From Opening Hearts, Chapter 5’s Five Cardinal Rules for Healthy Living – Rule 1 Nutrition
When we consider all the gifts and resources we have available to us, we begin to understand that our food choices have spiritual as well as health consequences. Mindfulness and intentionality are just two of the spiritual aspects of healthy eating.
The first step in adopting a spiritually and physically healthy nutrition-focused lifestyle is to avoid highly processed fast foods, most prepackaged convenience foods, and junk foods. Fast foods, many convenience foods, and junk foods are high in calories, salt, and sugars while being low in the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients the body needs to function. Such foods have most of their raw nutrients stripped out by various processes used to create, package, store, and prepare them. Plus they also often contain excess saturated fats, refined and processed sugars, preservatives, chemicals, and other toxins. These kinds of edibles may satisfy hunger pangs or cravings but they do little-to-nothing when it comes to satisfying the real needs of the body.
A further spiritual consideration is that the large-scale industrial methods used to farm and distribute such foods harm the environment. Such methods also have been responsible for introducing new and toxic bacteria into our food supply and the overuse of antibiotics needed for industrial production of meats, poultry, and fish threatens our overall health. Furthermore, industrial production methods quite often involve painful living conditions and inhumane slaughtering for the animals involved.
A final spiritual consideration is whether the farmer and farm worker received a fare wage for their efforts. All of these issues are important to consider when you realize that food provides not just physical sustenance but spiritual nourishment as well as. Do you want to eat food that involved harming the earth or perhaps created cruel conditions for another creature during its production?
The food you choose, how it’s raised, and how it comes to you are spiritually-based factors that involve not simply what you like and need to eat, but also the myriad consequences of production methods. A good rule of thumb is to eat food in as natural a state as possible that is produced as close to home as reasonable with a preference for pesticide free, non-toxic, and humane production methods. When eating processed or prepackaged foods, read labels and choose foods that have the fewest ingredients with the least amount of processing.
Good nutrition includes adequate hydration so drink lots of clean water and avoid sugary, empty-calorie drinks. Again, read labels. Many sport drinks advertised as magic elixirs that balance electrolytes are nothing more than sugary, salty, preservative-laden water. Your body needs better. Since your body is made of fifty to seventy-five percent water (depending on age and muscle mass), a constant supply of fluid helps your body flush out toxins and keep your organs functioning well. You don’t need fancy enhanced brand-name drinks; just two to five glasses of fresh or filtered water (thirty-two to sixty-four ounces) per day will maintain a proper urinary output of about a quart or two per day. An added bonus: water keeps your skin supple too.
When choosing foods, keep the following advice in mind:
- Eat plenty of high-fiber carbohydrates like fruits, berries, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds in their most natural states; choose whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals, and whole grains such as oats, barley, bulgur, rye, unbleached wheat, and brown rice.
- Enjoy healthful proteins that have little saturated fat such as fish, eggs, nuts, quinoa, poultry, seafood (such as clams, oysters, crabs, shrimp, scallops) and meats (such as lamb, lean beef, and center-cut pork loin, chop, or roast). [Footnote 38: a serving of grass-fed beef not only has Omega-3, it’s also naturally lean with about as much overall fat as a breast of chicken. Only feed-lot beef is void of Omega-3’s.]
- Choose protective monounsaturated (liquid) fats such as olive oils and foods with protective poly-unsaturated Omega-3 oils such as those found in wild caught fishes like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines; and in walnuts, flaxseeds, and organic grass-fed beef. [Footnote 39 – Note: it is better to eat these oils in their foods rather than as supplements since such oils oxidize when made into supplements.]
- Avoid processed “white” foods such as sugar and white bread, mashed potatoes, French fries, and white rice which are all low-fiber carbohydrates.
- Avoid saturated fats such as those found in hydrogenated oils that are often used in vegetable shortenings, margarines, non-organic peanut butter and other nut butters, and many processed fast and frozen foods as well as marbled red meats from grain-fed animals raised in feed-lots, and processed meats. [Note about fats: new research is emerging that contradicts conventional wisdom about the fats in dairy products such as whole milk, cream, and butter. Read broadly to investigate these foods and then choose wisely.]
- Drastically reduce non-fiber carbohydrates, most especially refined sugars—either white or brown—and other forms of sugar such as high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose syrup, and the like (manufacturers have changed the names of these kinds of sugars trying to conceal them so read labels carefully).
Eating nutritious foods is very important because diets don’t work, especially ones that include deprivation of foods or ones that use guilt as a motivator. Dieting can make eating feel like sin. Denying ourselves foods we love only lasts so long. As a result, lots of people who want to become healthy wind up in an unending yo-yo cycle of losing weight and gaining it back—usually adding a few extra pounds with each round. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re caught in such a cycle and it’s a situation that’s bad for your body, your mind, and even your spirit. While diets don’t work, good basic nutrition does. But despite the packed shelves in the grocery store, much of what you find there isn’t nutritionally sound, thus the importance of being conscious about your choices and reading food labels.
Though I used the word “diet” in my previous book (The Better Life Diet), what I advocate is not a diet at all. Instead it’s a lifestyle based on mindful, conscious choices. It’s a way of eating that’s based on enjoying and savoring the rich cornucopia of nutritious edibles which properly fuel the body—as God meant us to do. And it has only a few restrictions on common yet unhealthy substances.
Eating well is not about denying yourself delectable nourishment; it’s about nurturing your body with delicious foods that are by their very nature powerful medicine. It’s about being informed and intentional about what you consume. It is a mindfulness practice that keeps you aware of the consequences of the choices you make. It’s respecting and loving your body in gratitude for the gift of your life. Added all together, nutritious eating is a spiritual practice because how and what you eat reveals your love and care for yourself (and the world).
As an added bonus: once you’re used to eating high-quality, ethically produced, close-to-nature, healthy food (which taste better than non- nutritious food), you’ll have cravings for nutrient-rich things that are good for you instead of craving the fat-salt-sugar-laden processed fodder that’s filled with nutrient-empty ingredients. Not only will that be better for your physical health, it’s almost always better for the world around you too. And that is something that promotes both mental and spiritual well-being as well.
Next up: Nutrition’s Nemesis – Sugar’s Outrageous Growth