Soul Food vs. Health Food
One of the first things I always tell customers, clients, friends, family...is that food is the first medicine you take. No matter who you are, where you live, what foods you eat, food is always your first method for taking care of your body. Food or drink of any kind will have an affect on your body, all foods have different energies, different nutritional components, and different actions on the body. If you do not give your body the proper fuel and nutrition that it needs, your bodily processes start to go awry.
I have two very different parents - one is a nurse and the other a baker. My mom has always had a drive about her that is infectious - it fills me with life and energizes me at the core, giving me the energy to make a difference in this world. My mom is always adamant about making sure I am getting proper nutrition, taking my vitamins, and that I get plenty of exercise. Based off of her experience and knowledge from being a nurse for nearly 30 years, these are the core fundamentals of what keeps the body healthy, both physically and mentally. She has seen so many patients over the years, all sorts of different shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities, and genders - each one in a different phase of their life. "...so many of my patients would not be here (at the hospital), if they had taken 30 minutes out of their day to exercise and alter their diet, it can be that easy and make that big of a difference." - end conclusions from discussions between my mom and I.
My dad also believes in the importance of proper nutrition, balanced meals, and having an active lifestyle, however, he has a different approach to things. My dad has taught me to be very mindful of what I do and has helped open me up to a very spiritual perspective of life. This means doing what you do with purpose and intent, being respectful of others around you, and understanding what you do and why you do it. My dad is a baker because he has always had a special connection with food - food carries family traditions and culture, it is an outlet for being creative, and it allows for the opportunity to change perspective.
I love my parents at a level that I probably don't express often enough. They have been so influential in everything that I do and have given me such a great foundation to continue building as I progress throughout my life and start raising children of my own. Trust me, I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth - I have had to do a lot of reflection, investigation, questioning, and understanding of my childhood to be who I am today. My change in perspective is one of the biggest contributing factors that help to keep me healthy in my now 29 year-old body.
I have learned to combine both perspectives from my parents, especially when it comes to food - eating foods that both feed your soul as well as feed your body - Soul Food vs. Health Food. Soul Food is the food that feeds your inner child, it is your comfort food and the food that just makes you happy purely because it tastes great and fills you with joy. Health Food is the food that compiles your everyday diet - the balanced meals that you eat to keep digestion happy and give your body the energy to keep going.
Soul Foods can be anything that is special to you, the foods that you associate with memories, the recipes passed down from your grandmother, or even the box mac & cheese and hot dogs that you ate as a child. These are the foods that we eat to keep our inner child alive and happy, to feed our spirit and keep ourselves full of joy. This is also the food that we eat when we are having a bad day and really just need to dive into the bottom of the ice cream in the freezer.
These are typically the foods that are frowned upon, because they fall under the category of being unhealthy. And I agree with that, in large portions or frequent consumption, they send the body on a very unhealthy journey. On the other hand, maybe your comfort food is Brussels Sprouts because that's what you grew up with and you absolutely fell in love with them. This is why it is important to understand what we are eating and why we are eating it, to know how it is affecting each individual body.
Food is literally the first medicine that we all put into our body. Each food item, raw single ingredients or combined into a meal, acts upon the body in a different way. If you eat too much of one kind of food, it will really sway your body, creating an unbalanced environment - throwing you into different states of dis-ease. All foods have different levels of macro and micro nutrients, minerals, fiber, and other elements that all become part of the body's method for food assimilation. This means that everything you eat becomes part of your body and changes your body chemistry.
By changing your diet at its core (this is different from dieting), you are able to bring your body back into balance and change your state of being. You do not need to understand all the different nutrients and how they change the body, you just have to know your body and how foods affect you. Here are some good examples:
- My wife has difficulties eating dishes that are high in Turmeric because Turmeric is too drying for her naturally dry constitution. How does she know this? She listens to her body - her mouth and throat become dry, she may have a brief dry cough, her stomach may become upset, and her digestion becomes sluggish.
- Me on the other hand, my body has difficulties processing dairy-based foods because of my naturally damp constitution. Dairy is moistening to the body, have you ever noticed becoming phlegmy after consuming dairy items? I will encounter situations of sinus congestion, phlegmy coughs, loose stools, and signs of fluid stagnation in my body (lymph, for example).
We crave certain foods because it satisfies something within the body, whether it comforts the spirit or balances the physical body. The more we can learn about the foods we eat and our individual constitutions, the better off we will be for creating a healthier future. Later this year, we will be interviewing our practicing herbalists to gather their perspectives on what it means to understand a constitution and the role it has in making our daily life choices. Understanding constitutions is a whole other concept that needs to be discussed between you and your health care provider.
Dietary changes need to happen over time; it is difficult to change our diets cold-turkey because they have become part of our lifestyles. There needs to be a healthy transitioning phase for both the mental and physical body. My wife and I have not completely cut out foods from our diet because we believe it is healthy to be all inclusive, the key aspect is to manage the portions of what we eat. Here are other important topics to consider when deciding how to structure your daily diet:
Food flavors and how they act on different organs and organ systems:
Every culture has different recommendations for eating foods that keep the body healthy. One of the resources that I associate with the most is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), when learning about the different natural practices, this is one that resonated with me. TCM discusses how flavors (food, herb, etc.) act on the body in different ways:
- Bitter - improves heart function and circulation, with secondary actions on the liver/gallbladder
- Sweet - supporting the spleen, stomach, and pancreas function (this is different than craving sweets, that means there is some sort of imbalance within the body that is not being addressed)
- Sour - promotes liver/gallbladder action, all around toning and tightening to the body's tissue states
- Pungent/acrid - this one is difficult to understand, but once you do, it is a very distinguishable flavor - improving lung and sinus function, overall dispersing and clearing to the body
- Salty - supporting kidney/adrenal health, this does not necessarily mean salted (foods like seaweed and sea creatures are naturally salty in flavor)
Eating seasonally/Eating foods for different seasons:
Like the plants and other creatures around us, our bodies flow with the seasons. This is where it becomes important to understand how foods make you feel and why it is better to eat hardy, filling meals during the Winter and important to eat cooling, clearing salads during the Summer. This is something that is different for each individual, based on their constitution and where they live. If you pay attention to the next change of seasons we experience, you will notice your body changing with the season.
Importance of food:
Food has such an important role in our lives and it is necessary for us to understand the different perspectives food has to offer. Food gives us the chance to bond with loved ones, whether cooking a meal together or simply sitting down at the table to talk about our personal experiences that day. Foods have different personalities and can bring out personality in all of us, to be a creative outlet for expression or to be a tantalizing dessert that only your Aunt makes for special occasions. Our perspectives towards food is one of the most important factors for managing our health; if we don't have a healthy perspective towards food, it is difficult for food to make us healthy.