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January 2009: New Year’s Reflections and Resolutions
• Resolutions: Ideas for Good Food and Health
• Recipes: Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Rosemary
As the New Year signals a time for new beginnings, we often think of formulating resolutions. What better time to remind ourselves of some basic concepts for good health. As the winds of everyday life invariably blow us off course, a few reminders may be all we need to get back on a healthy track after the holiday season. So in this issue, we offer a few ideas should you be in the spirit to consider resolutions for the New Year.
The New Year also gives us a chance to pause for reflection before setting out again into the fast pace of life and our life’s work. In the course of some recent reading, I discovered two treasures from the past to share with you. Both speak with clarity to today’s chronic problems concerning the health of humanity and the planet.
The first, the prescient words of Chief Seattle (c.1786 – 1866), sheds light on the great wisdom long-held by Native American cultures, with their deep appreciation for the gifts of Mother Nature. Understanding their place within Nature’s delicate web and mindful of its fragile balance, many Native American tribes shaped their actions with an eye to assure the health and prosperity of the seven generations to follow. It is a philosophy in stark contrast to that of the quarterly-earnings-driven model of modern culture. It is also one that is as valid today as then:
Teach your children
what we have taught our children—
that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
they spit upon themselves.
This we know.
The earth does not belong to us;
we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected
like the blood which unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life;
we are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
we do to ourselves.
The second constellation of ideas comes from Nature Form and Spirit, a book about the life and work of George Nakashima (1905-90). Growing up in America, Nakashima was an artist who rebelled against the egocentric model of Western culture. Inspired by the cathedral-building efforts in Europe during the Middle Ages and able to see the “spirit of the tree” that lay deep within his raw materials, he tried to preserve a sense of the eternal within his works. His wood masterpieces, embodying peace and solemnity, remain the model of such popular craftsmen as Thomas Moser today.
In Chartres, Nakashima saw beyond even its magnificence and the…
“breath-taking beauty of its daring and ingenious flying buttresses, intricately carved sculpture, and overwhelmingly beautiful stained-glass windows. … what impressed him the most was the manner in which the cathedral was conceived and built, constructed by a community of faith, by people from all walks of life, with no architect, engineer, or even one single design. It had grown organically, miraculously, and was rebuilt at least five times over the ages by unnamed, unknown craftsmen dedicated only to building a testament to their faith. We may never know what went through the minds and hearts of those men, but only that an extraordinary faith empowered their hands to build one of the most remarkable buildings on earth. Nakashima would often refer to the thirteenth as the greatest of centuries because of this immense faith and what he saw as its total lack of concern for ego, which built cathedrals like Chartres. The power of this spirit was an ideal that he pursued all of his life.1”
Today, we have the gift of a new awareness. All around us, the Universe offers countless signs that the modern egocentric model has failed. Yet, with the power of the Internet to connect us globally, we have all the tools to chart a new course. To create a new, effective model we need look no further than the internal voice of the Master-builder that lies within us all. Stone by stone, throughout the grass-roots web, we can build our modern Chartres, locally, so globally.2
Ideas for Good Health in the New Year…See which might resonate with you…
Strategies to Work With the Natural Energy Rhythms of the Body (see Body Clock, p. 7):
• Make time to eat a good breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day. A hearty breakfast following the 40/30/30 concept of 40% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat can help to boost metabolism, stabilize blood sugar, and provide sustained energy for the brain. Studies confirm that people who eat breakfast have the least problem keeping a healthy weight.
• Try to eat your main protein-based meal at noon, when digestive fire is at its peak. Avoid eating three hours before you retire at night. Digestive fire dwindles in the evening as the body naturally cools down to welcome sleep.
• Allow for enough sleep. We all vary both in how much and when we sleep best around the 24-hour cycle of a day. Some people are Owls and love working into the late-night hours, while others are Larks and thrive on waking up early and retiring early. Whatever your pleasure, recall that a lack of sleep can throw off body chemistry, foster inflammation, and contribute to weight gain. Adequate sleep restores the immune system and is one of the best ways to ward off illness. Check in with yourself. “Enough” sleep varies with the individual, one’s type of work, and level of stress. One useful gauge: if you are craving caffeine and sweets to keep going throughout the day and often come down with colds, you are probably not getting enough sleep.
