“Listen to your body”?

Could your body “tell” you what to eat due to its health state? If you’re deficient in a certain nutrient…will you instinctively crave foods with that nutrient?

Many believers in the “body wisdom” would say yes. Actually, i think the idea of body wisdom is extremely popular- I myself know this from the raw diet, and I am sure many alternative “natural” diets talk about this concept (e.g. intuitive eating?). Unknown

I think it is fascinating- that’s why I was excited to talk about this in my psychology of eating class. I tried to find a relevant peer-reviewed article for class discussion, but to my surprise found nothing. In class I understood why- there is no evidence for body wisdom in the literature. There originally was an idea that our bodies can tell what we are deficient in and gravitate towards foods with those nutrients- first rat studies seemed to prove that.  They had rats on a thiamine deficient diet choose between two new diets- one with thiamine, or the previous thiamine deficient one. The rats chose the thiamine diet. They could tell they needed vitamin B1, right? Not really- turns out the rats avoided the same thiamine-deficient diet not because they could sense the deficiency, but due to the learning that the original diet made them somehow sick.  Animals, thus, avoid eating whatever doesn’t make them feel good. They, like we, learn to eat what makes us feel good. The only thing you can have a specific hunger for (so you’d be able to choose food with that particular nutrient in it) is salt- it is easy to taste/identify and we have a genetically preprogrammed specific hunger to it.

Generalist vs. specialist?

When you think about it, animals seem to KNOW what to eat, what’s good for them (I hear people argue we have that ability too, or “body wisdom”). But let’s think about it…an animal that specializes in one kind of food (e.g. carnivore, insectivore) has a very narrow range of foods..they must get all essential elements from those foods= the identification of food can be programmed genetically into them. But for a species that eats anything(or “generalist” animals)e.g. humans– the problem of finding food can be less demanding since there are many potential sources..and eating a nutritionally balanced diet can be achieved in many ways. Perhaps that’s why our body wisdom is not as acute- we are not dealing with a narrow range of foods. (See Paul Rozin for more)


I don’t know whether specific body wisdom really exists- the one that can signal you to eat a certain food because of a B vitamin you’re low on. Either way, I think we have access to a different kind of wisdom- choosing whole unprocessed foods is much closer to our evolved physiology than any of the new created foods that seem to be destroying our health. Apple vs. apple juice- that seems wise 😀

Gluten Free for a happier life!?

So Gluten Free is a rather growing popular dietary approach. Obviously, those suffering from celiac disease absolutely need to avoid gluten, and some believe many people have some degree of intolerance to gluten…others claim our bodies are simply not designed to process it.

I am currently working on a literature review on functional foods (including GF) and am reflecting on my own recent purchase of GF bread.

In fact, I do not eat bread (a diet food practice I brought with me from Ukraine), and yet I got GF bread for the house…

Why do we think GF is healthier? Is it simply because the “free” part is associated with other “free from” foods that are supposedly healthier? (fat free! sugar free!) Usually “FREE” would mean something bad has been removed from the product.

Is it because we see many celebrities adopt the lifestyle, lose weight, look chic, and twit about it? They must know what they’re doing…(?)

Is it our beliefs about the nature of health and the way our body evolved? I’ve heard many people quote the “10,000 year” point- that agriculture is rather recent and our bodies have not adopted to processing grains and gluten (this is inspired by the paleo information).

Does it matter? The truth is many people feel better when they go GF- more energy, better digestion, and more. I personally doubt it is the gluten primarily (unless someone truly is sensitive!?)- many going GF simultaneously improve their diet and lifestyle. Indeed, many poeple going GF are health-conscious individuals in general (health consciousness is the degree to which one plays an active role in maintaining their health).  It is obvious that in the modern civilized world the pursuit of health, responsibility for one’s well-being and self-improvement are central themes.

I personally avoid gluten on a typical day- I already am not a fan of grain and breads (my Ukrainian family&friends always emphasized getting rid of baked items to maintain weight)…besides, due to gluten’s fantastic binding ability, it is added to most foods and it could be its unprecedented overconsumption in the last several decades that makes us sensitive.

Eat healthy for healthy kids!

Looks like a varied healthy diet is important before a kid is even able to eat solid foods. Specifically, it is important for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, since a child’s first experiences of flavor occurs prior to birth through milk feeding and amniotic fluid in utero.

SO eating a variety of vegetables and fruits influences acceptance of these foods at the weaning stage (~5.7 months).

Breastfeeding is crucial (vs. formula-feeding), since it prepares kids for novel flavors through the mother’s diet being transmitted to milk [Flavors so far known to be transmitted through breast milk are garlic, ethanol, carrot, mint, blue cheese, and cigarettes]. If formula-feeding is the only option, it is important to switch formula flavors and types to allow for variety.

Conclusion: varied diet in pregnancy and during breastfeeding is recommended.  Some suggest that up to 6 month is the period we are most sensitive at for introduction of different flavours..and that we are never again as open to new experiences!*

Note: repeated exposure to one flavor can become monotonous and actually decrease liking in a child.. so that would be counterproductive (again, variety is good!).


