Commonsense eating: I am not you.

One human being is not like another.

You with me?

(Yeah, I know, cue the silly song.)

But it’s self-explanatory, right? The fact that we aren’t clones?

So why is it that in all the fussing and fighting about nutrition, nobody seems to pay attention to this obvious fact?

The food one person needs to eat is not necessarily the same as the food another person needs to eat.

Simple.

Right.

Why do the “experts” act like we’re interchangeable?

Yes, yes, I realize the USDA launched MyPyramid.gov to much fanfare not long ago. But guess what? For those of us who aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, there are only 12 possible “food patterns” recommended by that system. And all 12 suggest the same mix of foods—they vary only by the number of calories “allowed.” That’s not individualized, folks. (I have a lot of other biting things to say about the USDA recommendations, but I’ll save them for future posts.)

So, what does a person need to know about herself to get a sense of what foods are good for her?

Let’s see…

Ancestors. What did your ancestors eat before industrial food took over? (We evolve with our food, remember?) You don’t need to re-create some mythic ancestral diet, just pay attention to the broad strokes. Say your ancestors were Japanese—they probably didn’t drink much milk. So it might be best to skip the daily 2-3 cups recommended by the USDA. (Of course, it’s likely your digestive system already let you know about that via “lactose intolerance.”)

Don’t worry about this if you’re a mongrel like I am. (Cornwall? Potenza? Donegal? Normandy? Prague? And those are just my mother’s ancestors!) See “the bottom line” below.

Constitution. Someone asked me about her diet recently. She said she ate a “good diet”—mostly salads, fish, and yogurt. But she still didn’t feel well. Thing is, she has a cool constitution. Salads, fish, and yogurt are all cooling foods. So she was giving her body exactly what it didn’t need.

Do you run hot? Tend to irritation and inflammation? Eat cooling foods like, um, salads, fish, and yogurt! Do you tend to cold? Feel drained and depleted? Eat warming foods like spiced broths and braised meats. Tend to dryness? Eat moistening foods like flax and barley, and make sure you get enough fat. Does your body tend to feel damp and “bogged down”? Drying foods like bitter greens are in order, and be sure to go easy on grains. Notice a pattern here?

It goes beyond the traditional hot/cold, moist/dry constitutional categories too, of course. Some people just need more of certain foods than other people do. (Again, see “the bottom line” below.)

Climate. Live in a dry climate? You need more moistening foods. Hot climate? Cooling foods. You get the point. The same goes for seasons in temperate climates. Salads in the summer, soups in the winter. (You know this already, don’t you? Yep, see “the bottom line” below.)

Lifestyle. So, if you’re a logger you can probably afford to eat more grains and other carbohydrates than someone who types all day can. Hell, you need to eat more of everything. Your body will tell you. (You guessed it—see “the bottom line” below.)

The bottom line. You know better than any “pyramid” or diet book (or blog post!) what your body needs. Really, you do. Just pay attention.

16 Comments »

  1. Persephone said,

    December 23, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

    I SO needed this right now. Thanks for telling me what I already knew, but didn’t know I knew! ;)

  2. Jan S. said,

    December 24, 2007 @ 10:30 am

    This is a very powerful theme- that we are not all alike and that we need to pay attention to what is going on inside of us- that each of us knows what we need. How often the world out there and the “experts” try to undermine that. This is of course true for nutrition, but I beleive its true in many other areas of our life as well. Thank you for that insight.

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    December 24, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

    I’m glad this makes sense to you, Persephone and Jan.

    It’s really the bedrock underlying all my work with people, plants and food.

    I needed to make it clear before making more detailed posts about fats, grains, etc., because anything I say will be general — and no piece of general nutritional advice applies to everyone.

    And really I just think we would all be a lot better off if we listened to ourselves first and the experts second.

  4. kate said,

    December 24, 2007 @ 11:35 pm

    Great post, nice and simple really :-))

    I look forward to more on carbs. I eat mostly whole grains and few refined ones, so I find the carbs are bad message difficult (reminds me of the protein is bad message in the 80s). At the moment I just keep reminding myself that food advice about what to eat and what to avoid is also relative to what we are already eating :-)

  5. Kevin said,

    December 26, 2007 @ 9:13 am

    Great post. And, as an anthropologist, I love that you take into account our evolutionary history. It is so important when it comes to food and many other things.