• Try some regular aerobic exercise in the fresh air and sunshine (Yes, sunshine is good for your health!). Among its many benefits, aerobic exercise helps prevent inflammation. A 30-minute walk three times a week may be sufficient. If possible, try to exercise early in the day when the lungs are at their peak energy. If you exercise to lose or maintain weight, choose something you like since studies show that exercise that is not enjoyed creates stress and can be counterproductive, even exacerbating weight gain.3
Strategies When Choosing Foods:
• Try to buy local, fresh, whole foods…organic when possible. Think variety…rainbow colors, some raw and some cooked, some fermented. Foods are a system, uniquely balanced with nutrients and fiber for assimilation and nourishment. Our body converts foods into energy in a way that defies the explanations of science and the microscope.
• Read food labels. Read for trans fats, for genetically modified (GMO) foods, and for the pseudonyms for sugar and artificial additives such as “evaporated cane juice” and MSG. Recent scientific studies suggest ties between GMOs and allergies, immune problems, and infertility;(( See www.NaturalNews.com/025001.html.)) and, between MSG (prevalent in processed, packaged, and fast foods) and depression and childhood obesity.4
• Consume healthy fats and oils. Saturated fats such as organic butter from grass-fed animals and organic unrefined coconut oil are top choices for cooking, and quality cod liver oil5 and fish oil are good sources of omega-3 fats. Saturated fats are necessary for cell membranes, which are 50% saturated fat. Omega-3s are important for neurological function. Avoid trans fats, which are found in many processed and fast foods; they confuse the body and can foster chronic disease.6
• Let the way Nature packages food be a guide. Sugar is a classic example. To make one cup of refined white sugar requires 17 feet of sugar cane!!!7 In refining, we miss the cane’s natural fiber and micronutrients. How much sugar would we eat if we had to ingest it in this form? Or, how many walnuts might we consume if, instead of pouring from a package, we had to take the time to crack each one?
• Think prevention of disease, not suppression of symptoms. Develop strategies to curb inflammation, the root of all chronic disease. From evolution and genetic selection, we as a people are prone to inflammation. The inflammatory response supported our survival before the discovery of modern antibiotics. While good strategies to try to curb our inflammatory nature are tied to lifestyle (getting enough sleep, moderate exercise, laughter, fresh air, sunshine and connection with others), they are also tied to diet. This means limiting sugar, refined flour, clear denatured8 vegetable oils, and meats from grain-fed animals. It also means bringing into good balance the consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 fats…
• Try to limit processed and fast foods, and avoid cooking with clear vegetable oils. This can be a huge step toward creating in your diet a healthy 2:1 balance of omega-6:-3 oils. Omega-6 oils are inflammatory. They are hidden in processed, packaged, and fast foods, which is a major reason the typical American ratio is 20:1, rather than 2:1. The sensible way to bring the “-6:-3 ratio” into better balance and benefit from the omega-3s that you do consume is to limit your intake of omega-6 fats9 (the table on page 6 can guide you). Since omega-3s and -6s compete for the same digestive enzymes, consuming large amounts of omega-6s through processed and fast foods can negate the potential anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 oils, because omega-6s “crowd out” omega-3s.10
• To preserve the delicate brain, consume good fats and oils while you also try to avoid excitotoxins in foods and the excessive use of mobile phones. The protective lymph system does not extend its strong protective web to the head. Nature in Her design anticipated neither our modern technology nor additives in processed foods.
• Eat foods attuned to the season and the season of your life. Tropical fruits, and summer foods like tomatoes, cucumbers, and salad greens are cooling and well-suited to warm climates. But in winter, hearty soups and meals built around warming chicken, turkey, and lamb, leeks, onions, parsnips, and winter squashes can preserve internal heat and support the body’s natural energy without undue strain and overwork. Rotating foods with the seasons supports this energy and can also help prevent allergies. In the later decades of life, foods and quantities that worked in earlier years may no longer. Our body gives such wonderful feedback. We need only to pay attention…
• Be “bad” sometimes. It reminds us why it is generally best to be “good.” An 80/20 or 90/10 goal is good enough: if we aim for 80%-90% of our choices in the “healthy” zone (food, sleep, or whatever) we enjoy some “wiggle room.” Then, we just pay attention to how we feel. In all realms, our body will give us feedback. And, as Annemarie Colbin taught me, there is no need to feel guilty when we make a “bad” choice. After all, we have already paid the price by how we feel. In the meantime, what we have gained is valuable information.
• Trust the body’s healing wisdom: When something feels wrong, take time to ask “Why?” So often we are tempted to maintain our busy schedules and reach for a medication to suppress systems, but over time this can sow the seeds of chronic inflammation. We can trust our body to heal itself. Symptoms like a runny nose can be seen as the body’s effort to attack acute infection. When we honor these natural healing signs by allowing the body to rest, “clean house,” and restore itself, we can help ward off chronic conditions that might otherwise take root.
