Friday, December 21, 2007


I spent two and a half hours just now talking with my wonderful son, and I'm really tired for some reason, so I don't have much time. I did want to address, briefly, something I was planning on just rambling about. Had a conversation with a couple of my pals about diet and such. There seems to be an interest in moving toward a more plant-based diet. Health and fitness matter to them, you see. But they both mentioned that while they've been cutting down on the dead things, they sometimes feel hungry and tired in a way that a non-meat meal doesn't really address, but that's relieved by meat. In thirty years I've never had that problem, so I had no ready answer. I did mention my odd definition of hunger, which is not the feeling of an empty stomach, but rather the body's craving for nutrients. Big difference there.

As an aside, I have a little theory -- big surprise -- about the role in digestion of our sense of taste and smell. Remember back to seventh grade health class, when we read about how important it was to properly chew food? Not just to grind it up, but because saliva contains the enzyme amylase, which digests carbs. I was pretty dismissive of this datum at the time. I figured I had a stomach that would do all the digesting that was needed. But only, only protein gets digested in the stomach. The fats and carbs have to sit around and wait, seeping out little by little along with the digested proteins. So, in a sense, chewing, mixing in saliva does the job of the stomach, continued farther along. (This is why, incidentally (yes, this is another aside), you shouldn't just chug your juice or smoothie. You should slosh it around, sort of chew it for a while, to get the digestion started.) Oh, all this? -- this paragraph? it was an aside. It ties in, though, if you can see it.

The aside I meant to talk about deals with smell and taste. Your body has to do some phenomenal calculations in order to digest food. It is an astoundingly complex task. As sophisticated a process of analysis as calculating the orbit of Neptune and its moons in your head. While you're bloviating about politics at the table. I suggest that smell is one of the first cues, the first tests that prepares the enteric system (which, as an aside, recall, has more neurons, more "brain cells" than your brain) for the job ahead. It does more than just make your mouth water like a dog's. It's telling your brain to tell your gut what's coming, what enzymes to use and how powerful the acid has to be. Same with taste. It's more than just sweet and sour and salt and bitter. The very combinations, I suggest, act as a code, a sort of spectrum identifying, anticipating, the foods that will be digested -- like the light from a star that tells us what elements it contains. So that's my theory. Good, isn't it. I'm hoping for a Nobel Prize. I'll put it next to my Oscar -- they come as a set, apparently.

So. Backtracking, if we're talking about cravings, the classic example is the pregnant woman. My wife craved fish ... or was it chicken. Omega three, though. Fortunately we were sort of alternative in those days, so we knew a little something about it. I kept my vegetarian dogma to myself. She was pregnant after all, and her body knew a lot better than my ego, about what our growing baby needed. Which is the point. Appetites can be emotional or physiological. Hard to tell the difference sometimes. But knowing the difference will determine whether you're optimally nutriated, or a fat sick weakling slob.

The body needs what it needs, and doesn't care if it has to be a cannibal to get it. What is it in meat, then, that might be craved? First, it might be the emotions. Meat will make you strong, the propaganda goes. We can get over that with a bit of maturity and education. As for physically, there's protein, B12, maybe a few other vitamins, iron, and trace minerals. If I had the time I'd look it up. Oh, and there's also sex hormones and adrenaline and uric acid and other toxins in butchered meat. You know, slaughtering an animal makes it afraid, and that fear response makes the meat more flavorful. Yum. Sorry if you didn't know that. This unfortunate fact, though, accounts for meat's stimulating effects -- all those poisons. Eating a food that has sex hormones and adrenaline in it can make you not so tired. So that's one possibility.

I feel the urge for an aside. If you're going to eat animal products, meat or eggs or milk, at least get the real stuff, instead of this factory crap they pass off as food nowadays. A cow raised in a stall for a year is not meat. A chicken kept in a box its whole life is going to be as good for you as the box was good for the chicken. The pastel eggs they sell will feed your heart disease, only. And we all know that mass-produced milk is nothing but full of pus. You do know that, right? Here, let me do a google search for you, Your Royal Highness. Ah, here. See how much you need me, Princess? What will you do when I'm gone? Listen, bucko, my grandfather had prize-winning cattle. My bias is toward farmers. But it sort of depends on the crop. PETA sucks, but sometimes even the freaks get it right. The point is, buy free-range.

