Part the fascination (and frustration) with food and nutrition is that it’s always changing. But if you look around, so is our world. This year I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to dive deeper into two traditional models of health – Ayurveda at the incomparable Kripalu School of Ayurveda, and the shamanic work of plant spirit healing with the wonderful Pam Montgomery. As someone with a foot in both worlds (biochemical and spirit-integrative) it’s a fascinating time of convergence. I think the overarching theme of the year, nutritionally, is that our personal choices have global impact.
Here are my top five nutrition memes for the year that was (and is for a another day or 2):
1. Microbes rule: even more than we think.
We have more bacterial cells in our lower GI than all the other cells in our body combined. As it turns out, your ‘bugs’ are most of your immune system, are critical to the health and functioning of your digestive tract, and have a hand in the regulation of your whole body.
The Wall Street Journal’s health blog is atwitter with how our gut bacteria may influence our weight. This year I’ve seen stories on our microbiota’s influence on risk for cancer, our psychology and personality, and nearly every area of preventive health. I’m grateful to be working with digestive diva Kathie Swift MS RDN who has been talking about the bugs in our gut and their ramifications for health and how to balance them for some time now. She’ll be busy in 2014!
2. Is neuroscience nodding to shamanic and tantric wisdom? Yep.
Functional MRIs, until relatively recently, were only done in animals. But now we’re seeing scans of humans brains and the story that’s unfolding seems to come straight from shamanic or tantric philosophy. In shamanic tradition it’s thought that you become the vibrational result of everything – absolutely everything including your own mental internal dialouge, food, friends, work – you surround yourself with. The work of Mary Dallman and others has shown us how sugar and stress activate the amygdala (the emotion center of the brain), and how yoga and mindfulness rebalance by activating the pre-frontal cortex (the executive functional center).
But back to vibration. This year I’ve read the biophoton work of Fritz Popp (a German physicist), and heard about how his ideas may be part of the bridge between science and spirit. His theory is that all communication within cells comes down to biophotons – light vibration. He also talks about coherence – that when vibrating entities (and we are all that) resonate with each other, it amplifies their vibrational frequencies. His work offers a mechanism to explain how I can connect through my heart with a plant – as I learned to do this summer. This work dovetails nicely with The Heart Math work and Lynn Mc Taggert’s work on the human energy fiend and intention.
Fascinating exciting, and early stuff. For me right now it’s more about the direction of thought that the confirmable quality of the science. I do think confirmation, and high quality work is and will be done on these issues of physics and bioenergy and that’s an investigation I’m excited to follow in 2014.
3. It’s the food, the whole food: supplements don’t optimize and what’s good for the planet is good for you
Colin Campbell’s new book, Whole, is the just the latest offering to question the use of supplements. While high quality supplements used with skillful moderation can be powerful medicine to a person out of balance, for most, they’re useless at best. Overused, they are the ultimate processed food.
Use supplements under the guidance of a licensed nutritionist. Generally, they are best used for short-term treatment of a specific nutrient compromise or to treat a symptom. I’m a bigger fan of using herbs and spices for wellness.
Cambell’s book is also another argument to curtail the meaty version of the paleo diet. When I evaluate a diet, one measure I use is – what happens to the earth if everyone on it follows this diet? For plant-based diets, clearly the planet thrives. For meat-heavy, dairy-heavy and refined diets, it’s a planetary disaster.
Plant-based diets are in balance – personally, globally.
4. The end of trans fat? Yes!
The FDA has recently sounded the death knell for trans fats. Trans fats are those artery-clogging artificial fats used in refined foods – hydrogenated fats and the like. They are the result of trying to make cheap oils into something that acts more like butter and lard in baked goodies and other processed foods.
No timeline yet, though industry has known that it laid an egg (that contributed to a whole lot of suffering) with this one for some time. Center for Science in the Public Interest CSPI is pushing for a 6-month deadline, and their work will keep the FDA and the food industry on task.
Very very good news.
5. Metabolic individualization and intermittant fasting (what’s old is new again – again)
The functional nutrition movement has focused on the concept of biochemical individuation for a while now, and in my therapeutic nutrition work, clearly, this is the case – everyone is different on the physical – biochemical level. Then if you add in emotions, mental self-talk, energy – well, everyone is even more unique. This sounds hauntingly familiar to the dosas in Ayurveda. Are the doses genetics? Maybe – certainly they are a old thread that leads to what genetics tells us today.
Another ancient idea that happens to be a hot area of nutrition research is intermittent fasting. Mimi Spencer and Michael Mosley came out with a book- Fast Diet – this year based on this research that proposed a 5:2 plan – to eat as you normally would for 5 days, then take only 500 calories on 2 non-consecutive days. Here’s an article on the idea.
May your 2014 be filled with good food lovingly prepared and eaten with people you enjoy. I look forward to our year together!