Toward a Dynamic View of Nutrition
Here are some preliminary thoughts just to introduce the topic of nutrition from a “dynamic” view, beyond the biochemical model.
Let’s start with something our inner wisdom already knows - there’s a real difference between a “living” food and its overcooked, pasteurized, microwaved, or industrially processed counterpart. The difference is chi; prana; orgone energy. But what needs to be examined is how that energy actually works to nourish us.
What we’re really extracting from foods is not the biochemical constituents, not chemistry but energy. At the cellular level, we can see that process as hydrogen transfer - that’s why pH (hydrogen potential) is so fundamental.
Foods that sustain life are like little packages of condensed energy. What we’re doing when we eat food is essentially breaking down and appropriating the energy of the food. These forces within the food are foreign until we take them in and overcome the foreign forces and make them our own. That process is mediated through heat, and that’s what digestion is really about.
How do we come to a rational understanding of nutrition?
The problem we run into in understanding how nutrition works is that we have the language of chemistry and the concepts of energy, and we tend to use whichever one is convenient, or try to mix them together randomly rather unconsciously. We might be comfortable talking about chi or life energy in a certain context, but when it comes to nutrition we tend to want to stick to the material view and explain things in terms of chemistry, because that’s the realm of sense perception and perhaps easier to look at.
Our organs of sense perception and our ordinary cognition is more developed than the more etheric, supersensible knowing, so we use what comes easier. But to be able to grasp the meaning of the flux and flow of function, we need to develop a more etheric thinking that can see the living properties of things beyond the material level. This is what has been called the Dynamic view.
The entities and substances we’re looking at aren’t static and fixed in time and space - in this view, eating a fresh raw vegetable might be functionally identical to a practice that generates chi. The intellect looking at the material chemistry would see a big difference! But functional thinking sees a distinction rather than a separation. It sees the continuity, the same underlying phenomenon.
We need a deeper physiological basis for bridging the gap between chemistry and energy. Otherwise we have a sort of schizophrenic split between on the one hand the mystical realm of energy, and on the other hand the materialistic realm of only what we can perceive with the senses.
So we have to look at energy in a way that can be grounded in the cellular structure. The way that nourishment functions, there’s an etheric process going on whereby we use radiant energy from the sun, indirectly through food, air and water, and generate internal light. There’s actually a physiology of this inner light metabolism.
This is a true physiology that’s about the deeper functioning of forces and energies which drive the biochemistry. (Rudolf Steiner laid out this understanding clearly, although extracting it from his writing is quite a workout!)
Getting back to nutrition, there’s a critical difference between “living” foods and processed foods. “Living” water such as artesian well water could be assayed biochemically and found similar to other forms of purified or spring water. But looking at it biophysically, it’s been seen that the living water will enhance the function of cellular hydration, because of its crystalline structure, whereas processed water doesn’t. The materialistic view will just see all water as functionally equal, and focus on the presence of material toxins as making the difference.
We can sense the difference in food and water that has a lot of life energy - they feel better and taste better. That sensing is through supersensible organs, not sense organs, and isn’t measurable in the same way, but it’s no less real. Even if we’re not yet conscious of how we’re using those supersensible organs, we still know that there is something more behind the outer structure of things. No matter how microscopically we might analyze it, there’s some living quality apart from that, which we resonate with.
We can see on the biophysical level what happens when we remove the life energy from food and water. Industrial processing destroys the inherent crystalline structure which is the key to the life-giving property of food. Crystals transfer information, so at that level it’s really the information - consciousness - that we’re internalizing by taking in nutrients. Generate your own inner light, and live in truth, and you may not need to be concerned about ingesting living foods!
Although, then we’d be guided by the higher spiritual function of Reason, and resonance which is based in love would solve the problem of what to eat.
Most of us are still in the process of transforming our relationships based on attraction (potato chips, yum!) to those based on resonance. When we eat heavily processed food which is attractive but doesn’t resonate, it becomes like a dead weight, an energy drain. Animals fed on microwaved food for a month starved, although they had access to as much quantity of food as they wanted.
