About the Author:
Daniel Reid was born and educated in America and lived in Taiwan, where he studied under numerous Tao masters. He is a Taoist practitioner and the author of several books, including the bestselling The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity; Guarding the Three Treasures; Chi-Gung; and Chinese Healing Herbs. He lives in Australia.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Diet and Nutrition
Food and drink are relied upon to nurture life. But if one does not know that the natures of substances may be opposed to each other, and one consumes them altogether indiscriminately, the vital organs will be thrown out of harmony and disastrous consequences will soon arise. Therefore, those who wish to nurture their lives must carefully avoid doing such damage to themselves.
[Chia Ming, Essential Knowledge for Eating and Drinking, 1368]
One of the great advantages of learning Tao is that the same basic principles apply to everything from the macrocosmic to the microscopic. In the case of diet, the overriding Taoist principle of balance between Yin and Yang is established by harmonizing the Four Energies and Five Flavors in foods.
The Four Energies in food are hot, warm, cool and cold. These categories define the nature and the intensity of energy released in the human system when food is digested. Hot and warm foods belong to Yang; cool and cold foods belong to Yin. The former are stimulating and generate heat, while the latter are calming and cool the organs.
The Five Flavors are more subtle distinctions based on the Five Elemental Activities: sweet (earth), bitter (fire), sour (wood), pungent (metal) and salty (water). Each of the Five Flavors has a 'natural affinity' (gui-jing) for one of the five 'solid' Yin organs and its Yang counterpart: sweet influences pancreas/stomach; bitter moves to the heart/small intestine; sour has affinity for the liver/gallbladder; pungent affects the lungs/large intestine; and salty associates with the kidneys/bladder.
The therapeutic effects of the Four Energies and Five Flavors are as follows:
* Cool and cold Yin foods calm the vital organs and are recommended for summer menus, as well as for combating 'hot' Yang diseases such as fever and hypertension. Yin foods include soy beans, bamboo shoots, watermelon, white turnips, cabbage, pears, squash and lemons.
* Warm and hot Yang foods stimulate the vital organs, generate body heat and are recommended for winter consumption, as well as palliatives for 'cold' Yin diseases such as anemia, chills and fatigue. Yang foods include beef, mutton, chicken, alcohol, mango and chilies.
* Sweet 'earth' foods disperse stagnant energy, promote circulation, nourish vital energy and harmonize the stomach. Corn, peas, dates, ginseng and licorice are examples of sweet foods.
* Bitter 'fire' foods such as rhubarb and bitter melon tend to dry the system, balance excess dampness, and purge the bowels.
* Sour 'wood' foods such as olives and pomegranate are astringent, tend to solidify the contents of the digestive tract, stop diarrhea and remedy prolapse of the colon.
* Salty 'water' foods such as kelp soften and moisten tissues and facilitate bowel movements.
* Pungent 'metal' goods such as ginger, garlic and chili neutralize and disperse accumulated toxins in the body.
Taoists balance their diets according to favorable combinations of energies and flavors and strictly avoid combinations that conflict. They also avoid excessive consumption of any single variety of food-energy. For example, frequent excessive consumption of 'hot' fatty Yang foods can cause fevers, heartburn, congestion, chest stagnation and other unpleasant effects of 'heat-energy excess'. As this excess 'evil heat' seeks escape from the body, carbuncles and absesses may develop. Too much pungent food can cause gastro-intestinal distress, upset the stomach and result in hemorrhoids. Even the freshest, most wholesome foods are rendered nutritionally useless if consumed in combinations that interfere with digestion, cause putrefaction and fermentation, block assimilation and cause internal energy conflicts.
Mother Nature's Menu
When formulating personal dietary guidelines, it is helpful first to determine your own basic metabolic type, of which there are three: vegetarian, carnivore and balanced. The vegetarian and carnivorous types each represent about 25 per cent of the general population, with the remaining 50 per cent falling into the balanced category. These human metabolic types stem from the prehistoric switch by some segments of the human species from a fruit and nut based diet to a meat diet.
