The Tao of Long Life - The Chinese Art of Ch\'ang Ming by Chee Soo
© Seahorse Books
Chapter 9 - Nutrition
Food is the life-line of the body. Eat the right foods and you guarantee yourself constant good health for the rest of your life; eat the wrong foods and you deplete your reserves of energy, over-work the organs of the body, and so commit yourself to illness. The choice is between the Yin, and decline, and the Yang, and good health.
If you are not eating the right things at the moment, then, regardless of whether or not you are now ill, you would be wise to change your habits and try to live according to the laws of nature. Good health can be obtained only through a proper diet and not through drugs and medicines, which can eradicate the symptoms but not the cause, and may have undesirable side-effects. Again, the choice is between the Yin and the Yang.
A great many people are already fully aware of the benefits of Ch\'ang Ming and have discovered the benefit of correct eating and drinking habits to the physical side of their lives, and, through that, to their spiritual growth. So that others, too, may appreciate the importance of a correct diet, this chapter examines the nutritional needs of the body and how they can be satisfied.
Proteins must be an integral part of the daily diet, for they provide the basis for the growth of all living tissue and for its repair. All proteins are broken down into amino-acids through digestion; these contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and sometimes phosphorus, and can assume an infinite variety of combinations.
Many vegetable foods, including grains, peas, beans, nuts, seeds, soya beans, root vegetables, and many leafy greens, contain amino-acids, but a mixed diet of grains and good vegetables (preferably organically grown) is particularly beneficial. It is well known that in some vegetables there is a greater amount of amino-acids than in meat, and, as a result, vegetarians will tend to gain more essential goodness from their food, and to heal more quickly of an injury, than do non-vegetarians. Added to this, by not eating meat the risk of side effects is considerably reduced.
Animal protein is obtained from lean meat, fish, liver, milk, cheese and eggs, but, because the stomach takes so long to digest them, bacteria develop and poisons are produced and this places a strain on the organs of the body. So, while animal protein has a biological value, its goodness is counter-balanced by the harmful waste that ensues from its consumption, and it is best to exclude it from the diet.
Unfortunately, animo-acids surplus to needs cannot be stored in the human body, so sensible eating habits are essential if the body is to have the correct intake of protein at all times.
Vitamins are highly complex organic substances that occur in very small quantities in the food, and each has a special job of work to do in ensuring that a particular organ or a group of organs functions properly and that good health is secured. Unfortunately, the human body cannot make vitamins, and the only way in which these necessities can be obtained is through the diet.
However, it has been proved that excessive use of vitamin tablets has very little effect, as most of the intake disappears into the urine. What is essential is that there should be a proper balance of vitamins and minerals within the body. Deficiencies in this respect can cause ill health and restrict growth, especially in children.
Vitamins fall into two main groups: those that are easily dissolved in water but are not affected by fat or oil (water-soluble) and those that dissolve in fat and oils but are unaffected in water (fat-soluble). Thus, proper cooking is essential if the vitamins in food are not to be destroyed.
Vitamin A is essential for the vision and for the constant growth of healthy skin tissue; it assists in the protection of the body against infection; it repairs internal or external weaknesses; and it is stored in the liver. Excess heat will not normally affect it, but air has a tendency to make it unstable.
A healthy skin is always moist to the touch; and, because Vitamin A is fat-soluble, normal washing will not remove it. If, however, the skin becomes dry and scaly, there is a deficiency of the vitamin.
Lack of Vitamin A can cause night blindness, which is the condition where a person has extreme difficulty in seeing properly in dim light or at night time, although during the day the vision appears to be normal. The purple (rhodopsin) which should be present in the rods of the retina, and allows us to see in darkness, is directly derived from this vitamin. Every year, thousands of children in the poor countries of the world go blind owing to an infection (keratomalacia) caused by a deficiency of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A will combat infection in the urinary and respiratory tracts, but lack of it can cause the formation of gallbladder and kidney stones, and weaknesses in respiration (which will show up in constant coughs and colds, sinus troubles and catarrh). Important sources of Vitamin A are:
vegetables — broccoli, cabbage, peas, watercress, carrots, spinach, kale, asparagus, alfalfa, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, pumpkins, dandelion greens and tomatoes;
fruits — apricots, yellow peaches;
animal sources — liver, halibut-liver oil, cod-liver oil, margarine, butter, egg yolks, Cheddar cheese.
Potatoes do not contain any Vitamin A.
