survival situation as I live near the sea, making sea salt at home is a definite possibility.
- Fast food and colas and other related carbonated drinks suck. For your own sake give it a pass. Don’t even bother preparing it at home, unless of course your kids are desperate for it. It would be good to wean them off it slowly. While at it, also pass by white bread. I also pass over commercial brown bread unless it is baked on a small scale at a local bakery or by myself! There are several drinks such as ORS, sports drinks or soft drink concentrates which are close to 100% synthetic with the remainder consisting of highly processed and bleached ingredients .
- While at it, do look for the word processed (as in processed cheese) and add products containing the P word to your blacklist as well. Ice creams are on my black list too as they are not very descriptive of what goes into them and I’ve read that something like antifreeze is used to keep ice cream from turning into a hard block of ice. We used to make kulfi at home when we were kids. It would always turn to ice.
- Check your stools -if it is constipated or pasty and smells very bad and you have to strain really hard or long to feel empty, your diet isn’t right. When you eat whole grains and fibrous foods, your stools will have body, pass with minimum effort and end with a feeling of a completely empty bowel. It is a good feeling indeed! There will be no straining or waiting because you feel that your bowel movement is incomplete. Take this test. Observe your stools for a week, now eat organic red unpolished rice for a week and compare your bowel movements with that of the past week -you’ll never go back to your old diet!
- Avoid fortified foods. If you eat everything moderately in balance, you won’t need food fortified with Vitamins or minerals or cod liver oil supplements or the increasing brands of the almost magical-cure-it-all Aloe vera products. Similarly avoid all so called health beverage powders and tonics. These are for sick people, not for healthy people. Health supplements too are for sick recuperating patients. Avoid them completely if possible as natural food too can be prepared in a lot of different ways for sick people. infant foods too are the same. When we were babies, we received mashed par-boiled rice as infant food. Then as we grew up our parents succumbed to advertising and fed us all kinds of protein powders, vitamin powders which were supposed to be mixed with milk and which would make us grow faster and taller etc… One of my pharmacist friends, recently told me that one of the more popular and expensive protein beverages of that time was actually processed from cattle feed -chiefly the oil cakes which are the byproducts of vegetable oil extraction.
- In addition to bottled fruit juices, I avoid fresh fruit juices as well (unless it is blended or whipped instead of extracted) as when the juice is extracted and fully edible pulp is discarded, it is akin to refining the fruit. A mango, banana or strawberry shake is okay, provided you don’t add too much sugar to it and provided the milk is unprocessed. Drinking fruit juice and vegetable juice is a big health fad -especially in North India. Once again this is beneficial for sick people or to those who are recuperating and don’t have the ability to digest the pulp or the strength to chew. I believe nature balances out the fruit and pulp properly and that when taken together they have an altogether different beneficial effect on the body than when taken in a refined form. In addition, it scrubs the teeth and the bowels as well. Eating raw vegetables and fruit as they are also polishes the teeth. This is why wild animals have good teeth in spite of not brushing. Of course their blood sugar is not always high like ours either. It is not surprising that domesticated animals have dental problems just like us!
- I have lately started analyzing my toothpastes. I have not been able to implement it yet, but I want to move to oil pulling and Meswak (or Miswak) for brushing my teeth. Almost all of the toothpastes including the “natural” ones have chemicals and foaming agents in them. Today morning I chucked out my toothpaste and mouthwash both from two leading Indian dental product manufacturers as the products in addition to a host of chemicals such as triclosan, and sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) also contain sodium fluoride. Googling theses names should bring out a lot of links highlighting their dangers.
- Coming to alcohol, I think anything except home brewed wine or beer would be on my blacklist. Even if we discount that spirits are a refined product like white sugar (due to distillation) there would still be flavoring, stabilizing and coloring agents added to give a generally uniform taste and color from batch to batch. In brewed products, chemicals would be added to the end product to stop fermentation so that bottles don’t “go off” in store shelves or undergo a change in taste due to over fermentation. I’ve noticed this in store bought curd (Yogurt) too that some brands of curd never go sour. Customers rush for these unhealthy brands as the taste of the dead curd is more appealing to their taste buds than curd with live cultures which are good for the digestive tract. I noticed in one of my favorite Scotch Whisky’s that there was some natural coloring added. When I Googled the number, I found that it was was basically caramel created by burning in the presence of sulfuric acid. I don’t drink Whisky anymore, but beers have artificial foaming agents too. Even beer on tap in a pub has gas cylinders connected to it.
