See the first post on the topic, here.
Before you read this post: A blogger was attacked for sharing his own experience with diabetes and diet. His state board of nutrition tried to silence him.
I won’t go on a long rant about the uptick in censorship. But, as a writer on many, many topics, most of which (politics, religion, psychology, and healthy food), are just naturally controversial, my choice is clear: I’m against censorship.
I am also against politicians at any level telling us what to eat. They’re politicians, not my mom.
I believe policy should be written and implemented to protect our food sources from contamination and attack. I believe in basic food labeling laws and believe they should be enforced to prevent dishonesty in food labeling. And that’s about it.
The Sugar Blues
There’s an old, radical (and very angry) book called The Sugar Blues by William Dufty (UAW 0rganizer, friend of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and husband of Gloria Swanson). It has been extremely popular for decades. I disagree with the author on many if not most of the conclusions he draws, not least because he’s anti-God, big on nature-worship, and in love with the politics of rage. Also, his over-the-top polemics and conclusion that sugar has been the cause of the downfall of Western civilization destroys his very important message about the real problems with sugar. (See my material and spiritual guides to sugar)
I also dislike the raunchiness^ of his writing—he was way ahead of his time when he wrote this book in the early 1970s. (He died of cancer in 2002). Yet, in this mixed bag are a few compelling arguments for eating a more natural, simple, whole food diet and avoiding processed foods (especially sugar). Nutrition pushers of his ilk rarely seem to recognize that God ultimately determines who lives and who dies and while we should try and eat right, we shouldn’t become hostile or obsessed.
Sure, it behooves us to not eat out of gluttony or hedonism, and to remember that on the general physical level food is, first and foremost, about nutrition. On the spiritual level, according to Judaism, food is eaten in order to provide a person with the energy to do mitzvahs. Also, we eat food in order to make a bracha (blessing) on it, to turn the act of eating into something holy, and to liberate the “soul” of the food so it can return to its source (which is a mystical concept that is beyond my ability to discuss).
And on Shabbos (Shabbat), food should be a delight because by delighting in Shabbos food, eaten on Shabbos, we actually elevate our eating to a state of holiness, a topic that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov talks about.
Another isse with Dufty: he lionized natural healers and despised medical doctors. But there were and are as many if not more quacks among natural healers than there were and are among medical doctors. Let’s face it, medical advice seems to change every few years. No medications or treatments come without at least some side-effects or downsides. We need to have common sense, seek the best medical care we can get, and we need to eat right. If we use natural healers, we shouldn’t trust them implicitly because they call themselves, “natural.” Snake venom is natural. So is digitalis. Both can be fatal.
Rambam (Maimonides) said that most illness is caused by food. What we have to remember, too, is that incorrect eating (overeating, eating to satisfy unhealthy cravings, emotional eating, etc.) isn’t just about gluttony or culture; it comes, ultimately, from a spiritual imbalance.
I know several men and women of advanced years (80s, 90s, 100s), who eat little, dislike excessive indulgence in food, yet still enjoy an honest meal, and who don’t eat mindlessly—this seems to be a huge struggle for most people under 80. These people also never snack. They always sit down to table, make a blessing on their food, and rarely talk while they eat. If you want to learn how to eat right, watch a holy man or woman, preferably one who’s older.
A Bitter Pill
If you have overeaten (which is easy to do in the winter) spring offers a chance to recuperate. Until the mid 20th century, taking a spring tonic of very bitter herbs was de rigueur in many homes in Europe and America. Herbal bitters such as angostura and quinine, among others, were used. Today, naturopaths and herbalists still prescribe bitter herbs, especially dandelion (roots and leaves), quinine, milk thistle, and so on, during what often is referred to as a spring liver cleanse*.
These and other herbs and foods are used in combination to contribute to and amplify the effect of combination medications. The Chinese use Chinese gentian (lung tan tsao) an extremely bitter herb, and blupeurum (Chai Hu), among others, to stimulate the liver’s energy and other herbs to calm over-work and hyperactivity of the liver.**
However, bitter herbs and foods are not a panacea and may not even be a good choice for you (they can be detrimental to your health)—it really depends on your specific symptoms and attributes.
