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Basics & Benefits of Macrobiotics Part I

One of the most basic principles of macrobiotics is to eat an ecological, environmentally – based diet. That means to rely primarily on foods native to the climate and environment in which we live. Until the modern age, people were more or less dependent on the products of their regional agriculture. Foods that grew in their area formed the basis of their daily diet. It was not until modern technology that it became possible for people to base their diets on foods from regions with far different climates.

Today, it is common for people to consume bananas from South America, sugar from the Caribbean, pineapples from the South Pacific, or kiwi from New Zealand. However, our health depends on our ability to adapt to the changes in our environment. When we eat foods from a climate that is very different from ours, we lose that adaptability. As society moved away from its traditional, ecologically-based diet, there has been a corresponding rise in chronic illness. Therefore, for optimal health, we need to return to a way of eating based on foods produced in our local environment, or at least on foods grown in a climate that is similar to ours.

Foods with more yang, or contracted energy remain viable longer and can come from a greater distance than foods with more yin, or expansive energy. Sea salt and sea vegetables are examples. They are rich in contracted minerals and can come from the oceans around the world, provided these waters are within your hemisphere. Grains, especially with the outer husk attached, remain intact for a long time, even thousands of years, and can come from anywhere in your continent. Beans also travel well and can come from a similarly wide area. However, vegetables and fruits are more yin or expansive; they decompose more rapidly than grains and beans, and unless they are naturally dried or pickled, are best taken from your immediate area.

Changing with Our Environment

It is also important to adapt our cooking and eating to seasonal changes. The modern way of eating does not do this, as people eat pretty much the same diet throughout the year. High temperatures and bright sunshine produce a stronger charge of upward energy in the environment. Water evaporates more rapidly and plants become lush and expanded. Spring and summer are times of upward, expansive energy. Then toward the end of summer, energy starts to change, moving downward and inward. In colder and darker conditions, such as those of autumn and winter, downward or contracting energy is stronger.

How can we adapt to these changes? During spring and summer, we can make our diet lighter and fresher, meaning that we use less fire in cooking. We do not need as much fire in our cooking because fire is already there in the form of strong sunshine. When it is hot, we do not need warmth from our food. As we move into autumn and winter, with cooler temperatures and stronger downward energy, we make our food hearty and warming by using more fire in cooking.

As the seasons change, we also need to utilize the natural products of our environment. Our gardens are filled with vegetables and other foods during the spring and summer, so we can naturally eat plenty of fresh garden produce during these times. For example, summer is the time when corn is readily available, so it is fine to eat plenty of fresh corn in that season.

From season to season, atmospheric energy alternates as part of the daily cycle. Upward energy is stronger in the morning, while downward energy is stronger in the afternoon and evening. In order to eat in harmony with this cycle, breakfast should be light, not heavy. A breakfast of eggs and bacon is dense and heavy, and goes against the movement of energy. Breakfast grains can be cooked with more water, so that they become lighter and more easily digested. Dinner can include a greater number of side dishes, and we normally eat more in the evening, since at that time, atmospheric energy is more condensed and inward-moving. Lunch can also be quick and light, since at noon, atmospheric energy is very active and expansive. Quick light cooking, such as that in which we reheat leftovers, can be done at that time.

Respecting Human Needs

Another important principle is to eat according to our distinctive needs as a species. Our teeth reveal the ideal proportion of foods in the human diet. We have thirty-two adult teeth. There are twenty molars and premolars. The word molar is a Latin word for millstone, or the stones used to crush wheat and other grains into flour. These teeth are not suited for animal food, but for crushing or grinding grains, beans, seeds, and other tough plant fibers. There are also eight front incisors (from the Latin, to cut) and these are well-suited for cutting vegetables. We also have four canine teeth. The canines can be used for animal food, not necessarily meat, but foods such as white-meat fish. The ideal proportion of foods as reflected in the teeth is five parts grain and other tough fibrous foods, two parts vegetables, and one part animal food. The ideal ratio between plant and animal food is seven to one.

The modern diet does not reflect this pattern. Rather than whole grains, meat or other types of animal food are the primary foods. Vegetables are often used as garnish to the main course of animal food. Cereal grains are eaten almost as an afterthought, and are eaten in the form of white bread, white rolls, and other highly refined products. Refined bread or rolls are used simply as a vehicle to carry a hot dog, hamburger, or some other type of animal food. Grains are an incidental part of the modern diet.