Another possible ahem so-called "advantage" (have I put enough distance between me and any possible approval of meat?) of meat is the B12. I won't go into how important it is. Just vital at the cellular energy level. It seems very unlikely that a B12 deficiency would cause a scheduled mid-week weakness, signaling meat-time. The body is phenomenal at retaining its B12. But the B vitamins in general may be in short supply. Solution? Take a pill. Take two.

Not just vegetarians, but almost everyone gets too little Omega3. Simple solution, in flax seed oil, walnuts, or even fish oil. It's about health, after all, not doctrinal purity. Nutritionists report that taking flax eliminates at least some food-cravings. So there you go then.

Figure it this way. If you're craving meat, or if only it will answer your appetite, well, the obvious thing about meat is the protein. Try a protein shake. See if it works. If so, mystery solved -- you wanted protein. If you're craving veggies, it's likely to be vitamins that you want. Maybe buy a juicer and drink a salad. I throw a handful of lentils or black beans or whatever into my stew. Variety. If you want ice cream, could it be that you're looking for fats? Try flax or olive oil or fish oil. Eat an avocado or some macadamia nuts. See? And drink enough water. Dehydration messes up your internal chemistry, so you don't know what you want. And while we're on the topic, maybe you'll stop drinking all that soda and coffee? Stupid?

I was reminded of something I'd once pontificated. I said that a primitive level of understanding about health thinks in terms of the body in general. I feel good, I feel tired, I'm achy. We get a bit more sophisticated and we start thinking about organs. My heart, my liver, my kidneys. When we get clever, we understand that all health, all energy, derives from how cells function. So we do what we can to cut down on free radicals and make sure we get CoQ10 (co-queue-ten) and the B vitamins and suchlike. That's where I left it, in my pontification. But now I'm thinking there's an even more basic, more important level, which of course would be mental attitude. The mind-body connection is what the body is about. All healing is psychosomatic. The placebo effect cures more problems than medications do. It's just common sense. It's just being responsible. Guard your thoughts and your emotions.

I've become aware that when I'm trying to fall asleep, I will have tensed up my shoulders, or legs or back or whatever. How odd. I'll consciously relax it, and in a few moments I'll be tense again. I've always been aware that I tend to hold my breath. I'll be driving, and I've forgotten to breathe. See? How can I be healthy if I have this unconscious stress reaction going on? Stress both causes and is caused by hormonal imbalances. Adrenaline. Cortisol. Those switches need to be off, most of the time. Why aren't they? No matter how good the diet, it's not going to be optimal until the whole system is under control. Point being, thinking matters.

And here I said I was going to keep it brief. I'm a dirty stinking liar. I've meandered about quite a bit, but I don't think I've answered the question. I don't know the answer. There's a lot of pop literature on diet nowadays that claims there are different body types that need different nutrients. It does make sense. If your ethnic heritage included for many generations a large amount of animal products -- say, if you're Masai, or Eskimo -- then you may need meat. But in the hundred years or so that your people and mine have been exposed to higher amounts of dietary meat, I hardly think we've developed a need for it. Meat has always been a luxury -- even in hunter-gatherer cultures. The Buddha died from eating pork. He was visiting some poor folk, who slaughtered their pig in honor of him, and he was too polite to refuse the meal. Point being, it's a luxury -- an expensive one.

Dogs eat grass and cats eat clay. They need something in it. If you need something in meat, that's not the same as thinking you need to eat meat. But moderation is almost the same as forgiveness. A little meat is no big deal. I think of it as not a food at all, but that's just me. If you refine your sensibilities, perhaps you'll come along side my way of thinking. Or not. No big deal. Be happy. I suggest that you'll be happier if you feel well. I suggest diet is a major component of feeling well. Then all you have to do is get your thinking in line, and you'll be a freakin' buddha.



n jenkins said...

hey jack,

thank you for the info.

Jack H said...

What, this old thing? Why, it's nothing, really. Just a little something I threw together in a few spare moments. I hardly remember writing it. But if you found some small item that piqued your interest, I am gratified beyond all reason, and my life has found its meaning.