When we think about nutrition, it’s important to begin by accepting people’s preferences and acknowledging that dietary practices are often based in cultural and subcultural mores and may or may not be influenced by ethical, religious, and health concerns. It is possible to help people to improve their diet while respecting whatever cultural, ethical, or religious practices influence it. It is also important to distinguish between nutrition and ideology.
Perhaps because there are ethical concerns in food choices, and also because many people care passionately about health, diets often become ideologies, but this is neither necessary nor helpful. One of the reasons there are so many different approaches to diet is that different people respond differently to the same foods. For some people, a diet based mostly on whole grains is grounding and healthy. For others, a diet low in grains provides more energy and eliminates emotional or digestive distress.
Similarly, for some people, eating grass-fed meat free of antibiotics improves energy and prevents a metabolic frenzy; for others, meat upsets the digestion or overtaxes the liver. A person who might thrive on meat but is culturally or ethically averse to it can increase protein, fat, and iron through vegetarian means such as with stinging nettle, seaweed, coconut, avocado, and copious beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Likewise, a person who would thrive as a vegetarian but is culturally attached to meat can enjoy small pieces of meat surrounded by copious greens and other vegetables.
Fermented foods are an important component of any diet, but the form may depend on cultural or digestive considerations or require slow buildup. Raw fermented vegetables provide necessary probiotic bacteria and active enzymes, but yogurt, kefir, and miso are other excellent choices. The raw versus cooked, steamed versus slow-cooked debate can also teach us more if we set aside ideology. The longer food cooks, the more energetically warming it is and the easier to digest, but marinating and fermenting also facilitate digestion. Warming spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin can also balance a dish that is otherwise too cooling. Raw food is difficult to assimilate, but once it has marinated for a while in oil and/or vinegar, or is fermented or dehydrated, it becomes assimilable while retaining all its nutritional value. Steamed food offers easily digestible simplicity, which may also be extremely healing.
Learning to assess how any particular food, diet, or method of preparation affects you is an essential step to well-being. Sitting quietly with oneself and noticing how one feels and then continuing to observe over a period of hours, and sometimes weeks, allows the best chance of finding what will work for you.
Learn even more about how to eat nutritiously here.
By Nina Katz – Herbalist