Today, people are eating the opposite of what they should be eating. That is why so many health problems exist in the modern world. One of the clearest messages I received from the books of George Ohsawa was that plant-based diets are superior to animal-based diets. When Ohsawa presented that idea many years ago, Western doctors and nutritionists laughed. They believed that animal protein was superior to plant protein, and that cultures in which animal protein formed the basis of the diet were more advanced than cultures that relied on grains and other plant foods.

However, that view is changing. The vanguard of modern nutrition now agrees that plant-based diets are better for our health. If we compare the health patterns of people who are eating plant-based diets with those who are eating animal food, the grain- and vegetable-eaters have far lower rates of chronic disease. There is an exception to this of course. If you would like to eat animal food, it would be better for you to move to the Far North, above the Arctic Circle. Then you can eat plenty of animal food. But if you live in Houston, where it is a hundred degrees in the summer, then it is out of order to eat barbecued steak. It does not fulfill our biological needs nor does it make our condition harmonious with our environment.

Macrobiotics also recommends respecting dietary tradition. In the Bible we read, “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is symbolic of grain itself. Wheat, barley, and other grains were considered the staff of life. In the Far East, rice was considered the staple food, the staff of life. Native Americans respected corn as their staff of life. Wherever you look, no matter what your tradition is, if you go back far enough, you find that your ancestors were eating grains as their principal foods. They used local vegetables and beans as secondary foods. They were eating much less animal food than at present.

Nightshade vegetables, especially tomatoes and potatoes, were originally not a part of the diet in Europe. These vegetables were brought to Europe from Peru. The original Italian diet did not include tomato sauce. It was very close to a macrobiotic diet. Originally they did not use much meat, they used more seafood, because Italy is a peninsula. They did not use butter, but used olive oil in cooking. Instead of umeboshi plums, they used pickled olives. The basis of the diet was whole grain pasta and rice. As people abandoned these traditional eating patterns in favor of the modern diet, their rates of degenerative disease, especially heart disease and cancer, increased dramatically.

Source: Basics and Benefits of Macrobiotics, Copyright © 1995 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved.

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The Kitchen Apothecary

Common Digestive Disorders

The modern low-fiber diet has wreaked havoc on the digestive systems of millions of people. It is rare to find someone with healthy digestion and smooth elimination. Digestive disorders are so common that most people regard them as a normal part of life.

Tight, narrow lips are a sign that the digestive system has become tight and constricted. This more yang condition is caused by too much animal food and not enough fiber. A lack of whole grains, beans, and fresh vegetables is a common cause. If the upper lip is thin and tight, the stomach and solar plexus are tight and blocked. Among modern foods, chicken and cheese frequently cause tightness in this part of the body. This tightness interferes with smooth digestion and may be a sign of hypoglycemia, or chronic low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia arises when the pancreas becomes tight, hard, and blocked, as a result of the repeated consumption of foods such as eggs, chicken, and cheese. In this condition, the pancreas is unable to secrete sufficient glucagon, the hormone that causes the blood sugar to rise.

Tightness in the lower lip is a sign of tightness in the intestines. The cause is similar to the above: repeated consumption of meat, chicken, cheese, and other forms of animal food, and not enough grains, vegetables, and other plant fibers. Tightness and constriction in the large intestine is a common cause of chronic intestinal stagnation and constipation.

Puffy of swollen lips have an opposite, or more yin cause. A swollen upper lip is a sign of possible stomach disorders, including heartburn, overacidity, and ulcers resulting from the repeated consumption of sugar, caffeine, spices, alcohol, soft drinks, refined flour, potatoes and other nightshades, and other yin extremes. When the stomach becomes lose and swollen, the muscular valve, known as the cardiac sphincter, at the opening of the stomach relaxes or operates inefficiently. The sphincter is normally closed when food is in the stomach. The contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, are regurgitated into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and neck after a meal. This symptom, commonly known as heartburn, affects millions of people daily. Heartburn drugs, most notably antacids such as Tums, Rolaids, and Mylanta, or acid blockers such as Zantac and Tagamet, are currently a $5 billion industry in the United States.

