Natural Herbs are the missing category of food nutrients. Nutrition in the form of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals and water is incomplete without herbs.
We are familiar with 6 categories of Food. There is one missing entirely from it. This is the time to give it its due recognition.
If you could go back few hundred years ago, we knew that food is healthy and it helps to produce energy, gives strength, healing and growth to body.
However, later, physicists found that organic compounds can be burned to produce energy. This started the association of Calorie value in foods and it divided foods items into two groups - food having calorie value and food without calorie value.
Macronutrients such as Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate, and alcohol (even though it is not considered as food category) have calorie value of 4.2, 4.2 and 9 calories respectively for each gram. These nutrients, especially protein and fat, do have other important role in human physiology.
The 3 remaining categories are essential but don't produce energy in body or more simply are not biological fuels. These are water, vitamins and minerals. Usually, you need vitamins and minerals in little amount and these can be called as micronutrients.
During my school days and later while a student of medical biochemistry and physiology, I was also taught this stuff. Now, after more than two decades, when I see the books of my son, I found the same description.
If you research about eating and cooking habits globally, you will find that herbs and plants having medicinal values have been a part of culinary discipline as well as natural health discipline. Some good examples could turmeric, ginger, garlic, mint and other spices. Actually, spices are at the borderline of food and medicinal herbs.
Then, with the advent of modern science and medicine, their use suffered for over almost two centuries. Now again, at least for past 3 decades, the use of herbs is fast growing in the diet and lifestyle of people.
Right now, it would not be wise to challenge the scientifically backed food categories, however, it would be perfect to place herbs as the 7th Category of Food Nutrients. Rather, this is the perfect time to place herbs.
I invite your views and queries in this regard...
Some Queries that were received are...
Herbs don't have any Calorie value. How could they be placed as a category of Food Nutrients?
In the same manner, vitamins and minerals and water don't have any calorie value and they occupy 3 categories of food nutrients.
Vitamins and Minerals are essential for the body, but Herbs are not essential. So, how could herbs be accommodated as food categories.
It's true that if you don't take a specific vitamin and mineral for a long time, its deficiency will be there. And this deficiency will product some physical and mental symptoms or disorders. Definitely, vitamins and minerals have their role in physiology and it is quite well documented.
Before the advent of junk foods, it was highly unusual for a person taking normal diet (meat, egg, fruits, vegetables, grain, dairy products) to have deficiency of vitamins and minerals. It had been naturally or otherwise forced food habits that caused their deficiencies...for example,
- Voyagers tend to store food with them, emphasizing on meat and excluding fruits and vegetables.
- Poor persons due to inability to afford food or general population during famine
- Modern undesirable transformation due to junk foods and artificial foods and fast paced lifestyle
Ayurveda has always emphasized on the inclusion of six tastes in daily diet - the sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent tastes in food. Anyone can definitely avoid falling prey to deficiency of vitamins and minerals even if one is using only this principle in choosing their food.
Another principle of Ayurveda says that if you over rely or over use any one taste predominantly while avoiding others, it is the surest way to invite weakness, ill health and poor immunity.
However, the more important consideration is to see above and beyond deficiency disorders.
This is the consideration of Preventive and Rejuvenative aspect of health.
Preventive measures simply means that you know that you are susceptible to some disease (due to lifestyle, occupation, family history or food; and here again Ayurveda guides you very specifically through Ayurveda Body Mind Types) and you are taking something to avoid sickness or illhealth.
Rejuvenative measures means that you have average or normal health. You want the experience positive wellbeing... more energy, better fitness, more flexibility, enhanced immunity, great sexual life, look younger and dynamic. This simply means exuding positive health.
Summarizing my views, again, herbs have undisputed and widely accepted properties in both fields - preventive and rejuvenative dimensions. So, it is unfair for your own self not to put and accept herbs as one of the categories of food. It is also not being open, not maintaining the scientific attitude, being orthodox and limiting yourself to only one perspective.
And non-acceptance of herbs will simply hinder with and make professional health providers handicapped in their ability to provide relief to people through their treatment and management.
Dosage of Herbs do vary over a wide range. Will it not impact their use as food?
This is a very good point. Very clearly, there are some toxic or poisonous herbs, some spices and culinary herbs, some therapeutic herbs. This could a valid point and should be considered. Herbs do have a broad spectrum ranging from food, food additive or spices, to medicinal herbs and poisons.
Again, if you observe, you will find that many many persons are taking vitamins and minerals after recommendation or prescription by medical doctors and healthcare providers. Same method can be adopted there.
If you are taking ginger or garlic as simple food, no other consideration is required. If you are taking their extracts, some definite knowledge and recommendation will always be better.
Even most medicinal herbs do have a wide range of safe dosage and it could be better and wider range than most minerals and vitamins.
Will accepting herbs as food category not impact their acceptance as Natural Medicine or Herbal Medicine?
This is a great question...
Again, you can differentiate and have subcategories as in proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
It will depend upon the form, quantity, method of intake, intention and purpose.
In my view, it will be promoting the use of many many safe herbs.
Don't you think that many times we are simply crazy or overzealous about simple minerals and vitamins? If we shift some of that obsession toward natural and safe herbs, we would simply end up being more healthy and less sick.
One of my persistent approach and view has been to always take vitamins and minerals in lesser dosage, about 25-50% of what is required daily. Present medical recommendation is 150% of daily value.
My question is why should not one learn and use food to provide vitamins and minerals supply?
Why are we given such a huge and elaborate machinery to chew food, digest, absorb and assimilate and eliminate? All this is simply provided to extract vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food. If we are taking overdosage of vitamins and minerals, we are simply rendering this machine useless, and burdening the excretory organs.
I would like to cover this topic with focus later on.
Finally, I thank you for providing time to this thought and having some great discussion. I would highly appreciate receiving your queries and feedback about this topic.