Vitamin B. The B group of vitamins is very large and includes thiamine (Vitamin B1); riboflavin, nictonic acid, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, biotin, inositol and folic acid (all vitamins of the B2 complex) and cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12). Although these vitamins differ from each other in their chemical structure, they have many features in common. For instance, they are all water-soluble, they come from the same type of foods, and none of them can be stored for very long in the body, which means that there needs to be a regular daily intake of them.
Overcooking or boiling in too much water can entirely destroy these vital vitamins, so one way of obtaining them is to eat the foods uncooked. If cooking is necessary or preferred, sautéing is the best method. Pasteurisation partially destroys the B vitamins, and ultra-violet light and water that is too acid or too alkaline may have the same effects.
The B vitamins are stored in the liver. They help to stimulate the appetite, aid digestion, promote growth through the goodness in the bloodstream and in turn through the bone marrow, aid the functioning of the nervous system, and increase energy and resistance against infection.
Lack of these vitamins can result in beri-beri, which is generally caused by eating only polished rice (in the Second World War it was very common among prisoners of the Japanese) but may also be caused by an excessive intake of alcohol. Deficiency of B vitamins can also cause digestive, intestinal and gastric malfunctions, brain troubles (such as delirium), fevers, poor memory, nervousness, schizophrenia, and lack of awareness and concentration. It can also show up in the form of skin complaints, such as dermatitis and eczema, and in the fact that the slightest scratch or graze on the skin may become inflamed or infected.
The B vitamins can be found in:
grains, vegetables, etc. — wheat, millet, rye, brown rice, oatmeal, cornflakes, soya beans, kelp, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, green leafy vegetables, peas, beans, almonds, roasted peanuts, lentils and yeast extracts;
animal sources — fish, chicken, eggs, Cheddar cheese, liver, beef, lamb, pork and milk.
Potatoes and beer contain minute amounts of these vitamins.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1). Thiamine is absolutely necessary for the release of energy from carbohydrates in the diet, and lack of it will result in beri-beri. Fats, sugar and beer contain no thiamine whatsoever.
Wheat is a major source of it, but in the preparation of white flour most of it is removed with the bran in the milling process. It is best, then, to eat wholemeal bread, in which the thiamine is retained in its natural state.
In addition to wheat, other grains contain thiamine, and so do vegetables, kelp, almonds, roasted peanuts, soya beans, lentils, brown rice, beans and peas.
Riboflavin is water-soluble and very stable in heat; but alkaline substances and ultra-violet light are highly detrimental to it. It is bright yellow and is easily stored in the body.
Riboflavin is essential for the utilisation of energy from the food we eat, for it converts foods into protein and derives iron from other minerals; and it is necessary for healthy skin tissue and good vision. Lack of it restricts growth, reduces the health of skin tissue and causes loss of hair, eye troubles (sometimes cataracts), a general lack of energy, ulcers on the tongue, and sores in the corners of the mouth. Good sources of this vitamin are:
vegetables, etc. — cabbage, carrots, watercress, spinach, turnip greens, dandelion greens, grains, prunes, apples, apricots, coconuts and yeast extract;
animal sources —liver, kidneys, eggs, Cheddar cheese, chicken, beef and milk.
Potatoes contain a negligible amount.
Nicotinic acid (niacin) and nicotinamide are involved in utilising energy from food, and lack of them results in a disease known as pellagra, which was once found in places where maize was the main diet, but is now also found in people who suffer from chronic digestive disorders and whose diet is extremely poor, so preventing them from absorbing the vitamins (chronic alcoholics can suffer this disease.). The symptoms are diarrhoea, mental illness and dermatitis.
The curious fact about nicotinic acid is that in some foods it occurs in a bound form and therefore is unavailable to the digestive system of man, while in some foods (for instance, eggs and milk) that do not contain it an amino-acid called tryptophan is present, and this the body can convert into nicotinic acid. It is present in, or may be derived from, the following foods:
vegetables, etc. — grains, peas and beans;
animal sources — white fish, chicken, eggs, Cheddar cheese, pork, beef, milk.
Pyridoxine is necessary in the production of haemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying pigment in the red blood cells), in the conversion of tryptophan into nicotinic acid, and so on. Women who are pregnant and who are not eating sensibly could suffer a deficiency which could affect the child they are carrying, and women who are taking birth-control pills will generally be deficient in this very important vitamin.
