Week II • Traditional Nutrition
you are what you assimilate
Let's explore the digestive process and the journey our food takes from smells to tastes, and all the way down to waste.
If you're having issues with digestion, pay attention to when the symptoms of discomfort occur.
These are clues to what organ is affected and what remedies to focus on for balance.
- First, smell your food. This step alone will activate your digestive system and get the juices flowing.
- Once you taste food, saliva creates moisture and begins to break it down. As you chew, you're breaking down food, making it easy for the enzymes in your saliva to do their job.
- Your tongue also plays a role. While the food is in your mouth, you taste whether the foods are sweet, sour, salty, etc. These different tastes play a huge role in traditional medicines and formulation theory. More on these 6 tastes below.
- After some time is spent in the mouth, the pre-digested food flows down rather quickly through the esophagus and lands in the stomach. It does this through rhythmic, wave-like movements. This form of movement (throughout the digestive system) is called peristalsis.
- Then, your gut breaks it down to what is called chyme, with the help of gastric juices. This process of breaking down nutrients into even smaller bits in the stomach can take 3-4 hours.
- And now the chyme is prepared to move into the small intestine. There, it works with both the pancreas and liver to break down nutrients even more and via the small intestine walls nutrients are delivered throughout the bloodstream. During this process the liver produces bile (which helps us to break downs fats), and the pancreas produces enzymes that help to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
- Next is the large intestine, where the major function is to absorb water from the useless food matter and then remove the rest. Up until this point, water and fluids were a huge part of the processes. Then waste passes onto the rectum and is ready to be released.
Timing of Imbalances
STOMACH ---- Occurs right after meal
SMALL INTESTINE ---- Occurs 30 mins to 1.5 hours after meal
COLON/LRG INTESTINE ----- Occurs 3 hours after meal or in the morning
THE SIX TASTES
These different tastes play a huge role in traditional medicines and formulation theory.
The flavors are medicines in themselves and can be some of the easiest ways to find balance.
SWEET // EARTH + WATER
Found in sugars, starches, grains, sweet vegetables, and fruits.
- The sweet taste is traditional viewed as building.
- It strengthens the body tissues, soothes mucous membranes, and generally means the food has plenty of quick fuel.
- Sweet foods increase the kapha quality and promotes calm contentment and harmonizes the mind.
- The sweet taste helps vata + pitta doshas because these folks have less grounding, building, and soothing qualities.
SALTY // WATER + FIRE
- Found in table salt, rock salt, sea salt and seaweeds.
- Salty adds moisture and warmth to the body, thus incresing kapha damp qualities and Pitta heat.
- In small amounts the salty taste can aid in digestion.
- It's sedating and can soften the body tissues. The vata person needs these qualities in their bodies.
- The pitta + kapha doshas must avid excess salt, as it can aggravate their body types.
PUNGENT // FIRE + AIR
- Found in hot spices such as ginger or cayenne.
- It's heating, drying, stimulating, increases metabolism, counteracts cold sensations and aids in digestion.
- The spicy, pungent taste is helpful to kaphas as they experience conditions that are generally damp, cool and stagnant.
- Vatas can use some spice as it will warm them up, but they must use it with some caution because it is also drying.
- Vatas can best use spicy with foods that are liquid, warm and oily such as soups or stews.
- Pittas are usually warm enough and may have problems with burning sensations so they do not need much pungent taste as it may aggravate them.
- People who are suffering from pitta conditions such as rashes or inflammation should avoid having the pungent taste.
SOUR // EARTH + FIRE
- Found in fermented foods and acidic fruits.
- Some examples are, yogurt, miso, pickles, buttermilk and some sour fruits are lemons and sour grapes.
- It is thirst relieving, nourishing, dispels gas, and increases bodily tissues.
- Sour is good for vata as it will warm, moisten and ground them.
- Kaphas should not eat much of the sour taste as it will make them damper and pittas may become overheated or have burning sensations in the stomach and intestines when eating too much sour.
- It should be noted that bananas may taste sweet in the mouth but they have a post-digestive sour taste and thus may create burning sensations or aggravate ulcers which are a pitta condition.
BITTER // AIR + SPACE
- Found in such herbs as gentian or goldenseal and foods such as dandelion greens and chard.
- It is cooling, drying, detoxifying, reduces bodily tissues and creates lightness in the body and mind.
- This taste will help kapha because it will lighten and dry up the bulk and water in the system.
