“Dr. Andrew Weil is an extraordinary phenomenon,” says the Washington Post. And indeed, this expert in healthy living, alternative healing, and the mind-body connection has helped millions of people find relief from what ails them.
Called “the bible of natural medicine” by Larry Dossey, MD, Natural Health, Natural Medicine is a comprehensive resource for everything you need to know to maintain optimum health and treat common conditions. This landmark book incorporates Dr. Weil’s theories into one useful and readable reference, featuring general diet and nutrition information as well as simple recipes, answers to readers’ most pressing questions, a catalogue of over a hundred home remedies, and numerous practical tips.
This new edition includes updated scientiﬁc ﬁndings—and has been expanded to provide trustworthy advice about low-carb diets, hormone replacement therapy, Alzheimer’s, attention deﬁcit disorder, reﬂux disease, autism, type 2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction, the ﬂu, and much more.
“Weil, a Harvard Medical School graduate and a member of the advisory panel for the Congressional Study of Alternative Cancer Therapies, advocates preventative health maintenance as a means of combating future painful and expensive therapies. The handbook proposes methods of creating a healthy lifestyle, offers advice on guarding against potentially fatal diseases, provides information on natural treatments, and recommends these treatments for specific common ailments. Controversial in its challenge of orthodox medicine, the manual stands out as a useful resource for its clear, concise writing style, its practical advice, and its thoughtful examination of the important issues facing contemporary health care.” —Library Journal
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 8, 1942
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A. in Biology, Harvard University, 1964; M.D., Harvard Medical School, 1968
Read an Excerpt
What Should I Eat?
What should I eat? This simple question has no simple answer. Many people will try to persuade you that they know the right way to eat, but so much of the information is contradictory that the more theories you listen to, the more confused you will be. I have read convincing arguments against every category of food you can name: fats, carbohydrates, meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, butter, fruit, vegetables, vegetable oils, wheat, eggs, bread, yeast, sugar, spices, and so on. If all these arguments were valid, we would starve in the midst of plenty, our minds finding endless reasons to avoid everything our bodies craved.
I enjoy seeing how the rules of different dietary systems conflict totally. In yoga philosophy, foods are grouped in three categories, from highest (expressing the quality of balance) to lowest (expressing the quality of inertia). Fresh yogurt and white rice are in the top group; brown rice is at the bottom. In macrobiotics, a dietary system invented in Japan, brown rice is the best thing you can eat, milk products and white rice among the worst.
What should I eat? The first guideline I can give you is that there is no one right way. A particular diet may be right for you at this stage of your life, but it may not be right for me, and it may not be right for you a year from now. We are all different physically and biochemically, with different and changing dietary needs. Do not believe anyone who tells you he has discovered the one right way to eat. For any dietary system you name, I will show you examples of terrifically healthy people who violate all its rules. I read an interview recently with a Russian woman who had reached the age of 106 and was still vigorous. Her answer to the usual question about the secret of her success was "I never eat vegetables."
Some authorities say that human beings are meant to be vegetarians, others that we must eat animal products to be healthy. The fact is that human beings are omnivores, designed not only to survive but to do well on an astonishingly wide range of foods. Behind most of the rigid diets promoted in popular books and health food pamphlets is a most unhealthy assumption: that our bodies are inefficient and unresourceful, easily upset unless we consume exactly the right foods or combinations of foods. When you buy into these assumptions, you are underselling your body's natural resilience and capacity for adaptation. Do not accept this harmful belief.
Also do not believe anyone who tells you that all illness results from poor diet or that dietary change can cure any illness. It's not so. Diet is one factor shaping health — an important factor, but not the only one. Diet has the distinction of being the only major determinant of health that is completely under your control. You have the final say over what does and does not go into your mouth and stomach. You cannot always control the other determinants of health, such as the quality of the air you breathe, the noise you are subjected to, or the emotional climate of your surroundings, but you can control what you eat. It is a shame to squander such a good opportunity to influence your health.
Changing your eating habits in order to improve your life can be a way to activate the body's healing system. It is difficult to give up familiar foods and try new ones. To do so requires committing mental energy toward the goal of improved health. I have seen a number of cures of serious illnesses in people who decided to go on long-term fasts, macrobiotic diets, yoga vegetarian diets, and other regimens. My interpretation of these cases, consistent with the theory I presented in Health and Healing, is that part of the reason for success is the mental shift represented by the decision to follow a demanding nutritional program. That mental shift may be more important than the specifics of a program. I usually ask my patients to make changes in diet as one way of increasing their chances of natural healing. I never use dietary adjustment as the only means of treatment.
Be critical of the advice of professional nutritionists and dietitians. Nutritional science is still developing. Research on food and diet is much distorted by cultural biases and values, and the researchers are seldom able to see these distortions. As an example of a cultural bias, consider the different reactions you would have to eating a lobster tail or a plate offered grasshoppers. The biological reality of the two organisms is similar, but most people in our culture consider one delicious, the other revolting. There is no agreement from culture to culture on the answer to the most basic question of all: what is food, what is not? Food and eating have enormous symbolic importance, and that is why we surround them with taboos and rituals. Different dietary preferences divide nations, religions, and sometimes families. Trying to find truthful information in this area is as easy as dancing through a minefield.
