Diet and Nutrition

Articles about the nutritional determinants of health.

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables Without Going Hungry

There is an fascinating dietary experiment currently taking place in public view: Steve Pavlina, author of the leading personal development website bearing his name, has committed to eating a high-fruit raw-food diet for the entire month of January, and is recording his experiment in minute detail through daily posts and photographs.

Steve has committed to 30 days of eating a diet based on virtually nothing beyond uncooked fruits and vegetables, excluding dried fruits, spices, oils, and sauces. (The other type of raw-food diet revolves around nuts and seeds.) His intention is not to lose weight, but to eat a calorically adequate diet fulfilling these Spartan criteria. Having witnessed many such experiments during my studies of naturopathic medicine, when I was privy to classmates’ reports on their latest dietary experiment or cleanse, I find Steve’s diet impressive for its combination of strictness and length.

What can we learn from this experiment (without trying it at home)?

Steve’s best-known lifestyle experiment is his past foray into polyphasic sleep. If sleeping in short bursts round-the-clock rather than at night is not your cup of tea, then I’d suggest that raw-food dieting might not be, either. So I am sharing with you his latest experiment not in order for you to try his diet at home, but because of two things that we can learn from it:

1. The best way to know the effect of a dietary change is to experience it

Steve’s experimental approach to dieting is an extension of his trial-and-error method of personal development. This method especially applicable given the huge variety of diets in existence.

Adopting Steve’s 30-day trial method of new habit formation allows for the freedom to abandon a lifestyle change without a sense of failure or guilt, and therefore the courage to take on bold lifestyle experiments.

2. It is possible to eat complete meals consisting entirely of fruits and vegetables

In my work with patients I primarily address spiritual rather than material imbalances through the use of homeopathy. Nevertheless, I often provide basic dietary suggestions to patients if I feel that their especially poor diet might impede progress at the spiritual level, or when they enquire about the matter. One of the most frequent recommendations I give, not surprisingly, is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Among the most common reservations I hear from patients is that they remain hungry after eating this way.

While it is true that fruits and vegetables do not pack the same caloric punch as a steak, what has most impressed me thus far is Steve’s ability to eat fruit-based meals consisting of 500, 600, or even 700 calories, with no short-term ill effects or hunger. Admittedly, Steve has been a committed vegan for several years and is accustomed to a diet free of calorie-dense animal products. But perhaps the only sacrifice required for the rest of us to start receiving the many benefits of increased fruit and vegetable intake is to accept the need to chew through large quantities of food.

In other words, even if this diet is inappropriate for most of us (and we have yet to see whether Steve will continue eating this way past his 30-day trial period), this experiment demonstrates that it is possible substantially to increase one’s fruit and vegetable intake simply by incorporating raw-food meals into any ordinary diet.

What about the sugar?

A frequent concern raised about eating large amounts of fruit is the high sugar content. This reasonable concern is not shared by Steve, who is reporting prolonged satiety after his meals. I’d therefore recommend to experiment — why not have an all-fruit breakfast for the next few days, followed by a mid-morning snack as soon as hunger returns? — to determine whether eating this way causes, in your individual situation, a premature dip in energy or hunger within less than two hours following the meal.

High sugar intake, even when from healthy fruit sources, puts a stress on the endocrine (hormonal) system, which is charged with the task of maintaining constant blood-sugar levels under variable dietary intake; but the health benefits of such foods strengthen this very system, making the it more resilient and responsive to stresses of all kind. Therefore my hunch is that while high-fruit meals potentially could cause problems with sugar balance, the health benefits they provide, especially when combined with regular exercise and adequate sleep, might outweigh any such problems. A healthy body should be able to handle high sugar intake (so long as it is strictly from fruit sources) with no ill effects, just as an athlete handles unusual physical demands that could damage an untrained body.

If you decide to try this at home:

For those of you inspired to try out elements of the high-fruit raw-food diet, please remember that fruits should be eaten away from fats and proteins, either on their own or along with vegetables, and that any radical departures from your present diet should be discussed with a health professional who is familiar with your medical situation.

