Prevention (through herbs and diet) and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle...

Prevention (through herbs and diet) and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle

(The tools that can be used to maintain health and vitality, and the role herbs and food can play in this process.) – Sandhya Bhat M.S., M.Sc., Ayurveda Specialist, Certified Aroma & Color Therapist

“What constitutes the state of being healthy?”- is a question that has been answered differently by various groups for a long time. Allopathic Medicine advocates have maintained that it is a state of being ‘without’ diseases, even though the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates was the one who said, “Health is the expression of a harmonious balance between various component of man’s nature, the environment and ways of life…nature is the physician of disease”. The typical approach of modern or allopathic medicine has been to ‘cure’ disease once they arise. They do not look for the cause of the problem but apply cure to a specific or group of symptoms.

As against of that, according to traditional medicines, being healthy is not only a state of ‘not’ having diseases but also having the energy to lead life with exuberance. It does not treat the mind and body as different entities like allopathic medicine but considers them together as contributing to a person’s state of health and well being. Above all, traditional medicines believe that a person’s habits and life-style, their nutritional intake, their exercise patterns all of which determine their energy levels have a direct impact upon their ‘being in a state of health’ and hence by controlling these contributing factors, diseases can be ‘prevented’ and a person can maintain a state of health and vitality.

“Prevention is better than cure” is an adage that alternative practitioners advocate. This fact has now gained complete acceptance in modern medicine and present day nutritionists and life-style consultants play a vital role in health care by guiding their clients to follow a balanced nutrition regimen, complete with herbal and vitamin supplements.

There are various factors that play a major role in maintaining the mind-body equilibrium- this balance is essential for having good health. These factors include-
· Food Intake- In corroboration with nutrition guideline principles.
· Exercise- Optimum utilization of consumed calories.
· Overall Lifestyle- Daily activity patterns.
· Rejuvenative Herbs.
· Food Supplements in the form of Vitamins, Minerals and Enzymes.

Now, lets look at each of these factors in greater detail:

1] Food Intake- Average American diet constitutes mainly of simple carbohydrates mainly in the form of sugars & pasta, and proteins- mainly of animal origin. Thus, this type of diet can hardly be considered balanced. We also notice a dearth of fruits and vegetables on the daily dietary regimen. Fruits & Vegetables provide a variety of essential nutrients in the form of vitamins & minerals. Though, many people take daily supplements- it cannot & should not replace a healthy well-balanced meal.

In addition to the lack of nutrients, there are other food habits and intake which play havoc with our system- namely- commercially grown produce, meat as cut and packaged in “meat factories”, white bread, artificial sweeteners etc. For e.g., commercially grown produce have been shown to have considerable amount of pesticide, insecticide and fertilizer residues. Meat sold by commercial processors contains high amounts of preservatives and color retainers. These chemicals are highly toxic and many of them are stored in our liver during usual liver detoxifying routine. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and some others can lead to minor ailments such as stomach discomfort to major illness, allergies etc. All this can be avoided by consuming organically grown produce and meat- ie. meat obtained from animals that are fed organically grown feed and also cut & processed in a natural, humane way. White bread is another culprit that is known to stick to the colon walls, thus reducing the absorption of nutrients, setting the stage for constipation, building up of toxins in the colon and thus leading to a high risk of colon cancer. Hence, in order to avoid clogging of colon, whole wheat bread and breads from other wholesome grains or their combination are much healthier choices, since they provide natural sources of nutrients.

In today’s “look slim” fashion, conscious society, it is an accepted fact to use sugar substitutes instead of bringing about life-style and food habit changes for achieving weight loss. Many a times, sugar substitutes are recommended for blood sugar related diseases such as Diabetes- But such sugar substitutes are extremely harmful to our bodies and many of them are known carcinogens.

Thus in order to eat a well-balanced and nutritious meals, there are certain factors you can consider before each meal-
1) First and foremost- “Rate your Plate” i.e. keep track of everything you eat. This will help you to understand what food items you tend to eat in excess and which ones have not yet found a place in your diet.
2) Second make your nutritious food choices a “Family Affair”. Studies have shown that people tend to stick with food regimen when it is also followed by the ones they share a meal with. Hence make healthy eating a habit for your entire family.
3) Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Also avoid food items that contain artificial colors & artificial flavors. Include whole grain foods in your diet and avoid using white flour or artificial sweeteners.
4) Try to eat mainly organically grown fruits and vegetables. Also avoid conventionally processed meats and poultry. It is better to consume farm grown and humanely treated meats and poultry.
5) Avoid genetically engineered foods.
6) Make sure you drink atleast 6 to 8 glasses of pure spring water each day.
7) Know the fats which you typically consume. Avoid all saturated and trans-fat. Make sure that you consume optimum quantities of Omega 3 and 6 fats. Also most of the fat used in your cooking should be typically mono unsaturated fats such as olive, sesame and canola oils.
8) Make sure that the proteins you consume are through both animal and grain sources.
9) Make sure that the carbohydrates you consume are typically complex carbohydrates and not just simple carbohydrates and sugars.
10) Make sure your dietary choices provide you with optimum amount of fiber for good colon health and also proper assimilation and absorption of nutrients.

2] Exercise- Exercise is a very important part of healthy living life-style. The simple formula for understanding weight loss-gain is that- any excess calories left over after the ones required and used up by the body, finally find their way to the adipose (fat) tissues within our bodies. Hence, in order to loose weight (one of the most fashionable requirement in our modern very thin & frail look appreciative society) it is very necessary to incorporate exercise into our weekly schedule. In addition to aiding in weight loss due to calorie use-up, exercise has many other health benefits to its credit. For eg. It helps to maintain good heart health and also helps to lower the bad cholesterol. In addition, exercise tones up the muscles and the sweating causes for the pores to open up which helps the body to loose toxins lodged in the skin.