Nutritional science gave us the Basic Four food groups, the concept responsible for much of our unhealthy obsession with protein (more on this in a moment). It also gave us the Food Pyramid, guaranteed to produce obesity in many people. In the past, registered dietitians have been witting or unwitting tools of the food industry, since the information they dispensed often came from industry rather than from disinterested sources. If you are tempted to follow their recommendations, remember that dietitians have also been the people responsible for the food served in schools and hospitals. (I recognize that enlightened dietitians are often powerless to make changes in institutional menus because they are controlled by food service contractors.)
Having given all these warnings, I will now offer you nine basic suggestions about how to design a healthy diet.
1. Eat with Your Senses, Not with Your Intellect
Your senses of taste and smell are excellent guides to what is good for you. Trust them. Practice developing these senses and paying attention to them. If you eat what you think is good for you even if you don't like it, you are not listening to the wisdom of your body. Eating foods you don't like that someone else says are good for you is even further off base. Above all, the food you eat should appeal to your senses and agree with your body. Eating is one of life's great pleasures, and I assure you that a healthy diet does not require any sacrifice of enjoyment, even if you give up foods you now like.
2. Eat with Full Attention and with Gusto
Your digestive system mirrors your state of mind, which is why so many digestive disorders are stress-related. If you eat while angry, anxious, or distracted, your body will not process food well, no matter how good the food. If you always eat while listening to the news on television or while discussing business, you are not giving the act of eating the attention it deserves. How your body handles what you eat may be more important than what foods you eat. You will digest food most efficiently if you eat with full attention and full enjoyment of the experience. (I applaud the efforts of the Slow Food Movement to encourage this kind of eating; visit their website at www.slowfood.com.)
Once, when Saint Theresa of Avila (1515–1582) visited a monastery, the abbot served her a special dinner with a main dish of roasted partridges instead of the usual plain fare. To the astonishment of her host, Saint Theresa tore into the meal with abandon. The abbot admonished her, saying he thought it unseemly for a woman whose life was devoted to prayer to show such enthusiasm for the pleasures of the table. Saint Theresa replied, "When it's prayer time, pray! When it's partridge time, partridge!"
3. Eat a Widely Varied Diet
By varying what you eat, you protect your health in two ways. First, you ensure that you get all the nutrients you need. If you eat the same foods day after day, you are more likely to shortchange yourself of needed vitamins, minerals, or other elements. We probably do not yet know all of the nutritional factors required for optimal health. Only fifty years ago did we discover the need for zinc, for example. You don't have to memorize the government's recommended daily allowances of carbohydrate, fat, protein, and vitamins — just go for variety.
The second reason to vary your diet is that it is the best way to avoid eating too much of anything that is not good for you. There are surprisingly many toxins in the food we eat, both natural and man-made. Celery, basil, the common cultivated white mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), chickpeas, and many other vegetables contain natural toxins; most, but not all, are destroyed by the heat of cooking, which is a strong argument against raw food diets. (You will find more information on this subject at the end of this chapter.) Alfalfa sprouts, so loved by raw food enthusiasts, contain a natural toxin called canavanine, which is definitely not good for you. Peanuts and peanut butter are usually contaminated with traces of aflatoxin, a very potent natural carcinogen found in a mold that grows on peanuts and other seeds. Does that mean you should exclude peanut butter from your diet? No, but again, you would be better off not eating it all the time or in large quantities.
In addition to the natural toxins are all the unnatural ones, such as pesticides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics, PCBs, and others too numerous to list, that are added to the food we buy. These substances are a serious problem in my view, with strong political and economic components. I will give you advice on how to minimize your consumption of dangerous additives in the next chapter. For now, let me just repeat that the best general safeguard against taking in unhealthy doses of dietary toxins, natural or not, is to select the foods you eat from a widely varied menu rather than concentrating on a few items.
4. Eat Fresh Foods
Dried, canned, frozen, and prepared foods are more and more prominent in modern diets. Many of these foods contain too much fat, salt, sugar, and unhealthy additives, and rarely do they taste as good as fresh foods. If this has not been your experience, please work further to develop your sense perceptions. If you pay attention to the appearance, taste, and smell of what you eat, your senses will lead you away from packaged foods toward fresh ones.
5. Eat Less Rather Than More
Research shows that animals fed somewhat less than the "recommended" daily allowance of calories live longer and have fewer diseases than those put on standard diets or allowed to eat as much as they want. It may be that the recommended daily allowances of nutrients are too high, that eating these amounts creates a state of chronic overnutrition that stresses our bodies. In fact, some scientists now talk about "undernutrition" as a way of promoting health and longevity. Of course, it is easy to say we should eat less rather than more, but it is hard to put into practice. Eating, as I have noted, serves functions other than simply supplying the body with nutrients. It is a symbolic act, a social function, and a source of pleasure.
