Nutrition as a Bridge to the World

We are connected to the outside world in three different ways: through sense impressions, through breathing, and through nutrition. Through sense organs we receive objective impressions of the world. Through breathing we participate in the world by rhythmical exchange of air. Through nutrition we are active in radical metamorphosis of whatever we receive from the various kingdoms of nature in the form of food. This can be performed because in the course of evolution an inner space has been created within our organism where the processes of digestion and nutrition take place in relative independence from the outside world.

Three Bridges between Man and the Outside World

If we want to understand the purpose and the role of nutrition for human life we need to start with the simple observation that the activity of nutrition represents one of the three fundamental ways of our relationship to the world outside us. Each human being is connected with the surrounding world in his waking state in three ways. "First of all, through his senses. With the aid of his senses, he perceives and cognizes the phenomena of the various kingdoms of Nature. But this is not all. Man is also connected with the Earth through activities he performs unconsciously – that is, unconsciously even while he is awake. Man breathes, for instance, and is thus connected with the whole Earth. The whole Earth plays into the air man takes in with his breath. In the air he breathes, countless substances are present in a highly rarefied condition. And the very fact that they are present in this rarefied state enables them to exercise an influence that is of no small importance when they are received through the breath into the organism of man. What man perceives with his senses enters into him consciously; but subconsciously, even during waking life a vast amount enters into man that is more substantial than what enters him by the more tenuous paths of perception and thought. By way of the breath man's environment comes into him in a more material and substantial manner in comparison with sense impressions. Nor need you be reminded of how utterly dependent the human organism is on what it receives in the way of earthly nourishment. So that altogether we have to recognise three main types of influences working from the Earth upon the awake human being." [1] These are:

1. Perceiving as Intake of Objective Sense Impressions

Through our sense organs of vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, etc we constantly receive a multitude of sense impressions. Sense organs should reflect the outside world in a neutral manner, as close to the original as possible. For example, our eyes need to be clear to get true visual impressions. If they are for any reason dimmed, our visual perception will be distorted. This is true for all sense organs. For that reason the archetype of perceiving can be characterised as a mirroring of the outer world. This 'mirror' of the sense organs reflects back to us pictures, sounds, smells, etc. If this 'mirror' is without any deformity, then we receive objective sense impressions of the things, beings and phenomena of the world.

2. Breathing as Rhythmical Exchange between Man and the World

We are in a different relationship to the outer world with breathing – one moment air is outside, then it is inside, and the next moment outside again. In this process the air is partially transformed: we take oxygen from the air and use it for our own purpose, and add carbon dioxide to the air when we exhale. But the key feature of breathing is its rhythm of inhalation and exhalation which goes on throughout our life. For that reason the archetype of breathing can be characterised as a rhythmical interchange of air between man and the outside world.

3. Nutrition as Total Metamorphosis of Outer Substances

Through eating and drinking we take in outer substances on a daily basis. If one consumes on average 1.2 kg of food per day, in 70 years the combined amount comes to over 30 tons. This great amount indicates the importance of nutrition for human life on the earth. Even more important is the fact that we do not simply use substances from the outside world as they are – all substances are subjected to radical transformation before they can be used for the manifold needs of our organism. For that reason the archetype of nutrition can be characterised as the taking in and metamorphosis of outer substances to such a degree that they can serve the specific needs of the human being.

Creation of an Inner Space for Activities of Nutrition

There is another important characteristic of human nutrition beside the one described above. If we want to grasp it we need to observe the transition from a plant's assimilation of nutrients to those of lower animals. "If we consider the green leaf of a plant, we know that the process of photosynthesis is carried on in this leaf in such a way that light streams in from above and carbon dioxide enters from below the leaf. The third process is the in-flowing stream of water and mineral salts which is taken up by the roots." [2] We can compare our first bridge to the outside world, the inflow of sense impression, with the light streaming into leaves; our second bridge, breathing, with a plant's assimilation of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen; and our third bridge, nutrition, with the stream of a plant's sap carrying upwards dissolved mineral substances provided by the mineral crust of the Earth. The combined effect of these three activities in a plant culminates in production of carbohydrates in its leaves, and proteins and fats in its seeds. In this manner a plant is capable of creating all three basic substances of our food which enable our life. [3]

