This entire blog post is chapter 26 from the book Creating Health by Deepak Chopra, M.D. (1987, Houghton Mifflin Company). Click HERE to skip to “The Case for Vegetarianism”. I do believe that diet has evolved since this was initially published, and modern gurus are easy to follow on YouTube. It’s his way of teaching us to look at diet that is so compelling.
Diet and Destiny
Food is Brahman. –Rig Veda
From food are born all creatures, which live upon food and after death return to food. Food is the chief of all things. It is therefore said to be medicine for all diseases of the body. Those who worship food as Brahman gain all material objects. From food are born all beings, which being born, grow by food. All beings feed upon food, and when they die, food feeds upon them. –Taittiraya Upanishad
A LIFE BEGINS as desire. Impulses of intelligence that we call love and desire are transformed through our parents into the fusion of minute amounts of genetic material that we call an embryo. So we are conceived out of love and desire, and start life as a genetic material. However minute, the DNA that composes this genetic material contains within it the entire blueprint of our destiny. The raw material of DNA is sugar and a complex chemical called nucleic acid. The complexity of nucleic acid is enough, when built up into DNA, to encode the complete intelligence that out of love and desire our parents bestowed upon the first conceived cell.
We are nurtured by the sum total of love, desire, and intelligence, all infused into one raw material whose common name is — food. Food transformed, given consciousness, is us. If we want a potato or a grain of buckwheat to become as conscious as we ourselves are, we eat it. The intelligence that permeates every cell of the body then sets to work on that bit of food. Nothing dramatic really happens to it. The chemical constituents of its nutrients are simply shifted so that they can enter our cells. The material of food becomes every part of us — eyes, hair, brain, bowel. Here is creation, and the act of eating and assimilating food involves the infinite intelligence of the universe playing itself out through this specific act of creation. Nature began the universe by creating itself in the form of titanic explosions of mass-energy that led to unimaginably huge galaxies and nebulae. But when it evolved sufficiently to create something really complex, nature learned to eat.
Consider this: I drink a glass of orange juice. Every single cell in my body (which contains billions and billions of cells) encounters every molecule of glucose from that juice. Every cell in my body partakes of the share of the orange juice it needs, and out of simple need it converts the juice into itself. The intricacies of what the cell has done, insofar as science now understands it, are enough to fill large spaces in the libraries of the world. When you are aware of the complexity and at the same time of the simplicity, innocence, and elegance with which the organizing power of intelligence transforms food into human beings and all creatures of the earth, then you are ready to participate in your destiny. You can sit down and eat.
People who do not feel sufficient respect for eating are showing no awareness of the flow of organizing power that it represents. Eating indiscriminately or eating unconsciously, eating on the run, habitually overeating or not eating at all — these are all violations of natural law, that is, of the biological processes that must work in their preordained channels in order for food to be converted into us. Innumberable disorders are linked to diet and eating habits. For example, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of the cases of gastrointestinal cancer, including major killers like cancer of the colon, are directly related to nutrition. The high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, and serious heart disease that is epidemic in Western societies, not to mention diabetes, hypoglycemia, ulcers, and gouty arthritis, demonstrate obvious connections to bad eating habits and wrong food.
I do not believe that it is necessary for us to become nutritionists in order to eat right. I want to give very little detailed dietary advice in this book just to point up the more important truth: the intelligence of our bodies knows what is good for it. Once that intelligence is channeled through correct habits — and this involves making conscious decisions at the beginning — then eating problems and the risks of a wrong diet disappear.
An overweight person may disagree at this point, protesting that his body cannot seem to help itself when confronted with food. But consider this: if you gain ten pounds a year, which in a few years would make you overweight and grossly obese in a decade, you are still overeating by only an average of less than one hundred calories a day. That amounts to little more than a tablespoon of oil, a third of a candy bar, or a half of a handful of peanuts. In other words, even chronic, “uncontrollable” weight gain involves a tiny adjustment in the body’s idea of what is the right amount to eat. By the same logic, a tiny adjustment in the opposite direction will bring the weight down. This adjustment must begin in the mind, starting with an intention to respect the body’s intelligence.
We are constantly barraged on all sides by diet information. Some of it serves the interests of producers who have food to sell, some is pushed by medical interests that want to reverse the trends of disease, and there is much else besides. All of it is irrelevant once the cells of your body begin to get through to your brain information about what they want: a moderate amount of nutrients supplied in variety at regular times of the day. New habits that move in this direction are worth more than any advice from a diet authority.
It is time to reflect for a moment: how reasonable is our obsession with vitamins, minerals, proteins, and the rest of our diet? The amount of information we store in our brains about nutrition seems to me irrelevant to health as a natural state of the body. How likely is it that birds in the forest suffer from vitamin D deficiency? Is there a single living species on earth besides man that regulates its life according to “recommended daily allowances” of any nutrient? Nutritional authorities understand and have repeatedly stated that our knowledge of nutrients is sketchy at best. Most of this information was obtained by starving animals of various nutrients until they showed a certain deficiency disease. Much of the rest came from observing people who had already contacted deficiency diseases. So what is known depends far too much on studying abnormal states of physiology. Yet it is also known that each cell of the body has a precise ability to select from the diet exactly what it needs in order to grow. That is why all premodern societies got enough vitamin C to stave off scurvy, even though they consciously knew nothing whatever about vitamin C and did not drink orange juice every morning.