- Regarding smoking, I would use only home grown organic tobacco in a medicinal manner. Store bought tobacco is not only laden with the fertilizers they were grown with but also pesticides that were sprayed on it. Often end users would be smoking re-constituted tobacco with flavor enhancers and additives to regulate burn rate and adjust nicotine delivery and smoothness of the smoke. That being said, I’ve seen tribals who smoke home grown tobacco in home made pipes live to a ripe old age.
This was more of a recent discovery. I had a gut feeling about some of these principles for a very long time but some pieces of the puzzle were missing. One day my landlord’s old ex-cop dad (nosey parker) forced his way into my kitchen in an effort to “help me cook” I was livid as he threw away my vegetable peels and he kept advising me that vegetables should always be boiled in enough water and not stir fried although he would super heat almost 250ml of oil before starting to cook. After my irritation subsided -which of course happened only after the old coot left, I realized that I had in fact learned a thing or too. The discovery could be summed up as follows
- If possible, don’t heat up any food to a temperature beyond that of the boiling point of water. This puts stews, soups and steamed foods on our menu of acceptable items.
- Cook food slowly on a low temperature and not till it gets mushy.
- The same goes for your veggies -don’t over cook them till green vegetables are not green any more or till they they resemble a pulpy mess. This will stick to your teeth and will not go without brushing, apart from losing some of its nutrition.
- Deep frying is the ultimate taboo. Shallow/deep/stir frying and barbecuing or grilling are great tongue ticklers and pretty difficult to give up. Some of these methods though might cause your food to turn carcinogenic. I have a feeling that these forms of cooking essentially evaporate out all of the water and concentrate the taste of the food. I am not sure why we crave for these foods. Is it because there is a lack of minerals/taste in modern intensively farmed foods grown in depleted soils? (Holds true even for organic) Or, is this an acquired taste acquired by eating too many modern soulless snacks and processed foods which have very high levels of salt, sugar, fats and other ingredients added to them whose sole purpose is to overwhelm/tickle and excite our taste buds while providing no appreciable nutritive value? I guess it is the latter although the former would play a small part in this too.
- Heating oil to smoking point oxidizes/destroys the oil. I usually drizzle organic cold pressed unfiltered oil onto the food after it is cooked. In case it is stewed, boiled or steamed, then it is OK to add oil as part of the cooking process.
- Any part of a plant that is too tough to cook can be simmered separately to make a nice vegetable stock. After that it can be sent to your compost bin and the stock used for soup or for cooking rice or other gravies. That way you can get the last bits of nutrition from your purchase.
- We need to stop being fussy and eat everything in moderation and enjoy the unique taste of each vegetable and fruit, we’re all grown ups now aren’t we? If we look around at people from different cultures, we find even more varieties of foods which might be unfamiliar to us but healthy. For example, I found some of my friends from other parts of India were eating tender pumpkin leaves and -hold your breath -the tender new leaves of the banyan tree! Then there is always the choice of food. For non vegetarians, they would usually prefer hybrid and farm raised meat and that too the soft succulent meaty parts as they cook faster and have more meat that an animal raised by grazing or free ranging. Offal is also looked down upon. Eating has become so selective that for chicken, often the head, feet, skin, gizzard and liver are all thrown out losing on the food value they can provide which you cannot get from plain meat. These are all parts we ate and even sometimes enjoyed in childhood. Some others will only selectively eat meat as in only chicken and not mutton and fish.
These are not hard and fast rules and the occasional digression is acceptable but you might find the digression less acceptable as you grow older or start enjoying the real taste of food! After I stopped heavily spicing my food, I realized that each meat and vegetable had its own unique enjoyable taste. I began to appreciate this taste even more after I stopped adding salt. As my taste buds readjusted, I realized that there were minute quantities of sugar and salt in the foods which I could actually taste!
Another bitter pill for meat eaters turns out to be that all meats and sea food are not created equal when it concerns their edibility. True, everything from maggots and worms to potentially poisonous puffer fish have been eaten, but poisons and toxins are not exclusively those that you drop dead from immediately or in a few hours after eating. Those are the good poisons. The horrid ones are those that bring on a slow agonizing death as in the case of some poisonous fungi or cause debilitating diseases and allergies over a lifetime reducing the quality of your life and that of those around you. The worst poisons are the little ones which you pay to buy from the supermarket which then in the long run cause so called “lifestyle diseases”. These keep you running from one expensive specialist to the other for more and more chemical medicines which suppress symptoms without addressing the cause and add up to more side effects, new diseases and an empty wallet at an age when you can no longer work. Give me hemlock any day over these supermarket foods and other OTC legal chemicals!