I will mention also that Steve is an ideologically committed vegan (no milk or egg products!) who persuasively argues that we should all eat an animal product-free diet. I would counsel against adopting such a diet uncritically, as it may be inappropriate for some individuals’ physiology or impractical under real-life conditions. My personal view is that, granting that most people eat a suboptimal diet, there is a range of optimal diets that are appropriate for different people depending on their constitutional, cultural, and behavioral traits. For example, according to the principles of Chinese medicine a raw diet is inappropriate for the winter season, during which warm rather than cold foods should primarily be consumed.

I would therefore encourage you to educate yourselves and experiment before making significant permanent dietary changes. Another of Steve’s articles on raw food addresses some of these issues, and there has been lively discussion at the site’s forums, especially here.

Further information on the vegan diet is available through VegFamily, a site founded by Steve’s wife. Further raw-food inspiration is available through a Google search on raw food recipes.

The Homeopathic Treatment of Allergies

Baby smelling rose

Homeopathy is highly effective in the treatment of allergies and fully capable of stimulating the organism to heal to the point of complete relief from all allergy symptoms.

Many of us have suffered from allergies at one time in our life, and usually the best treatment offered was symptomatic relief through avoidance of the allergen or through medication. Homeopathy, on the other hand, addresses the cause of the sensitivity to allergens at the deepest possible level; avoiding the allergen (the substance responsible for the allergic response) or resorting to suppression of symptoms through ongoing symptomatic treatment becomes unnecessary once this sensitivity has been eliminated.

In this article I begin with (1) a short overview of allergies, followed by (2) discussion of the conventional approach, (3)  the homeopathic diagnostic approach and (4) the rationale behind the homeopathic approach to the treatment of allergies.

1. The many types of allergy

There are many common substances to which people may develop an allergic response, including:

  • Foods such as wheat (gluten), milk and dairy, seafood (shellfish), alcohol, soy, eggs, peanuts, and certain vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants).
  • Common environmental factors such as dust, pollen, mold, animal fur (from dogs, cats, or other pets), dust mites, and sunlight.
  • Various natural or synthetic substances such as latex, nickel, pesticides, medications (penicillin, sulfa drugs, and many more), venom from relatively harmless animal stings (bees, wasps).

Symptoms of allergy manifest at the interface between the external world and internal environment: on the skin and in mucus membranes of the respiratory tract, the digestive tract, and the eyes. The inflammation that results causes the various allergy symptoms that many of us are familiar with from personal experience or through someone we know.

It should be noted that some of the above substances may cause trouble to many otherwise healthy people. If this is the case and the substance is synthetic or strongly modified from its natural form (medications, commerical wheat, genetically modified soy, etc.) then it may indeed be the substance rather than personal sensitivity that should be viewed as the true cause, and avoidance may well be the most appropriate solution in such cases.

Indeed, there are many substances encountered in modern life to which we are not physiologically adapted. These are a frequent cause of intolerance symptoms such as mental fogginess, tiredness, poor digestion, skin rashes, and diarrhea. Intolerance should be distinguished from allergy by its lesser specificity and intensity of symptoms, and the term may also refer to certain hereditary conditions in which the body is unable to handle specific food components or environmental conditions for reasons that have nothing to do with the immune system. From the therapeutic point of view intolerance (except of the hereditary type) is approached similarly to allergy, although frequently with more emphasis on avoidance.

In addition, some forms of asthma are allergic in nature, seasonal allergies are frequently referred to as hay fever, and a skin allergy usually manifests itself as hives.

Whatever the exact terminology applied, the goal of homeopathic allergy treatment is the strengthening of the organism at its spiritual core, leading to increased resilience of the organism. A resilient person is able to withstand a wide variety of environments by responding appropriately to each situation without suffering chronic ill effects.

2. The conventional approach to allergy

The conventional approach to allergy incorporates the strategy of environmental control, whereby the patient avoids exposure to the allergen as much as possible. In contrast, from the homeopathic perspective the identity of the allergen is not nearly as important as each individual’s specific pattern of response to it, both at the physical and at the psychological level.

The former approach is effective in principle but has two limitations. First, avoiding the allergen completely may be difficult in highly sensitive individuals for whom even trace amounts of allergen produce a full-blown, or even life-threatening, allergic response.

Second, the avoidance approach doesn’t address the true cause of the allergy, which is not the allergen but the person’s sensitivity to it. Avoidance can eliminate symptoms but it doesn’t amount to true healing, at least not by the stringent homeopathic standards: health is freedom in facing external challenges with few limitations, whereas avoidance restricts the individual’s freedom.