Vegetarian metabolisms are 'slow oxidizers', which means that they burn sugars and carbohydrates slowly. Because the body must burn sugar in order to provide sufficient energy to digest meat and fat, slow oxidizers have trouble burning sugar fast enough to efficiently digest large quantities of meat, eggs, fish and other concentrated animal proteins. Consequently, large doses of protein foods tend to make vegetarian types feel tired and sluggish after meals. An easy test for metabolic type is to eat a large steak or a whole chicken and see how you feel afterward. If it leaves you feeling 'wiped out', mentally depressed and lethargic, then you probably tend towards a slow-oxidizing vegetarian metabolism, in which case you should restrict protein and fat consumption and favor vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates in your diet. If a large intake of concentrated animal protein leaves you feeling strong, vital and mentally alert, then you probably lean towards a fast-oxidizing carnivorous metabolism.
Since carnivorous metabolisms burn sugar and carbohydrates very rapidly, excess consumption of sugar or starch tends to make them excessively nervous and agitated due to overstimulation of the nervous system. Fast oxidizers derive energy by digesting large quantities of animal fats and proteins, which are sent to the liver for conversion into glycogen. The liver then dispenses the glycogen into the bloodstream in the form of glucose -- the only form of fuel the body can burn -- in gradual measured doses, as needed. That's why fast oxidizers require a steady supply of protein and fat in their diets and should restrict intake of sugars and starches.
Fortunately, most of us have balanced metabolisms that can handle both varieties of food when properly combined. Although our digestive tracts were originally designed by nature for a diet of fruit and vegetables, our digestive systems have evolved the capacity to produce the gastric juices required to digest the meat that became part of the human diet 50,000-100,000 years ago. If large quantities of animal protein don't leave you feeling depleted, and if large doses of sugar and starch don't make you nervous, then you are probably a balanced metabolizer who needs only worry about selecting wholesome foods from both categories and combining them properly for consumption. In the Tao of diet, however, these are just the first steps in regulating diet. Season and climate, for example, must also be considered in order to ensure that the extreme external cold winter is balanced by the extra internal heat of Yang-foods, hot summer weather is complemented by cooling Yin-foods, dry climates are compensated with extra moisturizing foods, and so forth. Foods consumed out of harmony with season and climate can cause all sorts of problems, including skin eruptions, constipation, gas, fatigue and bad breath.
Taoists tend to favor local produce because it is far more likely to be fresh and brimming with the vitality of its own chee. Today, the modern food-processing industry, in conjunction with high-speed transport, has made it possible to eat Florida oranges in Alaska, frozen prawns in the middle of the desert and all sorts of processed packaged 'junk food' any time of day or night, anywhere on earth. As a result, modern diets are completely out of synchrony with the natural prevailing conditions of geography, season and unseen cosmic forces.
Taoists also make a point of eating foods with natural affinities for their weakest organs and related energy systems. Taoist diets aim at strengthening four major systems in the body: digestive, excretory, respiratory and circulatory. When these four functional systems are properly nourished, harmonized and healthy, the health and vitality of the entire organism are assured.
A major goal of Taoist diets is to enhance sexual potency by stimulating sexual glands and strengthening sexual organs. The purpose here is not to increase sexual pleasure -- though that is a definite side benefit -- but rather to increase the body's store of hormones, semen and other forms of 'vital essence' required for optimum vitality and immunity. Sexual essence provides our greatest internal source of chee, and sexual potency is a major indicator of good health.
Since meat forms such a large part of Western diets, a few Taoist guidelines on meat consumption should be helpful. The great Tang physician Sun Ssu-mo and other Taoist dieticians have always warned against the long-range ill effects of eating large quantities of domestic animal meats, such as beef and pork. The only domestic meat they regarded as safe and healthy for the human system was dog, and that was recommended only for its potent warming effects during the intense cold of mid-winter. The reason that domestic animals are such a poor source of human nutrition is that their own diets consist mainly of kitchen slops, garbage and dried straw. Today, the situation is further aggravated by all the synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other drugs routinely fed to livestock.
Taoists have always recommended wild game as the most nutritionally beneficial type of meat for man. Venison is especially good, primarily because deer feed on all sorts of wild nuts, leaves, berries, barks and other herbs which appear in the Chinese pharmocopeia as remedies for man. The benefits of a wild deer's herbal diet are naturally transmitted to your own system when you eat its meat, just as all the chemical drugs injected into livestock today are transferred to your system when you eat a hamburger or fried chicken.
