FOOD AS MEDICINE CONCEPT:
Hippocrates practiced passive gentle medicine. He would approach healing believing the body with proper nutrition, appropriate herbs and rest could heal itself in most cases. This is the basis for ‘alternative’ or ‘natural cures’ medicine. Hippocrates and others were masters at using various herbs and foods to target specific ailments. Today for example we read and hear about the importance of Vitamin A for eye health and the role of Beta Carotene found in red-orange foods like carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. What is also very interesting is the fact that most of the drugs used today in medicine have its foundation in particular herbs and food.
Healing takes time and patience. The body did not get sick overnight but over time. And over that time period the body is also trying to communicate exactly what it needs to get well by cravings and symptoms. A well balanced nutritional diet is essential for what ails the body. If suffering from a long term chronic condition, chances are the body will require significant time to heal. If suffering an acute situation or sudden illness, the importance of having a healthy body from the start is imperative to assist the healing process.
The traditional system of medicine, Unani lays stress on the importance of diet on health. According to Avicenna, most of the illnesses arise as a result of prolonged disorders related to diet and regimen. There are three aspects of food metabolism, namely digestion, assimilation and residue. All of these must be carried out efficiently for a person to remain healthy. All the dietary systems, including both natural and alternative, assess all the food according to their components. Components here mean proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, amino acids, and so forth. In Unani, the food is selected according to its ability to improve the metabolic activity of the body in general and specific organs in particular. Moreover, the nutritive value of the food is also kept in mind while choosing the food. Other than this, there are a number of other factors, which are kept in mind like the food items should be in accordance with the temperament of the individual, appropriate season, age, climate etc.
The food should also be able to produce a balance amongst the four essential humors of the body. The other aspect of the therapy relates to the timing of the foods. The breakfast should be taken a short while after you get up and perform your daily toilet and prayer activities. The noon meal should be taken after the sun passes the midpoint in the sky. You can also take a nap for about thirty to forty five minutes, after lunch. The evening meal should be taken just after sunset, concluding at least two to three hours before you go to sleep. Another thing to be considered is that foods should be consumed in the season, they are harvested in. This is because the body accommodates them better this way.
While it is a boon that all the fruits and vegetables are available throughout the year, due to technological advancements; eating non seasonal foods confuses the temperaments and burdens the metabolism of the body. Besides, there are some eating habits which should be cultivated for healthy living. It includes that food to be eaten should belong to the place you live in, as it contains antidotes for all the bacteria and viruses in your region. The food should not be eaten unless you have the appetite, and also should not be delayed after that. Do not stay hungry for long and then stuff yourself with food. It pressurizes the digestive system. Some light activity should be practiced after the meal, like walking. After the initial stage of digestion, tea can be taken.
The Nature and Temperament of Foods
Greek Medicine assesses the nature and temperament of foods, and their impact on the organism, 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.
What we need is balance!!! Goes back to the Hippocratic Theory of healing