A swollen lower lip is a sign of chronic over expansion in the intestines resulting from too many yin extremes in the diet. In this condition, the intestines lose the contracting power of peristalsis. Stagnation occurs and the result is chronic constipation. As we can see, constipation can result from an overly expanded or an overly contracted condition.

When the diet is deficient in whole grains, vegetables, and other foods rich in fiber, a person tends to produce small hard stools. These stools accumulate in the large intestine, and can not be passed without straining. Constant straining at stool raises the blood pressure in the veins, causing them to become permanently dilated, leading to hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Eventually, the outward pressure caused by the accumulation of small hard stools can cause small pockets, called diverticuli, to form in the wall of the colon. About 40 percent of those over age 65 have this condition. When these pockets bleed and become infected, the condition is known as diverticulitis.

Irritable bowel syndrome, sometimes called spastic colon, is also the result of modern eating habits. The intake of sugar, chocolate, honey, milk, ice cream, strong spices, tropical fruits, and refined foods, in combination with yang extremes such as meat, chicken, and cheese, can cause symptoms such as alternating constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain, mucus discharge, and the passage of small-caliber stools. These symptoms are known collectively as irritable bowel syndrome. This condition is exacerbated by the chronic use of antibiotics, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. These medications kill normal intestinal bacteria and disrupt the healthful ecology of the colon. Up to two thirds of persons using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs suffer from inflammation of the small intestine.

The use of medications, in combination with the modern diet, can also lead to overgrowth of intestinal yeast (candida) and an increase in intestinal permeability, a condition known as “leaky gut syndrome.” Foods such as sugar, soft drinks, tropical fruits, spices, and chocolate accelerate these disorders.

Easing Digestive Distress

The macrobiotic understanding of energy-balance can help us determine the type of home remedies to use when treating common digestive disorders. Diarrhea, for example, represents an overly-yin or expanded condition. Its symptoms can be categorized as follows:

  • Looseness
  • A watery condition
  • Overactive energy
  • An overacid condition

An internal remedy with the following energy characteristics would help offset these symptoms:

  • Gathering energy
  • Solidifying effects
  • Stabilizing, soothing, or calming effects
  • Alkalizing effects

Based on these criteria, our remedy of choice would be Ume-Sho-Kuzu. Kuzu is a root that grows deep in the earth. It is strongly charged with yang or contracting energy. It is used often as a thickener in macrobiotic cooking, and has contracting or solidifying energy. It helps consolidate the bowel movement and has a quieting effect on an overactive stomach and intestines. Umeboshi neutralizes excess acid. An overly acid condition promotes diarrhea. Moreover, umeboshi has strong antimicrobal power. It can neutralize micro-organisms, including those that cause dysentery.
There is a constant balance in the stomach between the hydrochloric acid secreted by one set of gastric cells and the mucus secreted by another set of cells. Hydrochloric acid is strongly yin; gastric mucus is comparatively yang. When secreted in proper amounts, the mucus in the stomach has a protective effect, preventing gastric acid and enzymes from irritating, ulcerating, or even eating-away the lining of the stomach. Kuzu has a thick, viscous consistency, not unlike that of gastric mucus. It coats the stomach and protects it from excess hydrochloric acid. Umeboshi plum, which is strongly alkaline, neutralizes the harmful effects of excess stomach acid.

As we can see, Ume-Sho-Kuzu is broad-spectrum remedy that benefits the digestive system as a whole. Together with a balanced macrobiotic diet, it can be used to relieve such conditions as stomach ulcers and heartburn. The fiber in kuzu, in combination with the anti-inflammatory effects of umeboshi, are helpful in easing the symptoms of acute diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Moreover, because it is more contractive, Ume-Sho-Kuzu can reduce intestinal permeability, thus relieving “leaky gut syndrome.

To prepare this broad-spectrum natural remedy:

  • Dilute one heaping teaspoon of kuzu (kudzu) in two to three teaspoons of cold water.
  • Add one cup of cold water to the diluted kuzu.
  • Place over a medium flame. Stir constantly to prevent lumping, until the liquid becomes translucent. Reduce the flame as low as possible.
  • Add the pulp of one-half to one umeboshi plum that has been chopped or ground to a paste.
  • Add several drops of shoyu and stir gently. Simmer for two to three minutes and drink hot.

