Do not eat dollars

Saturday, 8 January 2022 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sinhala Beheth, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also use interventions, usually herbal formulations – to correct “imbalances” of nutrients needed by the body. They take not the synthetic path but the natural way, closely linked to Mother Earth where food is medicine and medicine is food


DOLLARS, Dollars, Dollars – why have we been eating Dollars for 73 years? Dollars of imported purported ‘food’, most of them made in factories, with lots of chemicals to add colour, flavour – so they look good and of course preservatives to prevent spoilage so they can be exported over long distances.

But what about Sri Lanka? It is overflowing with real, natural food! Available almost everywhere. Believe it or not it’s even free for anyone who bothers to pick or pluck them, and of course grow them (not with chemicals but as nature intended and as this country has done for thousands of years).

How can I say such a thing?

Well, all it needs is common sense. Never mind “science” and “research”, etc.

Just think – what did our ancient ancestors eat before the discovery of fire – which was only some 40 or 50 thousand years ago? So, for maybe a million years before that, we ate fresh green leaves straight off the plants, berries and fruits too, and yams and nuts – the food nature designed for humans.

So then how was it that we were told all these years that carbohydrates should be the biggest component of our food? The answer is that man started eating grains only after the discovery of fire. Raw grains cannot be digested by humans – but grains when cooked become digestible. Grains are grasses and very easy to grow in fields and this enabled humans to settle in villages and communities close to their food supply. 

I am now 85 years young as well as hale and hearty. About 25 years ago this was not so. My wife who is three years younger was a diabetic and I then suffered from what the allopathic (Western) doctors said was a “pocket” in my lungs, which caused bad bronco-pneumonia type bouts more or less every three or four months. I realised that Western medicine was basically designed to “maintain” illnesses – blood sugar levels in diabetics. All sorts of drugs were given for my lung condition but they never cured me.

So I decided to try our local “Hela Vedakama” (Sri Lankan Ayurveda) – basically using indigenous/traditional heritage food as medicine.

Strangely I found that even the Father of Western Medicine, Hippocrates also said, “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine food”. I did more research and found that because we eat (our dollars) through imported rice, bread, potatoes – we have become “sugar burners”, because simple carbohydrates – rice, bread, sugar, etc., become glucose sugar when digested in the body and too much of it makes us sick with diabetes, heart disease, etc. (Please note that indigenous rice varieties such as Kaluheeneti, Pachchaperumal, etc., are not so). But in general, new research has found that in order to be healthy, we should become “fat burners” which is what most mammals are. For this we should eat fats – not carbohydrates.

“Sugar burning” makes the body hot (Giniyamai) because food is quickly turned into sugar. We get hungry quickly and eat more and the excess is stored as fat, making us fat and unhealthy and children get hyperactive with excess sugar. 

Fat burners are cool (seethalai) because fats digest slowly and it takes longer to get hungry. The body also has more time to be in repair mode. So, our bodies stay cool, in good shape and stay healthy.

So because humans started eating simple carbohydrates like rice, white flour, potatoes, we are “sugar burners”. But if we want to be healthy and also eat less food, we must become “fat burners”. There are good fats and bad fats and unfortunately today, we eat more bad fats than good fats.

Good fats are found in nuts like cadju nuts, sesame “thala” seeds (not peanuts because it is not a nut, it is a root food). Good fats are also found in fish and some in coconut oil and in many of the medicinal oils which also can be used in food such as Mee thel *oil from the nuts of the Mee tree. 

Bad fats are found in corn and soya oil and in man-made artificial fats. If you want to avoid dairy (like me), then avoid animal fat and replace it with say cashew milk, coconut milk, hummus instead of butter, milk, cheese and so on. There are so many indigenous options. There are so many people around Sri Lanka experimenting with these. 

Vegetables also have carbohydrates, but they are complex carbohydrates and have fibre which takes long to digest. They also contain essential vitamins and enzymes. So, eating vegetables makes us feel full and we do not get hungry quickly because it takes a long time to digest vegetables. 

So how do we become “fat burners”?

To become a “fat burner” you cannot suddenly stop eating rice, etc. – your body (i.e. the digestive microbes) will react by causing hunger, nausea, pain, etc. So, you have to reduce the sugar-loving microbes by gradually eliminating sugar and simple carbs (including atta – which is whole wheat and red rice grown with chemicals) – reducing a quarter amount each week – bread (one slice, then half, then quarter) and rice (3/4 cup,1/2 cup, ¼ cup, then last week just a tablespoon). 

Replace your diet with complex carbs like jak/kos mallum and extra green mallum that have many medicinal properties. For breakfast, have mung, cowpea, kurakkan roti pancakes, etc. with spicy curries. You could also try jak flour and coconut flour preparations, but make sure no sugar, jaggery, not even bee honey and your digestive microbes would gradually change to types that digest complex carbs, fibrous foods and fats, changing your metabolism to fat burning.

