I never watch food shows because they are so unprofessional that they make me tense. One thing Emeril Lagasse left with me, though, is: “turn down the heat”. If there is one principle in baking and cooking or health and life, this is it in a nutshell.
Recently, I got an e-mail from RealAge (Dr.s Roizen and Oz) discussing hormone therapy for easing man- and woman-o-pause :-). They said the thing you need to do instead of embarking on HRT, which is quite risky, is turn down your body’s thermostat.
What they are essentially advising is avoiding inflammation. This is not easy. Our Western diets and lifestyles aggravate every organ and system in the body. It begins in the womb and for the majority, never stops. That is why most people have a small pharmacy in their medicine cabinets. For some, that is an outgrowth of a futile attempt to avoid or delay the inevitable march of time, in all the wrong ways.
It is a particularly acute concern for women because we are expected to have the mind of a 40 year old man, wisdom of an 80 year old judge, and body of a 20 year old swimsuit model all our lives. Who can fault us for trying to look as good as we can for as long as possible, given the fact that we are treated differently from our male counterparts in every arena? In some cases, this is attempted through medicinal products or surgery, in others through so-called natural remedies. I subscribe to the latter, when I take supplements, that is. I consider my garden and local farmer’s market to be my primary care and health insurance providers. I do not believe in putting poisons into the body (another entire post) so I am not even a believer in homeopathy for example or most forms of inoculations/injections. Because I want a healthy liver, kidneys, pancreas and appendix (yup, it is not vestigial, it is there working for or against us), I try to avoid anything that needs to be cleared through those vital organs (like alcohol, tobacco, psychotropics, pharmaceuticals, etc.).
One reason is, not only have I studied the body extensively so I can do my job better — physical conditions significantly influence human mood and behavior, thus every human specialist takes courses (or should) in physiology and physical anthropology — but I want to feel good for the rest of my life. If I live to be a centenarian, I want to be mobile and alert! I went out of my way to study those subjects along with nutrition, for the fact that you cannot understand human development apart from the body. Many childhood disorders are directly linked to genetics and birth trauma, as well as the post-birth environment in which a child is raised, including diet.
In my opinion, the biggest mistake we make as “modern” human beings is assuming we are omnivores. If we look at our nearest animal relatives, the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, gibbons, bonobos, organutans, and even lemurs) we would see that these animals are largely herbivores. Their dentition and digestive tracts are almost identical to ours. Naturally in the wild they are opportunistic feeders and occasionally consume small animals or insects to ensure survival in extreme conditions, but their diets are overwhelmingly vegetal, as ours should be. There was a long arboreal period for primates and hominoids. Then a shorter but significant hominid (for our upright, bipedal progression) period in the savannah grasslands of Africa. Believe it or not, our essential body plan, hormonal system, and structure have remained the same for millions of years.
However, our current Western diet is a product of only the last 150 to 500 years, depending on the product we are addressing. Sugar consumption at current levels is unprecedented. In fact, refined sugar was considered a luxury product during the Renaissance and only found on tables of royalty, for the most part. Fat is a slightly different story and has been in the human diet for millions of years, in smaller quantities. But, if you were to go back to the earliest point where Homo sapiens diverged from other species, you would find a diet made up largely of berries, seeds, roots, raw grains, charred flesh and carrion (small amounts and only on occasion), bone marrow from the latter, and a great deal of fiber in the form of twigs, leaves, and feathers. If people ate salt, it might have been from the entrails of dead animals at kills and watering holes. We are not supposed to consume protein in large amounts. Get a kidney stone and that fact will be etched in your memory.
The amount of processed ingredients we eat today is staggering and recent. In just the last 100 years have we seen its levels accelerate, and with it inflammation. The worst culprit of all is refined sugar, a dose-dependent toxin, the consumption of which has doubled since 1977. It is responsible for skyrocketing diabetes and liver problems. It is estimated that one in two people will have diabetes by 2050 if current rates hold steady. Today, most people, by the time they are 30, have places on and in the body that are red and hot, inflamed. This is a danger sign.
The Chinese say, ‘Don’t let the thief in the door’. That is probably the best line of defense: a good offense. Once you have inflammation slowly simmering on a back burner, it stays there quietly draining the immune system indefinitely. So, the slow diseases (cancers, MS, Parkinson’s, SLE, RA, heart disease, dementia) progress surreptitiously for years before they manifest during advanced age, or break through when there is a traumatic event that compromises the body’s natural regulatory mechanisms.
If we don’t study our anatomy and physiology, how do we hope to know what the proper course should be and recognize critical changes in our own bodies at their inception? We did not arrive with an owner’s manual and even if we did, like so many of us, we would probably fail to read it and just go for what we like. As for physicians, well, I have long said, they may know “bodies” better than I, but they don’t know my body better than I do!