If you, like most of the developed world, have many food cravings and a diet made up largely of extreme foods (sweets, denatured starches, tons of caffeine, highly refined oils, processed meats, very cold foods and drinks, etc.), it probably will be a challenge for you to tune into what your body needs—and tempting to tune out.
The Liver and Brain
By restricting the variety of foods you eat for a few days to a few weeks (some call this a “fast”), you’ll find that cravings lessen and you’ll naturally begin to make healthier food choices. It’s important though to not let food choices rule who you are—one of the problems with restricted diets is that they can lead to arrogance and intolerance of others, see my post on the topic. They can also lead to eating disorders which is why young people shouldn’t take on rigorous restrictions. Still, clean-eating, aka taking a junk food-fast, can be beneficial to the body, mind and if done for the right reasons, spirit. Complete fasts (there are six public fasts a year in Judaism) are beneficial to the mind and soul—their benefit to the body is incidental, if any.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov agrees: When a person eats, the liver is nourished first. It then transfers nutrients into the body, which eventually reach the brain. When one fasts, the liver is bypassed, for the brain must draw on nutrients already present in the body, and the liver is left without fresh nutrients. Thus, through fasting, the liver is made subordinate to the brain.
To give the body (and liver) a calming rest for a week or two: Eat less in general, and avoid eggs, aged cheeses and un-fermented dairy products (especially non-organic, homogenized dairy products), non-organic foods of all kinds, meats, sugar, wheat, most nuts and nut butters except sprouted almonds, avoid or limit seed foods such as tahini and pumpkin seeds, avoid all oils except organic extra-virgin olive oil or extra virgin coconut oil (and in some circumstances, flax oil and/or borage oil), and obviously stop intake of caffeine, alcohol and drugs. If taking prescription drugs do not discontinue without speaking to a doctor. Avoid most/all processed foods (cereals, sauces, boxed snacks, etc.)
Also, avoid dangerous liver and gallbladder cleanses—these can cause serious problems, and extreme detox diets or total fasts. Drink water and other liquids to stay hydrated, depending on your environment and health, anywhere from 4 to 10 8 oz. glasses a day.
If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, low blood sugar, an eating disorder or body dismorphic disorder, any chronic condition, or are pregnant or nursing, do not change your diet without medical advice.
Finally, there is no hard clinical evidence that proves that detox diets detox the liver. What taking a break from rich, highly processed and chemically laden food is proven to do is help some people feel lighter, brighter, and more energetic. And people who feel “liverish” say they feel better after eating “clean” for a couple of weeks.
Want to see something amazing? Run some blood work including all cholesterol readings, liver enzymes, and also blood pressure the day before your begin. (If you’re really serious, you can do a fasting glucose test). After two to three weeks, do another round of tests on the last day of clean eating. Be prepared for precipitous drops in negative indicators—I’ve never seen this fail, yet.
Some foods to include in your clean eating detox diet:
1. Super Green Foods – Coffee and tea stimulate the liver, but you want to avoid caffeine during clean eating. Super green foods are a great choice for robust individuals, which would mean most Westerners and can replace one meal a day. If underweight, weak, have anemia, and so on, add small amounts of the super green foods to a diet free of additives, most sugars, highly-refined oils, refined grains, unripe and un-seasonal fruit, etc;
Look for clean sources (For example, I’m leery of chlorella taken from Japanese waters since the tsunami): Spirulina, chlorophyll, wheat or barley grass all come in powders. (Juice fresh wheat grass if you like, though it is way too strong for many people). I like to start with 1/2 a teaspoon of powder a day in water working my way up to 1 teaspoon two or three times a day for a period of a week or two, no more. (If you want to stay on green drinks, experiment with low doses and take breaks every three weeks or so. I find Shabbos the ideal time to take 36 hours off.)
If after taking super green foods you feel spacey, lightheaded, or cold, stop drinking green drinks. Never mega-dose, unless a doctor prescribes this for some reason.
