THE ROLE OF DIET IN HEALTH
Adjusting your diet is a wonderful way to heal and stay well.
Fabian was a thin little boy, 6 years old, who was brought to see me for treatment for a skin rash all over his body which was red, itchy and he showed scratch marks all over his body. His mother said his appetite was poor, and it was hard to feed him. He had suffered from epileptic fits and in spite of anti-convulsant therapy which sedated him, was still very difficult to handle. His mother said that he was really a handful; he was rude, cranky, disobedient and hyperactive. I examined Fabian and discovered he was allergic to animal products. I advised his parents to stop his milk, eggs, honey, meats, fish etc. His mother said "he can never do that, he lives on Hamburgers and milk shakes." I explained to Fabian and his family, that by stopping animal products, his stomach pain and skin rash would go away and that he would be more calm. We discussed the food he liked and worked out a diet which was agreeable to him, good for his health and which his mother could manage to produce in the time she had available. He agreed to try this diet and see me again in a few weeks.
The next month a happy, smiling little boy bounded up to me in my waiting room and said "Hello Dr. Manik, I'm much better." The skin was no longer red and itchy and his mother said he was a changed child. Happy, smiling and no longer hyperactive. Fabian saw me again 8 weeks later, his skin had healed completely, he had put on weight and was comfortable. We then reduced his anti-convulsant medication and over the next few months we took him entirely off his medication. A year later Fabian returned to the US for a holiday, and ate hamburgers, his favorite food again, within a week he was again surly, unruly, and hyperactive. His mother called me up frantically, with this story. I advised her again to keep Fabian off all animal products and the problem would subside; it did and Fabian and his family learnt an important lesson - "If he ate the wrong things he would be sick."
Fabian was unfortunate that the pesticides in the hamburgers he was eating, had caused him to he develop this allergy. By becoming a vegetarian he regained his health.
Helga was a Swedish lady who had moved to India for spiritual purposes. She had turned vegetarian and came to see me saying she was always tired, had no energy, had pain all over her body, and constant indigestion. I examined her and found that she was suffering from severe malnutrition. Her family had been eating mostly meat for centuries with very little carbohydrate. As a result she did not have the enzymes to digest the rice, lentils and vegetables she was eating. I modified her diet, added on more nuts & soya bean products and in a few weeks she was feeling much better again. She would actually thrive on a non- vegetarian diet!
Janet was a lady who came to see me with complaints of being always tired. She had low levels of energy, needed to rest a lot and any activity caused her muscles to ache. When she ate food she often developed severe stomach cramps and had frequent headaches. I examined her and found that she had a great excess of acid in her body. She was suffering the results of eating too many foods which were acidic in nature. I explained the importance of food balancing to her, the importance of drinking enough water and worked out a suitable diet for her. Over the next few months her tiredness and body ache reduced. Over the next 3 years Janet gradually returned to good health.
Many health problems do originate in eating the wrong diet. Asthma is one such problem where food allergies can cause breathing problems. Removal of the offending food from the diet leads to a miraculous improvement in the breathing. Hyperacidity, flatulence, Ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and piles (Hemorrhoids) are some of the problems associated with an incorrect diet. Many types of cancer including colon cancer are associated with an incorrect diet. It is well known that diets, low in vegetables and fruit predispose to colon cancer.
Breast and prostrate cancer have a strong association with the presence of hormones in food as well as with allergies to milk. Pesticides in foods are well known to cause cancer as well. Eating organically grown foods can save you a lot of suffering and allow you to stay well and healthy.
Mr Iyer was very good in academics, he specialized in computers in India and moved to the US to live and work. His food habits gradually changed as he tried to blend in with his colleagues and he started eating non- vegetarian food. He started getting acidity, heart burn and felt heavy in the stomach. He ascribed these symptoms to stress and work pressure. 3 years later he developed Rheumatoid arthritis which was treated with Steroids and immuno suppressive drugs. In spite of treatment he got steadily worse. He developed Diabetes and high blood pressure as well. He came to see me, I examined him and explained to him that as he came from a family which had been vegetarian for centuries, he was unable to handle animal products including milk and milk products which had caused his auto -immune system to attack itself. His answer to get well, lay in going back to a strictly vegetarian diet without any milk or milk products. He followed the dietary advice and over the next few years showed gradual improvement in many aspects of his health.
Mr Iyer's problem is a common problem for people who migrate from one country to another. The dietary habits in the country they migrate to may be very different from the country they came from. Indians who migrate to western countries, have a rate of diabetes and heart disease, which exceeds that of similar people, in both the countries they migrate from, and the countries they migrate to. Africans who migrated to the United states have a far greater incidence of obesity, diabetes and behavioral problems!
The constitution of each individual requires different foods for his body to thrive, and our bodies do give us indications about the type of food we need. Often a mother may tell a child "Drink your milk it is good for you," and the child may say "Milk makes me sick." This statement may often be very true as many children are in fact allergic to milk and taking milk may really make them sick. "One man's meat is another man's poison" is a well known saying with a lot of truth.
Each of us has a unique constitution which requires an individualized diet for our bodies to function optimally. What may be good food for one person may be entirely unsuitable for another person. All foods are not suitable for all people at all times in their lives. Wrong diet is an important cause of illness. Unfortunately these simple facts are often not understood in most families. That is why in a family where everyone eats the same food, people maintain different degrees of health. Some are very well & some are very sick.