In order to get maximum benefit from such an exercise routine, it needs to be maintained at constant intervals (atleast 3 times a week) and for a certain length of time- minimum of 20 minutes at each sitting & while maintaining the optimum heart rate. This optimum heart rate depends on certain important criteria such as age, weight etc. One needs to also balance the cardiovascular workout- which aids in heart health and weight loss (due to aerobic activity) along with some weight training which tones the muscles and increases strength and sustenance. Further on, adding de-stressing exercises such as Yoga or Pilates in today’s stress prone lives needs to be emphasized. It helps to add a few sessions a week of some form of relaxation & stretch exercise to one’s regimen. These help in calming the mind and stretching the body to release any locked in stress & tension while also making the body supple and flexible.

Inspite of one’s age and health level there is always a suitable exercise regimen. Hence if need be it is worth the benefits to take help from a professional health trainer along with any advise and recommendations from one’s Family Physician.

3] Overall Life-style- Life-style plays a crucial role in maintaining optimum health and vitality. All the vitamins and rejuvenative herbs or well-balanced food can never take the place of a “good-night’s” sleep or a relaxing round of golf. Thus along with eating nutritious and well-balanced foods it is imperative that one maintains a healthy lifestyle which will be conducive to good health, strength and vitality. Such a life-style includes taking time for proper rest and relaxation- which is not just getting proper sleep but also doing activities that relax the mind and body. For some, it is playing golf, or kitting or gardening. Such activities can be playful in nature or along the lines of arts and crafts, but their main help is in relaxing the mind and rejuvenating it through optimum activities that the mind finds solace in.

Meditation has been found to be most useful for its mind rejuvenative powers. In today’s busy lives our mind is constantly thinking and working to write the next report that is due at work, make a meal, plan the evening, chalk out long term plans and also lovely vacation by the beach. During meditation, the mind gets a break from its constant work and chatter. It gets a chance to calm itself and many a times to be still and thus it finds its rejuvenation. It is a known fact the daily meditation rituals and practices are known to calm the basal heart rate, lower the amount of anti-stress neurotransmitters and other bio-chemicals and thus remove many of the ill-effects of stress which many a times leads not only to chronic diseases such as elevated blood pressure and other mental ailments but it can also lead to premature aging and death.

In addition, it is a known fact that people who feel that they have a purpose in life and are leading meaningful useful lives have better health and are more vibrant and joyful in their expression of life. One such activity that is found to be helpful is to be involved in community service and charity work. One feels most worthy of their life when they see it as being of service to others. Such charitable activities can be most satisfying in their emotional appeal and also help to build stronger communities.

4] Rejuvenative Herbs- There are many herbs and other rejuvenative tonics that are offered in Western Herbal medicine, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. These are herbs that strengthen the immune system and thus provide defenses against many ailments. These include the famous Chinese herbs such as Ginseng or Ayurvedic herbs & mineral tonics such as Shilajit and Ashwagandha. Chavanprash which is an Ayurvedic Jelly is such a type of nutritive tonic. In Chinese medicine, the Formula for the Ten Significant Herb Great Tonic include the following herbs-
1) Ginseng Root
2) White atractylodes rhizome
3) Poria mushroom
4) Honey-fried Licorice root
5) Cooked Rhemannia root
6) White Peony root
7) Dang gui root
8) Chuan Xion rhizome
9) Cinnamon Bark and
10) Astragalus root
Many of such rejuvenative herbs and tonics are freely available in health food stores.

5] Food Supplements in the form of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs- In addition to the main food groups of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, our body also needs certain minerals and essential amino acids (or Vitamins) that the body cannot produce on its own and needs to be obtained from various food sources. Thus eating a well-balanced and nutritive meal is very important for maintaining health and vitality.

Inspite of stringent dietary patterns and food choices, it is not always practically possible to get all possible nutrients from food at all times for ones own individual needs. These discrepancies exist because, individual needs for various vitamins and minerals differ and also everyone’s palate and meal choices do not necessarily include all the vegetables and fruits from various plant families. For eg. Someone with Hypertension should take a supplement of Flax seed oil of around 2 tbsp. per day to lower both the systolic and diastolic readings. They should also take an added supplement of Magnesium per day of around 400 mg. Taking the supplement- Coenzyme Q-10 around 30-100 mg three times a day helps in naturally lowering the blood pressure. People with Hypertension are also recommended to take 3 cups daily of Green Tea and also the equivalent of 4 g. of fresh garlic daily for heart health. Another eg. is that of potential lack of Vitamin B-12 among Vegetarians. Although plant foods can contain this vitamin on their surface from soil residues, this is not a reliable source of B-12 for vegetarians. Much of the vitamin B-12 present in spirulina, sea vegetables, tempeh and miso have been shown to be the inactive B-12 analog rather than the active vitamin.

Hence supplementation of this vitamin is suggested for vegetarians who avoid or limit their intake of animal foods. Another eg. where life-style seems to affect the vitamin and mineral needs is where it is necessary for people who lead very stressful lives or are going through some very challenging and stressful times to take an added dose of the B-vitamins. Also women who are undergoing menopause or are past it, need an added supplementation of Calcium to maintain bone density and avoid osteoporosis.

Thus we find that individual needs, lifestyle and food choices determine the need for food supplementation.

We all hold the key to a satisfying life filled with good health and vitality. With the right choices of food, exercise, life-style changes and required supplements & herbs we can all fill our life with well-being, zest and exuberance.

Sandhya Bhat:

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