- It is also good for pitta as it cools off the heat especially in their liver plus allays inflammation such as fevers.
- A vata person or a person with a vata condition should not have very many bitters in the diet because it will be too reducing and drying.
ASTRINGENT // AIR + EARTH
- Found in foods such as cranberries, apples, and pomegranates and in herbs such as oak bark, witch hazel and raspberry leaves.
- It is drying, stops excess discharges such as sweating and diarrhea, promotes the healing of tissues, and makes the cells of the body firmer.
- The drying effect of the astringent taste is similar to squeezing out a sponge.
- It is good for kaphas because it will squeeze them out like a sponge.
- It is also good for pittas because it will dry up excess acids and moisture.
Traditional Foods: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Meal
All of our ancestors used the six tastes to understand their food and its properties. These tastes along with certain practices before cooking, guided how meals were prepared and the alchemical process of unlocking nutrients to get the most nourishment. Here are a few of our favorite and most loved traditional food preparations that anyone can add into their weekly routines.
Soaking + Sprouting
Unlocking Life in Grains + Seeds
- BENEFITS |Soaking grains, or pre-fermenting, is a practice held by all of our ancestors. It is ancient, intuitive and necessary to get the most out of your food. Grains are seeds that are able to store nutrients and life until they are ready to meet the world in an optimal environment---warm and moist. Since plants are so smart, they use certain chemicals to prevent sprouting in an unfavorable environment where they won’t be able to grow into maturity.
- PHYTIC ACID | One of these chemicals, and probably the most talked about, is phytic acid. According to Sandor Katz, the fermentation guru, ‘phytic acid reduces the availability of minerals not only in the food that contains the phytic acid, but also in other foods being digested at the same time.’ Whoa! So, fermenting your grains transforms the phytic acid, neutralizing the harmful effects and actually increases the bioavailability of other nutrients. Are you on board yet?
- MEAL PREP | Luckily, soaking your grains is super easy and takes less than 30 seconds. Another benefit of soaking is that it allows you to think ahead about your meals, ensuring you’ll have something nourishing enjoy the next few days.
- HOW TO SOAK | Take the desired amount of grain you want to cook in a bowl and cover with warm water. Pour in a little some live-active cultures such as whey, buttermilk, yogurt, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Leave on the kitchen counter for 12 hours or overnight. In the morning, rinse and strain the grain to cook. Allowing the grains to soak in water, even for an hour, helps to revive the surface of each grain with the naturally present fungi and bacteria responsible for the fermentation.
- COOKING TIP | Keep in mind that soaking reduces cook time and the amount of water you’ll need. We usually reduce the water by ¼ cup and cook 5-10 minutes less depending on the grain. An easy way to cook soaked rice, quinoa, or millet without ever burning it is to bring it to a boil while covered, then turn off the heat. Keep covered for 10 minutes or so then remove the lid and fluff the grain with a fork. Cooks perfectly every time without having to worry about it getting scorched.
- BENEFITS | Sprouts are basically baby plants. New life budding out into the world. All this new energy makes for a vital food that has already been pre-digested for you through the germination process. Sprouting increases vitamin, especially vitamin c, and enzyme content dramatically along with being easier to assimilate and metabolize because it neutralizes the phytic acid.
- FRESH + INEXPENSIVE | Luckily, sprouting is simple, inexpensive and ensures you’re getting the freshest sprouts out there. Buying sprouts from the store can be expensive and you also have no clue how fresh they actually are. The first step to sprouting grains and legumes is to soak them overnight with a little activating liquid such as buttermilk, whey, lemon or vinegar. Sprouting, or germination, requires water and oxygen. Sprouting won’t occur during the soaking process because not enough oxygen will be present.
- MASON JAR METHOD | We like to use a the mason jar method to sprout. Simply fill the jar ¼ way full with your favorite seeds and soak overnight with either a screen lid or a cheesecloth tied with a rubber band. In the morning, strain and rinse the seeds in the jar and let the excess water drain out by a placing the jar in bowl on an angle or on your dish rack. The jar should have some space between the lid and the bottom of the bowl. You don’t want the sprouts sitting in the excess water.
- RINSE & WAIT | Now that you’ve done your first rinse of the day, do another when you get home in the evening. Keep the sprouts moist by rinsing twice a day, usually in the morning and evening so you can get into a routine.