• Put a “margin” in everyday. It is one of the easiest strategies to relieve stress. I admire my family members for their dedication to yoga and meditation, but somehow I have never found the time for this. If I made yoga a New Year’s resolution it might only cause me additional stress and guilt when I could not carry through. Rather than add in something unrealistic, I found that one of the easiest ways to counter stress (which I developed as a young mother) was to leave a margin of time in the day for the unforeseen. Invariably a loved-one needs some special attention and/or nurturing. A margin of time can make all the difference, and if not filled, you have the bonus of time just for yourself.
• Chew well and drink enough pure water. How much water you need depends on climate, your activity level, and your diet. In hotter, drier climates and when you exercise, you need more. If your diet is heavily weighted toward contractive foods like meat, eggs, and chips you need more, but less if you eat a lot of soups, stews, vegetables and fruits. Drinking more water than you need can flush important water-soluble vitamins from the body and tax the kidneys.
Nut or Seed:
This model gives us important clues for preserving our own strength: If we allow ourselves to work with the natural flow of our natural energy, we can avoid expending extra energy “swimming upstream” against it. Eating the major meal earlier in the day is best for the digestion, and late-night dining taxes not only our digestive power but also the ability of the liver to cleanse the blood of toxins.
• The liver, which stores and filters the blood, is at its peak between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.….which means that late-night is not a good time for Dagwood or his modern counterpart to be pilfering through the refrigerator in search of the triple-decker hero.
• The lungs get their turn between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the time when babies are often born, when the lungs receive the strongest energy and when survival chances based on that first breath are best.
• The large intestine follows between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., when ideally the system empties before the first large meal of the day.
• The stomach and spleen (partners in digestion) receive peak energy between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., so that the first hearty meal of the day can have behind it strong digestive and assimilative powers.
Winter Recipe: Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Rosemary… a Dish to Stoke Your Internal Furnace
Every food has a temperature, a taste, and a direction of energy. For winter, meats that are good choices are turkey and chicken which are “warm” in temperature. Surprisingly, beef is “neutral,” so it is not as well-suited to winter as lamb, the only major animal meat whose thermal nature is considered “hot.” In the simple recipe below, the warming and antimicrobial nature of garlic, combined with the anti-inflammatory quality of rosemary, and its slow-simmer cooking method make this a perfect winter dish. (Cooking with a long, slow simmer either on stove top or in a slow-cooker helps food hold its internal heat.)
Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Rosemary
4-6 Organic Lamb Shanks
Garlic cloves, to taste
Sprigs of fresh rosemary, as many as desired
Filtered water to cover
Place all ingredients in a large stock pot or slow-cooker and set to high, cooking for an hour or so to bring up heat. Then turn the pot to medium or low, simmering for another 4-5 hours.
Allow the stock to cool and then chill. Skim off the fat. The stock can be used to cook grains or added to other soups or stews.
Wonderfully simple and warming, this dish can be served with hearty bread for dipping and/or with whole grains and winter vegetables. The cartilage and marrow of the lamb shanks can help restore bones and connective tissue. It is a perfect meal for the most frigid of wintry days.
Copyright 2009 Pathways4Health
- Mari Nakashima, Nature Form and Spirit, pp. 16-17. [↩]
- This is not so far-fetched, really, when we appreciate man’s innate willingness to sacrifice for the “greater good.” Consider a 2007 study that indicated the majority of Americans polled would agree to a toxic waste dump in their locality, but not when monetary compensation was attached (presumably sacrifice for others was sufficient reward, with this positive feeling erased by monetary gains)…NYTimes, OpEd). Consider also: a.) Dan Ariely’s What’s the Value of a Big Bonus… “People perform better when they’re not promised huge rewards.” [↩]
- See Marc David, The Slowdown Diet. [↩]
- MSG and Childhood Obesity: John Erb, The Slow Poisoning of America and the National Library of Medicine, www.pubmed.com “MSG Obese;” and, www.msgmyth.com “Battling the MSG Myth.” [↩]
- Good choices of the experts include Radiant Life and Green Pasture Blue Ice, www.greenpastures.org [↩]
- Fats are a complex topic. See February and March 2008 for discussion. [↩]
- Annemarie Colbin, PhD [↩]
- Clear oils like corn, soy, and canola are stripped of nutrients, bleached, and heated to high temperatures. [↩]
- Food sources of omega-3 oils are oily cold water fish like wild salmon, herring, sardines, and sablefish. [↩]
- See May08, p.7 for discussion of heart disease and Eskimos when exposed to the American diet. [↩]