Pyridoxine is found in many foods, especially in grains, most vegetables, fish, eggs and meat.
Pantothenic acid. This is one vitamin that man does not have to worry about too much for it is so prevalent in his diet that he can hardly fail to get adequate supplies. Its main task is to release energy from fats and carbohydrates. Grains, peas, beans and seeds are particularly rich sources of this vitamin.
Biotin is essential for the metamorphosis of fat, but such small amounts of it are needed by the body as generally to cause no worries. However, if a large number of raw eggs are swallowed, the biotin in the body may be eliminated. Sources of biotin are grains, vegetables, fruit, egg yolks, milk and offal.
Folic acid has many functions, and one of the main ones is its interaction with cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12). Deficiency can be caused through alcoholism, pregnancy, giving birth prematurely, drugs, and, in elderly people, especially by poor diets.
Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12) is a composition of several com-pounds, which contain particles of cobalt. With folic acid, it helps many cells in the body, particularly in the bone marrow. Deficiency of it can lead to deterioration of the nerve cells and to pernicious anaemia. Sources of this vitamin are white fish, eggs, Cheddar cheese, yeast extract, beef, lamb and pork, but the richest source of it is liver.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Man is one of the few creatures that cannot make its own Vitamin C, and so he must obtain it through his diet. He obtains it mostly from fruit and vegetables. The richest sources of it are rose hips, blackcurrants, soya beans and sprouts, and it is an interesting fact that soya beans and sprouts, when put into a refrigerator, increase their Vitamin C content. Unfortunately, the body stores very little of it and so it is essential that it is consumed daily. It needs to be remembered, however, that it is water-soluble and that ordinary cooking methods largely destroy it. For this reason, the best cooking methods to use are sautéing and steam cooking.
Vitamin C helps to fight infection, keeps the veins and capillaries in a good condition, and also maintains the health of the skin tissues. One of the first signs of a deficiency of it is bleeding gums, but it can also show up through a shortage of breath, scurvy, teeth trouble, increased heart action, tender joints and ulcers.
Most people are under the impression that to gain plenty of Vitamin C they should eat more oranges and lemons, but you get at least a third more of this vital vitamin by eating Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage.
Vitamin D. The greatest source of this is sunlight on the skin, which is more than adequate for the average person, but other rich sources are herrings, kippers, sardines, margarine and cod-liver oil.
Vitamin D is soluble in fats and oils, but insoluble in water, it regulates the utilisation of calcium and phosphorus to make strong bones and teeth, and a lack of it can cause rickets in children and deformation in adults (in particular, bowlegs, triangular pelvis, bent spine, and swollen elbows and wrists).
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is derived mainly from wheatgerm oil, but is also found in parsley, spinach, lettuce, celery and watercress and to a lesser degree in cereals and egg yolk. It is fat-soluble and ordinary light has no effect upon it, though ultra-violet light can gradually diminish its effectiveness.
Lack of this vitamin has been proved to cause infertility in rats, and it is suspected that it also causes sterility in humans. The vitamin is of benefit to the blood vessels and the heart, and, because it is stored mainly in the muscle fibres, is generally used very quickly, and so needs continual replacement.
Vitamin K is necessary for the normal clotting of the blood and is synthesised by bacteria in the bowels. Unless there is a disease of the intestines or the liver, a deficiency of the vitamin is most unlikely, as it can be found in all vegetables (especially spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and peas) and in grains, and egg yolk.
There are at least twenty minerals or elements within the human body, and it is generally recognised that fifteen of them are absolutely essential. The main functions of minerals are threefold:
to form bones and teeth;
to assist in controlling the composition of fluids and cells within the body;
to act with enzymes and proteins in the release and utilisation of energy.
Of the fifteen minerals that are considered really essential to the health of the body, those that are needed in the largest amounts are calcium, phosphorus, sulphur, potassium, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, and iron, and the other seven are required in such minute quantities that they are generally referred to as trace elements.
Calcium is absorbed from the intestines and aids in the utilisation of Vitamin D to make strong bones and teeth. It is also required for the proper clotting of the blood; for the benefit of the heart, the muscles and the nerves; and to reduce fatigue and increase stamina and mental alertness. Lack of it is a cause of rickets, osteomalacia, contraction of the muscles, brittle nails, fits and other mental disorders, skin complaints and dry hair. Women have a tendency to lose large quantities of calcium when they bear children in fairly quick succession and they also lose quite a lot when they breast-feed their babies. For the benefit not only of themselves but also of their babies, it is essential that this loss is made good. Growing children too need extra quantities of calcium, as their bones grow and they develop new teeth.