To achieve & maintain good health, you need a diet which is properly designed, to provide you with adequate quantities of all the essential nutrients for you to thrive. This diet has to be tailored and prescribed for you after considering your type of constitution, age, the climate you live in, your occupation, life style, body weight, genetic predisposition, food habits & preferences, disease states, past illnesses and future anticipated health problems.
A car runs best when we use the correct type of fuels and oils in its engine. It runs poorly when we put in other fuels like kerosene & diesel in place of petrol or when we use poor quality petrol or use the incorrect grade of oils. Similarly our bodies run best when we feed it the correct types of food which allow it to function optimally. Foods which contain preservatives, artificial colorings, flavorings, antibiotics, MSG and pesticides, irritate our body and poison our immune system. Diseases which may occur from ingesting these substances, include allergies, auto immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, liver or kidney failure, Cancer and a greater predisposition to many infectious diseases. Food allergies are a common cause of many health problems which are not limited to the digestive tract. These are described in the section on Food allergies
"Hippocrates" the father of medicine is said to have started his textbook of Medicine with the words "You are what you eat". Hippocrates was also one of the first physicians to link milk consumption to gastrointestinal disorders. Unfortunately his present day successors in western medicine have forgotten his wise words and have concentrated on drug therapy, neglecting the safe, time tested and effective treatment method of dietary regulation. While we still take the Hippocratic oath, much of Hippocrates centuries' old wisdom, which is still relevant today, has been forgotten in the last century due to the excitement of new scientific discoveries in the fields of investigation, surgery and pharmaceutical medicine.
Ancient and time tested systems of medicine like Ayurveda believe that many health problems result from an incorrect diet. Hence Ayurveda places a lot of emphasis on analyzing the constitution of the individual and prescribing an individualized diet based on the type of constitution to strengthen and preserve his health.
Foods which contain preservatives, artificial colorings, flavorings, antibiotics, MSG and pesticides, irritate our body and poison our immune system. Diseases which may occur from ingesting these substances, include allergies, auto immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, liver or kidney failure, Cancer and a greater predisposition to many infectious diseases. Cooking food in aluminum utensils is associated with gastric problems and Alzheimer's disease.
For a healthy life, a healthy diet is essential. We try be moderate in our habits, as an excess of anything is bad. The Arndt-Schultz law states "A small amount stimulates, little more sedates and an excess causes destruction ". This is true of all things in life and too much food can kill you. Excess of any food with the exclusion of others has harmful effects on health. A diet too rich in fat can kill you early, by causing obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart disease. An excess of salt in the diet and inadequate elimination of salts due to a low water intake of water can cause hypertension which responds to reducing the intake of salt and increasing the intake of water.
We should eat enough to satisfy our hunger, but not so much as to make ourselves uncomfortably full.
Modern research has shown that vegetarians live longer and are healthier than non-vegetarians. When we are young, we may be able digest food of animal origin like milk, eggs, chicken and meats easily. As we grow older we find it harder to digest these rich and heavy foods. Red meats and fats are appropriate in cold climates, where life is arduous. In tropical countries like India, energy requirements to maintain body temperature are lower than in cold European countries, and a vegetarian diet is healthier and more appropriate.
Children start by drinking their mother's milk. As they grow they gradually move to bland foods and this taste usually lasts up to the age of about 12 years. At this stage children are usually reluctant to try new foods. After this tastes mature, children experiment with new foods, tastes, spices and textures. The taste is usually mature as they become adults. In the teen age and early adult years calorie and protein requirements are high because of high levels of physical activity which gradually decline as you go into middle age. In the elderly age group calorie and protein requirements decline, mineral intakes fall leading to malnutrition and diseases associated with this.
Vegetables and fruit when eaten raw, give you the full benefit of their vitamin and fibre content. High fibre foods like fruits and raw vegetables, leave a large indigestible residue, which ensure rapid and regular expulsion of the undigested food matter in the form of a stool. In a diet predominantly of animal origin, containing a lot of refined carbohydrates and fats, the residue of undigested food matter is small. This small amount of residue moves slowly along the large intestine causing constipation.
Cooking food makes it easier to digest, by helping the breakdown of the fibre in the food to easily digestible starch & protein. Vegetables which need to be cooked should either be steamed, grilled or lightly stir fried in a steel or cast iron wok with a high flame for four or five minutes in the minimum quantity of oil. This form of cooking seals the flavor, vitamins and minerals into the food and the short duration of cooking restricts the inactivation of the vitamins which takes place with prolonged cooking. Boiling inactivates many of the vitamins and removes minerals present in the food. This fact is used in making soups where the minerals and other nutrients migrate into the liquid. Hence water used to boil foods, is rich in minerals and can be used to enrich other food items.
For optimum nutrition we should eat a varied diet with different vegetables, fruit and grain. This is because each food contains different nutrients by way of vitamins, minerals & trace elements. By eating a varied diet, the body is able to selectively absorb those elements which it needs for its growth and well being. Excess of any item can lead to problems as well. Eating an excess of vegetables from the cabbage family including cauliflower and broccoli interferes with absorption of Iodine and cause hypothyroidism. Equally eating these vegetables can be used to treat hyperthyroidism.