Nature has not left us worse off than birds and reptiles and other mammals. It is true that we have incorporated into ourselves some wrong habits over the years that now obscure our innate intelligence, but intelligence cannot actually be eradicated. Our instincts for proper nourishment have been dulled in part by listening to people who tell us what to eat, what is supposed to taste good, what is good for us, and what is not good for us. The advice I have heard in this regard came from Dr. Wayne Dyer, who said, “First, be a good animal”…
For the moment, recognizing that most people want perfect health but are far from knowing how to activate their inner intelligence, I want to give a few guidelines about eating. They come from my own observation and are not the official recommendations of scientific medicine at large. There are other physicians, however, who would absolutely agree with me. What all the points that follow have in common is this: they gently but continuously prompt your body and mind to join together in a flow of intelligence. As in other aspects of health, once that flow is set up, nothing else is necessary but to enjoy your life.
1. Pay attention to eating
2. Pause momentarily before eating and sit in silence — or say grace — so that the awareness begins the meal quietly
3. Eat when you are hungry, and do not eat when you are not hungry
4. Do not sit down to eat if you are upset — your body is better off without food until you feel better
5. Take time to eat, chewing food well and slowly
6. Appreciate the company and compliment the cook
7. Avoid eating in any company that makes you feel less than agreeable, but eat with congenial company, friends and family, when you can
In our times, some of this advice may look strange. Our times are the exception, however. Every culture has lived by these customs, for that is what they are, and has found in them the solid comfort of a healthy life. Man’s everyday attitude toward food has been thankfulness. In his moments of deepest reflection, this attitude turns to reverence. Good food, abundantly provided, and taken with appreciativeness, is a sign that man welcomes his ties with nature, and nature has responded by nourishing him well. (GO BACK TO THE TOP)
Along with many other physicians, I am convinced that a vegetarian diet is the best one for health. A vegetarian is one who lives wholly or primarily on a diet without meat. Although some vegetarians refrain from eating meat because they abhor the idea of slaughtering animals, this approach does not enter into the argument here. Also, if your diet comes to include eggs, chicken, and fish in small amounts, I think that you will gain the same health benefits that strict vegetarians do. Most human societies have subsisted on nearly vegetarian diets throughout history, so in a sense it is a norm and not a special “dietary practice.” We tend to rationalize that Europeans lived on cabbage and millet for centuries out of poverty, or that Asians subsist on rice and vegetables today because of overpopulation.
The truth is that the human physiology sustains health best when its intake of meat fat and proteins is small or nonexistent. The American Dietetic Association, in a pamphlet titled The Vegetarian Approach to Eating, observes that “a growing body of scientific evidence supports a positive relationship between the consumption of a plant-based diet and the prevention of certain diseases.” The following diseases have been definitely linked to our ordinary diet that is high in meat and animal fats:
1. Coronary artery disease: Its exact cause is unknown, but a growing mass of evidence suggests that coronary artery disease, the number one killer in our society, is a chronic, degenerative disorder related to diet. Saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods have definitely been linked to hardening of the arteries (artherosclerosis), which the condition that leads to coronary artery disease.
–> Saturated fats and cholesterol come to us primarily in meat, cheese, eggs, and butter. When the diet shifts to foods derived from plants, there is a definite decrease in the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Coronary artery disease is known to be from 30 percent to 50 percent less common among long-term vegetarians such as Seventh-Day Adventists, who advocate vegetarianism as part of their religious beliefs. These people also tend to have other good habits, such as not smoking, but nonvegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists who were studied showed a death rate from heart attack three times greater than that of vegetarians of the sect who were the same age.
2. Cancer: I have already covered the diet-cancer connection in the first part of this book, but I will repeat here that colon and breast cancer are linked to high intake of fats and cholesterol and that diets low in plant-derived fiber are implicated in several cancers of the digestive tract. All responsible agencies, including the American Cancer Society, now recommend lowering the intake of meat in order to lower the risk of cancer.
3. Obesity: The popular idea that eating a diet full of bread, potatoes, rice, beans, pasta, and other staples of the vegetarian diet makes you fat is not founded on facts. As we have already seen, obesity is linked to numerous health risks and to almost every major disease. Studies show consistently that Americans who eat meat weigh more than those who do not.
4. Dental caries: Caries of the teeth, commonly called cavities, occur less frequently among vegetarians than among meat eaters.