In a normal diet, only about 25 per cent of the calcium is utilised by the body, and even this percentage is dependent on the amount of Vitamin D that has been absorbed. The remainder is lost in the motions of the bowels. To obtain as much calcium as possible, the following foods (listed in descending order of the amount of calcium they contain) should be included in the diet: powdered dried skimmed milk, Cheddar cheese, tinned sardines, watercress, cabbage, grains, eggs and white fish.
Iron is present in the haemoglobin in the red blood corpuscles, which have a life-span of about three to four months. Their iron content is not wasted, for the body efficiently re-utilises it, but if there is not sufficient iron in the diet the body\'s reserves of it become depleted, the body draws on the iron in the haemoglobin, and anaemia results. Sources of iron include:
vegetables, etc. — grains, watercress, peas, beans, turnips, carrots, dates, prunes, raisins, figs and bananas;
animal sources — liver, kidney, beef, chicken and white fish.
Phosphorus next to calcium, is the most prominent mineral in the human body. It is a major constituent of every living cell and it helps in obtaining energy from the food consumed. In harmony with calcium it ensures that bones and teeth gain strength. It is an important part of many acids and fats, carbohydrates and proteins, and combines with Vitamins A, C, D and some B to activate them. Sometimes the urine takes on a cloudy appearance, which indicates that excess phosphates are being discharged; this is no cause for alarm, for a deficiency is almost unknown (it can occur if rat poison is swallowed; this causes liver damage and acts as an irritant). Phosphorus is present in all grain foods, seeds, most vegetables and many fruits.
Potassium is largely found within the fluids of the body cells, and excess quantities are excreted through the kidneys. Diuretics and purgatives, if taken too frequently, can cause potassium deficiencies, and even vomiting and diarrhoea can result in a loss.
A severe lack of potassium can cause thirstiness and giddiness and can also affect the muscles, including those of the heart. Heart failure may result.
Nearly all grains, seeds, vegetables and fruits supply enough of this mineral for the requirements of the human body.
Sodium is essential to the muscles and nervous system and to the fluids outside the body cells, such as saliva, the digestive juices and bile. It helps to maintain the fluid balance. Lack of it can lead to muscular cramps, fainting and dizziness, and an excess to kidney upsets and high blood pressure.
Some of the best sources of supply of sodium are:
vegetables, grains, etc. —whole wheat, cornflakes, rye, watercress, spinach, peas, beans, dandelion greens and prunes;
animal sources — haddock, herrings (including kippers), chicken, bacon, kidney and margarine.
Magnesium strengthens the bones and teeth, the tissues and the nervous system, and assists in obtaining energy from food. Deficiency of it is very rare, because it is present in most foods; but chronic diarrhoea can eliminate the body supply and thereby create depressions, fatigue and convulsions. The best sources of magnesium are yeast extract, roasted peanuts, grains, chicken and Cheddar cheese, and it is present in most vegetables.
Sulphur. Most foods contain sulphur, and the best from a nutritional point of view are grains, vegetables, fruit, eggs and nuts. Sulphur is found within the cells of the tissues and therefore acts within the skin and the bones; it helps to cleanse the blood and reduce toxin accumulation. A deficiency can lead to the diseases normally associated with uric acid and the side effects it has on the system.
Chlorine is an essential constituent of the body fluid and works in close harmony with sodium as a cleanser of the blood, for it helps to eradicate harmful bacteria. It also reduces unnecessary fat in the tissues. Whilst the chlorine content of most foods is comparatively low, most grains, fruits and vegetables contain small quantities, and the use of sea salt will help, especially in cases where there is excessive perspiration.
Trace elements. These include iodine, cobalt, copper, chromium, fluorine, manganese and zinc. Most of them play only a small role, and so it is very difficult to tell exactly what effect they have on each other, how the body utilises them, and what their role is. Iodine, however is an exception, for it is essential to hormones, which are produced by the thyroid gland (in the neck), and a deficiency of it causes goitre. Whilst grains and vegetables contain minute amounts, depending on the type of soil in which they grow, the greatest source of iodine is seafood, especially seaweed. In China, unless you are a very long way from the coast, goitre is almost unknown, because seaweed is regularly eaten as a vegetable. If you find it hard to obtain, then the next best thing is kelp, obtainable from most health shops.
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