DIET: FOOD AND DRINK
How to Eat for Optimum Health
After the air we breathe, the next in importance is diet, or the influence of food and drink on health. A pure, natural, wholesome nutritious diet is essential to good health.
Because most of the substances we take into our bodies are items of food and drink consumed in our daily diet, what we eat and drink has an enormous impact on our health. And, unlike the ambient air, we exercise much more control over what we eat.
And so, diet and dietary therapy are the main modalities or tools of health management and disease prevention in Greek Medicine. The great advantages of working with diet are that foods are safe, gentle and effective, and have a very low level of toxicity.
Because the natural herbal medicines and remedies used in Greek Medicine are usually gentler and milder than modern pharmaceutical drugs, the diet consumed during treatment must support and be congruent with the direction and aim of the therapy. Ultimately, the success of natural herbal medicines and therapy is greatly reduced, or even nullified altogether if not accompanied by the right diet.
Although the ancient Greeks consumed other drinks, the most important and most frequently consumed drink was water. The water drunk must be clear, pure and free of microbes, pollutants and impurities. Its taste should be mild and sweet, and it should be soft, and free from any hard, harsh mineral residues. Fresh mountain spring water is the best. Securing a good source of pure, fresh water is the first and most basic foundation of a good, healthy diet.
The water drunk should be moderately cool or at room temperature, but not ice cold. Ice cold drinks are unnatural, and compromise the circulation, immunity and digestive power of the organism with cold, wet Phlegmatic humors.
The Basics of a Natural Diet
When we select and prepare the foods in our diet, we should take care to consume them in as natural a state as possible. The more we process, refine, or alter the food from its natural state, the more we compromise its inherent vitality, wholeness and nutritional value.
All refined sugars, starches and carbohydrates should be avoided wherever possible. In their place should be put whole grains and natural sweeteners.
Foods that have not been artificially processed, or that have been minimally processed, should take precedence over those that have been highly or unnaturally processed. All hydrogenated fats should be eliminated.
Food additives and preservatives should also be greatly reduced or eliminated. Some preservatives are more natural than others, whereas some are toxic and dangerous. Most linger as a residue in the organism, impeding its vitality and functioning.
The Nature and Temperament of Foods
Greek Medicine assesses the nature and temperament of foods, and their impact on the
rganism, primarily in terms of the Four Basic Qualities: Hot, Cold, Wet and Dry. This enables us to personalize our food selection, giving preference to foods that complement or remedy imbalances, either innate or acquired, of humor and temperament.
Since Hot / Cold is the primary or active polarity, our first consideration must be to the heating or cooling nature of foods. Heating foods are those which stimulate the metabolism, whereas cooling foods are those which sedate the metabolism and relieve excess heat. Examples are as follows:
Heating: garlic, onions, horseradish, ginger, chicken, eggs, duck, lamb, wheat, sesame seeds, walnuts, garbanzos, lemon, apples, olives and aged cheeses.
Cooling: milk and dairy products, fresh cheeses, yogurt, mint, bananas, most tropical fruits, lettuce, cucumber, melons, watermelon, fish.
Dry / Wet is the passive or secondary polarity. Wet foods are those which are unctuous, rich, oily, moistening and emollient. Dry foods are those which are either physically dry, or those which aid the organism in eliminating excess fluids. Examples are:
Dry: most beans, soybeans, garbanzos, pomegranates, asparagus, dried fruits, aged cheeses.
Wet: milk and dairy products, bananas, avocados, coconut, fresh cheeses, yogurt.
Closely related to the Dry / Wet polarity are the qualities of Light and Heavy, respectively. Light foods produce lightness, alertness and agility in the body, but in excess, they can lead to lightheadedness, spaciness and emaciation. Heavy foods, of high quality, can give strength and durability to the body, but most commonly they produce sluggishness, heaviness and drowsiness, and are difficult to digest.
Light: rice cakes, popcorn, corn, sunflower seeds
Heavy: beef, wheat, eggplant, greasy fried foods.
I don't want to get excessively hairsplitting or dogmatic here, but I do want to cultivate in you an awareness and sensitivity to the effects of the foods we eat upon our health.
Foods and the Four Humors
Each one of the Four Humors has certain foods that aggravate it. Consumption of these foods should be greatly reduced or avoided by those with an excess or aggravation of that humor, whether it be innate and constitutional, or an acquired condition or imbalance. The main problematic or aggravating foods for each humor are:
Phlegm: milk, dairy products, fresh cheeses, refined sugar, refined starches and flours, wheat and glutinous foods, cold foods, ice cold drinks; moist, creamy rich foods.
Yellow Bile: salt and salty foods, fats and cholesterol, fried foods, vinegar, alcohol, excessive sour or fermented foods, aged cheeses, excessive hot spices and chillies, excessive beef and red meat.
Black Bile: old, dry stale foods: excessive beans, soy, nuts, astringent foods, peanuts, rancid fats, nightshade vegetables - especially tomatoes and eggplant.
Blood: As blood is the healthiest, most desirable humor, it's good to cultivate it with blood-building foods like spinach, green leafy vegetables, molasses, dark red and blue berries, and various types of meat in moderation. Excessive meat consumption may produce a lot of blood, but it won't be of very high quality, often being too thick, toxic or acidic; blood circulation is also often compromised. Therefore, one shouldn't rely exclusively on meat to build the blood.
