Surgeon specializing in acupuncture and in homeopathy, and Head of Homeopathy at the CISDO Centre in Mestre (Venice)
The key to preventive medicine is education based on the fruits of experience. The best time for education is at the start of life, since adults are conditioned by information already received. The most important teaching without a doubt comes from the parents' attitude and example. In a human life we can identify four different phases linked to nutrition: not just physical functions, but psychological and spiritual ones. Straight after birth the child absorbs through the mother's milk all the elements needed for physical and emotional growth. Then comes the phase of youth, including adolescence, when body and mind develop. The youngster can now know and use the higher parts of their psyche, so become aware of what is and what will be their destiny. Diet influences this period - just think of the fastfood generation and the psychological tendencies in modern young people. In adulthood growth has stopped, there is a balance of body and mind, and well-defined goals: responsibilities towards family and society, career, future responsibilities. Diet must take account of all this, and excessive calories should be avoided.
In phase four, often called the Third Age, goals have been achieved, responsibilities become lighter, retirement arrives, and freedom from obligations, and the wisdom of the years can be put to good use. During this phase, the elimination of toxins is a top priority, and body and mind should not be overloaded. Modern dietary science has derived from these four phases the essential elements of a sound diet: at the centre are wholegrain cereals, combined with vegetables, legumes, fruit, oil seeds, dairy products and animal proteins. Those who follow a natural diet, like vegetarians, are much more rigid than the results of these studies. In the modern era, since the industrial revolution, there has been an improvement in living conditions, better distributed and better preserved food, with a consequent reduction in infectious disease. Degenerative disease has however increased. Cardiovascular disease has risen 700% since 1900. Bread consumption has fallen sharply, while meat is eaten every day. The economic push for social transformation has distorted our habits, affecting both our physique and mental attitudes. Tobacco is often cited as a cause of degenerative disease, but actually diet is more important. Breast and colon cancers are closely linked with amounts of fat consumed. The well known commandments on prevention advocate low daily levels of fat consumption, consider high-fibre foods and vitamins A and C to be beneficial, while consumption of alcoholic beverages, seasoned, salted and smoked food should be limited; and smoking and exposure to the sun's rays should be reduced. Eight points out of ten are devoted to dietary matters - the relationship between wrong diet and pathologies. Familiarity with this information is of fundamental importance, because we are paying the penalty for bad diet, and it must not be like this for future generations. Omnivores, according to dietary science, should distribute their food intake as follows: 25% cereals, 5-10% legumes, 10% fruit, 10% dairy products and 15% fish or meat.
Apparently human beings are omnivorous, and adapt to very different conditions, but actually we can only use what we absorb and not what we eat. Vegetarians have to increase the percentages of cereals and vegetables to replace meat, fish and dairy products. Cereals and vegetables are low in protein, with low percentages of lysine, tryptophane and methionine, these low levels being related to a particular product of the proteins; but we are forgetting that cereals are complete foods, containing protein, carbohydrates, fats, an infinity of trace elements, mineral salts, enzymes and other elements unknown to us but definable as probiotic elements fundamental to life. All of these things are to be found in the seed, which can sprout and generate new life. Have you ever seen new life generated by a piece of meat? Meat rots, is low in vitamins and minerals, and is not a fundamental food. The human intestine take years to fully develop, and meat consumption in the first years of life will certainly prevent its proper development. The mother's milk is designed for the baby's growth and meets its needs, so it is hardly surprising if they say that "breast is best" for the first two years of the baby's life. If we look at the old traditions, we see that humans followed the seasons with their agriculture: the fruits of the land were a cycle adapted to human needs. The main dishes in any culture require cereals and legumes, and we cannot distort everything on the basis of chemistry and advertising. A natural diet means awareness, information and commitment, so we should know that diet depends on the seasons. In summer we should have a light, low-fat diet, using fruit and liquid food.
The closer we get to winter, the more we should rely on calories, fats and carbohydrates. This all seems obvious, but many families do not vary their diets. Fresh food is high in vitamins, enzymes and trace elements, without preservatives or chemical contamination. Dietary education encourages our physical and psychological development, and enables us to develop all our sensory organs to the maximum, so we can better deal with the world around us. Mealtimes are fundamental because of the stimulation of these organs. The mixture of sounds and smells and the sight of the colours of a dish being prepared is a memory and sensation which stays in the memory. Loss of appetite is often linked to the lack of these sensory phenomena. Variety and rotation break the monotony and help prevent deficiencies, and respect the physiology of the digestive system. During weaning the mother's milk is gradually replaced with other foods - first liquids, then solids. These days we feed babies purés of cereals, vegetables, fish and meat - all complex and elaborate, difficult to digest and absorb - which change the intestinal flora and cause problems. According to logic and tradition, humans should eat a single dish containing the essentials, since multi-course meals encourage greed. In conclusion, in the relationship between macrocosm and microcosm, over the centuries we have seen how forms corrrespond: take a look at a cereal, a grain of rice or wheat - it will remind you of something.
- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)