A lot of what we think we like is habit-driven and results in chronic taste perversion. Someone once convinced me to try chitlins. One bite, and I knew it was not something that should be anywhere in my body, starting with my mouth. That was while I was a meat eater, but because I was not raised on a diet that emphasized organ meats, my senses immediately recognized a foreign and inedible item. A safer and less controversial example, because it is one that does include my weakness for sweets, is chocolate. I grew up on M&Ms and Hershey’s chocolate because my mother liked the former and my dad the latter, especially the dark chocolate bar. Once I started traveling, I had better chocolate elsewhere and both of those cheap brands struck me as utterly tasteless by comparison. Worse than that, the M&Ms tasted anesthetic — literally like a numbing analgesic drug. I never have them anymore unless desperate. Coffee is another. My parents were habituated to typical American coffee, the kind that used to be percolated — a truly poor process. The minute I got to Europe, I had coffee that blew everything at home out of the water, including Starbucks, which I consider to be a cheap robusta-like product, dangerously hot.
Part of turning down the heat, is refraining from ingesting hot (and frozen) products. These damage the villi in the digestive tract, permanently. You need those tiny active filaments to properly metabolize your food and produce chyme for absorption. Once they are impaired (sprue), you will likely develop pockets that become impacted or so clogged that food passes through your system without being properly digested and triggers leaky gut syndromes that then result in the chronic fatigue disorders; in other cases the outcome is allergy. The intestinal walls from which you get your food’s nutritive value should be clean, porous and flexible. When they are not, poisons from those pockets seep directly into the blood stream and are not excreted through elimination organs. Most people have some form of diverticulosis by the time they are 40, and one out of two people over 60 have such an advanced form that they are likely to develop diverticulitis or worse. That condition alone degrades your entire organism and all its systems. You need to heat food to over 185F to kill off bacteria and viruses, but let it cool down before you eat or drink it.
Another substance that coats and destroys the intestinal parenchyma is waxy animal fat. If you want to illustrate this for yourself, smear lard [or Crisco, for that matter] in a pan and olive oil in another. Then add just a bit of dish detergent and water, swishing it around for a minute. Come back later and see which one easily rinses clean, grease free. That is what is going on inside your body, in that long labyrinthine bowel, at nearly 100F, in the dark — for three days (the time it takes for most muscle meats to evacuate an herbivore’s digestive tract).
Turning down the heat applies to your home thermostat and your water heater too. We should all be taking cool showers and living in 60-67F ambient temperatures. It also means lowering the digestive burden on your body and consequent cell turnover and death. These may be the most important of all. How do you do that?
Here’s what we know:
Lose weight (your BMI should be 20*, ideally), cut out saturated and trans fats, eliminate all corn sugar products and most refined cane sugars, and move a lot more than you believe you do. Critically important: increase plant fiber intake. While we are at it, cut down on acid producers, to restore a higher alkaline pH that is healthier for the body (and extends the life of tooth enamel, which can never be replaced).
All of the benefits of eliminating heat-producing/inflammation-triggering habits will likely not prove out until you are over 50. A lot of the damage is done before we are even conscious enough to take care of ourselves. While I was never a sun worshipper myself, having a home at the beach growing up, meant my parents often took me out on the sand with little protection other than an umbrella. Back then, no one paid any attention. My mother would fry and so would I. My dad somehow would tan, but even he would peel later — not a good sign. Both of them have had all kinds of things removed from their skin over the past ten years.
Likewise, we eat what we are fed. My dad always hated meat but thought it was good for us, so I was forced to sit and stare at steak, veal (omg), liver, turkey and sausages. We never had chicken because my dad didn’t like it. From my earliest memory, I hated all of these and it had nothing to do with my love of animals at that point (but that was another key factor in my eliminating meat from my diet almost 30 years ago, now), the stuff just didn’t look or taste or smell right to me. No matter the sauces, and onions and garlic and all the other ways meat was dressed up to make it palatable, it was never appetizing to me. I won’t tell you what I think of it now. (Hint, you’d be better off eating bark than beef).
So, here’s a handy baker’s dozen checklist for heat reduction:
- Lose enough weight to reduce your BMI to approximately 20;
- Move vigorously for at least 30 minutes every day, in one form of physical activity or another;
- Increase plant product intake to be at least 75% of your daily diet, cooked and raw (make sure you wash it all thoroughly with lemon or vinegar water to remove pathogens and pesticides);
- Eliminate as much animal fat as possible and all hydrogenated oils as well as trans fats;
- Decrease intake of acid-producing and high sugar-content foods, especially that chemical cocktail called “soda” or “pop”;
- Avoid unprotected sun exposure;
- Cool off physically by keeping your environment at about 68F, especially while sleeping;
- Avoid hot or freezing liquids and foods;
- Avoid all controlled or regulated substances;
- Learn to take cool showers;
- Avoid exposure to infectious agents by scrupulous hygiene — cooking surfaces are the most critical, followed by the bathroom, and of course, frequent hand washing. Keep your hands away from your face (more on that some time);
- Eat fresh, local, seasonal, vivid foods (if it comes in a box, largely stay away from it), in other words, eat like your grandparents (or great-grandparents) did;
- Learn relaxation techniques — auto-suggestive calming and cooling down can’t hurt.
Look, these are our bodies. No one can or should tell us what to do with them. But, at least we should do what we do, consciously, base it on scientifically proven fact, and then accept responsibility for the consequences. To my mind, forearmed is forewarned, and while I am waxing Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
[By the way, there is a show every American should see. It’s a movie out right now called “Fed Up“.]
*23+ means too much fat!
Images: abcnews.com, wikimediacommons.com, huffingtonpost.com,123rtf.com, cdc.com, inhabitots.com,123rtf.com