In developed parts of the world, there has never been a time in human history when more food choices were available. But choice can bring confusion – so many diets and advice for being healthy – the books and articles on it are never-ending. How can we bring some common sense and simplicity to this?
The problem is that often we link cultural, religious, moral, and personal motivations to food. But let’s set all that aside and consider the fundamental truth: Food is fuel for the body. The health and form of the body is a direct result of the food we eat.
The first thing is, what to eat. If you want an optimal body which easily absorbs food with the least amount of processing, then the answer is to strive for at least 50% raw vegetables and fruits, supplemented by sprouts, nuts, and beans as well as grains. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for the body to transform processed foods and meats into the raw materials it needs, and that also produces a lot of waste as well. That is why we feel lethargic after a heavy meal – because the body is redirecting its energy to food processing. The biggest misconception about a vegetarian diet is that it does not provide the body with enough protein but this only the case if vegetables are cooked. Raw vegetables and fruits, along with nuts and beans provide the body with the appropriate amount of protein. Many athletes including those pursuing martial arts are vegetarian, in fact research is showing that too much protein has been linked to cancer.
A less understood aspect is also food genetics. The simpler the genetics of the foods we eat, the fewer issues they cause the human body. On the other hand when we eat mammals whose genetics are complex and closely related to us, then the assimilation is much more impactful. When animals are raised under stressful conditions or killed in slaughter houses filled with fear, this carries through to the table. So if meat must be consumed, then that is why fish is said to be a healthier option than beef.
The next thing is, how to eat. The body operates at its peak when the stomach is empty. Then there is peak focus and awareness. Energy is available for the activity at hand. Think about it – why is it that we are asked to come to our yoga practices on an empty stomach? Yogic science prescribes eating the right proportion of food twice a day, with minimum 8 hours between meals. And also one should not go to sleep on a full stomach – enough time should be allowed between the evening meal and bed time.
Experiment and see – if you eat live (un-cooked) plant-based foods and allow the right intervals, your sleep quota will go down. There are other practices in yoga that can contribute to a lower sleep quota as well. It’s not about starving the body of food or sleep – the question is to provide what is needed. Less meat, and less processed foods, less inert food – this means the body able to produce the same amount of sustenance more efficiently and with less waste. That in turn means less need for sleep, the body is naturally more alert.
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