Being overweight or having a “junk” diet (for mothers) can be potentially detrimental for kids.

1. Being overweight/obese is a risk.. The problem- overeating and obesity during pregnancy lead to in utero overnutrition..and can cause the development of obesity in the adult offspring (even when the child had normal feeding and lactation).

During pregnancy leptin resistance and hyperphagia occur, which lead to increased deposition of fat.. In lean individuals this is a great adaptation allowing mothers to store energy in preparation for lactation (a high metabolic demand activity).. But in the current “obesogenic” environment this adaptation would make it hard for women to regulate their food intake (especially those predisposed to obesity).**

2. While I haven’t found a study on humans, studies on rats show that rats born to mothers fed junk food during gestation & lactation developed an increased preference for sugary, fatty, and salty foods; they also exhibited increased weight and BMI. Data from numerous studies shows that maternal junk food diet can change the ofsprings’ epigenetic marks related with long-term changes in gene expression (opiods & dopamine) and behavior (stronger preferences for palatable foods- sugar/fat/salt).***

* Article doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.05.317

** Article doi: 10.1210/en.2008-1106

*** Article doi:10.1210/en.2010-050

Loving it healthy!

Reading yet more articles on the psychology of eating…

How do we learn to like certain foods?


Well, we learn when it makes us feel good (we feel full, the sweet taste is pleasant), because other people do so (we model behavior of others, eat what our culture things is appropriate), and because it’s something we’ve eaten many times (we’re exposed to a certain food since childhood).

Food neophobia is the fear of new foods in kids (starts ~ age 2). It’s an important trait since it serves a protective function (you can get poisoned by eating unknown foods), but at this time in history with diverse food environment it might limit kids’ diet for the worst.

Learning through exposure (repeated tasting) is a way to make young children eat food that they don’t seem to like. [Between 50-60% of variance in preference for foods in 4-year olds is explained by its sweetness and degree of familiarity!]

For a 2 year old, ~10 attempts might be necessary to make them like a new food (usually vegetable 🙂 It’s important to space these attempts and be persistent (most parents just give up after trying to give one food several times). So e.g. you can give a red pepper in small portions daily over the course of the week and eventually your kid will like it!

The number of attempts goes up with age ( 4-year old- ~15 attempts; 10-year old- up to twenty exposures to the food may be necessary).

You want your kid to enjoy vegetables later in life- start them early by giving it to them at a young age and don’t give up 😀

Psychology of Eating

Just out of my Psychology of eating seminar and wanted to jot down a couple of new things I’ve learned.

We were talking about Flavor-Flavor learning- you can learn to like a certain food/flavor by pairing it with the flavor you already like (adding sugar [sweet flavor] to oatmeal). This is quite useful to humans as a “short cut” for eating foods that are safe and energy dense and avoiding potentially harmful ones= sweetness is preferred since in nature a fruit would also have an array of valuable micronutrients important for health; bitter taste is disliked since it is associated with poisonous foods, etc.

Either way, here are a couple of interesting facts I learned today-

CALCIUM makes things taste bitter; thus lots of leafy-green vegetables are not liked by people. But you can learn to like them if you pair these vegetables with, for example, sweetness or fats (think of a green smoothie kale+banana+nut butter).

ImageAlso, adding sugar to bitter foods makes them taste less bitter; adding sour- more bitter.

Most recent meal is associated with fullness, so if you eat a regular meal followed by dessert- you will associate dessert with fullness. To associate healthier foods with satiety, eat dessert first! 🙂 

It is important to remember that virtually ALL of our food preferences are learned rather than innate, so you can teach yourself to eat healthier by liking it more!


I am in my first year of the PhD track in Global Health (GH). While GH is interdisciplinary, my main grounding is in medical anthropology*, and my specific interest is nutrition. I am not an anthropologist by training- my undergraduate degree was in business, my master’s degree- in health promotion. I have always had an interest in nutrition- first personally, then academically. I myself tried all sorts of diets and eating styles- I became most interested in the raw vegan diet in 2007; got certified as a raw chef and educator; taught classes as the health food store I managed; was a private raw chef, and so on.

Currently, I am interested in exploring how people use food as medicine. I plan to focus on the raw vegan diet and the “paleo diet”- two examples of eating styles that are often perceived as pristine or “the way we are meant to eat”.

I will be posting thoughts and information I encounter along the way. My goals are to explore:

-how to eat to feel good, look good, and maintain health

-how food can affect our health, mood, looks,etc.

-psychology of eating (why people at what they eat, etc)

*Medical anthropology(MA) attempts to understand human health and illness, in short. The longer explanation is:

MA is the study of health, illness, healthcare, & related topics from a broad anthropological perspective. It draws upon cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology to better understand those factors that influence health & well being, experience & distribution of illness, prevention & treatment of sickness, healing processes, social relations of therapy management, and cultural importance of pluralistic medical systems.