Few people would probably argue that as a nation, we're surrounded by food trends and diets. But ever heard the word prana? The Sanskrit word for energy or life force, prana is the underlying concept behind whole foods, raw foods and anything organic.
And nutritionists say that if you eat a high prana diet, you will naturally get the weight-loss and nutritional benefits touted by other diets. So why don't more people eat according to foods' prana index? Apart from not knowing about it, prana is a less quantifiable measure than, say, calories.
"The definition [of prana] is life force energy -- basically anything that gives you energy: watching the beach, being near the ocean," says Los Angeles-based Kasia Fraser, who founded a website dedicated to high prana food called Hello Delicious. "That energy gets in your system. When that energy is in your system, you feel good. It shows on your face. You either have it, or you don't have it."
And in food terms, Fraser continues, "Prana is anything that's fresh or organic." Fresh food has a lot of enzymes, which help break down food so our body can use the nutrients. For this reason, raw food has the most prana, since cooking food destroys those enzymes.
"The moment food is picked from the tree, it starts to lose prana," says Emily Potter, a clinical nutritionist and holistic health counselor based in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. So eating locally grown, organic food is the best policy for getting prana into your system. Cooking food will kill off some of the prana, and microwaving will pretty much destroy it, Potter adds.
Potter says high prana food typically gets a lot of sunlight, the root of life on the planet. "[They are] foods that radiate energy," Potter says. "Vegetables and fruits are getting the most sunlight, so they have the highest life force." Some scientists have found that sunlight is stored in the DNA of plants in the form of biophotons, which may contain an abundance of nutrients. Sea vegetables such as seaweed, nori and dulse are also rich in prana since they absorb abundant sunlight from the sea, Potter adds.
The Mental Payoff
High prana food is good for your body, but the hidden payoff is the benefits to the mind. "Mostly, we don't want to pay attention (to food) unless we want to lose weight," Fraser says. "But food can change our mood and how we feel about ourselves. If your prana is high, you will be more dynamic and energized."
So who should eat a high prana diet? "Everyone who wants to feel good about themselves -- whoever wants to wake up and feel happy," Fraser continues.
On the contrary, low prana foods are those deceptive comfort foods, usually in the form of caffeine, sugar and fat, which pick us up quickly, and then leave us more down than we were before we consumed them, Fraser says. She adds that eating a high prana diet starting with breakfast can help fend off the 4 p.m. fatigue that usually sends us reaching for the cookie jar or vending machine.
[Read: Reconciling With Real Food.]
High prana food also provides a form of happiness that's more sustainable than the quick hit of a cup of coffee or soda, Potter says. Although we've generally been socialized to reward or comfort ourselves with junk food, eating foods that will actually make you feel better long-term is a better tactic, she adds. "It takes effort, but the benefits are physical for sure, but also spiritual, emotional and mental."
Potter compares the feelings associated with consuming low and high prana foods to how you feel eating a lot of cheese or creamy sauces versus lightly sautéed vegetables. Dairy is generally a source of low prana foods because the pasteurization process kills the nutrients, she explains. Meat is also generally low prana because it's dead, although some nutritionists consider fresh meat to be OK because one index of measuring prana is how close food is to something that was once alive.
High prana food is also generally alkalizing, or nonacidic. So people who are healing from conditions like cancer should seek high prana foods, as should people who want to boost their health, say for conception. The root of a lot of health conditions is inflammation in the body, and high prana foods are by nature anti- inflammatory, Potter adds.
[Read: The Acid Alkaline Diet.]
How to Find High Prana Foods
If, like most people, you don't actually live on an organic farm or near the sea, you can still find plenty of sources of high prana food. Farmers markets are one surefire source because of the organic and locally grown fruits, vegetables and eggs. The local label is important, Potter adds. "You can get organic blueberries from Trader Joe's, but they might be from Chile, and it's been three weeks since they were picked." Potter advises her clients to follow these rules:
Look for bright colors. "If it looks vibrant, it's going to be vibrant," Potter says. Tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens -- the same foods known for their antioxidant properties are going to be high in prana.
Dismiss foods with a long shelf life. Literally. "Stick to the perimeter of the store," Potter says. "Don't even go down the aisles. You won't find high prana food there." Processed food with distant expiration dates should be avoided, and similarly, don't consume food that's been sitting in your fridge for too long. "Every day that it sits in the fridge, it's losing prana," she says.
Look for non-meat sources of protein. Any number of little-known protein sources can be added to a smoothie, Potter says. These include spirulina, pea or hemp protein (better than whey or dairy), or super algae. Beans -- lentils, chickpeas -- are also OK, but they haven't received the same direct sunlight as peas.
Guzzle green juices. "Green juice with kale, celery and cucumber is probably about as alive as we can get," Potter says. This will pick you up -- and keep you up -- much more than any caffeinated beverage.
Look for sprouted things. Alfalfa sprouts, those harmless, hairy- looking additions on your sandwiches, are actually full of life. And broccoli sprouts have 50 times as many cancer-fighting properties as a regular head of broccoli, Potter says. Sprouted nuts are also a good source of prana.
Explore sea plants and tropical fruits. The best source of prana is freshwater algae called chlorella, Potter says. You can get it in powder form at a health foods store. Nori, kelp and dulse are also good sources of sea plant life, and even Trader Joe's has seaweed snacks. When it comes to fruit, tropical produce grown near the equator (mango, pineapple, kiwi) is the way to go because it receives the most sunlight exposure.
It is important to remember that eating foods with high prana is not a "diet" in the traditional sense, but a "lens" through which to look at food altogether, Potter says.
And there are lots of yummy options out there. Fraser's artful website has recipes for dishes such as raw pad thai, cashew yogurt and creamy broccoli soup. And it doesn't leave out dessert. Her personal favorite? Chocolate avocado mousse topped with fresh berries -- that looks as good as it sounds.
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