I learned about the monkey and the tiger in Dietary Anthropology in UC Berkeley. It was one of my favorite courses—I highly recommend it. So this is not a HeartMark Health original, but it helped form many of my theories and it will help you when you think about your food choices.
The monkey eats fruits up on the tree all day. The fruits are high in sugar, but no protein. Protein would make the monkey less hungry for longer periods. Instead, the monkey burns through the sugar very fast and needs to collect more fruit. The monkey is very small, quick, and lean. It pretty much maintains a sugar high at all times. (I am not talking about the big apes who eat more food choices.)
The tiger, on the other hand, doesn’t eat very frequently. He doesn’t have to. When he finds meat, it is so high in protein that it stays in his system for a long time. This means that the tiger can spend most of his time resting. He doesn’t have to hunt all day, every day. He is lean, strong, and big.
I think of these two extreme choices when I roam through the kitchen. I can eat protein and not be hungry for much longer periods, which gives me time to do other things. Or I can graze scraps of food that break into sugar—like a cracker here, or an apple there. The best choice, based on 15 years of evidence of my own weight and energy, is an in-between place, somewhere between the tiger and the monkey. Except that I blend a huge amount of fruits and vegetables for every small amount of protein. The fruits and vegetables outweigh the amounts of the protein by at least 2 times. But the lean protein is what keeps me from being hungry. The fruits help break down the protein. Both end up leaving me with plenty of energy, a balanced level of blood sugar, and not heavy.
The fiber in the fruits and vegetables is the only way for the body to break down the protein. People who eat protein have to eat a much larger amount of fruits and vegetables than they currently imagine. No one in America has the right example of the quantity that real people should consume. It needs to be enormous.
The cultural “side salad” is not the right amount of vegetables. A tomato on a burger is not the right amount either. And no, ketchup is not a vegetable.
It is not tough to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. The body adjusts. Add more gradually. Try to get full from eating lean protein, but eat a fruit or a salad with it. If you are still hungry, repeat the process. I could tell you to start with 20 grams and see how you feel. But I don’t want to give prescriptions. I want you to eat slowly and pay attention to your hunger and when it is full.
If you pay attention very closely to your body, you will find the right balance of protein to fiber that you need. You gain a 6th sense, something that you won’t get if you just rely on measurements and books. You learn to find the balance that leaves you with the most energy. It becomes as clear as daylight if you just let yourself pay attention. Make a HeartMark, take time out, and imagine how you might feel after you are done eating the food. You can probably predict if it will make you feel better or not. Listen to what your body is telling you. Listen until you hear the amount that will make you feel good.
You might have days in which you are more like a monkey, and days in which you eat more like a tiger. Often, your body craves the vegetables to cleanse after a day in which your body wanted a lot of protein. If your body asks for more greens, then listen to it and give it more greens. Your body doesn’t always require quite the same amount. It varies based on your activities, time of the month, health, sleep, stress, and rate of digestion. You might eat some foods that the tiger and monkey never eat! If you sneak some fatty ice cream, or extra doses of cheap refined carbohydrates, your body will need to adjust its need for insoluble fiber and protein as well. It all balances out if you just pay attention.
Mainly, I like the visual of the spectrum between the monkey and tiger because it keeps you mindful of your actions. Whether you are grazing or tearing into something more meaty, and whether it is small or big, it’s all food. It always counts because it always has an impact on your body. How you feel as a result of your actions will guide you to what you should do the next time you reach your hand to your mouth.
The HeartMark is your reminder to visualize the path that the food takes through your system. Expect transparency in the food system! From the time you make the food to the time it enters your body, to the time that it leaves, you should always be able to keep a visual on what it does. After you pay attention long enough, seeing it will become automatic. It will not take time out of your day. (Expect to know what happens to the food before it gets to you if you buy processed choices.)
I like to think of fruits and vegetables as air fresheners that keep the body clean on the inside. It’s a great visual. And they really do that.
If you need help digesting fruits and vegetables, or other foods with sugar, you may not have enough digestive enzymes to help break them down. When you can’t break them down, the friendly bacteria in the stomach do it for you, but this bacteria releases gasses as a result. Instead, you may need digestive enzymes to supplement. Please discuss with your doctor and read all labels. Digestive enzymes are a type of protein that helps break down the sugar in the foods that you eat. Another option is to keep searching until you find the fibrous foods that work for you. (Insoluble fiber does not produce gas.) Smaller meals are easier on your body—your body is more likely to have the required amount of enzymes to break them down. Also, different food combinations for you may work better than other combinations. For example, carbohydrates turn to acid quite fast. Don’t eat them with fat which will slow down the digestion and keep them in your gut longer. You can eat a larger amount in the evening and less during the day. Again, your body will adjust with time! Please learn more about this subject on other websites.
I truly believe that everyone can find the right balance that will maximize how great they will feel. Just ask yourself where does your body want to be along the monkey-tiger spectrum at any given time. I am sure you will understand what your body wants and you will feel great!
Please remember to finish every meal, small or big, with something that has calcium, unless your meal included it! To read more about calcium, scroll to my other blogs in this health section.
I HeartMark You,