The Spiritual Carnivore

A traditional Cuy meal, also known as guinea pig. Photo by Sattvic Planet.

A traditional Cuy meal, also known as guinea pig. Photo by Sattvic Planet.

 

I’m writing this post from a small village in the Peruvian Andes where a community of spiritually focused foreigners have either visited or settled over the years. Having arrived only yesterday I obviously have much to learn about this community, though a couple of my observations seem very clear to me already. First, they seem to gather their practices from a wide array of disciplines such as Ayurveda, Buddhism, and indigenous Shamanic culture. It seems to be a true hybrid of global spiritual philosophies. My second observation, which is the inspiration of this post, is that vegetarian and vegan diets are the preferred choice at their hotels, restaurants and retreats. I’m talking about the foreign community here and not the locals when I refer to the choice of diet, as the locals appear to eat chicken, beef, trout, alpaca, eggs, and cheese.

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How often should you snack?

I’m going back to my roots. After posting articles during November about Daylight Savings Time, the US Election, Pharmaceuticals, and Black Friday, today I’m going to write once again about my favorite subject, food. Based on my observations, people simply don’t know how to eat. That may sound like a funny statement because we all eat every day, and it is a task that is essential for our survival. Well, you may know how to eat, just put food in your mouth and chew, but do you know how to eat properly for efficient digestion and optimal health? The quantity, frequency, timing and combination of your food are all important factors affecting your digestion. Believe it or not, I could probably write an entire chapter on how to eat, but instead of that, today we will focus on a topic that is confusing to many people, snacking.

Radical snactivism

We’ve all heard the theory that it is important to snack many times per day to keep our energy levels high, but is that even true, and where did it come from? If you think about it, the frequent snack theory appears to be adapted to high performance athletes. Imagine a professional football player who spends the whole day lifting weights, running, and training for his job. The amount of energy expended by a professional athlete must be several times more than what you expend sitting in your cubicle and tapping on that keyboard. Frequent snacking seems appropriate for such a physically demanding lifestyle. Somewhere along the way sports nutrition got confused with the nutrition of the average person. Perhaps it was an improper dissemination of information through the media, or our fascination with professional athletes. Many of us obsess over our favorite athletes; we wear their jerseys and spend billions of dollars following them weekly, so it’s not difficult to imagine their diet strategies crossing over into the average person’s life. Another possibility is the source of funding for research. How much money is available to research the nutritional needs for producing a star athlete versus the nutritional needs for helping an average person reach their true potential? Perhaps the government can fund some research, but corporations heavily influence governments, and do corporations bring in revenue by selling wholesome breakfasts, or by selling snack packs? Regardless of the origin of the multiple snack theory, and the role of sports idols, money and politics; we have access to an unbiased source of information for guidance on how to eat. According to Ayurveda, a traditional preventive medicine system from India, the average person should practice a diet of minimal snacking.

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2 meals per day

To understand why minimal snacking is the suggested diet of Ayurveda, one only needs to have a basic understanding of digestion. Digestion is at the core of Ayurveda because good digestion is thought to be essential for having good health. Ideally a person would wait until their previous meal was completely discharged from their stomach before eating the next meal, but if you are snacking 3-5 times per day there are simply not enough hours in a day to do this. Generally speaking, it should take at least 3 hours for your stomach to be empty, so if you ate every 3 hours beginning at 6am and ending at 9pm that would be 3 meals and 3 snacks. With a schedule like that some problems become immediately apparent. It is unlikely that you are eating on an empty stomach if your schedule consists of eating 6 or more times per day. If your stomach is completely empty then you must be either eating small meals or easily digested carbohydrates and sugars, and we have all been hearing lately of the dangers associated with diets high in sugar. Your digestion should improve if you wait until your stomach is completely empty before consuming the next meal, and as a result your overall health should also improve. To completely digest each meal then you will have to eat less frequently which of course means less snacking. One great strategy for eating less frequently is to eat large meals containing more slow burning fuels such as oils, fibrous vegetables, and perhaps some meat if you are not vegetarian. As you are increasing the amount of slow burning foods, try decreasing the fast burning foods such as sugar, flour, grains, and in some cases fruit. For an excellent and detailed description of what this meal looks like read Todd Caldecott’s article about breakfast. A large breakfast such as this allows me to go 6 hours without eating, and during those 6 hours I enjoy the benefits of a slow sustained release of energy without the inconvenience of having to interrupt my busy day to find more food. Ayurveda recommends eating twice per day, and the only practical way for a person to do that in this modern world is to make sure your two meals are large and dense enough to power you through the day.