Some processes like culturing foods or natural fermentation or sprouting actually enhance the crystalline structure and bring out life energy especially when it’s dormant in seeds, and that’s why traditional cultures have always used those methods - they knew the benefits instinctively if not consciously.
Seen from this perspective, living foods like raw milk from healthy animals have little in common with their commercial counterparts. When we hear about the problem with milk, it’s about the commercial, pasteurized dead material that’s sold as milk, not the live food that it was to begin with.
Those live foods are suited to us, because the biophysical function of those foods promotes inner light and life. Then we need to determine whether a particular food is resonant with our particular typology - according to various typology systems like ayurveda, metabolic typing, glandular typing, etc., and take various other factors into account to put together a proper diet.
But aside from individual needs, we need to understand the functional reality behind nutrition. Let’s look at the way that carbs are stored as fat when we don’t need any more for biological function. We assume that we’ve simply eaten too much or the wrong proprortions of macronutrients. Or we look at smaller and smaller units of biochemical substances and relationships to try to explain what’s going on.
But digestion and metabolism has a supersensible function in the astral body, which is prior to all that. The breakdown of food is a function of the astral body. When the astral isn’t proprely engaged, even a diet that looks perfectly suitable to the person in theory, won’t be handled properly. (the Kidney is involved in this astral function of properly transforming food and generating inner light).
The astral takes us to the soul level, so this is how we can begin to bridge the gap between body and soul - they are really a functional polarity, which is not just an abstract concept but something that we can ground in actual physiology.
What are the real principles that determine whether a vegetarian or meat diet is appropriate for a particular person?
The choice to eat meat or not is an emotionally charged issue for most people, and it taps into deeply held beliefs. But we can look at it from a dynamic view.
Plants contain etheric forces which are easy to assimilate, whereas animals contain more astral forces which require more energy to break down. This doesn’t mean that we should always go the easier route and eat only plants!
And depending on how the animal was raised, the quality of the astral forces will be different, hence animals raised on pasture and killed properly will yield more digestible food than factory farmed animal foods. And it will ground us in the body, which creates an important balance for many people.
So the choice depends on the dynamic physiology of the individual and which functions they need to stimulate and strengthen.
Animal foods are grounding, and good for a person whose “upper” bodies (ego and astral) need to be grounded in the lower metabolic pole. For those who need the grounding and incarnating properties of animal foods, a more vegetarian diet even if done meticulously with the highest quality foods can be profoundly weakening.
A more vegetarian diet frees the consciousness from the earth pole, which is why it’s favored in certain spiritual traditions. When the upper bodies are too deeply incarnated in the earth forces and need to be freed up, then a vegetarian diet is appropriate. Often the diet a person needs will change from time to time according to these functional changes; particular health challenges presenting at a particular time; typlogies such as blood type, body/glandular type, etc.
Another aspect of this issue is that animal foods with their higher astrality challenge us to bring our own digestive forces to bear to strip away the foreign astrality. If the ego/astral forces are weak, it can be difficult for the person to break down those astral forces in the food, and the foreign forces lead to food allergies and immune problems. Eating animal foods raw instead of cooked can mitigate this problem to some extent, as the raw food contains more etheric forces that are easily assimmilable.
Vegetarian diets are in this sense less challenging especially if the person doesn’t have strong ego/astral forces. But less of a challenge isn’t always what we need - it’s the challenge itself that strengthens the upper forces. We want to provide just enough stimulation for the activation and development of our own forces, but not so much as to overwhelm our resources, just as a good teacher finds that balance with a student in any learning situation.
When you’re sick, you want to concentrate on the etheric and not challenge yourself too much with breaking down the astral forces of higher protein foods, so you can take meat broths and the raw foods that are more easily assimmilable.
And so ends this brief introduction to a profound and vast field of study. I find it fascinating and challenging as it exercises the etheric thinking function, which is not an easy task!
Water and Salt: The Essence of Life, by Dr. Barbara Hendel
Nutrition: Food, Health, and Spiritual Development, by Rudolf Steiner