By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
In the popular magazines only sex is featured more often than diets on the cover with the pretty girl. The reader is keenly interested in getting slimmer and looking like the girl on the cover or winning the girl–never mind wars, disasters, and tanking economies. And rightly so. What good is a better world for me if I’m looking seedy and fat, barred from romance and sex unless I pay for it? What greater disaster is there than me getting a blocked artery in heart or brain, me keeling over with a stroke, me dying or becoming an invalid? Forget the baking planet; I’ll worry about the world when I’m well. I propose a diet for you and me that will save our health and romance–save even the Earth, if I may stretch my argument a bit. Here’s a toast to the great bean and grain diet.
Children (and some adults like me) may enjoy the schoolyard saying:
Beans, Beans, the musical fruit,
The more you eat, the more you toot,
The more you toot, the better you feel,
So eat your beans with every meal.
Bacteria in your gut gorge on the oligosaccharides in beans, releasing carbon dioxide and hydrogen gases. If you’re cooking beans in a pot, rinse and dump the water of the first boiling, and the second, if necessary. Or have your beans re-fried Mexican style—no gas. I sprout my beans and with frequent rinsing of the sprouts, the beans don’t produce gas. Sprouting of beans and grains makes them more nutritious and digestible (starch content decreases, protein, vitamins, and fiber increases). Once you get used to it, sprouting is easy.
A diet of sprouted beans and vegetables gives you plenty of complete protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants at a small cost and great convenience, with less chance of food poisoning when you prepare your own sprouts carefully. I’m not coming at you like a vegetarian guru. Meat, poultry, fish are fine foods too, but not for me, except in very small amounts. People amuse me when they rail against the killing of animals. What about the killing of vegetables? They have a life too. We need to eat to survive, but let’s not eat more than necessary for the sake of our non-human relatives and our own better health.
I have approached a nearly vegetarian diet to fight the metabolic syndrome in middle age, before high blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure would damage my arteries causing stroke, and I have succeeded in this so far to age 77. My diet is close to that of Dean Ornish, MD (bars fats and animal products, some sugar is okay, meditation and exercise added) and to that of Nathan Pritikin (strict on fats and sugars, some animal products allowed as condiments, moderate exercise included). Both of these famous diets have been shown in scientific studies to stop and reverse heart disease and other circulatory problems. Both diets are very effective in reducing body fat and excess weight. Pritikin and Ornish have published best selling books with many delicious vegetarian recipes.
You will not be bored eating beans and grains with vegetables and fruits. Beans and grains come in hundreds of varieties, with somewhat different nutrients. Vegetables and fruits varieties are available in the thousands.
The bean with the richest content of protein is the soybean, eaten widely in Asia, and used to produce tofu, tempeh, and other protein extracts. Asians generally eat white rice, deprived of nutrients then add protein extracts, fish, meat, and seaweed for needed nutrients. Italians do a similar thing with wheat, taking out the bran (full of fiber and antioxidants) and the germ (with protein, good fats, vitamins, and minerals) making white pasta for their dishes with tomato sauce, grated cheese, meat or fish.
Why do people eat barely nutritious white rice, wheat, and sugar cane products? These products don’t spoil easily, because bacteria and mold sense that refined carbohydrates are not good for them. You’ll never see ants going to pure cane sugar. Bacteria stay away from white sugar and salt, that’s why these are good for preserving foods. You’ll not see ants going to sugar, but they love honey. Whole grain products are nutritious, forcing manufacturers to add preservatives to these to delay spoilage from mold, mildew, and rot.
About 70% of the food we normally eat goes for calories to burn in operating body organs, even if we don’t exercise at all. Upon reading scientific articles on life extension with a calorie restricted diet, I realized I had to follow a constraint in what I eat. The constraint was staying on 1,400 calories a day, 30% less than the average of 2,000 calories for adults. In these 1,400 calories I have to pack 50 grams of protein (needed for tissue repair and growth), 25 grams of good fats (monosaturated as in olive oil, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fish and seed oils). I also need 30 grams of fiber a day, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to stay healthy and delay aging.
I came to the conclusion that, for me, a bean and grain diet with fresh vegetables and fruits, some raw nuts, and a little olive oil would be ideal. Beans and grains are delicious, when prepared well, have plenty of complex carbohydrates for a clean burning body fuel, have all the other ingredients for good health, and have enough fiber for elimination of toxins and excess cholesterol in the gut. Moreover, high fiber foods keep me from getting hungry before my regular meal, giving me a feeling of satiety.