  6. crabappleherbs said,

    January 1, 2008 @ 6:46 pm

    Thanks, Kate and Kevin!

  7. Kim said,

    January 4, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

    I just discovered this blog, and I’m commenting to say hi. Looking forward to digging around in your archives; so much foodfor thought, here!! Happy new year.

  8. crabappleherbs said,

    January 4, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

    Thanks, Kim! Happy New Year to you too.

  9. Jasmine said,

    January 4, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    Hi Rebecca, just wanted to say I’ve been enjoying your weblog a lot for a while now. This post is such a lovely, clear approach to the humours. :) I also like your Categories column…meta is good.

  10. crabappleherbs said,

    January 5, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

    Thank you, Jasmine!

    I’m glad you like the categories. I try to make them useful. And I do try to make constitutional terms like “hot” and “cold” understandable. They really aren’t so esoteric after all…

  11. Kristena Dreamseeds said,

    January 6, 2008 @ 5:48 pm

    You are incredible as always Rebecca-Love this article so much

  12. Mis said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    This article was the missing key for me… I’ve been struggling trying to find the right nutritional balance for myself, asking the same question – how do you know how to eat? How do you find the right balance? We’ve been so out of tune with the natural elements, crawling our way out of mass manufactured processed foods… researched all the concepts- from macrobiotics, to blood-types, to food-combining, etc., etc. Vegan or not to vegan.Raw or not to raw. It’s so overwhelming. This helps me zone in what I need to look at. It’s so simple and somehow obvious, yet I couldn’t think of it myself. Thank you Rebecca, you’re awesome!

  13. crabappleherbs said,

    January 23, 2008 @ 11:11 am

    Thanks, Mis!

  14. shant said,

    February 22, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

    Hi Rebecca

    Enjoy all your posts…they are well written and are a great resource in living natural and healthy! thank you!! :)

    I was searching your blog for any comments you may have on milk. Nowadays 99.9 % is homogenized and pasteurized…both have negative effects. homogenization changes the structure of milk making it harder to digest besides changing nutritional properties…and this has been shown by scientific studies. pasteurization we all know

    I am originally from India, where many are vegetarian and milk has been valued and used in many forms (yogurt, curds, sweets, creamer, added to food) for hundreds/thousands of years. But I suspect whether the same value applies to homogenized and pasteurized milk of today….India did not use this technology until the last few decades and it was pretty much “grow-buy-sell local”.

    How about yogurt made from such homogenized/pasteurized milk? would you consider that healthier than consuming milk-off-the-shelf? are you a vegan? if you do consume milk products, where do you source them from? Enough questions for you to write a new post on milk huh :P

    Although I wish to go vegan, it is hard for me to let go of consumption of plain milk (used as creamer in tea/coffee) and yogurt…the milk substitutes available aren’t good enough and sometimes too expensive. also I’m not convinced that consuming too much of soy products including soy based yogurt is a good idea for those of us who have not grown up with a soy-based diet or culture. Therefore, your suggestions would be most welcome!

  15. crabappleherbs said,

    February 25, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

    Thanks, Shant.

    I am certainly not a vegan. (If you read back a few posts, you’ll find my odes to lard and poultry fat.) I don’t believe that a vegan diet is safe in the long term — it can cause a fatty-acid imbalance, protein deficiency, vitamin deficiency, etc.

    I think that dairy is a lovely food, if you aren’t allergic / sensitive to it. As you wrote, it’s best to find local, unhomogenized and if possible unpasteurized dairy. You could look for a farm near you on localharvest.org.

    If you can’t get your dairy from a farmer, look for local or organic milk in the grocery store. (Unfortunately, not all organic milk is really organic in spirit — Horizon is an example of this. For help choosing a brand, check out Cornucopia’s Dairy Scorecard.)

  16. Shant said,

    March 2, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

    thanks for that information!
    yes, right after making that comment, i remembered that you r not vegan :P

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