Our bodies evolved through long periods of scarcity, when food was simply not easily available or not available at all times of year. The surviving fittest — our ancestors — were those individuals who best developed the ability to seek out food and put it to maximal use. That genetic heritage can be a liability in a world where food is ever present, in unprecedented quantity and variety. It is no wonder that obesity is such a common problem, no wonder that we are obsessed with dieting and weight reduction, no wonder that the concept of "undernutrition" is unpopular. Nonetheless, the research findings are clear: less is better than more, and it is worth trying to apply this lesson as best we can. One possibility is to eat smaller meals more frequently. Another is to fast occasionally (see pp. 223–25). Another is to learn how to reduce the calorie content of dishes we like.
6. Learn to Appreciate Simple Foods
Much contemporary cooking, particularly in restaurants, is designed to excite the senses more than to provide good nourishment. As much as anyone else, I like to try novel dishes and strong flavors, but I think there is a risk in losing the ability to delight in utterly simple food, simply prepared. Can you take pleasure in an ear of sweet corn, just picked, lightly cooked, and eaten plain without butter or salt? How about a perfect garden tomato, sliced and served as is? Or a crisp green salad with a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice, a warm slice of homemade bread with nothing on it, or a plate of lightly stir-fried fresh vegetables over a mound of rice? Or a slice of really fresh wild salmon, grilled, and served only with lemon wedges? Or a section of perfectly ripe melon? If you cannot imagine eating corn and bread without butter, salad and tomatoes without gobs of creamy dressing, a stir-fry without a spicy sauce, salmon without butter or hollandaise sauce, melon without prosciutto or ice cream, I suggest you try learning to appreciate the pure tastes of these and other plain foods.
I am not urging you to live on gruel and water. You can still have Mexican and Italian and Szechuan food, if it is made from healthy ingredients. My concern is that if sensory novelty is the main appeal of food, you will move in dietary directions that are not necessarily best for your health. Learn to enjoy simple foods prepared quickly and properly without fancy adornments.
7. Eat a Balanced Diet
We've all been told so many times to eat a balanced diet that we don't want to hear it anymore, but just what is a balanced diet? A balanced meal is supposed to provide the proper proportions of the three basic categories of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. You need to know what these nutrients are and how the body uses them if you are to make intelligent choices of food. Let me explain what I know about nutrients.
Carbohydrates are the most basic foodstuffs, relatively simple compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Plants make them from carbon dioxide, water, and the energy of the sun. The simplest carbohydrates are familiar sugars: glucose (grape sugar or blood sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and sucrose (table sugar, from sugar cane and beets). Starches are complex carbohydrates, larger molecules made up of units of simple sugars linked in chains. Plants make the simplest sugars by photosynthesis, then convert them into other sugars and starches as storage foods.
When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies metabolize or "burn" them, releasing their stored energy and breaking them down again to water and carbon dioxide. For both plants and animals, carbohydrates are high-quality fuels, since it takes relatively little work to dismantle these compounds and release their energy. Because the end products of carbohydrate metabolism are carbon dioxide and water, these are clean-burning fuels as well as efficient ones.
Sugar is instant energy for us, and, as the first form of bound solar energy made by plants, it is also the foundation of the body's energy economy. All other foods are converted into glucose for distribution to our tissues and cells. Many of our cells prefer to run on glucose, and some, such as the highly specialized nerve cells of the brain, can run only on glucose; they have sacrificed the metabolic equipment needed to burn starch, fat, and protein.
Starch is almost instant energy. To release the energy from starch molecules, plants and animals convert them back to glucose. Sugars have not always been as readily available as they are today, but starches have been mainstays of our diets at least since the invention of agriculture. Indeed, they are the staples of most cultures; rice, wheat, corn, beans, potatoes and other starchy roots and tubers, bread, pasta, and so on are the satisfying "peasant foods" that give comfort as well as nourishment.
In the late twentieth century carbohydrates acquired a bad name, and this trend has continued. Sugar is maligned in all quarters, accused of causing a long list of ailments from tooth decay to depression, and bread, pasta, and potatoes are prime suspects as causes of the obesity epidemic in North America. Low-carbohydrate diets are now immensely popular, with low-carbohydrate restaurants appearing to cater to people on them. Even convenience stores and fast food outlets are advertising low-carb options. Many people think of all starches and all forms of sugar as low-quality, fattening foods, and many health practitioners tell them that refined sugar and flour provide nothing more than "empty calories." The fact that carbohydrates are so inexpensive relative to fats and proteins seems to lend credence to these notions.
Excerpted from "Natural Health, Natural Medicine"
Copyright © 2004 Andrew Weil, M.D..
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preface to the New Edition,
What Should I Eat?,
Answers to Common Questions About Diet and Health,
What Will You Have to Drink?,
Air and Breath,
A Guide to Exercise for People Who Hate the Whole Idea of It,
Relaxation, Rest, and Sleep,
Specific Prevention: Outwitting the Killers,
How Not to Get a Heart Attack,
How Not to Get a Stroke,
How Not to Get Cancer,
How to Protect Your Immune System,
Basic Natural Treatments,
Vitamins and Supplements,
The Herbal Medicine Chest,
A Treasury of Home Remedies for Common Ailments,
Appendix A: Finding Practitioners,
Appendix B: Finding Supplies,
Appendix C: Sample Recipes,
About the Author,