Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Do our Bodies have "Body-Wisdom" ?

Last night, I sat in on a nutrition course at Columbia University in Teachers College. The course was called: Food, nutrition and behavior. It focused on the physiological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors that affect eating behaviors and the development of individual and cultural food patterns.

It certainly had me thinking about whether or not humans have the ability to physiologically self-select certain foods. In other words, do humans have the natural ability to know which nutrients their bodies are deficient in, and can humans naturally choose these nutrients in order to avoid deficiency. Koala Bears are more specific eaters—they eat eucalyptus leaves. Pandas eat bamboo. There is no need to self-select. Humans, rats, and cockroaches can eat everything. This is why the “body wisdom” argument is valid. Having not read any of the research, the discussion still sparked some thoughts on my end:

1. If one were to contend that we do have this so-called "body wisdom," I think the answer could be found within taste. If "we eat what we like," then, aside from our knowledge-base about foods and how we use this knowledge to select foods, our tongues do much of the choosing for us. Maybe some tongues have a keener internal detector and recognition system than others! MAYBE, Darwin's survival of the fittest arguement is "fitting." Those with the "superior taste buds," (who enjoy the taste of avocado, olives, whole grains…etc) perhaps are more predisposed to healthier eating. I don't know, just a thought.

2. Now we add in the knowledge factor, and using this knowledge about foods to our health advantage. People could be conscious about health foods and its effects—AND STILL NOT SELECT A NUTRITIOUS DIET. Does this have to do with body wisdom and where does psychology come in? How do we distinguish between physiological hungers for specific foods from mental hunger for specific foods?

3. How do guilty pleasures fit into this puzzle? Although some would certainly beg to differ, I don't think we have physiological NEEDS for chocolate, and yet the "mental deficiency" is so powerful that it can be misinterpreted as a physiological need or DEPENDENCY. Maybe this should fall under the relationship between tastes of foods to neurological responses…

4. Also, when given an array of choices, kids opt for the sweeter tastes of milk and fruit. This could in part be due to the sweet palatable tastes of the lactose and fructose sugars. But what if kids' body-wisdom is directing them toward the foods that they need most. I actually feel that kids DO have body wisdom here—aside from taste. Since kids' bodies are constantly growing and need more energy, their bodies might internally select foods that will convert into quick energy. This way, kids can match their nutritional needs with their energy needs. Therefore, I really think a strong argument can be made for physiological self-selection of food, at least in this case.

5. Animals try to avoid deficiency. Understandable. Random choice allows animals to fulfill certain deficiencies. Absolutely. Based solely upon this exact principle, restrictive diets will NEVER work. Providing this simple, logical, and yet influential piece of information can perhaps help the Great Dieters of America.

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