Because our current approach to nutrition isn't working well for so many of us, as a nutrition researcher, educator, and health journalist, it appalls me that so much of the literature in my field continues to focus exclusively on only one of the six secrets: what to eat. If the dice in Las Vegas casinos were fixed so that only the same side kept showing up every time you rolled them, everyone would scream "cheat!"
We are being cheated nutritionally. Food constitutes a six-part gift, but all we're hearing about is one thing. But this skewed perspective, focusing solely on the physiological aspects of food, has become the norm. I call our one-sided, limited view the Dark Ages of nutrition. We think that nutritional science is at its pinnacle, but in fact, most of us are still in the dark about what can most benefit us about food. This is because we're ignoring the most important elements of food and nutrition -- the healing secrets of food -- that have served humankind for centuries. They are:
1. Unite with others through food.
2. Be aware of your feelings before, during, and after eating.
3. Bring moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness to each aspect of the meal.
4. Appreciate food and its origins -- from the heart.
5. Create union with the Divine by "flavoring" food with love.
6. Eat fresh, whole foods in their natural state as often as possible.
All these elements count -- not just one or two in isolation.
As powerful as the healing secrets of food are, I am disappointed that experts -- from food writers to dietitians and religious leaders -- don't learn, practice, and teach what these secrets have to offer, emphasizing their valuable health-giving properties and benefits every opportunity they get.
I am disappointed that we consider only what can be measured in food, while we've forgotten that what is not so easily measured might be much more valuable to our health. I am disappointed that society as a whole isn't paying more attention to the healing secrets of food. Instead we choose to ignore a powerful truth: food has the ability to heal us in many ways -- if we take the time to tap into its powerful healing properties.
Where, I wonder, is the meaning, the invisible satisfaction in our food? The human connection? The pleasure? The delight? The soul satisfaction? Where are the missing "secret ingredients," what philosopher Huston Smith calls "forgotten truth" about food and its meaning in our lives? Author Ken Wilbur articulates this dilemma of objective scientific truth versus underlying meaning that cannot be measured objectively. In his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul, he writes, "Science is clearly one of the most profound methods that humans have yet devised for discovering truth, while religion remains the single greatest force for generating meaning."
Our ancient ancestors understood instinctively the significance of putting meaning into meals. Throughout the centuries, people of many religions and cultural traditions have infused food with meaning in ways that are still evident today. For instance, devout Christians begin meals with a prayer of thanks; Indians refer to bhoga, a collective term for any food ingredient being used as an offering to God; with compassion for food animals as a guideline, Jewish dietary laws specify prohibited and acceptable food; and a reverence for, and connection to, nature and food is an integral part of Native American Indian beliefs.
When the meaning in our meals is lost, what's left is a list of rules and regulations that are not meaningful and therefore not motivating or sustainable. This truth became evident as my mom and dad struggled to overcome their heart problems. I knew they understood the heart-healthy dietary information I'd given them, but in retrospect, I realize that the underlying message was, "You should be eating differently. You should stop eating familiar and comfortable foods. You should assess and analyze what you're eating." Should.
Surely what we should do or eat isn't a great motivator (nor is it emotionally appetizing). Indeed, the dictionary states that the word should implies obligation. Is this what food is really about? Is it something we're obligated to eat, to analyze, to weigh, to judge, to avoid, to crave, to overconsume, to underconsume, to control, to love, to hate, to fear, or to revere?
When we assess the vast nutritional resources of our culinary heritage and merge this wisdom with what modern nutritional science has to tell us, our relationship to food becomes integrative and therefore optimal. In lieu of being tossed around in a storm of nutrients and numbers, you become empowered to actualize an eating style that holds the potential not only to nourish your physical health but also to enhance your emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Food becomes a celebration of life.
I'm calling for a renaissance -- a reflowering of the way we view food and nutrition. This new view asks that we pay attention to all the healing secrets -- and to demystifying, understanding, and practicing them every day. I'm especially thrilled to tell you about these long-lost healing secrets -- not only because of their timeless wisdom, but because they contain the answers we've been looking for -- but in all the wrong places.
Ultimately, their message is simple: the healing gifts of food are available to us each time we eat. As a matter of fact, every time you shop for, prepare, and eat food you have the opportunity to connect with the life-giving, life-containing mystery inherent in food. These activities are also opportunities to connect with loved ones, with the earth, with life itself. In this way, you can heal not only yourself but, ultimately, the planet.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, California.
This article is excerpted from:
The Healing Secrets of Food: A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul
by Deborah Kesten.
Eating fulfills more than physical needs, which might be why one is inclined to gorge on fatty foods when feeling tired or depressed. Deborah Kesten believes that well-being is affected not only by different types of food but also by varied ways of preparing and eating meals. Combining scientific facts with traditional food practices from around the globe, Deborah provides ways to benefit from the six healing secrets of food.
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DEBORAH KESTEN, MPH is an award-winning author who has also been a research nutritionist, nutrition educator, and health journalist for more than 15 years. Her first book, Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul, received the prestigious Independent Publishers' Book Award in 1998. She has taught courses on integrative nutrition at California Pacific Medical Center's Institute for Health and Healing in San Francisco, lectured at San Francisco State University's Department of Holistic Health, and continues to lecture and conduct workshops internationally.