The epicurean philosophy: Eat, drink, be merry (and healthy)

Some pleasures feed not only the stomach but the senses too

Man and woman enjoying the food

There are quite a few of us who do not merely love to eat but also live to eat. If you count yourself as one who chooses your food to appeal to the senses, who cooks for the sheer joy of handling various textures and tastes and who scouts relentlessly for the next big dining experience, then you may safely call yourself an epicure.

Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, believed that all human existence was derived from the sensation of touch.’The foundation of Epicurus’ philosophy is that all good and bad come from the sensations of pleasure and pain. According to him, this principle can be applied to the consumption of food and drink as well.

Psychologists and doctors today concur that delectable food, fresh vegetables and fruits can have a positive effect on our moods. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidant properties, which improve the health of our brain cells. To add to this belief, an epicurean believes that all food is healthy, unless it is eaten in excess or with an imbalance of starch, proteins, fats and vitamins. Epicurean food is therefore specially designed to maximise its natural benefits and improves a person’s health along with indulging his senses.

So, what does an epicure eat?

Let’s take a look at some classic epicurean foods that have great health benefits:

Seaweed — a rich source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, sodium, iodine and vitamin B complex. A good antioxidant, seaweed also promotes the growth of healthy hair.

Wheatgrass — high in fibre, wheatgrass helps ease bowel movements; it is good for the skin and speeds up the healing process. Gargling with wheatgrass juice can help treat halitosis [bad breath] as well.

Zucchini — a gourd family member, it closely resembles the cucumber. Zucchini, being high in water content, is naturally low in calories. It is rich in vitamin C, with a high content of potassium, folates and vitamin A.

Spirulina — a sea plant rich in proteins, spirulina is usually consumed as a protein supplement. Its immune system enhancing effects and chlorophyll content helps in detoxification.

Mood boosting ‘feel-good’ foods also include fish that reduces symptoms of anxiety, sleep disorders, sadness, suicidal thoughts and decreased sex drive. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium that boosts energy and mental alertness. Milk is an excellent ‘feel-great’ food as it contains proteins high in tryptophan, a building block for serotonin in the brain. It is a source of vitamin D [low levels have been associated with depression]. Milk is also a source of calcium, which has been shown to reduce anxiety.

Psychologists and doctors today concur that delectable food, fresh vegetables and fruits can have a positive effect on our moods

Some exotic and healthy fruits include prickly pears, or cactus pears, with their vibrant ruby-red or golden pulp that is mild and sweet. This fruit is found in the Southwest US and Mexico and helpful in treating type-2 diabetes. Green plantains, which resemble large bananas are hard, starchy and bland, and need to be cooked before eating. They are richer in vitamins A and C and potassium [which lowers blood pressure] than bananas.

An easy trick to apply when it comes to including healthy fruit into your daily diet is to combine fruits and vegetables well. Choose fruits that are high in vitamin C, like citrus, berries or kiwis, with at least one deep orange or red vegetable from the carotenoid family, such as carrots and tomatoes; one from the Brassica family, like broccoli or cabbage; and one from the allium family, such as garlic, onions or leeks.

Meet the Epicureans

Vineet Wadhera, Director of Food & Beverage of Shangri-La’s-Eros Hotel New Delhi, says, “The concept of refined sensuous enjoyment with fine food and drinks has rubbed off on me [major focus is healthy and nutritious food]; I have been a fan of epicurean cuisine for some time now. A plethora of dishes come to my mind, such as potato rolls with caraway salt, pickled crudités, sugar plum orange and apricot Earl Grey jam tarts, butter finger truffles, and mozzarella and roasted red pepper bruschetta among others. As for Indian cuisine, it’s time to stop drowning curries in oil and butter and start showing how the cuisine can be good for your palate and your heart. Indian cuisine uses a lot of spices, so it is intrinsically healthy as long as you don’t load the recipes with butter, oil, cream and the like. A diet high in curry [which typically includes turmeric] may help the ageing brain. Ginger has been seen as an aid for digestion. Cinnamon is used for taste, but it comes with added benefit of possibly helping to lower cholesterol and is among the most powerful antioxidants out there.”

An easy trick to apply when it comes to including healthy fruit into your daily diet is to combine fruits and vegetables well

All epicureans have their own special way of relishing the dishes that they feel give them happiness and a sense of fulfilment. John Dayal, veteran journalist, documentary film-maker and activist reminisces, “My mother taught me how to make a few life saving comfort dishes khichdi or kedgeree, tehari or a simple veggie pilaf, and what should really be called a Spanish omelette, whisked eggs fried in a pan with some fillings from whatever was in the house. She failed to make me a cook, but managed to instil in me an abiding interest in food and how differently it can be cooked, leading to a reasonable home library of beautifully illustrated cookbooks from the east and the west, and a moronic fixation on TV food programmes. The finesse lies in mixing ingredients, spices and fats, and the expertise in temperature control for effective cooking without destroying the wholesomeness of the different meats, grain and vegetables.”

To sum up the lure of epicureanism succinctly, Sid Khullar from Chef-at-Large says “Would I analyse the effects of a few spoonfuls of Iranian Beluga caviar on my health before eating it? Probably not! That’s usually the last thought when indulging in such foods because epicureans are inherently focussed on the sensory properties of their meals than their side effects. Why else would we find folks queuing up for Fugu—the deadly blowfish from Japan? At the end of the day, it’s moderation that counts, not restriction.”

A version of this article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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