Food for Thought

We’ve all got needs. As human beings, we have five basic needs for survival: oxygen, water, food, shelter, and sleep. But to grow, develop, and thrive, we need relationships and social interaction; we need education and knowledge; we need infrastructures and systems; and we need currencies and trade, among so many other needs. Even looking more closely at our basic need for food, as we have evolved, so too has our understanding of what foods we need, especially given our differing dietary requirements, food allergies and sensitivities, and health conditions and illnesses.

What do we need to eat to ensure optimal health? For most of us here in the United States, we’ve been taught several different eating guidelines starting with the first official guide appearing in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers' Bulletin in 1894 and written by W. O. Atwater. Designed for American males, the diet was based on the consumption of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and “mineral matter” or ash. Although our knowledge of vitamins and minerals has increased dramatically since then, Atwater made the connection between food and health, emphasizing the importance of variety, proportion, and moderation as keys to healthy eating.[i] In the almost 125 years since that first guideline, new guidelines have been published, influenced by economics, politics, social conditions, and increasingly, science and research. Increased scrutiny has been placed on not only the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) we consume, but also on the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The Food Pyramid of the 1990s evolved into MyPyramid in 2005 only to be replaced by MyPlate in 2011. Today, nutrition labels are ubiquitous, with calorie counts as unavoidable as a price tag, reinforcing the idea that there is a price we pay for every calorie we consume. But is this focus on what we eat – the food groups and what proportion from each – sufficient? Does this create optimal health? Or should we also be thinking about how we eat? Think about the last meal you ate. Do you even remember it? Perhaps you were sitting at your desk, mindlessly munching on a sandwich as you reviewed emails or scrolled through your Facebook or Instagram feeds (maybe admiring somebody else’s food?). Or maybe you were in your car, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding a breakfast bar or a bagel as you dropped off your kids or rushed off to work. Did you even enjoy your meal? I think for a lot of us, many of our meals serve to meet the basic need of food to survive, which means we aren’t necessarily eating to grow, develop, and thrive. In our constant struggle to juggle priorities, to fit 30 hours into a single day, we’ve neglected to take the time to stop and smell the focaccia. We eat so fast, we don’t have time to recognize when we’re full, to think about what ate so we can get the right mix of macro and micronutrients, and to use it as an opportunity to truly nourish our entire selves, which is more than just nourishing our bodies. Brazil has taken a different approach to their guidelines, publishing its Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population published in 2014[ii]. Rather than a pyramid, circle, or square, they’ve come up with a list designed to help us make more thoughtful decisions not only about what foods we eat, but how we source, select, prepare, and ultimately, eat them.

  1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
  2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
  3. Limit consumption of processed foods
  4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods
  5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
  6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
  7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
  8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
  9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
  10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing

This more holistic view of the process of eating and the relationships we have with and around food resonates with the Seven Principles of Food Selection that Annemarie Colbin, PhD, developed and that we practice at NGI: that food should be seasonal, local, whole, traditional, balanced, fresh, and delicious. Over the coming months, we’ll explore each of these guidelines and how we can incorporate them more fully into our daily lives. Today, as I prepared to write this post, I grabbed lunch from our students’ Buffet Practicum and started to head back to my office to eat at my desk. Then I saw my colleagues sitting together at a table, taking a break and enjoying the amazing foods CTP 279 prepared under Chef Hideyo’s guidance – you can see my plate at the top of this post – so I joined them and savored my meal. It was the perfect 30-minute break I needed to clear my head and re-energize for the rest of the day. 


This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.


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