Note, however, that you will gain very little nutritional benefit from even the freshest wild game if you cook it 'to death'. Any meat that is suitable for human consumption should be eaten as rare as possible, preferably raw or at least partly raw. Steak tartare and Carpaccio are good examples of raw beef dishes that are brimming with their own natural enzymes and are delicious as well. Japanese sashimi (raw fish) is even better; indeed sashimi is arguably the most nutritionally potent, enzymerich, naturally digestible form of animal protein on Mother Nature's entire menu, a fact reflected by the longevity of the Japanese people. Taoists always recommend wild fish from seas and rivers over domestic fish raised in stagnant ponds and fed on 'fish chow'.
The same principle applies to chicken. Chinese physicians today still recommend that their patients consume only tu-ji ('earth chickens') and avoid yang-ji ('cultivated chickens'). Earth chickens are those left to roam about fields and forests to forage for themselves, rather than being fed the artificial, denatured diets of domestic fowl.
In order to prevent putrefaction, promote digestion and facilitate rapid elimination of wastes, all meals in which cooked meats form the major element should be supplemented with a dose of active proteolytic ('protein-digesting') enzymes, which are readily available at health and food stores today.
You may assist rather than interfere with Mother Nature's digestive principles by observing the following basic Taoist dietary guidelines:
* Eat sparingly, and you will live a long and healthy life. The basic Taoist measure is to eat till you are 70-80 per cent full. Mother Nature invariably punishes gluttons with all sorts of misery. The human body simply cannot utilize the enormous quantities and complex combinations of food with which civilized, sedentary man tends to gorge himself daily.
* Chew food thoroughly before swallowing it. This applies especially to carbohydrates, which require initial digestion by the alkaline ptyalin enzyme in the saliva of the mouth. Gandhi's advice on this subject rings with the wisdom of Tao: 'Drink your food and chew your beverages', which means that solid foods should be chewed to liquid form before swallowing, and liquids should be swallowed as slowly as solid food.
* Avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures in foods and beverages. Excessively hot soup, for example, irritates the tender lining of the mouth and esophagus, which impairs salivation and peristalsis. One of the worst digestive offenses is to drink ice water or other freezing cold fluids with meals. Such freezing infusions on a stomach full of food freeze shut the tiny ducts which secrete gastric juices in the stomach, thereby halting digestion and permitting putrefaction and fermentation to occur instead. By the time the temperature of the stomach returns to normal, it is too late for proper digestion to commence. In fact, any beverage taken in large quantities together with food dilutes the gastric medium and impairs digestion. Wine and beer, however, are exceptions because they are fermented (i.e. pre-digested) and thus they actually assist digestion when taken in moderate quantities. Even the Bible advises one to 'take a little wine for the stomach's sake'.
The Human Dietary Devolution
Modern man bristles with pride on his 'evolution' from cave man to space traveler and looks upon his primitive past with disdain. When it comes to diet, however, the human species has experienced a severe 'devolution' in eating habits, a devolution sparked by the much ballyhooed advent of civilization, an event that has driven a permanent wedge between man and nature.
For millions of years prior to the tiny drop in the bucket of time which we call 'history', humans and other primates lived entirely on diets of coarse, fibrous foods gathered in nature and consumed raw. Throughout the realm of nature, animals that rely on diets with a high ratio of indigestible fibrous bulk and low concentrations of protein have evolved relatively long digestive tracts, whereas carnivores such as lions and tigers evolved short tracts. The human alimentary canal, which winds its way from mouth to anus with 40 feet of tubing, is one of the longest digestive tracts relative to body weight in all of nature.
Man's dietary devolution took a serious turn for the worse when he 'advanced' to become a hunter of animals and adopted meat as his major dietary staple. This occurred primarily in the northern hemisphere, where flesh became the only viable source of food in winter. Those human populations that switched to meat developed digestive juices and metabolisms capable of extracting nutrients from animal fats and proteins, even though their digestive tracts remained forever fixed in the vegetarian mold. This development is the source of the two basic metabolic types in man, one geared towards a bulky diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, the other to a fiberless diet of flesh.
Agriculture triggered the final stage of human dietary degeneration. When grain became the main staple of the human diet, a new element was introduced into the digestive tract, an element not at all intended by nature as food for man. That culprit is starch. The fact that grains are the only items in the entire human diet that cannot be eaten and digested in the raw state is sufficient proof that these items were not meant for human consumption. Grains became the world's first 'processed foods.'
Evidence indicates that precivilized man knew better than to consume grains as food. It seems that humans first began gathering and later cultivating grains not for food but rather to feed domestic animals and ferment beer. It was only after population pressure made wild plants and animals in...
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