(This is the fifth in a series of health articles that are designed to help you gain a deeper appreciation for God’s amazing handiwork of the human body and a better understanding of how it works and how it can be better maintained by simple methods. George McDaniel is my father-in-law, and has been a registered nurse for many years, which, along with much research, has taught him many useful health principles. I pray that you are being blessed by these articles. Editor)
Most of us equate nutrition with diet, which is the food we eat. However, a more accurate definition of nutrition would be the nutrients that reach the cells in a form that can be used for maintenance, repair and energy supply.
The best place to start in obtaining good nutrition is with a good diet. Other things to consider are the body systems that process the food and deliver it to where it is needed—these include the digestive system, circulatory system, nervous system and endocrine system. These all have to be working well in order to utilize well the nutrients obtained from our food.
A good diet will contain a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, fiber, enzymes and other nutrients. While it is true that we don’t need a Ph.D. degree in nutrition to have a good diet, we do need a basic understanding of what to eat and what not to eat in order to have good health. This is especially true if we live in the western industrialized countries where large amounts of money are spent advertising highly processed, so-called food products, which contain little nutrition and can be harmful to our health.
The best diet is the one that most closely resembles the original diet given to man by God. This includes fruits, seeds and vegetables. Fruits result from a fertilized blossom and are carriers for the seeds. This includes such things as squash and tomatoes, which we sometimes think of as vegetables. Seeds would include nuts and grains as well as other seeds. These are the parts that when planted produce new plants and trees. Vegetables include roots, leaves, stems, blossoms and buds. All of these should be eaten in a condition as close to natural as possible, with as little refining and processing as possible. God made man out of the earth and He provided for his sustenance the plants that grow from the earth. Fruits and seeds, especially, contain elements essential to the growth of new plants. These elements are also necessary for the growth and maintenance of humans. For example, thiamin or vitamin B1, is essential for the growth of the roots of a plant. If thiamin is lacking, roots will not grow. This is why seeds are a good source of thiamin. Humans need thiamin to aid in the metabolism of glucose. It also is needed for the nervous system and other uses. People can eat seeds, including nuts and grains, to obtain thiamin. This substance is largely found in the bran and germ of grains. If the grain is refined, adequate amounts of it can’t be obtained and deficiency disease can result. Much the same can be said of the other vitamins, which are necessary for both plant and human development.
Minerals are also needed for human life to exist. They are extracted from the soil by plants and are necessary for the development of the plant. Plants also manufacture carbohydrates, proteins and fats to use in forming their own structure and to provide energy for the plant’s own use. Not surprisingly, humans also need these substances, and for much the same purpose, which is to provide for growth and maintenance and as a source of energy. It is obvious to me that God provided the amazing plant as the source of nutrients for man.
There are areas in the world where it is difficult to find adequate plant foods to sustain life. In such places where it is necessary to eat animals, including fish and birds, for food, I believe it is best, if possible, to follow the guidelines given by God to Moses in Leviticus 11 as to which animals are suitable for food and which are not. Some nutritionists consider flesh foods as ideal sources for protein and certain vitamins, and even consider a diet lacking flesh foods as inadequate. We need to look at the facts.
First, human beings are designed physically to consume a plant-based diet. If we compare the physical design of humans with that of grass eaters, such as cows, or meat eaters such as cats, we can see significant differences. They also differ physiologically. Cows’ teeth are designed to chew grass. Their stomachs produce little acid and are divided into several sections to thoroughly digest grass, which contains much fiber. Their intestinal tracts are very long so as to enable them to extract full benefit from their diet. Cats, on the other hand, are typical carnivores. They have sharp, pointed teeth, suitable for tearing flesh. Their stomachs produce strong acid to digest the high protein diet. Their intestinal tracts are short, allowing for rapid elimination of waste. Cats and other carnivores also produce an enzyme called uricase, which helps to deal with uric acid, which is a by-product of digestion of meat.
The teeth of humans are designed for biting and then chewing fruits, seeds and vegetables. The acid in human stomachs is lower in amount than cats but stronger than cows. It is suitable for dealing with the amounts of protein from a plant-based diet. The human intestinal tract is also suitable for dealing with a diet higher in fiber than that which is found in meats. It is longer than that of cats but shorter than that of cows. A high meat, low fiber diet results in slow transit time of food residues through the intestines, which can result in constipation and production of toxic substances from bacterial action on protein residues. The extended contact of these toxic by-products with the colon is thought to be one cause of cancer of the colon. Humans also do not produce uricase, so are unable to metabolize uric acid. It is detoxified and eliminated slowly by the liver, but any excess is deposited in joints and muscles and can result in gout and some forms of arthritis.