Nourishment for the Nervous System + Fuel for Energy
TYPES OF FAT
Not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need certain types and certain amounts of each type of fat. There are three major types of fats, among other small categories.
SATURATED // Solid at room temperature or harden when chilled---meat, butter, coconut oil
MONOUNSATURATED // Liquid at room temperature + solid only when chilled---olive oil, avocados, nuts
POLYUNSATURATED // Stays liquid at all temperatures---sunflower, hemp, pumpkin, flax, borage, evening primrose, raw eggs
DAILY INTAKE | We need about 20% of our food to be fat daily for energy, nervous system health and hormonal health.
- 5% saturated fats | We only need a small amount of saturated fats each day.
- 15% unsaturated fats | The majority of our fat should be Essential Fatty Acids which are consumed as raw oils
Essential fatty acids
EFAS | One crucial type of polyunsaturated fats are EFA's or, essential fatty acids. These are also know as oils, since they are in a raw state and should NOT be heated. Once heated, they lose their oxygen molecule and turn into saturated fats. Essential fatty acids are fundamentally important to our bodies because we do not produce them.
SEASON + ENVIRONMENT | Keep in mind the season and environment you're in when ingesting oils. For instance, in the hot + dry summer's here in California, we gravitate to hemp oil when our Pitta nature becomes aggravated even though we usually tend to run cold. You can see examples of this when you travel to tropical places and enjoy the foods of those regions.
- heart health
- cellular function
- cardiovascular system health
- immune system health
- nervous system health
- endocrine system health
DAILY INTAKE | Each dosha needs a different amount of EFA's every day. The type of EFA + fats also depends on its energetics. So, if you're pitta, you need cooling EFA's like hemp oil. If you're kapha, more warming EFA's like flax will be more nourishing than hemp. We love adding a drizzle of oil over cooked foods for extra flavor and nourishment. Another tip is to make a weekly dressing with your EFA of choice or try blending into pesto or dip!
Below are guidlines for healthy fats + EFA's for each dosha.
VATA | Needs 6,000-8,000 mg/day --- meat, fish, ghee, sesame oil, pecans + walnuts
PITTA | Needs 5,000-6,000 mg/day --- fish, chia, pumpkin, borage, hemp, coconut, evening primrose, black currant, cashew + avocado
KAPHA | Needs 3,000-5,000 mg/day --- shellfish, whitefish, chia, flax, pumpkin, olive, borage, black currant + hazelnut
* 1mg = about 1 tablespoon
Oils we love!
How to make full moon ghee
- In Ayurvedic tradition, ghee is made under the full moon sky representing feminine and nurturing energies which are infused in the ghee. We'll create a ceremonial space by lighting a few candles in the kitchen and sing the mantra to the goddess Chamunda while the ghee bubbles and fills the kitchen with its sweet perfume.
- When making medicine or taking medicine, Ayurveda believes that saying a mantra 108 times gives the medicine increased potency, so that is exactly what we did. We've learned through studying with our elders, that it is important to set intentions before making medicine and adding a feeling of ceremony to what we are doing.
- Ghee is a sacred medicine used in Ayurveda tradition. For thousands of years, its nourishing properties have worked on the Ojas or subtle essence of all tissues. This feeds the bone marrow, nerve tissue, brain, subtle tissues of the body and the reproductive tissues. Ghee’s magic not only helps our physical body but our mind as well. Dr. Vasant Lad speaks of ghee giving nourishment to the Tejas, or the fire of the mind. This promotes medhagni, the flame of intelligence and perception.
- Even if you’re not into the whole chanting thing, ghee tastes incredible and is wonderful for cooking, sauteing, or slathering on toast. It is different than other oils and fats since it strengthens the liver and the digestive fire. Making ghee is quite simple and a lot cheeper than buying it from a store. Give it a try. I’m sure you’ll be hooked from your first bowl of kitchari with a bit of ghee on top.
strainer or cheese cloth
pint jar with lid
1 lb organic unsalted butter
Add the butter to a small pot on medium heat. Butter will begin melting and will look like it is boiling with a lot of bubbles at the top. Wait about 15 minutes until the sounds of the boiling change and the appearance of the bubbles gets smaller and more dispersed. Let ghee cool for a few minutes then skim off the foam at the top with a spoon into the jar. There will be a lot of milk solids at the bottom of the pot, but all we want is the golden liquid and foam at the top. Strain the ghee into the jar and close with the lid.
*Ghee doesn’t need to be refrigerated, just don’t let moisture get into the jar.
