In blog post of 9/29/2014: So, what should you eat for optimal health?, I listed the seven basic principles I have extracted from the many diet books and resources I have studied. These principles are:
- What you eat, how much you eat and when you eat, all matter
- Eat clean
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruits
- Use only healthy fats and fat sources
- Incorporate sufficient proteins in your diet
- Best beverage to drink is pure water
- Add or subtract specific foods based on your personal needs
In the last posts, we discussed the first six of these principles. Today, in the last blog post of this series, let’s focus on the seventh principle: Add or subtract specific foods based on your personal needs. And, as usual without any fluff stuff, let’s get to it.
Even though we humans all are of the same species, our bodies are quite unique due to genetic and environmental differences that we grew up in. Because of this uniqueness, it is not unreasonable to have unique needs for what we eat to adapt to our bodies.
Western medicine and nutrition framework can recognize these differences only in terms of different caloric needs based on size, food allergies, intolerance and sensitivities.
However, eastern medicine and nutrition frameworks, offer other ways of matching specific foods to specific unique needs of our bodies.
Let’s explore both of these frameworks that we can use to customize what we eat.
Food Allergies, Intolerance and Sensitivities
As Mayo Clinic page on Food Allergy describes: A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening (anaphylaxis) — even if past reactions have been mild.
If you have any food allergies, it is important to learn how to recognize a severe allergic reaction and know what to do if one occurs. You may need to carry an emergency epinephrine shot (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others) for emergency self-treatment.
In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems. But these can also be the cause of chronic issues including excess weight, obesity, leaky gut and many other related issues.
Causes of food intolerance include:
- Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.
- Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
- Food poisoning. Toxins such as bacteria in spoiled food can cause severe digestive symptoms.
- Sensitivity to food additives. For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people. Mono sodium glutamate (MSG) often used in Chinese cooking can cause digestive issues.
- Recurring stress or psychological factors. Sometimes the mere thought of a food may make you sick. The reason is not fully understood.
- Celiac disease. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
With the recent research in micro biome or gut bacteria, there is mounting evidence that many of the food sensitivities and even food allergies can be cured by improving the gut bacteria.
So, it is important to understand personal food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. And, then find workarounds or solutions to those.
Here is one quick anecdote on this topic.
Several years ago, often around menstruation time, my wife Kimberly used to have abdominal pains, sometimes quite severe and debilitating. So, we started chasing the issue. Doctors did various tests to diagnose it, but no luck. She even subjected herself to a painful colonoscopy. Radiologist pointed out inflammation at the place where her colon turns. But he could not argue why that would cause issues she had been experiencing. They even started using the “C” word for some stomach cancer, which kind of freaked her out emotionally.
During this time, I started keeping a sort of diary of her lifestyle. I noticed that every time her sister or mother visited us, for the period that followed she would have severe pains. I thought that was rather curious.
You see, ever since, I became vegetarian, she did not eat much meat. We did not cook much meat at home. And, even when we ate out, she generally preferred to share what I would eat, which would be vegetarian fair. But every time her sister or mother would visit, they will have several meals out at the restaurants and she would indulge in lots of meats, especially red meats.
Once I figured this out, I asked her to experiment with keeping meat to minimum and absolutely no red meat for a few months – which she did faithfully. And, lo and behold, her pains went away. She experimented with adding the red meat back, with the result of pains also being back. Having learned that lesson, she has now stuck to the lifestyle of mostly no red meat and pains have been gone.
Eastern medicine and nutrition frameworks
Eastern medicine and nutrition frameworks provide different methods (and some would argue, much more precise methods) of matching foods to a person’s specific needs.
I am most familiar with the Indian Ayuervedic system so I will briefly share that here.
According to Ayurveda, there are three primary body types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These body types are also called Doshas.
We are born with either one of these three, or some combination of these, i.e., Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha, Pitta-Kapha or Vata-Pitta-Kapha types.
The primary body types are made up of a combination of five basic elements of nature: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space.
Earth + Water = Kapha
Fire + Water = Pitta
Wind + Space = Vata
By looking at the nature of the constituent elements, you can probably quickly guess the properties associated with each Dosha or body type.
Kapha person would thus be very “earthy”, heavier musculature, gains weight quickly, has moist or oily skin, likes to stays settled in a place, is slow and steady, is often cold and smooth.
Pitta person would be hot, intense, light, flexible, slightly oily, fluid, sour smelling.
Vata person will have dry skin, be on the move all the time, is often cold, rough adept to change, subtle quick and light.
The theory is that we all have an inherent body type that corresponds to our inborn nature. Eating foods and living lifestyle that take us away from our inherent Doshas cause stresses on our bodies and in turn cause issues. Progressed to advanced stages, these perturbations in the body become clinical symptoms that are discovered as ailments in the context of western medicine.
Foods on the other hand, in Ayurveda, are categorized as sweet, sour, salty, stringent, bitter and pungent. Based on the nature of food, it could either aggravate or pacify a particular body type or Dosha.
- Balanced by pungent, bitter, astringent, light, dry and hot foods
- Aggravated by sweet, sour and salty foods, heavy, oily and cold
- Balanced by bitter, sweet, astringent, cold, heavy and dry foods
- Aggravated by pungent, sour, salty, hot, light and oily foods
- Balanced by salt, sour, sweet, heavy, oily and hot foods
- Aggravated by pungent, bitter, astringent, cold, dry, light foods
An Ayuervedic practitioner’s goal is to uncover any differences between inherent body type and the present body type and to recommend foods and lifestyle that will bring the body to the back the inherent body type.
As the body realigns with its inherent Doshas, different types of issues and ailments just recede and disappear.
This, of course, is a pretty deep topic by itself.
“Perfect Health – A complete mind body guide”, a book by Deepak Chopra, M.D., is a very accessible book that explains these Ayuervedic principles and practices. Based on the Ayuervedic theory, the book offers very practical means for matching foods to one’s specific needs and/or make adjustments if you feel any “stresses” in your body.
What do you think of this approach?
Do you feel that this provides guidance on how to adjust your diet to match your personal needs?
Do you see a hole in this approach? What would you do differently?