5. Osteoperosis: This disorder is a thinning of the bones and loss of the bone mass that seriously affects many women past the age of menopause, leading to spinal problems and frequent, slow-to-heal fractures as they grow to old age. Although meat is a good source of bone calcium (so are low-fat dairy products, fish, beans, and leafy green vegetables), studies indicate that a high-protein diet eaten over a long period of time leads to calcium and bone loss.
As these facts are assimilated by the mainstream of the American population, vegetarian diets will become more common; they are already common enough that even athletes, who traditionally have eaten lots of red meat at the training table, are seeing the value of eating carbohydrates for energy instead. (The classic study on this, conducted decades ago at Yale, showed that no athlete who ate meat could sustain the same endurance levels as the lowest-ranked vegetarian in the tests.) A steady stream of energy from whole grains and other complete-carbohydrate foods is much better for the system in general than spurts of energy from sugar (or alcohol), and the digestive system has an easier time working on such foods than on fats and animal proteins. In any event, statistics on the baby boom generation, which is now between thirty and forty years old, indicate that smoking, drinking, and heavy consumption of meat have declined. We can expect the epidemic of lifestyle diseases to drop dramatically.
For those who want to make a shift in the direction of vegetarianism, I can provide guidelines that are generally agreed upon:
1. Do not change your diet suddenly and drastically. Make gradual changes, preferably at moments when you feel relaxed, expansive, and unpressured.
2. Begin by favoring fish and poultry over red meat, and eat smaller portions of them if that seems called for.
3. Eat real cooking, not penitential bowls of beans, rice, or boiled vegetables. Almost all of the Asian cuisines are based on vegetables and rice, with small portions of meat. Italian pasta dishes are also lean in meat protein or even entirely vegetarian.
4. Whenever you have a choice, choose whole-grain breads, muffins, and cereals in place of refined white flour. Whole grains provide complete protein for the body in any combination with nuts, legumes (beans or lentils), or seeds. Any vegetarian meal with either milk or tofu as part of it is bound to contain complete protein too.
Although quite a few books of sound nutritional advice are on the market, I have seen none that tells us how to cultivate the body’s flow of intelligence so that in time it tells us automatically what we should eat. So I will try to give suggestions in that direction, with the caution that they are based upon my own observations and medical reading, not on a body of current research. In part IV of this book I talk about approaching creative intelligence though the mind, which is ultimately the approach that makes perfect health a practical reality in all aspects of life. However, the current wave of interest in diet prompts me to make the following points:
1. The body wants a moderate amount of food containing various nutrients at regular times in the day. If you are already providing this (and do not smoke or drink), then you are doing the main things that allow the body to balance its metabolism and digestion. The body loves habit. Eat at the same time every day, eat about the same amounts every day, and eat a little bit of everything.
2. When the body’s intelligence is fully working, then your taste buds are an excellent guide to what you should be eating. What is good for you should be exactly what you like. Most of us are misled by our palate because we stimulate it in the wrong way or we overstimulate it. In order to restore the taste buds, it is helpful to
> reduce the amount of salt that you add to your food and do not eat salty snacks before meals
> stop stimulating the palate with alcohol before meals and do not drink at all if that is possible
> drink tepid, not cold, water to cleanse the palate as you eat
> move in the direction of appreciating the natural taste of food by including all the tastes in every meal, that is, things that are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty
3. If strong food cravings are a problem, do not try to tackle them head on. They represent deeply ingrained habits or strong but misguided messages from your physiology. Simply eat other foods that are part of a balanced diet. When a craving for sweets or salt or another favorite taste strikes, try eating half of what you crave, but do not pressure yourself.
4. Learn how to tell when you have eaten enough. The body has a signal for this, called the satiety response. It operates quite naturally if the diet has lots of grains, bulky foods, and liquid in it, for these quickly fill you up. A diet high in fat, salt, and sugar tends to throw this response off, however. An easy way to cultivate the satiety response is to drink water with your meal and eat bread before you start on the meal itself. (In one study, students told to eat two slices of whole-wheat bread at the start of every meal showed consistent weight loss in a few months. This is a good example of effortless dieting.)
5. Take your largest meal at lunch and eat only two-thirds of what fills you up. These two habits help develop actual hunger, which is the body’s only valid signal of when to eat. Heavy eating at night strains the system and promotes irregular digestion.
6. Accustom yourself to nothing but fresh food. I have saved this point for last because I hope it will stick in your mind. Nature intended us to eat fresh, natural foods. Although our bodies can adjust to canned or frozen food, leftovers, and processed food, adulterated and “junk” food, eating these is not the way to attain perfect health. Eating fresh food, freshly cooked at every meal, is everyone’s correct diet. If you do not like to cook, then go to a restaurant for a wholesome, balanced, cooked-to-order lunch, eat it at a comfortable pace, and then have a sandwich and milk for dinner. If you breakfast only on orange juice, coffee, and a doughnut, then change to oatmeal, whole-wheat toast, and milk, or to whatever variation of the traditional hot American breakfast you enjoy. It will quickly help to restore a physiology that experiences energy slumps during the day. (GO BACK TO THE TOP)