Now "imagine that we change the leaf out of a flat structure into a kind of round sphere (see picture, left). The upper side is the realm where the light from out of space streams in; the other side is the dark side where the carbon dioxide nourishes the leaf." [4] To this we need to add mineral salts coming from bellow, from the earth. In fact, we can already observe change from the plane to the sphere when we compare leaves with seeds. But we can never say that any kind of digestive process, or metabolic process goes on inside the plant. For a plant doesn't have something we could call an inner space. For this something else needs to happen in the evolution of animal. "If this archetypal picture of plant process (of assimilation of nutrients) alters in such a way that animal or man starts to develop, then we find that the lower part is invaginated. It becomes invaginated like a ball which has been squashed in, and we see the formation which is commonly called the gastrula. We have now gone from the round sphere of the leaf to the archetypal form of a simple animal (see picture, right). On the upper side sensory processes arise, and in the lower, invaginated part, digestion and nutrition processes begin. Thus we have made the step from the plant to the animal." [5]

This process which includes folding inwards of the spherical form is called gastrulation, which "is a phase early in the embryonic development of most animals." [6] In the case of human beings it happens "around day 16 after fertilisation". [7] Thus we can see that in the case of animals and human beings the inner space is created in the organism where the processes of digestion and metamorphoses of nutritional substances are performed in relative independence from the outer world. In the case of lower animals these processes are still quite simple and still quite open to the influences from outside world. When we progress up towards higher animal forms, we see progressively more inward, more independent and more complex processes of nutrition – all happening in this inner space that has been created in the evolution of animal kingdom to which also our physical body belongs.


The great significance of nutrition can be recognised merely by observing the relationships to the other kingdoms of nature presented in this text. For many people it is an obvious fact that nutrition plays an important part in human life, but the significance of nutrition is much greater than is usually thought. Nutrition has many purposes and is related to various activities performed by human beings. For that very reason it is sensible to take the question of nutrition very seriously – much more seriously than is common nowadays even among more educated and enlightened people.

One needs to be aware that food has short-term effects, medium-term effects, and long-term effects. While we can investigate some short-term and medium-term effects, it is much harder to investigate long-term effects which sometimes manifest only after three or four decades, or even after longer time span. [8] These long-term effects can be investigated by statistical comparison of the health impacts on two groups of people eating different type of diets. However, this can be done only to a limited extent; there are simply too many influences on the state of human health for such investigations to be conclusive. Besides the length of statistical observation which needs a few decades to get one or two useful dietary guidelines put great limits to such research.

For that reason it is sensible to take a preventative approach and invest more time and money into what we put into our bodies on a daily basis. This is even more in need when we understand that the quality of what we eat depends on the more hidden quality of life forces in the food, and on the quality of forces which manifest in the taste and aroma of food. For that reason it is more than urgent to overcome materialistic simplification which states that we are affected only by physical substances present in our food and their chemical composition.

For the sake of this we need to develop a new understanding of the true nature of the human being and the role of nutrition – that is, a holistic understanding of our constitution and fundamental nutritional principles. Otherwise we can fall into all kinds of self-deceptions and illusions. But with the help of a new understanding of nutrition we can arrange our lives in such a way that "the food we eat will not hinder us from achieving the full potential of what we, as human beings, ought to be." [9]


  1. Rudolf Steiner, London, 30.08.1922; Planetary Spheres and Their Influence on Man's Life on Earth and in Spiritual Worlds, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1982
  2. Karl König, Earth and Man, Bio-Dynamic Literature Wyoming, USA, 1982
  4. See note 2
  5. See note 2
  6. Wikipedia, Gastrulation, June 2015
  7. Wikipedia, Gastrulation, November 2008
  8. This is one of main reasons why people do not take the question of nutrition seriously enough. The notion that something eaten today can have effect in a few decades is just too abstract and therefore is not a good enough reason for many people to change what they like to eat – especially when a person is young. Of course, much depends on individual understanding of the meaning of life. There is a great difference whether or not a person believes we are insignificant players in purposeless cosmic development or, according to spiritual science, one is aware that each human being plays an important part in meaningful cosmic evolution.
  9. Rudolf Steiner, Munich, 8.01.1909; Nutrition, Rudolf Steiner Press