- A Theory of Nutrition…Physics, Fractals, and Foods
- Simple, Sound Principles for Healthy Food Selection
January is a month of personal possibility. Restored, after connecting and sharing with family and friends in the fractured, festive days of the season, we pack away holiday trimmings and move back into a world of structure… “ordinary” time. Few extras are asked of us. So, it is a time of extraordinary possibility: How often do extraordinary things happen on the wristwatch of “ordinary” time?
January, perhaps my favorite month, is unique: It is the only month when fresh reflections and resolutions are nourished by the fertile terrain of regular rhythms and reassuring routines. More than any other month, January, with winter’s brisk chill of exhilarating energy and a holiday-free calendar, offers us the opportunity to implement actions for greater personal health and renewal.
A New Year’s Quest for Health-Supportive Foods and a Theory of Nutrition.
It is easy to see why we are confused when it comes to food choices. Barraged by the advertising gimmicks of food companies and news of the latest scientific dietary “breakthroughs,” the American consumer lies prey to nutritional advice that runs the gamut. There seems to be a diet (and a promise) for everyone…from low-fat/high-carbohydrate; to high-protein/low-fat; to high-fat (promising that you can eat fat to lose fat). The reality is, some diets work well for some people for a certain length of time, but we need always to ask, “For whom, when, and for how long.”
Structured diets can be rigid, boring, complicated, and difficult to keep, especially when eating out or in social situations. Many diets are successful simply because they call for the elimination of the “Big Three”….sugar, refined flour, and dairy…factors that often underlie health issues.
Today, confusion also comes from technology that allows us to fracture and analyze food through the principles of bio-chemistry and the use of the microscope. Science fractures foods and explores the workings of macro- and micronutrients in isolation without putting these in context. Research findings in single nutrients often spawns a variety of personal strategies, such as taking mega doses of vitamin C for colds, calcium supplements for bones, iron and vitamin D (both of which can be toxic), and vitamin E to counter normal aging.
As Dr. David Jacobs, a leader in the field of “food synergy” explains:
…the health benefits of certain foods aren’t likely to come from a single nutrient but rather combinations of compounds that work better together than apart. Every food is much more complicated than any drug. It makes sense to want to break it down. But you get a lot of people talking in the popular press about carbohydrates and fats in particular as if they were unified entities. They’re not. They’re extremely complicated.”2
Physics Guides Us Back to Our Traditional Roots
A rainbow’s magic defies the scrutiny of the microscope. Likewise, it would be silly to think we could capture the charismatic energy of a movie star simply by describing their hair color, facial features, build, and clothing and hair style. Recognizing that particles behave in new and astonishing ways when not under the close lens of the observer3 , we have to suspect that there is a whole lot going on out there that will always and invariably defy the microscope. (Perhaps those particles are laughing at us and our efforts.4 ) Since “truth” is defined by both the lens of the observer and what is observed, perhaps foods impart nutrition and energy either as particles or waves, depending on the lens and expectations of the observer.
Studying as I am this year under Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D, the founder of the 30-year-old Natural Gourmet Institute, I now realize that there is much that physics, through systems, chaos, and complexity theory, can contribute to the field of food and the theory of nutrition. While bio-chemistry analyzes, fractures, and delves for the “truth,” physics helps us see the world through a broader lens of the “interconnectedness and continuity” in all things.5
Physics helps us appreciate that the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts. A whole food is not unlike a “whole” computer…specific parts are assembled in specific ways to perform a specific function. Regarding foods, fractured foods may provide calories, but the vital force of the plant is missing.
If we take a moment to push back from the microscope and look at the bigger picture, it is not at all hard to connect with this life force…it leaves its footprint everywhere for the curious eye to discover. Fruits and vegetables share their magic, leaving hints of their greater powers in the intricate fractal (see box) patterns of a head of broccoli or cauliflower, with the simple patterns of the entire head carefully repeated in microcosm in each tiny floweret. Or slice crosswise a beet, a carrot, a banana, or an orange and marvel at the kaleidoscope array of pattern and color. Fractals patterns exist not only in trees and plants (e.g., ferns and parsley) and plant foods (e.g., pineapples and artichokes), but also in the human body (e.g., the brain, the lungs, and the circulatory system).
Fractals are incredibly complex patterns, yet their complexity originates in simplicity.6
A fractal can be replicated by computer iteration, as results from each successive round of computation are continuously fed back into a set of a few simple nonlinear equations. Through fractals, we begin to comprehend the deep relationship of chaos and order….that through chaos, systems are able to re-organize in completely new, adaptive ordered ways.
