In India’s mythological Ages, humans lived long lives – 400 years in Satayuga, 300 years in Tretayuga, 200 years in Duaperyuga and 100 years in Kaliyuga. The longevity of our ancestors was because they followed Ayurvedic principles and its philosophy in their lives.
We now live in Kaliyuga, where the normal lifespan with a healthy and productive body should be 100 years. However, few of us manage this. Disease, according to Ayurveda, is mainly due to unnatural life styles i.e. the failure to follow a ‘Swasthavtra’ life style. This lifestyle, described in Ayurveda, covers all aspects of our lives – from when to wake and sleep, to hygiene practices, exercise, massage and diet. What to eat and when to eat it played a major role in maintaining lifelong health.
Scientists today are unable to conclude what are the basic essential nutrients for the body. Most agree that the body requires macronutrient – Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fat; Micronutrients – Vitamins, Minerals; and Water. We get the nutrients we need from the food we eat. Ayurveda’s ‘Swasthavtra’ life style prescribed both a daily routine (Dincharya) and a seasonal routine (Ritucharya). These routines included a diet regime that was dictated by the person’s body type.
Today, much of what is prescribed for a ‘Swasthavtra’ lifestyle is impossible to follow. However, the basic concept, that the food we eat is the medicine we need to keep us healthy, remains relevant. Food is Medicine. Different foods contain different antioxidants, omega oils, minerals and vitamins. Each one plays a different role in maintaining good health. These nutrients are derived from our food. The widespread use of chemical fertilizers and the depletion of nutrients in the soil, make it questionable as to how much nutrition we get from our food.
A landmark study by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century.
In 2011, Davis found notable declines in nutrient counts in several fruits and vegetables when comparing 2009 numbers to 1950 numbers. He found a 43% decline in iron and a 12% decline in calcium, which was in-line with his 1999 study where he found a 15 % decrease in vitamin C and a 38% decrease in vitamin B2.
Another study in 2005 revealed that vegetables lost a considerable amount of copper, magnesium and sodium; fruits dropped copper, iron, and potassium when compared to fruits and vegetables grown in the 1930s.
This depletion of nutrients in our food has led to a phenomenon known as ‘Hidden Hunger’ – where people suffer from malnutrition despite eating food. A Global Hunger Index report called it a ‘Silent Epidemic’. What is astonishing about ‘Hidden Hunger’ is the number of rich and middle class families that live in urban centres that suffer from it. The food they eat does not give them the micronutrients they need.
Hidden hunger – the lack of micronutrients – affects the everyday life of billions of people. Especially vulnerable are children under the age of three.
Hidden hunger is a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that often has no visible warning signs, so that people who suffer from it may not even be aware of it. Its consequences are nevertheless disastrous: hidden hunger can lead to mental impairment, poor health and productivity, or even death.
It is estimated that one in three children in the world suffers from the lack of micronutrients – a threat to both the intellectual and physical development of the child. The total number of people suffering from hidden hunger is estimated to be as high as 2 billion.” [UN News Centre].
Most of us, our families, friends and associates, have enough to eat. We do not suffer from malnutrition. We eat plenty of food, but are under-nourished. Food does not equal nourishment. When we give the body the nutrition it requires, we give it the strength to heal itself.
It is a sad reflection of the times, that despite having the means to supposedly ‘eat healthy’ and try and maintain our health, we are unable to get the nutrition we require to maintain a healthy body.
This is our reality. I am often asked, do we really need Food Supplements, or is it just another marketing gimmick? No, unfortunately, unless you live in a remote, unpolluted rural area with an organic farm at your disposal, you will need to supplement the micronutrients that your body needs, unlike our lucky ancestors who got them from their food and had no need to supplement it.
In my next blog I will briefly outline what some of the more necessary micronutrients do for us.