From Time magazine.

From Time magazine.

Goodbye low fat diets

As we emerge from the failed war on dietary fat into a world of obesity, diabetes and cancer we can look to the past for guidance on moving into the future. Ayurveda is a valuable source of traditional knowledge that is not contaminated by money or politics. People would have never chosen the frequent snack theory if the low fat theory didn’t exist. It is difficult to snack all day if you are eating high quality fats because quite simply, you will not be hungry as often. So as we say goodbye to the low fat era we should also say goodbye to the high snack era. Unless you happen to be a high performance athlete, try eating like me, a radical snactivist.

Related Articles:

Ending the War on Fat: Victory!

How to make ghee and move beyond the Low Fat Era

Our Paleolithic ancestors rarely ate sugar

 

 

Eating for the Equinox (chicken crockpot recipe)

pastured chicken

Photo by everychickdeservesamother.com

 

The Autumn Equinox has come and gone and since then you have probably begun to notice seasonal changes. The days are shorter, the weather cooler, the leaves are falling, and the food available at your local market is changing from foods like berries, melons and snap peas to apples, squash, and parsnips. According to Ayurvedic principles, now would be a good time to adjust your diet to match our changing environment. This can be easy to ignore when we have access to foods like strawberries in January at the grocery store, but seasonal eating makes a little more sense when you start shopping for locally produced food as much as reasonable.

Warm, greasy and heavy

According to Ayurveda, as we transition from the season of Pitta to the season of Vata, we can also transition from the foods of Pitta to those of Vata. Sour and salty replaces the tastes of bitter and astringent, while the taste of sweet continues until later in winter during the Kapha season. Isn’t it interesting that salty and sour are the tastes you would experience while eating the cabbage you fermented during the summer to eat as sauerkraut during the fall, while sweet and sour would be most noticeably tasted with the fall apple harvest? Beyond the tastes of food, the qualities transition from cool and dry to warm and greasy (oily), while the quality of heavy continues until later in winter during the Kapha season. A good example of a heavy, warm and greasy food might be a dense winter squash roasted in the oven and then drizzled with a generous amount of ghee or coconut oil for moisture.

Meat in Ayurveda?

You may find it odd that a website with an Ayurvedic theme would have a recipe for chicken, but the ancient texts never forbid the consumption of meat, and in some cases encourage it for the recovery from disease. The Hindu religion is known to be vegetarian, and is also very common in India, so since India is the home of Ayurveda it is easy to see how the connection between vegetarianism and Ayurveda could be made. However, vegetarianism may be required to practice the Hindu religion, but that does not mean it is required to practice Ayurveda. Another fact to consider is that many parts of India are low in latitude and as a result have a much warmer climate. I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed this, but my appetite decreases when I’m in a hot and humid environment, which would make vegetarianism much easier closer to the equator. If you don’t believe me then try being a raw food vegan in northern Canada and let me know how that works for you. I’m not promoting eating meat; I’m promoting diets that are appropriate for your geography and your season. Simply put, those of us in the north have less access to fresh produce, and more need for nourishment during a cold winter. I’m not talking about eating meat for pleasure as most Americans do, I’m talking about eating what your body needs, which I’m willing to bet is far less than what we are currently witnessing around the country. Eating based on bodily needs will require people to be aware of their bodies, and to learn how to properly cook nutritious meals. I often say that PETA would be far more successful if they encouraged people to eat less meat rather than none, and that is because even though most people are probably eating much more than they need, telling them to quit completely can not only cause a defensive reaction, but it may also be inappropriate advice for their location and time of year.