A fractal, then, is a “pattern within pattern within pattern.7 ” “Shapes are not discerned from close range. They require distance and time to show themselves. Pattern recognition requires that we sit together reflectively and patiently…because we are trying to see the world differently and there are many years of blindness to overcome.8 ”
“In a fractal world, if we ignore qualitative factors and focus on quantitative measures, we doom ourselves only to frustration. Instead of gaining clarity, our search for quantification leads us into infinite fogginess. The information never ends, it is never complete. We accumulate more and more but understand less and less. When we study the individual parts or try to understand the system through discrete quantities, we get lost. Deep inside the details, we cannot see the whole.”9
Fractals can teach us a lot about how foods as systems relate to the body as a system. It seems logical, since many foods are fractals, that: Food = Simplicity = Complexity. In addition, it appears that foods have their own unique life force energy packaged by nature that our bodies are uniquely programmed to accept: Thus, it seems logical, too, that “Food as a system influences the human system.10 ” This seems a sound model for nutritional theory.
Re-Creating Wholeness for the New Year: From Food and Healing, Seven Tried and True Guidelines in the Quest for “Healthy” Food:
Perhaps Western thought is beginning to move full-circle. Through physics, we can now recognize that plants, animals, and people are all living systems…systems of systems… really, parts and components that are unified by an energy force field that governs and organizes the whole living system.11 We will be well-served to “pay at least as much attention to the bio-energy (or force field) in foods” as to their macro- and micro-nutrient composition.12 Ironically, physics may bring us to the “cutting-edge of dietary and nutritional thinking as we are led back to healthy food choices that took root long ago in the traditions and wisdom of our ancestors.
Several decades ago, Annemarie Colbin outlined the following seven basic criteria of food selection. How well they have stood the test of time! Not only are they well-suited to our genetic heritage since they are rooted in our past and correspond to the traditional principles of food selection of our ancestors, but also, they are much in keeping with the newest thinking about food and nutrition based on holism and “nutrient synergy.” As we realize more and more that the popular emphasis on reductionism-type scientific research misses the complex interaction of the human system with whole foods, they take on new and greater meaning.13 Just as charisma cannot be measured and a rainbow defies microscopic examination, we realize that we may never fully understand and appreciate the true power of whole foods.
Yet, these seven simple principles can keep anyone on “safe ground” in making food selections, irrespective of the latest scientific “break-through” concerning food. No special books on nutrition or “fad” diets are required. These are flexible and adapt to any social situation or cultural tradition. They are good yardsticks for measuring the viability of any diet theory, whether old or one just fresh on the “market.”
- Whole14 : Which means how foods appear in nature, with all the edible parts (as much as tastes good to you), which is what our bodies are programmed to handle. This suggests eating whole grains15 with the bran, germ and starch, and vegetables and fruits with all the fiber rather than juiced or in other ways fractured. This strategy preserves the life force and energy inherent in whole foods. A realistic goal might be to have whole foods make up some 70% of your diet.
- Fresh, Natural, Real16, Organically Grown: Avoid canned, frozen, irradiated, and foods that have been genetically modified (GMOs)17 . Also steer away from chemical additives and preservatives, and colorings, as well as trans fats, and artificial/excessive sweeteners, and excessive sodium. When possible, try to buy fresh, organic, and local for the greatest nutrient density and force-field energy. Avoid foods from a box or a can18 is a good guideline when trying to avoid fractured ingredients and chemical additives. However, dried, picked and fermented foods are fine, both for the potential of greater nutrient density19 and for the enhancement to digestion.
- Seasonal: In the world of our ancestors, this would mean eating what was in season, and rotating our diet accordingly. But today, we live most of the year in a spring-type climate and foods are shipped in from around the globe so we can eat papaya and watermelons in the dead of winter. To confuse our bodies all the more, offices are actually kept 10 degrees cooler in summer than in winter. So in summer, for an office worker who is dressed in a cooling seersucker outfit, hearty winter soups may really hit the spot. A good bedrock principle that cannot go wrong is to choose foods that fit the mood of the season and to try to buy seasonal foods for their freshness, rich nutrients, and economy.
- Local: Local produce tastes better, is fresh, and often is more economical. It also helps to support the local and sustainable farming movements which can help to conserve energy and our planet. (See November, 2007 Newsletter for CSAs and other sources of local/sustainable foods.)
- In Harmony With Tradition: Our bodies are programmed by our ancestry. Sushi bars are fun but they are not meant as steady fare for most of us. Neither are vegan, raw food, or macrobiotic diets, since all cultures in the past incorporated animal protein as a mainstay, whenever available.20 It is always a good idea to know your ancestry, which can give clues to the foods that will be easiest to assimilate. What is your profile? Among the whole grains, for example, rice fits comfortably people from Asia, while corn and quinoa work well for those hailing from South America. For many people, dairy was not a part of the tradition and may aggravate or trigger allergies and other health issues.
- Balanced: Balance encompasses many ideas, but historically, cultures killed the buffalo and ate the whole carcass. The next day they might eat a steady diet of fresh greens. Balance is not meant to be a rigid rule applied to each meal, but rather a loose and flexible way of looking at nutrition along a sliding time line. Most children, for example, will eat a balanced diet over the course of a week, yet left to their own choosing, they may prefer just one or two or no foods at any given meal. The general principles of balance include adequate protein, carbohydrate, and fats; macro- and micronutrients; and balance by color, texture, and flavor. Balance considerations also include: acid/alkaline; expansive/contractive (yin/yang); and 5-Phase Theory (see IIN charts, on the pages that follow). These models help give clues to cravings (see discussion, Food and Healing), and they also provide guideposts about how to choose foods for adequate nutrition. Balance also relieves boredom (see below).