Electrolytes are an essential part of how our cells function. When a salt is added to water, it has an ionic charge and is able to conduct energy that allows our cells to communicate. Electrolytes are crucial to how our kidneys function and how well they assimilate water for hydration.
We need electrolytes to:
- Regulate nerve + muscles function
- Regulate acidity levels in the body
- Regulate fluid levels + hydration
How to get Electrolytes
We can get electrolytes by adding salt in our water + on our food. Each salt comes from a different region in the world and has its own unique qualities. Here are a few examples of electrolyte salts in minerals:
Magnesium | Helps our bodies reduce stress, reduce excess fluid retention, slows aging in the skin + calms the nervous system.
Calcium | Helps our bodies by increasing circulations, reduces fluid retention along with strengthening the bones + nails.
Potassium | Energizes the bodes and helps balance moisture levels in the skin along with being an important mineral to replenish after intense workouts or exercise.
Bromide | Helps to ease stiffness + helps relax the muscles.
Sodium | Helps balance lymphatic fluid which is important for immune system function.
Chloride | Is an important part of regulating intercellular pressure which uses fluid to flow in and out of cells.
TYPES OF SALTS
Atlantic Grey Salt | Great everyday salt for cooking + water. Its wet + hydrating in nature which makes it beneficial to the kidneys. The grey color denotes its high magnesium content.
Cyprus Flake Salt | Finishing salt that has a unique pyramid shape + nice crunch. White color denotes its richness in potassium.
Kala Namak | This ancient black sulfur salt is one of the most medicinal and should be used only in small amounts and when needed. This is not a daily salt and it is medicine. Its heating + cleansing in nature helping to reduce excess kapha in the body. Helps to remove plaque and heavy metals in the intestines. Also can be used externally as a skin soak to relieve external fungal infections.
DAILY DOSE | We use about 1/2 teaspoon in a glass of water right upon waking and a pinch or two in our ceramic water bottle throughout the day to stay hydrated. Try adding salt to your water to taste. It should taste slightly saline, but not like ocean water. Everyone is different, so your salt amount will also be.
BEST PRACTICE | Add salt to water without using a metal spoon or leaving metal in the glass. Metal can de-ionize electrolytes so its best to add salt to food after cooking if using metal pans.
HIMALAYAN PINK SALT | We've made it a practice to only buy river + ocean salts since these are sustainable sources. These salts are made by the electrical charge of the ocean water (chloride + sodium) colliding with the shore (magnesium + potassium). When the collide and water is evaporated they create the only edible crystal in the world---salt!
Unfortunately, pink salt is a mountain salt that is being extensively mined and will be gone within the next 10 years or less. We encourage you to educate others about pink salt and use other renewable salts in its place.
“Myriad beings beneath my sight, thank you for your transformations. May you nourish me as I nourish you. May you thrive in me as I thrive on the earth. In all the worlds may nourishment follow hunger as the echo follows the call.” - Eli Brown from The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
BENEFITS | Similar to the benefits of soaking and sprouting, making fermented vegetables is an easy way to add more nutritious, digestible and tasty foods to your meals. We highly recommend looking through the fermentation bible, ‘The Art of Fermentation’ by Sandor Katz. It has a plethora of information, recipes and history of humans using beneficial bacteria and fungi in foods. Sandor outlines what he considers to be the primary health benefits of fermentation:
- Pre-digestion of nutrients that are more bioavailable
- Creation of unique micronutrients for nutritional enhancement
- Transformation of ‘anti-nutrients’ into nutrients and
- Live lactic acid bacteria present in most ferments.
MAKE YOUR OWN | Since most mass produced ferments purchased in the store have been heated or pasteurized at temperatures higher than 115℉, the live cultures of lactic acid bacteria are destroyed. To receive the benefits from these live cultures, such foods must be pasteurized or made at home. Sandor also points out in his book that with the array of ‘antibiotics’ being administered in our culture and in our public water supplies, our diversity and replenishment of live beneficial bacteria are needed now more than ever. Even after just one round of antibiotics, the long-term impacts that can persist in our intestinal microbiota for up to 2 years!
THE FOLK FERMENT METHOD
There are so many different vegetable ferments out there. Most notably, sauerkraut is popping up all over the place. Below is a simple method for making your own sauerkraut at home. Feel free to experiment with your favorite flavors + herbs like nettle, ginger or burdock after you've made a batch or two. Once you’ve got the basics down, think about investing in a ceramic crock. The advantage is you can make more kraut at once and store the jars to use over a few months.