Human beings were never designed to eat meat, they don’t have the short alimentary canals that meat eating animals usually have so meat is best eaten occasionally. However while there are those who shun meat and stick to a vegetarian diet and others stick to eating only raw food, I’ve only stepped down from being a compulsive meat eater to occasionally consuming meat although I still love how it tastes -especially in the winters when the body craves more of it.
With meat too, farmed meat is a big risk, not only do the animals suffer by being held and slaughtered in unnatural, unsanitary, cruel conditions, they are often fed unnatural monotonous food, chemicals, antibiotics and steroids. While in India it is still quite easy to get chicken culled before your eyes, it is the same unnatural chicken which is bred to grow too fast and too soon and to grow larger breasts and put on so much weight that they can only take a few steps before their legs give way under their weight. I’ve often seen chickens left in the slaughter house with the doors to their coop left open. I wondered why they don’t hop away till I saw them waddle and found out that they can’t stray too far away.
Processed meat is the worst of the lot, with nitrates and other chemical additives for taste, color and shelf life. Much as I love them, I’ve totally gone off sausages, ham, salami and bacon and anything else that is sold frozen or pre-processed in packets or cans. I’m still trying to make them at home so watch this space for an update. Unfortunately, the town I’ve moved to does not have many meat options to aid my experiments with curing and aging even though all the equipment has already been sourced for cheese making, bacon and sausages.
The best kind of meat is of course wild or bush meat, the second best? Organic free range grass fed cattle that mimic their lives as closely as possible to how they live in nature, fighting, mating and suckling their young ones and living in flocks and herds and eating out of their own choices. To go one step below that would be to get non-broiler chicken which is called desi (or country) chicken here which is pretty expensive. I mostly avoid buying chicken altogether as due to its mass produced nature and relatively cheap price, and fast cooking time, almost everyone prepares it when they invite you for lunch or dinner here. I prefer to buy mutton, or mostly beef -which is buffalo in India which is pretty cheap when compared to mutton.
Dead meat is a big question mark. Thankfully in India, if you don’t buy frozen meat, meat is more or less freshly culled every day or in the case of chicken, right in front of you. I had previously read that the cells in the flesh remain alive even after the animal dies, (I don’t know for how long) so their waste products keep accumulating in the flesh as there is no more blood circulation to clean up the waste products and to send them to the filtering and excretory organs.
In case of sea food, it travels long distances packed in ice and often formaldehyde is added to keep it from going bad. If that weren’t enough, our water bodies are highly polluted and are contaminated with oil spills and heavy metals and include sewage, human waste and other pollutants. Even though back home our house is not very far from the sea, thanks to over fishing, the boats have to go deep into the sea to get any fish, and thus the fish we get is always preserved in ice. Just imagine in what state of freshness sea food would be when it travels to areas which are more than a thousand kilometers from the sea.
Live food, freshly culled and eaten (not as fresh as some of the cruel Asian countries would have them -still writhing in shock and pain on the plate) is the best. But again, there is a lot more to healthy meat than is evident at first. Firstly any creature grown in captivity lacks sunlight and exercise. They also pick and choose when eating in their natural habitat -that’s what makes wild game healthier in spite of them having relatively less meat which is also chewy. When they run around, their body fat is kept in check unlike caged animals which keep building up reserves of fat. In addition during captivity and slaughter, the animals are often traumatized by inhuman conditions, rough and cruel treatment, being separated from their siblings and young ones and finally being witnesses to the other animals being slaughtered in front of them and knowing their turn will come.
Often when they are transported for slaughter, they are without food and water and often animals around them drop dead from sheer exhaustion. I’ve regularly seen fish kept alive in shallow plastic lined pools of water due to the demand for fresh fish. These pools often 4′ x 3′ heat up in summer and the fish keep thrashing around for hours due to the water heating up and also the oxygen being used up in the water and die slow painful deaths. I’ve seen the sick fish sellers in Delhi take out fish from the tank and leave them to trash around gasping for breath on the counter till they are almost dead when they are put back into the tank and a another fish taken out of the tank -all to attract stupid brainless customers who want “fresh fish”. These cause tremendous stress in the animals and stress hormones are released into their bloodstream and contaminate their flesh making them less healthy for human consumption unlike a wild animal or a humanely farmed animal which lives a normal life until its sudden surprise death. Killing too needs to be done swiftly so that the animal does not suffer and the blood is drained from them before consumption. Blood can not only carry diseases, but the glands in the dying animal would have released massive amounts of stress hormones like humans would such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol into its blood stream.