Excessive consumption of proteins, rich fatty foods and sweets may lead to Sanguine excesses of the blood, like uremia and gout, diabetes or high cholesterol in those so predisposed. Above all, moderation is needed to avoid the extremes of either overfeeding the body on the one hand or malnourishing it on the other.
Meat Eating versus Vegetarianism
When it comes to meat eating versus vegetarianism, Greek Medicine has no blanket prescriptions for everyone. Each person must eat according to his/her individual constitutional nature and temperament. Truly, one man's meat is another man's poison.
Those who do eat meat tend to consume way too much of it. Moderation may be more important when it comes to meat eating than the age-old question: "To eat or not to eat meat?"
Because their digestions are strong and efficient, and because meat consumption tends to aggravate bile, as well as heat and toxic residues in the blood, Choleric types generally do best on a vegetarian diet. Sanguines, with their tendency towards metabolic excesses of the blood, also do weel on a light, simple vegetarian diet. Melancholics, due to the irregularity and inefficiency of their digestions and their tendency towards anemia and other nutritional deficiencies, generally have the hardest time being purely vegetarian. Phlegmatics can go either way; the pros and cons are pretty evenly balanced for them.
Besides constitutional considerations, acquired conditions or imbalances of humor and temperament should also be considered. Temporarily abstaining from meat eating may become necessary at times in the pursuit of certain cleansing and healing goals.
Vegetarianism is much more than simply eliminating meat from the diet. The optimal vegetarian diet must be balanced, and must carefully combine vegetable protein sources for adequate nutrition. Certain special foods or superfoods taken as dietary supplements also ensure adequate nutrition.
Similarly, there's a right way and a wrong way to eat meat. In a meal, meat is best complemented by a lot of light, detoxifying salads and vegetables. Also, certain condiments, like ginger, garlic, onions, mustard and horseradish, aid the digestion and assimilation of meat and the elimination or neutralization of its toxins.
Guidelines for Eating
Proper diet involves not just what you eat, but also when, how and how much. The following guidelines should help you establish healthy, sensible eating habits:
1) Never eat when you're tired, angry, upset or worried. Fatigue, negative emotions and stress impair proper digestion.
2) Don't eat unless you're truly hungry. If you're not really hungry, your body isn't really ready to receive the food.
3) Eat your largest meal at midday. When the Sun is at its height, so are our powers of pepsis, or digestion and metabolism.
4) Eat lightly for dinner, at least three hours before retiring. Eating too heavily, too late at night, will leave undigested food to putrefy in the gut and disturb sound sleep, as well as digestion.
5) A little light exercise before meals stimulates the appetite and digestion. It does this by consuming residual humoral superfluities.
6) Drink the most water between meals; sip while you sup. Drinking too much water with meals dilutes the digestive juices, but small amounts will moisten the food and lubricate its passage down the gullet.
7) Don't overeat. Never fill your stomach past three-quarters full. Always leave some space for air, so that your stomach has some working room.
8) Chew your food well before swallowing. Digestion begins in the mouth, by masticating the food and mixing it with saliva.
9) Eat in good company; make meals a happy, joyful occasion. Excessive pensiveness and melancholy ruin digestion.
10) Never eat on the run. Always take the time to digest your food properly. Anxiety and stress interfere with proper digestion.
Moderation in Diet
In dietary matters, Hippocrates believed, above all, in moderation and common sense. He believed in avoiding extremes of all kinds. Gluttony, excess and immoderation in diet are of course harmful, but so is excessive restriction of diet, because the organism bears transgressions of it with more difficulty then a diet that is a little bit more flexible and liberal.
In diet, a distinction must be made between diets that are specifically directed towards some healing goal, versus one's regular diet. Therapeutic or cleansing diets must be more restricted, but excessive restriction is not advisable in one's regular diet.
Epicureanism in Diet
Epicureanism is a classical Greek philosophy that emphasizes the maximization of pleasure and happiness by cultivating an awareness and appreciation of the senses. In dietary matters, Epicureanism is the guiding philosophy behind gourmet cuisine.
According to Epicureanism, if every mouthful of natural, wholesome, high quality, exquisitely prepared food is savoured and appreciated for its taste and nutritive virtue, there will be less of a temptation to overeat, and the appetite will become balanced. This is the ideal of the gourmet, as opposed to the dietary abuses of the gourmand, who quickly and ravenously stuffs himself without truly appreciating the food and its flavor.
A conoisseur, literally, "someone who knows", is one who knows and appreciates quality food and its nutritive and gastronomic virtues. The intelligent and discerning conoisseur is better prepared to make healthy, constructive dietary choices.
Although gourmet cuisine was originally developed with the good intentions of promoting healthy eating habits while maximizing the pleasure and satisfaction derived from food, it has gone astray in modern times. Much, if not most, gourmet food nowadays has perverted the Epicurean philosophy by just appealing to the taste buds while ignoring the virtues of wholesomeness and nutritive value. This has led to a gourmet reform movement called Nouvelle Cuisine, or "New Cuisine".