Ume-Sho-Kuzu can sometimes be made with grated ginger. However, ginger is an energy-activator, and for acute conditions involving inflammation, or in cases of active diarrhea, it is best omitted. Ume-Sho-Kuzu can be taken once a day for several days until the condition improves. In addition, it is important to make dietary changes so as to allow the digestive organs to heal and prevent a recurrence of the condition. It is also important to chew well, eating regular meals, and not eat before bedtime. These practices ease chronic distress in the digestive system resulting from modern eating habits.

Copyright © 1996 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved

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Alternative Medicine Surges

The use of alternative medicine is rising dramatically as the new century approaches. The number of Americans who use alternative therapies at least once a year increased to 42% in the 1990s, according to a new study by Harvard Medical School researchers published in a special issue this autumn on alternative medicine in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The number of total visits to alternative medicine practitioners rose 47% in the same period to 629 million, thereby exceeding the total visits to all U.S. medical doctors. Expenditures for alternative services increased 45% and were estimated at $21.2 billion a year.

The new study came as Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (formerly the Office of Alternative Medicine ) and more than doubled its annual budget to $50 million.

Compared to the United States, recent surveys have found that 15% of Canadians have seen alternative practitioners in the past year; 10% of people in Denmark; 33% in Finland, and 49% in Australia.

The 16 therapies included in the Harvard study included a lifestyle diet such as macrobiotics or vegetarianism; prayer or spiritual healing; energy healing techniques such as laying on of hands; and relaxation techniques such as meditation or the relaxation response. Visits to massage practitioners and chiropractors constitute nearly half of all visits to alternative therapists.

Use of herbal remedies increased 380% since 1990 and high-dose vitamins 130%. “Use of alternative therapies in 1997 was not confined to any narrow segment of society,” the researchers reported. However, it was more common among women (49%) than men (38%) and less common among African Americans (33%) than other racial groups. People aged 35 to 49 reported higher rates of use (50%) than either older or younger people. Use was higher among those who have some college education (50%) than with no college education (36%) and more common with those with annual incomes above $50,000 (48%).

Noting that alternative therapies are only infrequently included in insurance benefits and that a majority of users do not disclose their use of alternative therapies to their physicians, the researchers concluded that “the current status quo, which can be described as ‘don’t ask and don’t tell,’ needs to be abandoned. Professional strategies for responsible dialog in this area need to be further developed and refined.”

The JAMA issue also published the results of several randomized clinical trails that evaluated the use of alternative medicine therapies for treatment of common clinical conditions. Researchers found that:

  • Moxibustion (stimulating an acupressure point by heat generated from burning mugwort) is helpful for correcting a breech presentation in late pregnancy.
  • A Chinese herbal medicine compound improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Yoga-based intervention helps relieve some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

JAMA also reported that claims against chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists generally occurred less frequently and involved less severe injury than malpractice claims against medical doctors.

In an accompanying editorial, the editors of the journal called for further research, including priority funding for alternative medicine, and increased dialogue between the conventional and complementary communities. “Ultimately, answering fundamental questions about efficacy, safety, appropriate clinical applications, and meaningful outcomes for all medical therapies, including those considered alternative medicine, requires critical and objective assessment using accepted principles of scientific investigation and rigorous standards for evaluation of scientific evidence.”

Reprinted from the Winter 1999 One Peaceful World Journal, © 1999, all rights reserved.

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A Visit to South River Miso

We are fortunate to be close enough to take Kushi Institute Level students for a visit to South River Miso to see how miso is made. Below Senior teacher and well-known macrobiotic author Edward Esko writes about a recent trip.

– – – – – – – – 

In May, a group of students from the Level I Leadership Program and I took a tour of the South River Miso Company located nearby in Conway, Mass. South River has been producing high quality handcrafted organic miso for over twenty years.

Founder, Christian Elwell guided our group on a tour of the facility. Aside from traditional barley and brown rice miso, Christian introduced the students to several new varieties developed uniquely at South River, including chickpea and azuki bean. He explained the process of making miso from beginning to end, and how miso is a living food and an essential part of a healthful diet. 