Tip – To prevent blood sugar spikes (causes diabetes, heart problems, etc.), if possible, eat some vegetables – especially indigenous vegetables (in mallum or salad form).

If you do have breakfast, avoid those expensive packaged breakfast cereals, even so-called high fibre cereals, because even those are so processed that all the nutrients are lost and it is like eating cardboard. So, in order to class it as food, they add synthetic vitamins, which are not properly absorbed because it is the gut bacteria who consume food and release vitamins and minerals in forms the body can absorb.

Instead, eat a good traditional breakfast or our local fruits which have high medicinal value. Continue not eating bread, wheat products, etc. at home and use jaggery instead of sugar. But you can occasionally at parties, etc. eat a slice of cake or an ice-cream – there are many ways to make these as well with our traditional ingredients – there are many people around the country who have made products such as coconut ice cream and cake, with traditional seed flour. If we make our consumption a part of nature and not against nature, we do not have to continue with the thinking that sickness is inevitable. 

If we had such a consumption pattern encouraged as a national policy for 73 years, we would not be dollar hungry as we are now. And we will certainly not be filling hospitals with ‘patients’. Our ancestors were not lifelong patients as Lankans are now, with even teenagers having diseases like diabetes. If we become a healthy nation, we do not have to import allopathic medicines costing us millions of dollars.

Come to think of it, allopathic doctors use chemical drugs for “disease management” – to keep blood sugar, blood pressures, stomach acids, etc. at particular levels with drugs to be taken for life. In other words, never healing, just “maintaining the disease” allowing you to function more or less normally while actually being sick. Drugs usually act by disabling the organ causing the pain or other symptom and as all organs are multi-functional, the other functions affected start giving problems and these are called “side effects” and sometimes more drugs are given and so on, until you end up being a mini walking talking pharmacy.

Sinhala Beheth, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also use interventions, usually herbal formulations – to correct “imbalances” of nutrients needed by the body. They take not the synthetic path but the natural way, closely linked to Mother Earth where food is medicine and medicine is food. These medical systems have different sets of herbal formulations to correct “imbalances” which lead to different symptoms – diabetes, hypertension, gastritis, fatigue, etc. caused perhaps by a lack of different sets of nutrients and unnatural lifestyle.

So then why not follow what our ancient ancestors did before we were misled by money-making ideas like “tasty” food, three meals a day, etc. – which led to the rich-poor divide. Our ancestors did not eat dollars.

Thirty years ago I started by changing the food I ate and then realised I essentially needed a source of “forest-grown” and therefore nutrient dense, natural leaves and fruits, which in turn needed healthy soil. This led me to use my Colombo based garden – garden space around four perches – as a sort of lab with myself as the Guinea pig or lab-rat, to develop techniques for rain-water harvesting, land terracing, soil healing and soil enriching, natural composting (without compost pits and bins), which has led me to have a functioning “forest garden”. 

Here are some of the plants I cultivate (and thereby not being a dollar burden to the country).

Medicinal herbs

Gendha (Portulaca) high in vitamin E Kuppamenia (Acalypha indica) an expectorant to treat asthma, pneumonia and for skin problems, polpala (Aerva lanata) dissolves bladder and kidney stones, mukunuwenna (Sessile joyweed) cures piles, jaundice, infertility, prevents cancer, thampala, (Amaranth) Ayurvedic usage – treatment for eczema, piles, gonorrhoea), gotukola (Centella asiatica) for heart and stress problems, brain health, Sarana (Horse Purslane) asthma, diabetes, Maduruthala (Holy Basil) strengthens immunity against viruses, lunuwila (Bacopa) strengthens brain function.

Common weed type plants

Gus Nivithi, Ambul Ambili, Monara Kudumbi. 

On the section with wire-netting as a climbing frame, vines, such as Green and Red Spinach, 

Kiri Aguna, Kuringnang herb, Elephant foot yam (Engili Ala), Purple yam (Rathu/Raja ala) – these not only produce large yams below ground, but also potato – like ala on the vine (like fruits).

(The writer has been researching health and food sustainability for the past 30 years. He is a marine engineer by profession. He was Project Operations Officer, FAO, Rome and one of his projects dubbed ‘Blue Revolution’ by the locals resulted in the Government of Bangladesh winning the first Souma Award, given by FAO to a Government that best developed an FAO project. His FAO Project in Eritrea was shortlisted for the second Souma Award and two of his Project Managers won B.R. Sen Awards for Excellence. He is currently a soil healing consultant who maintains his Colombo home garden as a laboratory to develop various techniques of biodiversity conservation that includes rainwater harvesting. He was among the pioneers of the organic revival in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. He promotes traditional food of Sri Lanka through traditional, nature-based methods of cultivation through the foresting method.)

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