2. Sprouted Grains, Beans and Seeds – Essene sprouted bread, sprouted hummos, sprouted almonds (peel them-the skins on sprouted almonds are difficult to digest), and so on. If you eat bean sprouts, lightly steam or poach them. Organic if possible. Sprouted tofu if you crave richness. (Avoid other, non-fermented soy products-see my post on the topic, Soy, Oy).
3. Well-cooked Grains, Beans, and Some Seeds – Especially bitter, whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, rye (made into real sourdough bread, only). If you’re feeling weak or hungry, try cooked or raw gluten-free oats. Cooked beans will help create feelings of fullness. Try cranberry, azuki, lentils, black turtle beans, etc. No soy beans. Small quantities of toasted sunflower seeds, sesame, and pumpkin seeds are good snacks (buy them raw and toast or sprout them at home. Try serving without oil and little or no unrefined sea salt).
If you are are really targeting your liver (for health reasons) you might limit seeds with the occasional exception of raw, organic flax seed oil and/or chia seeds. If you are feeling lightheaded or very hungry, add up to one tablespoon daily. To prepare chia seeds, stir up to one tablespoon chia seeds into 8 oz. glass of pure water. Let sit at room temperature. After ten minutes, stir again, and drink up to 1 glass a day, divided into two servings. Drink extra water, afterwards. Use organic grains, beans and seeds if possible.
4. Stimulating Spices and Herbs -If you are feeling sluggish or congested, prepare food with small amounts of onions and garlic, basil, cumin, caraway seeds, mint, ginger, black pepper, chillies, etc.
5. Raw and Lightly Cooked Organic Vegetables and Fruit such as cabbage, turnip, cucumber, fennel, celery, romaine lettuce and very ripe, (seasonal) fruits such as grapes, apples, peaches, melons, papaya. You can also eat dried dates and figs in small quantities. If you eat fruit, it it alone, without other foods. Wash well with produce cleanser, rinse, and if not organic, peel.
6. A Sour Tonic – good for an afternoon pick up is 1 tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon raw honey, optional, in 6-8 oz. room temperature pure water. If red faced or feel overheated, angry or explosive, replace the vinegar with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon, or the juice of half a grapefruit (and omit the water).
7. Organic Vegetable, and Non-citrus (Except for Lemon) Fruit Juices -If you’re used to fasting or juice fasting, it is possible to replace one or two meals a day with freshly pressed organic vegetable juice (leafy greens, celery, cucumber, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage or kale, carrots, root veggies, an occasional beet or tomato, apples, etc.) Another option is to mix your daily super green food powders into your juices. This isn’t a total juice fast so remember to limit liquid meals to one or two a day.
8. Naturally Soured and Fermented Foods – in small quantities- raw cucumber pickles sauerkraut (not the bottled, canned or bagged kind unless labeled raw). A kosher brand is Bubbies. Or make your own fermented veggies , see my post, Grow Your Own Probiotics. Small quantities of homemade yogurt, leben if you feel the need. Occasional miso soup.
The next level of focus would be to choose your clean-eating foods based on your specific needs. You might need more soured foods or more bitter ones. You might need more cooling fruits or no fruit at all. Until you feel you are in tune with what you need, see a professional. For some foundational reading on the topic, try Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, a classic that keeps getting updated.
^Religious readers will be offended by the vulgarity
*Be careful, many herbs are toxic if taken in the wrong quantities, if they are misidentified, or if they are taken by the wrong person.
**These and other herbs, both Asian and Western, also contain toxic compounds.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Do not self-diagnose, always see a licensed doctor (Chinese, Western, etc.). Nothing in this post or anywhere on this web site is intended to be a recommendation for the treatment of any illness or condition. Do not take any herbs or foods to treat any illness without knowing your diagnosis and speaking to your physician. Healthyjewishcooking.com, authors or agents including me, are not responsible for your use of the information on this site. I am first and foremost a writer, and not a licensed nutritionist, just as most macrobiotic, raw food, holistic food consultants, coaches and speakers are not.