 

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Photo by sattvicplanet.net

 

 

Crockpot time

The size of my crockpot is 5.5 quarts, or 5.2 liters, and I find that a 5.5 pound, or 2.5 kg bird can easily fit. This recipe is very simple, but that is the point, to realize that cooking high quality meals is a convenient and healthy way to live. Here is the recipe:

4-5 pound chicken

1 onion

2-4 bulbs of garlic

½ T oregano

½ T thyme

½ T rosemary

½ T black pepper powder

½ T pink salt

1 T dried parsley

1 T dried basil

3-4 cups water

Dice the garlic and allow to sit for 10 minutes to maximize the nutritional benefits. Place the bird and the water into the crockpot. Dice the onion and add it to the crockpot along with garlic and all the spices. Sprinkle the spices under, on top of, and all around the bird. I like to set my crockpot to 10 hours on a low setting. You can flip the bird after about 6 hours if you like. The final result is more like a stew than an oven roast, but you can try a shorter duration or less water if you prefer that effect. Serve with roasted squash or root vegetables and some steamed dark leafy greens. Don’t forget to save the bones for a bone broth!

Integrity Food

When buying your chicken I highly recommend a locally sourced, pasture raised product. This will require you to search beyond the deceptive “all natural” and “cage free” feel good options available at the grocery store. Did you know a cage free bird might never see the sun, breathe clean fresh air, or have enough room to run around? An organic, pasture raised bird may cost 2-5 times as much as a conventional bird, but don’t you think it is worth it? A pastured bird might be more nutritious if they are eating insects as they were meant to. I find it odd when the label says “vegetarian fed” since chickens are known to eat insects, but they obviously don’t have that opportunity in an indoor facility. My last chicken had a slightly wild taste to it versus the typical bland and neutral flavor we are all accustomed to. A pastured bird should be less likely to get sick since it is not breathing dirty air in a confined space and is therefore also less likely to need antibiotics. Wouldn’t you rather eat a healthy chicken than a sick one? I actually get at least 10 servings from a bird, so when you look at the per meal price it is not bad compared to what you would pay at a farm to table restaurant. Besides the nutrition, taste and health, I think raising animals on pasture is much more humane, and a great way to support your local family farmers.

 

Related articles:

The “Integrity Food” Revolution

The Season of Sweet

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat

 

 

 

The “Integrity Food” Revolution

 

WATCH THIS EPISODE!

WATCH THIS EPISODE!

“A sure sign sir, that we live in a mad mad world is when a person has sane ideas and he comes across as a revolutionary”

-Joe Rogan referring to Joel Salatin

Industrial versus biological agriculture

Charismatic farmer Joel Salatin recently appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast to discuss the philosophy behind his successful business, Polyface Farms, and the current ideology of the modern industrial food system. Salatin first came to widespread attention in the US when he was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Palatin begins the interview with Rogan by making the revolutionary claim that animals are supposed to move. To anybody who has ever seen a deer run, or a bird fly, this statement seems so obvious that it is not even worth saying. Yet a majority of our entire food system is based around the practice of animal confinement where animals are indoors standing on concrete floors without access to such basic requirements as sunshine, fresh air or green grass. Some call it the industrial food system, and others call it factory farming, either way Salatin describes the primary flaw of that type of agriculture as viewing animals from a mechanical perspective instead of a biological perspective. Raising animals is not the same as building iPhones, and Salatin provides countless examples of why that is.