KRAUT RECIPE | We love this easy at home kraut recipe from The Kitchn's website. With a big mason jar, cabbage + spices you can have a batch of homemade kraut in about a month.
Hydration for Gut Health
- HYDRATION | In our beloved Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions, she outlines the unique and powerful properties of broths. She notes that raw food compounds are colloidal and tend to be “hydrophilic” and attract liquids, which is why our digestive juices cling to them and allow for rapid digestion. Often times meat gets a bad rap in the health world because of is slow transit time. This is because colloids that are heated generally repel liquid, or are “hydrophobic." But in bone broths the situation is quite different! When you make this deliciously healing bone broth you will notice that it becomes much like gelitan. This is a proteinaceous gelatin that is hyrophillic even after hours of heating.
- GUT HEALING | Gelatin is remarkably healing to the digestive track. It is used in therapy for people who have chrones, intestinal disorders, IBS, and for many other dis-eases. I like to think of the gooey substance lining the digestive track and calming down all that inflammation. I encourage you to also use it after a prolonged sickness or if you are feeling deficient in nutrients.
- BURDOCK |There is also burdock root in the soup which is adored by both eastern and western herbalists! It is a great root found wild across America that is a powerful alterative. It can do wonders for the skin.
- SOOTHING + COMFORTING | The best part about this broth is that it so yummy and comforting. Have it right before the main plate whether its breakfast, lunch, or dinner! We usually drink it for a few weeks if I am getting over something major, and then I will use the frozen broth for culinary purposes at a later date.
1 medium burdock root
½ cup of vinegar
3lbs of bones, especially knuckle, marrow or chicken feet or carcass
Big pot of full of water, or crockpot
Salt to taste
Place the bones and vinegar in a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Once the water starts to boil reduce it down to low and keep it covered. Allow the broth to cook for at least 12 hours or as long as 72. Add your chopped carrots, onions, burdock root, and whole dates the last 6 hours of cooking. Strain out the materials from the broth so you are left with a rich and slightly golden broth.
Since you will have so much bone broth to enjoy, use it as a base for other soups and freeze it for later use. We like to store about half the broth in the freezer and suggest placing them in a few quart sized mason jars with detailed labels that include both the date and the ingredients. Make sure to leave a few inches of room at the top of the mason jar so the broth doesn’t expand and break the glass in the freezer.
Nourishing Mushroom broth
Over the years of doing the Radical Witch Program, we've have so many requests for a vegan version of 'bone broth.' This is a great base to use in soups or to sip alone with an extra pinch of salt or a few shakes of sesame seeds + chopped scallions. Definitely try this with a bit of miso whisked into a warm cup of broth.
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
fresh ginger, chopped
thyme, fresh or dried
1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 handful dried reishi strips
1 handful dried astragalus strips
1 strip dried kombu seaweed
In a large soup pot, add a splash of water and simmer on medium heat. Add in the onions, making sure there's enough water to help the onions 'sweat' but not burn or stick to the bottom. Cover to let soften, about 3-5 minutes. Once onions are soft and carmelized, add in carrots, ginger and thyme cooking until fragrant. Next, add in the rest of the ingredients and cover with water until the pot is about 3/4 full. Cover and bring to a simmer, then turn down heat to medium low to cook for 2-3 hours.
When broth is done, strain and store in mason jars. Keep liquid a few inches from the lid to avoid expanding in the freezer. Broth will keep in the fridge for about a week or for several months in the freezer.
*Feel free to add other flavors or herbs you love like sage, rosemary or garlic.
I. In your 'Radical Witch journal' jot down any flavors you tend to find yourself draw to. Does this match your dosha or do these flavors aggravated your dosha?
II. Try infusing balancing flavors for your dosha this week. Jot down anything you noticed physically or emotionally.
III. This week, see how you feel after adding electrolyte salt to your water and EFA's drizzled over your meals. Did you find you felt more hydrated?
IV. Start a soaking or sprouting project on the weekend to prep some meals for the week. Put on a pot of broth if you're hanging around the house. This will be a lovely edition to your weekly lunches + dinners. Make ghee or start a fermentation project over the weekend if you feel called.
V. What traditional foods did your ancestors prepare? Ask family if they know of any recipes your great-grandparents made and see if you can recreate them over the next few weeks.