- Delicious: Whole, real, natural foods help enliven our taste buds to new and surprising eating experiences. Healthy food is far from boring. Fresh fruits and vegetables can provide the nuances of “taste, aroma, and body” like the finest wine or aged cheese. Fresh flavors can be combined in infinite ways and in creative adventures. Opening a packaged, prepared food from the supermarket can hardly compare. Also, as we school our taste buds and listen to our body, we begin to crave the foods and nutrients required by our system at the specific time, based on the season, physical and mental demands, our age, and our mood.
|organs||livergall bladder||heartsmall intestine||stomach, spleen pancreas||lungslarge intestine||kidneysbladder|
|grains||barley, oatsrye, wheat||amaranthpopcorn||millet||ricesweet rice||buckwheat|
|vegetables||artichokebroccolicarrotstring beanromaine lettuceparsleyzucchini||asparagus brussels sproutschivedandelionendivescalliontomato||chardcollardseggplantparsnippumpkinspinachsquashsweet potato||cabbagecauliflowercelerycucumberdiakonradishonion||beetburdockhijikikalekombuwakamewater chestnut|
|fruit||avocadograpefruitlemonlimeplum pomegranate||apricotraspberry strawberry||bananaapple (sweet)cantaloupecoconutdatefigraisin||peachpear||blackberryblueberrycranberrywatermelon|
|legumes||black-eyed peasgreen lentil||red lentil||chickpea||navysoybean||adzukikidney|
|nuts||brazilcashew||pistachio||almond, pecanpine nut||walnuthickory||chestnut|
|animal meat||chickenchicken (liver)beef (liver)lamb (liver)||shrimpsquabbeef (heart)||salmonswordfishtunapheasantrabbit||codflounderhalibutturkeybeef||crablobstermusselduckhampork|
|other||lardnut buttersvinegarolivespickles||beercoffeechocolateketchupliquortobacco||carobhoneymaple syruprice honeysugar: brownsugar: white||mintmochipeppermintspirulinatofutempeh||decaf coffeemisosalttamaribancha tea|
|color||green||red||yelloworange||white||gray, black, deep blue|
|energy||planning decision-making||commanding to action||imagining||establishing rhythmic order||preserving by will power|
- Annemarie Colbin, Food Therapy class, October, 20, 2007. [↩]
- David Jacobs, “The Case for Real Food,” University of Minnesota, November 5, 2007. [↩]
- David Jacobs, “The Case for Real Food,” University of Minnesota, November 5, 2007. [↩]
- Margaret Wheatley observes, “…desires for mastery and prediction can never be satisfied in this nonlinear world.” See Leadership and the New Science, p. 122. [↩]
- Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing, p. 34. [↩]
- Wheatley, p. 126. [↩]
- Wheatley, p. 126. [↩]
- Margaret J. Wheatley, p. 126. [↩]
- Wheatley, p. 125. [↩]
- Colbin, p. 36. [↩]
- Colbin, 35 [↩]
- Colbin, 37 [↩]
- “Biologically active plant constituents likely go beyond macronutrients and well-accepted micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens, and may also include plant enzymes, hormones, and other substances that help to regulate plant metabolism as well as natural phytochemicals” (See Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 101, Issue 12, Dec. 2001, pps. 1416-1419. [↩]
- The following are examples of whole foods: whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds, eggs, small fish (e.g., sardines), seafood, small fowl (e.g., quail), whole milk, and tempeh. Whole wheat bread, pasta, and tofu are not. As a friend, Dr. Susan Rubin of Better School Food decribes, “A whole grain is something that, when you stick it in the ground, will grow.” [↩]
- Throughout time, agrarian cultures have treasured grain as “spiritual food.” No other food group is able to maintain its full life force year after year after year. See Joanne Saltzman’s Amazing Grain. [↩]
- The body responds to everything we put into it. Some people adapt better than others to processed and “artificial” foods. The more real foods we eat, the more in harmony with the world and our place in it: the more real our food, the more real we become. [↩]
- “More than half the crops grown in the U.S., including nearly all the soybeans and 70% of the corn are GMOs. Unless it’s specifically labeled organic, grocery store canola oil has a good chance of being a GM product.” Business Week, December, 17, 2007. [↩]
- …”in the U.S., about 60% to 70% of all …processed foods…contain GMOs…so if you see it in a box or a can…there is a strong likelihood that it has at least a small quantity of biotech ingredients.” Business Week, 12/17/07. [↩]
- The nutrient value of dried fruits and vegetables often exceeds its fresh counterparts due to “biological transmutation” of chemical elements. Perhaps this was nature’s way of providing for humanity over the long winter months when vitamin and mineral sources were lacking. See Louis Kervan’s Biological Transmutations for a discussion of this phenomenon. [↩]
- There is no history of a culture being able to reproduce and sustain itself solely on a plant-based diet. [↩]