Nutrient dense and pasture raised

To briefly summarize the Polyface Farm philosophy, Salatin raises his animals outdoors on green grass, and he does this by letting multiple species of animal access a portion of pasture in successive waves. First the cows pass, then the layer chickens, followed by the meat chickens, next come the turkeys, and finally the pigs. All this movement is achieved through a form of intensive management that utilizes simple electric fencing. To highlight the benefits, Salatin describes the high nutrient density of pastured pork versus factory pork. The pork industry had the famous slogan, “pork, the other white meat”, yet the absurdity of this slogan is evident in the fact that pork should be pink and not white. The pink color results from blood flow through the tissues and occurs only when the animals get regular exercise. This pink color also is an indicator of iron in the meat, so the pork industry was attempting to sell their product by boasting of the low nutrient content of their meat. Salatin provided many other examples such as the high folic acid levels of pastured versus factory eggs, and the high riboflavin level of pastured versus factory beef. I find it fascinating that Salatin claims riboflavin has calming effects, we don’t each much pastured beef in the US, and we don’t seem like a very calm society do we? A demonstration of food as medicine perhaps?

Antibiotic free

Increasingly people are becoming familiar with the food label, “free of antibiotics”, but have you ever wondered why all our food has antibiotics in it to begin with? According to Salatin the excessive use of antibiotics is simply a result of highly crowded animal confinement. The poor air quality in these dirty environments is abrasive to animal lungs, and as a result pathogens are able to invade the animals through their damaged lungs. Rather than viewing animals from a biological perspective the industrial food industry views animal sickness as a mechanical problem. Instead of simply giving the animals access to fresh air they decided to give them a steady diet of drugs to fight off the inevitable pathogen illnesses. Bacteria are not all bad, Salatin explains that giving the animals access to pasture, or even using compostable bedding are simple methods that can be used to let the good micro organisms defeat the bad. In fact, he states that the default mode of nature is for health and not disease. We only perceive this constant battle against disease because we have developed systems that allow pathogens to thrive.

Artificial people

I really hope you can take the time to listen to this podcast because my summary can’t adequately convey the importance of Salatin’s message, which is basically that the industrial system of agriculture is bad for the animals, bad for the planet, and therefore bad for us. He explained his philosophy best by paraphrasing Sir Albert Howard, known as one of the founders of modern organic agriculture: “when you use artificial manure (fertilizers) in the soil it makes artificial plants, which make artificial animals, which then become food that makes artificial people who can only stay alive using artificials”. Howard said that during the 1940s, and that is where we are today isn’t it? We are a society of people heavily dependent on pharmaceuticals.

Old knowledge seems new

From Ayurveda we now have access to knowledge of a preventive medical system that uses food as medicine. These concepts seems new to many of us because we are unfamiliar with them, yet they have existed for thousands of years. I see parallels to this in the paleo food movement, which is now adopting diet and lifestyle practices based on the daily routines of our ancient ancestors. Joel Salatin, who uses the term “Integrity Food” to describe his style of agriculture, is another example of this since he is now seen as a revolutionary farmer in this age of industrial agriculture. The funny thing is that he often borrows his ideas from agriculture books written prior to the 1950s. This has all been done before, in fact it was the only way that it was done before, but our view of the natural world has been so twisted and dominated by profit driven corporations that we think of Salatin as a pioneer. This is exactly what the Rogan quote at the beginning was referring to. We do live in a mad mad world, but fortunately with a little extra effort and education we can still have access to a high quality, and environmentally responsible food supply.

For more about this topic read my earlier post: Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat

 

 

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 3, Pharmaceuticals

A one month supply.

A one month supply.

This is personal

Please forgive me; I take pharmaceuticals. To be more specific I take Acetaminophen, Lorazepam, and Allegra infrequently and at low doses. There are two questions I imagine you are thinking right now:

  1. Why would an Ayurvedic Counselor be taking pharmaceuticals?
  2. Why would anybody share this kind of personal information for the whole world wide web to read?

This is the third part in my “Confessions Series”, and I have already made some shocking (sarcasm) revelations in my posts:

With my “Confessions Series” I am trying to show you that despite my best intentions I am not perfect, and I am also trying to show you that some concepts that may at first appear unhealthy are actually quite beneficial when used properly and in moderation.

