At last, we are back to nutrition. In part four of this series we discussed some of the reasons for vegetarianism. However, not all vegetarians are created equal. For example, my college boyfriend was a self proclaimed “vegetarian whom didn’t like vegetables”!!! His diet consisted mostly of pizza, cheese, eggs, and taco bell. I cringe looking back on it! Although all of those foods are meat free they aren’t necessarily healthy. There is a difference and many people are wondering what, in fact, should we look for when examining our food?

The sad fact is, most people don’t examine it at all. Journalist Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which you should read immediately), states that while researching for his book he discovered that most people put more investigation into buying a new TV than they do into their food choices. If this sounds familiar, don’t fret. Through the many years I have spent as a yoga teacher, vegetarian, food lover, and cook, I have discovered something crucial. What we want in our food is the same thing we want to build in our bodies and minds: PRANA aka Chi aka Vital Energy.
Prana is what we create during yoga practice using the alchemy of breath, poses, mind control, etc. But it is also present in our bodies and in nature in varying degrees. For example, you might see two women of the same height, weight, and shape. While one looks vibrant, has bright skin and eyes, silky hair the other has dry skin and hair, dull and saggy eyes, and lacks that certain vitality. While a doctor might say they are both in fine health, the naked eye can see that the former is full of prana while the other is much less so.
How does this relate to what you eat? Prana occurs in nature. Freshly picked produce from the local farm is full of it, as it doesn’t waste away in trucks and shelves before it gets to your plate. The sooner food is consumed from the earth the more nutrients and prana the eater receives. As a result you will probably need to eat less to feel satisfied because the food is much more nutrient rich. This is the reason for the Raw Food Movement, which will be a posting in and of itself very soon.
Not surprising, food produced in factories by machines and kept on shelves thanks to man-made preservatives is very low on the prana scale. It may be low in calories too, which is unfortunately why many people eat it and presume they are being healthy by doing so. This is likely to be that person who looks dried out and lacks vibrancy in their appearance. I went down this road many years ago and in hindsight I always felt hungry, probably because I was never truly satisfied by what I was eating.
When there are thousands of food options within reach how can we be wise and choosy shoppers and eaters? Below is a list of ways to eat as clean as possible. Do whatever is within your desire and convenience levels for now. The more you get into it the easier it becomes.
  • Grow your own organic produce in the garden (I have not done this yet but I have resolved to once we actually buy a house).
  • Find a local farm stand for seasonal produce. It may not be listed as USDA organic but that may not matter since smaller farms often avoid expensive pesticides anyway. The best thing to do is call around and ask. Makinajian Farm in Huntington is my FAVORITE! I buy my eggs there too. Golden Earthworm Farm in Jamesport makes a great pit stop after a trip out east. 
  • Whole Foods often lists the origin of the fruit and veggies they sell. Choose the ones closest to you as they have spent less time in a truck and contain more prana. Less traveling also reduces petroleum usage and fuel emissions into our environment.
  • Cook at home! Unless you are the chef in the restaurant you visit you may never know where your food is coming from, how fresh it is, and the hidden preservatives that might be inside. Lots of butter, oil, and salt can mask signs of decomposition. People are always saying that eating out contributes to weight gain but they never specifically say why aside from calorie counting. This is because the food has such little prana that they give you bigger portions to feel satisfied. Sound familiar?
  • Have a raw component to each of your meals. Salad is most common, of course. Even super tasty items like pesto can be made raw. Freshly juiced beverages are raw too. Luckily summer is upon us so making delicious greens with dressing or tomato salads can spice things up a bit.
Have fun and don’t become a Food Nazi! In other words, start with small changes and increase your awareness as you go. Eating should be enjoyable, not just something on the to do list.
Coming up in How To Eat Like A Yogi Part Six: Why measuring calories is useless.