To get complete proteins from my beans and grains, I combine two cups of whole grains to one cup of cooked beans a day, together with low-calorie vegetables and fruits. I supplement my vegetarian meal with a daily pill of vitamins and minerals, which includes ample B vitamins and folic acid. I drink fresh spring water, never juices which pack many calories. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages because they’re high in calories and raise my appetite.
I look for fresh organic foods in the markets, preferring genuine farmers markets and health food stores. I rarely eat anything out of a can, except sardines, anchovies, wild salmon, and other fish, high in omega-3 oils, eating these in very small quantities. I like poached egg whites (no fat) with vegetables and whole-grain bread. I have three servings a day of non-fat dairy, usually yogurt, which is almost 50% protein.
I avoid anything with sugar or saturated fat. Sometimes I cook ground beef by boiling that with water. I put the cooked beef in the back of the refrigerator for a day until the fat has crusted on top and I remove the fat. Then I cook the rest with some old fashioned oats to absorb the fluids. I may add chopped onion, garlic, and other spicy vegetables, and I put a small amount of the mixture over my bean and grain dishes.
Occasionally, I cook chicken or turkey breast with the skins and fat removed, which I sauté in spring water. These are 3% fat. I add small pieces of poultry breast to my bean and grain dishes with vegetables.
I eat three fresh fruits a day, such as apple, pear, orange, or a few berries which are high in antioxidants and low in calories. I eat the whole fruit if it’s organic, even the seeds sometimes if soft enough, the skin, and pulp (high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants). If my citrus fruit is organic, I scrape off the zest and save it to flavor my dishes.
I use herbs and spices in moderation. I like to taste my food not spices. My beans and grains, being sprouted, require only a little cooking, which I do by steaming moderately or sautéing them in spring water. I may add a little extra virgin olive oil after cooking. I enjoy eating raw foods when the vegetables are fresh, such as asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, sweet potatoes, yams, or carrots. I love potatoes, white, rust, yellow, or red, steamed, and eaten in small quantities (because these potatoes are high on the glycemic scale) on salads or other vegetables.
My scheme is simple. I prepare dishes high in nutrients and low in calories so as not to exceed the 1,400 calorie a day limit I have set for myself. First, I pick the healthiest and freshest ingredients. Second, I prepare these in such a way as to do the least damage to the nutrients in the food. Third, I use the best art I have to make my dishes savory, aromatic, colorful, and designed well on the plate or platter for my own enjoyment, or for serving to guests. I eat slowly, one small bite at a time, with the minimum of distractions, even from music or talking, concentrating on the flavors and chewing well. I avoid eating unless I’m hungry.
Primarily I eat for nutrition; secondarily for enjoyment. But I avoid eating food which isn’t delicious. I use little salt and black pepper; I prefer herbs, such as oregano, thyme, mint, basil, and rosemary. I eat my food on an eight-inch (22 cm) plate, my entire meal on this small plate, including fruit or whole grain bread, eating the fruit with the meal to reduce its glycemic effect.
My primary motivation in eating is to stay healthy and lean, providing the energy my body needs with complex carbohydrates; carbohydrates have water as a byproduct of burning, instead of the toxic ketones in the burning of protein or fat.
Some people may find another motivation for eating beans and grains for protein besides staying healthy, if they can get over the brain washing they have absorbed from fast food commercials and the meat advertisers. The cost of protein from beans and grains is about one tenth that of meat or fish, probably because it takes a tenth of the land to produce beans and grain protein than it does to produce beef. Check out, if you have the time, Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé, a 1991 bestselling book on vegetarian cooking.
If the care of your health doesn’t stir you to say hurray for beans and grains, consider that vegetables consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen aiding the environment, as opposed to cows that produce methane. Beans (all legumes) add nitrogen to the soil which helps grains, such as corn, grow better. The Central American Indians had their beans climb on cornstalks, in synergism, the bean adding the nitrogen and the corn providing the support. The Plains Indians lived primarily off the buffalo that roamed in the millions before the Europeans arrived. They ate the whole animal to get all the nutrients needed and used skin and bones for implements. They were reasonably healthy and strong, just like their Eskimo ancestors, living off fish and seal. When the Indians switched to a European diet of refined carbohydrates and liquor, that’s when their health problems began and continue. The buffalo are practically gone as a food source, but we still have whole beans and grains to feed the world and keep the planet cool and happy.