I live in the same world as you

I too have minor health concerns. I live in the same environment that you do, I am exposed to the same stresses and toxins as you are, so I am not 100% immune to health problems. This is not a Sattvic Planet yet, and until it is there will always be challenges to achieve optimal health. Sure, I could move to Central America and spend my time surfing and eating fresh fruit at the beach all day long. In the evenings I could write to you about how easy it is to practice Sattvic Living, but I suspect that those of you living in the big cities would have a difficult time relating to my experience. I believe that my message is much stronger when you realize that I am not much different from you, and I am vulnerable to the same health problems as you are.

Acetaminophen

I take 325 mg of acetaminophen about twice a month to treat minor headaches caused by lifestyle imbalances such as dehydration, lack of sleep, alcohol, excessive exercise, and too much time in front of the computer. The good news is that I seem to take these pills less often than in the past, and I attribute this to mindfully avoiding situations that trigger these headaches. I have also become quite good at recognizing the onset of these headaches, and finding natural methods of pacifying them.

Lorazepam

I take 125 mg of lorazepam about twice per week to avoid insomnia. This is a ridiculously small dose, but since it is the pharmaceutical I take most often it is one of my biggest challenges. There are many natural herbs and techniques available to deal with insomnia, in fact I once read a book by Deepak Chopra called Restful Sleep that explains good sleeping practices from an Ayurvedic perspective. However, the reality is that good sleep is elusive for many Americans even when we read books on the subject and put forth our best efforts. I am very dysfunctional without a good night of sleep, and ultimately I decided that the minimal side effects from taking these tiny pills is less than the harm caused by insomnia.

Allegra (Fexofenadine HCl)

I take 180 mg of Allegra approximately once every 6 weeks to reduce a very unusual and unexplainable localized swelling that I experience. Western doctors are unable to help me in this case, and eastern doctors haven’t done much better. Normally I ignore the swelling as much as possible, but when my upper lip swells to the size of a sausage I’m sure you can understand why I might want to take a pill on occasion. This problem represents my greatest personal health challenge, but it is a mystery that I believe in time will be solved. I think the problem originates in my mind, and I have now moved beyond looking at physical causes such as food allergies, and have begun focusing on stress reduction remedies for my state of mind.

Minimize it

In sharing my dose and frequency of pharmaceutical consumption I hope to emphasize two major ideas:

  1. I take small doses, and I take them only when absolutely necessary.
  2. I am continuously trying alternatives that will allow me to be completely free of pharmaceuticals in the near future.

For example, the doctor prescribed 1-2 lorazepam during times of insomnia. Instead I take a knife and delicately cut the pill once into halves and again into quarters. The purists out there may say that I should be using plant based preventive medicine 100% of the time. I’m striving for that, really I am. It’s funny how an Ayurvedic Counselor seems to be held to a higher standard than a western doctor. Would it be odd if your doctor smoked cigarettes? I’m sure there are many who do.

Strive to thrive

Since my target audience is people who have not yet mastered their diet and lifestyle I don’t want to scare people away by acting like I’m perfect, and by giving the impression that you need to be perfect to improve your health. The reality is that it is very difficult to practice Sattvic Living in this world we’ve created, and often times all that we can do is to strive for the best that we can do. Ayurveda provides us with the guidelines necessary to look good, feel good, avoid illness, and lose weight. If you want to achieve optimal health and you follow these guidelines exactly then there is no doubt in my mind that you will succeed. However these guidelines are merely goals to strive for, and some of them may not be possible given your current situation. Don’t worry about it, take the long term approach and slowly include more healthy practices into your daily routine when you are ready and when your schedule allows it.

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat

I eat meat. I know that may not be very shocking since most Americans also eat meat, but there is a perception that people following a healthy diet tend to be vegetarians, and that those who eat meat have little concern for their health. More specifically, many people link Ayurveda to beans and rice type meals, and while I do eat beans and rice that is definitely not all I eat. Before we begin I want to be clear that the purpose of this post is NOT to debate whether or not to eat meat. I know that vegetarians have strong opinions on the subject, and I respect their position, but this post is focused more on HOW to eat meat if that is the choice you have already made.

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