Growing Rice in Massachusetts!

A high point of the tour was when Christian told the group about his success in growing rice on the property. Beginning with rice seeds from Ukraine, Christian has succeeded in planting and harvesting a small plot of organic rice. I had the opportunity to taste the South River rice on a previous visit and can vouch for the fact that it was quite delicious.

Christian explained how the rice paddy is a complete eco-system, home to a myriad of life forms, from dragon flies to tiny frogs. Everyone was inspired by the creativity, commitment to the health of our planet, and harmony with nature exemplified by South River Miso.

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Diet and Pancreatic Cancer

In a study of risk factors for pancreatic cancer, researchers found that mortality from this disease was associated with increased consumption of meat, the smoking of cigarettes, and alcohol intake.

Source: W. Zheng et al., “A Cohort Study of Smoking, Alcohol Consumption, and Dietary Factors for Pancreatic Cancer,” Cancer Causes and Control 4:477-82, 1993.

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Diet and Leukemia

In one of the first studies of the relationship between diet and leukemia, researchers found a strong correlation between total caloric intake and both lymphoid and total leukemia incidence, especially among males. “The findings from this rigorous analysis of international data strengthen and expand the hypothesis based on previous simple correlation analyses and animal experiments that an underlying biological relationship exists between diet, particularly energy intake, and international variations in the incidence of certain types of human leukemia.”

Source: S. D. Hursting et al., “Diet and Human Leukemia: An Analysis of International Data,” Preventive Medicine 22:409-22, 1993.

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Fruits and Vegetables and Cancer

In a review of 200 studies that examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and cancer at selected sites, researchers found that consumption of these foods offered a significantly protective effect in 128 of 156 dietary studies in which results were expressed in terms of relative risk. For lung cancer, these foods were protective in 24 of 25 studies after control for smoking in most instances. Fruit was protective for tumors of the esophagus, oral cavity, and larynx in 28 of 29 studies. Vegetables and fruit were protective in 26 of 30 studies for the pancreas and stomach, as well as in colorectal and bladder cancers (23 of 38 studies). For malignancies of the cervix, ovary, and endometrium, a significant protective effect was shown in 11 of 13 studies. In breast cancer, a protective effect was found to be strong and consistent in meta-analysis. Overall, the relative risk of cancer was about twice as high for those eating few fruits and vegetables compared to those who ate plenty of these foods.

“In 1854, John Snow stopped a cholera epidemic simply by taking the handle off the pump. The research presented above suggests that consumption of fruits and vegetables may be a handle that, if manipulated by public policy, clinical advice, and public education, could have a substantial impact on a wide range of cancers,” the researchers concluded.

Source: Gladys Block et al., “Fruits, Vegetables, and Cancer Prevention: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence,” Nutrition and Cancer 18:1-29, 1992.

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Vegetables and Bladder Cancer

In a case-control study in Hawaii, researchers reported a decreased risk for bladder cancer among women who consumed vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, cabbage, and oranges, and among men who consumed dark green vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, and spinach.

Source: A.M.Y. Nomura et al., “Dietary Factors in Cancer of the Lower Urinary Tract,” International Journal of Cancer 48:199205.

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Soy Sauce and Cancer

The high rate of stomach cancer in Japan caused some Japanese scientists to speculate that a diet high in soy sauce might be a factor. However, researchers at the University of Wisconsin observed just the opposite. In laboratory tests, mice given fermented soy sauce experienced 26 percent less cancer than mice on the regular diet. Also soy-supplemented mice averaged about one-quarter the number of tumors per mouse as the control group. Soy sauce “exhibited a pronounced anticarcinogenic effect,” the researchers concluded.

Source: J. Raloff, “A Soy Sauce Surprise,” Science News, 139:357, 1991.

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Broccoli and Cancer

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported that they had identified the ingredient in broccoli that worked as a powerful anticancer compound in laboratory experiments. The chemical, sulforaphane, boosts the production of an important enzyme known to neutralize carcinogens before they trigger tumor growth. In addition to broccoli, sulforaphane is found in bok choy, ginger, scallions, and other vegetables.

Source: Paul Talalay, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 16, 1992.

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