Can all meats be eaten? Yes. Are all of them beneficial in the long run? No! There are various classes of animals both on land and sea. Interestingly, some have been created to relate with human beings and assist them as pets and with work, some have been assigned for pest control and for keeping numbers of fast multiplying species in check while others take down the sick and dying and keep the gene pool healthy. Then there are those which simply provide beauty in nature while some others are mostly scavengers and cleaners which assist in recycling and keeping the earth and water clean and healthy to reduce diseases. These special creatures have special tolerance to disease carrying agents and poisons and toxins which accumulate in their flesh. Needless to say, every animal, insect and microorganism has a role. Just like in plants, there are no weeds! Everything in nature has a role and trying to eliminate the so called “pests” upsets natures apple cart.
Personally I believe that carnivorous animals should not be eaten as carnivores usually prey on the weak, sick and dying animals which are easier to hunt down. Many times they also feed on animals which they haven’t killed. There is a high chance of them transmitting diseases to humans. I’d avoid the scavengers as well because of their clean up after the others role. What is worse is that they often end up ingesting a lot of chemical pollutants as part of their clean up operation. Mussels and prawns are notorious for this. Toxins are also stored in fat, so eating fat is not a good idea either, unless it is the marbling fat that is present in the meat unlike dedicated fatty deposits which collect separately in the body and cover the organs.
This puts the following meats on our blacklist…
Dogs, cats, pigs, prawns, cat fish, mussels, oysters, shellfish, crab, limpets, snails, eels, crabs… and the list goes on.
As a general rule, in the water, all bottom feeding and filter feeding creatures are to be avoided. On land, scavengers, carnivores and things that live in close proximity to the ground. Interestingly, this is what the Bible says too. In it God commands that only fish with scales and fins be eaten of all the sea creatures. This makes for a very easy rule to remember. On land, only those herbivores that have split hooves and who also chew the cud. Carnivorous birds, like animals were not to be eaten. Surprisingly insects “with jointed legs” like grasshoppers and locusts could be eaten, something which we do not normally eat and which are known to be high in nutrition. The one thing the Bible expressly forbids eating is fat and blood. By fat it means fat covering the organs or the dedicated reserves of fat found in the body which are easily snipped off from the meat.
Challenges to healthy eating
Once you start walking in the right direction, it is not easy to stay on track. Everyone around you will be eating the same refined, junk food which is normal for them. When you do something different from everyone else, you might very well end up becoming the butt of their jokes. I have a friend who would regularly comment in front of everyone else at lunch that organic produce sold in the market was watered from the Okhla sewage tank, just for the sake of saying something mean. He has stopped now. So keep on with what you’re comfortable with. People will be people, they mean well and just can’t see it right now.
I have my food rules, but I refuse to enforce it fanatically out of respect for my friends. If I’m invited for lunch or dinner, although I yearn for my unpolished organic red/brown/black rice, I eat whatever is served. However I mostly refuse other things such as soft drinks, ice cream and any packaged foods. When I’m out for lunch with friends, I do sometimes eat at McDonald’s or KFC or eat barbecued prawns at Barbecue Nation. After all I’ve eaten this pretty regularly all through my life, so occasional use won’t necessarily kill me. However, I look for options, and choose the healthier option and limit these eating out escapades 🙂 When I go home for vacations however, I normally get my organic grains and cereals delivered to my home address so that it arrives before me 🙂
This post has been on the back burner for years waiting for data to complete the post and I’m glad to present it to you. Whether you are convinced depends on where you are in life. A few years back I myself would have pooh poohed at such a post, but now I’ve experienced the joy of being healthy in real life. Hope you find your right diet too. A word of advice here. All tastes are acquired and businesses have enforced their idea of what food should taste like on your taste buds. Unless you unlearn and re-learn to enjoy the taste of real food in all its glory, you will be stuck in the mire of ill health. Do well! The goal here is not to live for 100 + years but to live a good quality, healthy fulfilling life without being a burden to anyone for as long as you live and without spending your last years in regret or suffering in a hospital.
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