There are two classes of medication generally in use for the symptomatic control of allergies: antihistamines and corticosteroids. Of these, corticosteroids are the more disruptive because they paralyze the immune system at its root, whereas antihistamines interrupt the allergic response without fundamentally altering immune function.

A second-line approach to more severe allergies is immunotherapy (‘allergy shots’), which involves regular injections of small amounts of the relevant allergen(s) over a long period (several months to several years); this leads to a gradual desensitization of the body to them. This approach happens to be based on a simplified version of the homeopathic principle called isopathy, and because of this it does not disrupt homeopathic treatment (beyond making it difficult to determine which of the two treatments should be credited with the improvement). This approach is suitable for many, but falls short of the more global therapeutic improvement attainable through the homeopathic approach.

3. The homeopathic diagnostic approach

The homeopathic treatment of allergies begins with the physical symptoms but doesn’t end there. Important clues to the homeopathic pattern and prescription can be found in:

  • life circumstances around the time of onset of the allergy symptoms;
  • situations which cause an exacerbation of the allergy symptoms;
  • situations which lead to a relief from allergy symptoms;
  • feelings aroused by the allergy symptoms, or the person’s unique experience of the condition;
  • how the allergy symptoms disrupt normal living, or what the person is thereby prevented from doing.

Again, it is important to understand that the specific allergy symptoms are not in themselves a disease but merely represent the underlying spiritual imbalance that is the root of all disease. Whether a person will develop allergies, skin problems, joint problems, or organ problems is largely dependent on hereditary factors as well as on the degree of suppression of symptoms from past medical treatment.

In the case of severe allergies and asthma it is important never to reduce or discontinue the use of medications until the allergic tendency has clearly and permanently been eliminated, and even then always in consultation with the treating physician. Likewise it is important to maintain access to emergency facilities in case of a dangerous exacerbation throughout treatment, and to continue carrying antihistamines, inhalers, an EpiPen adrenaline injector, etc. whenever away from home for use in case of a severe reaction.

4. The rationale behind the homeopathic approach to allergies

What is the advantage of comprehensive allergy treatment with homeopathy over other natural approaches?

On the one hand clean diets such as the raw food diet I discussed recently have many beneficial effects. For example, many people do better without wheat: they typically feel more clear-headed than otherwise, among other subtle benefits. So even people who do not complain of any symptoms indicative of allergy or intolerance might do well to avoid certain foods, and likewise to breath fresher air, drink cleaner water, and so on.

But eliminating the allergen should only be seen as the first step of a comprehensive treatment strategy that addresses also the person’s allergic sensitivity. This can be achieved through treatment which strengthens the overall functioning of the organism and repairs the immune system.

If dietary measures are used, they should go beyond avoidance of specific foods, aiming to heal the gut and address the excessive intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut syndrome) that frequently underlies food-based allergies.

True healing, however, is largely independent of dietary considerations: the healthy person should not only feel extra-healthy on a perfect diet, but also remain symptom-free when consuming a somewhat imperfect diet. To begin, it helps that healthy individuals are naturally attracted to healthy foods. But living in our society involves the occasional birthday or cocktail party or movie outing, and we should not be punished for sporadic indulgence. Yet many people who base their health maintenance on dietary measures alone remain sensitive to deviations from a strict diet, and some even become more rather than less sensitive — and therefore more restricted — over time.

When a person can feel well only on a customized, restrictive diet this indicates an imbalance at a deeper level. This imbalance is addressable partly through lifestyle measures such as exercise and meditation; but, again, one’s health shouldn’t be highly dependent on a strict regimen of daily exercise and meditation.

The way I see it, the ultimate goal in the healing of allergic symptoms involves eliminating sensitivity while increasing freedom. This is achievable through constitutional treatment  primarily through comprehensive systems such as Chinese medicine and homeopathy.

Constitutional treatment is the long-term strengthening of the spiritual core of the organism. (See my article on length of homeopathic treatment for information on how long this might take.) Clinically it is known that such treatment tends to increase the natural resilience of the organism to environmental stressors.

We are all familiar with the image of a spiritually strong person as a Zen master who remains unperturbed when faced with interpersonal conflict or life circumstances that would overwhelm a normal being. With respect to allergies, the spiritually healthy person will prefer a allergen-free environment, but will remain healthy even when exposed to unhealthy environmental influences.