Other reasons for not including meat in the diet include: 1) Most of the meat available in the stores is from animals raised on “factory farms.” They are fed a carefully designed diet including antibiotics, hormones and protein derived from animal sources. This causes rapid weight gain but is a source of many problems. The mad cow disease in some parts of the world is only one of the problems. 2) The animals are usually kept confined in pens and not allowed to graze freely and obtain exercise. 3) The hormones and antibiotics they are fed can affect the consumer. 4) In addition, when the animals are brought in for slaughter, they are aware that they are in danger. They produce hormones from the fear and anger they feel as they are driven into the slaughterhouse. I watched a steer one time being driven into a slaughterhouse. He was wild with fear and anger and kept trying to escape. These hormones have a stressful effect on the one eating the meat.
Some think that eating meat is necessary to keep up their strength. A look at the animal world will show us the fallacy of this. The tiger is a strong and fierce beast but it fears the elephant. The elephant is much larger and stronger and eats only plants. Many other animals we admire for their strength eat only plants; mostly grasses: oxen, horses, buffaloes, etc.
In selecting what to include in one’s diet, it is best to choose from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Try to include green, yellow and red vegetables. The deeper and more intense the color, generally the more food value the vegetable contains. The same can be said for fruits: Eat a variety with different colors; red, orange, yellow, blue. The pigments that give various colors to fruits and vegetables have recently been found to be important to human health and have names such as carotenes, anthocyanidins, flavonoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin and isothiocyanates. Many of these substances act as antioxidants, which can protect cells from being damaged.
Limit each meal to three or four varieties, but include as much variety as you can over several days, since some things are higher in some nutrients and others will make up where those lack. For instance, seeds are usually high in vitamin B complex and certain minerals, but are low in vitamins C and A and other minerals, such as calcium. Green leafy vegetables are relatively high in calcium, vitamin C and vitamin A, so in combination they complement each other. The same is true in regard to protein. Seeds and leaves both contain amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Those of the leaf complement those of the seed so that together they provide a more adequate source of protein.
If you feel your diet needs to be changed, do it slowly. Become informed. Don’t rush into a change without first having a plan. A good place to start is to eliminate the commonly-called junk foods. These are the highly refined and processed foods that consist mainly of white flour, sugar, artificial flavors and colors and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. Most of the vitamins in foods are contained in places like the bran and germ of grains and in, or just under, the peel of other foods. These are the parts most frequently removed in refining and processing. Many vitamins are sensitive to heat and are destroyed by cooking, or are dissolved in the water used. Some foods are made more palatable by cooking, such as beans and potatoes. Use as little water as possible and do not discard it. Many vegetables can be cooked with steam. This preserves more of the vitamin content. Beans, grains and other seeds can be sprouted. This actually increases the nutrient content of the seed.
Once you have replaced refined foods with whole foods in your diet, you are ready for other changes such as eating more raw foods instead of cooking so much, or sprouting seeds to eat. If you can go to a bookstore, or a health food store, you can probably find books that can give you information on many topics relative to nutrition; then experiment to find out what you like and what works for you. What works for you and gives you better health and more energy may be different from what works for someone else. Just try to approximate as closely as you can the ideal diet given man by God.
Young people up through their 20s or even 30s can seem to be able to eat anything, drink anything, keep late or irregular hours and schedules and still have good health and lots of energy. This is due to the ability of the body to adapt and overcome these abuses. The time will come when it will catch up with them. It is much better to begin young in learning good health practices. Those who do will be able to hang onto that good health and abundant energy much longer into older age.
Some people think that if they take a vitamin/mineral supplement, it doesn’t matter if their diet isn’t so good. This is a fallacy. Most vitamin preparations on the market are synthetic. They are manufactured in a laboratory. Vitamins, as taken in food, come with many other plant substances that help make them effective. Synthetic vitamins, or even vitamins extracted from natural sources and concentrated, do not have the same beneficial effect on the body as the complete natural food source with its combination of beneficial ingredients.
One of the most misused terms in the supplement industry is the word “natural.” It doesn’t have to mean “made by natural processes.” It can mean “resembling a natural product.” Let the buyer beware. Knowledge is the best defense against being misled. This is not to say that all supplements are worthless. Some can be beneficial. Once again, know what you are eating and why you are eating it.
In the next issue, I plan to continue this subject by examining how the body processes and uses the food eaten.