If you are a health conscious individual you are likely trying your best to eat right, exercise well, and take the right vitamins and herbs. One day you hear new research on the radio about vitamin X and food Z and you think “I should probably eat more of that too. They say it’s supposed to be good for ya, so it’s gotta be good for me too!”
At first sight a good idea. I thought this myself before many times many years ago before studying all that nutrition and lifestyle stuff called Ayurveda. Now, “It’s supposed to be good for ya” is one of my pet peeves. I hate to admit it, but I do have to take a long, deep breath when I hear that statement so I don’t launch into a lengthy explanation why this phrase just doesn’t work and I have heard it many times over the years in practice.
So why does this statement drive me nuts? Doesn’t it show that the person has an interest in being healthy…. YES, absolutely. And that I appreciate!!! Still, my need for discernment in the food discussion is gravely violated with this statement.
“… It’s supposed to be good for ya” does not take into account for who, when, where and how you are ingesting a substance. Let’s look at the example of good ol’ oatmeal. Studies have shown that oatmeal lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and thus, so the conclusion goes, benefits heart health. In 1997 , the FDA gave it the status of a “health claim” so manufacturers can now use it in their advertising, and they do so in plenty.
Studies have their value, however, the nature of a study is that you draw conclusions based on an average. As an example, say in a study of 150 people, 100 people benefited health-wise from eating oatmeal and 50 did not. The result would be that 67% of test subjects benefited from eating oatmeal. The conclusion then would be that oatmeal is beneficial for heart health. The problem is, what about the 33% that does not benefit and why don’t they?
To answer this question we need to get away from average and get back to looking at the individual. WHO is eating the substance, WHEN and WHERE are eaten, and HOW is it prepared. Let’s keep looking at the oatmeal example:
Reason 1: WHO is eating it?
Sue is a thin, wiry lady in her early 60s. She has been struggling with constipation her entire adult life. Her skin is very dry and her body itches all over. Sue, has a severe Vata imbalance. Eating oatmeal is a God-given substance. Oatmeal (prepared in the right way) is unctuous, helps retain water in the system (demulcent quality) which she desperately needs, and is grounding due to its heavy quality. Eating oatmeal will improve her constipation, make her skin moister and reduce her itching.
For Paul on the other hand who is a big bulky 250 lb guy, 80 lbs overweight, suffering from mucousy congestion oatmeal is a disaster waiting to happen no matter what the studies say. By eating oatmeal on a regular basis he will likely gain more weight due to its heavy quality and sweet taste, the sweet taste being comprised of water and earth. His congestion would increase manifold especially if he combined the oatmeal with dairy.
Reason 2: WHEN and WHERE are you eating it?
The second reason why “it’s supposed to be good for you” doesn’t work is WHEN and WHERE you are eating it. What is the season? What climate do you find yourself in?
Sue, with her substantial Vata imbalance, could probably eat oatmeal any season, any time of day, anywhere and it would benefit her. However, if you are a different body type or are not that far off balance, season and climate play a major role. For example, John is a stocky, bulky guy like Paul but not overweight. John loves to go ski touring in the cold winter months, exercises a lot in general and finds himself in the mega dry, mountainous climate of Jackson Hole. He would benefit from a bowl of hot, steamy oatmeal big time counteracting the cold, dry climate and season.
For example, John is a stocky, bulky guy like Paul but not overweight. John loves to go ski touring in the cold winter months, exercises a lot in general and finds himself in the mega dry, mountainous climate of Jackson Hole. He would benefit from a bowl of hot, steamy oatmeal big time counteracting the cold, dry climate and season.
Reason 3: What´s your activity level?
The third reason why “it’s supposed to be good for you” doesn’t work is your activity level. What if John, the stalky, active guy, broke his foot and could not exercise for a while. And because funds are tight he decides to spend the summer in the heat of South Carolina with his parents. If John ate a steamy oatmeal bowl, I venture to say that his heart health or LDL levels would not improve a bit.
Reason 4: HOW are you preparing it?
The fourth reason why “it’s supposed to be good for you” doesn’t work is how you prepare a substance.
Oatmeal thrown in a bowl topped with cold milk would be disastrous for Sue… it would perpetuate the cold and dry qualities already present in her body. However, if Sue simmered the oatmeal in water or milk, added some cinnamon and ginger for some demulcent and Agni (digestive fire) enhancing quality it would nourish her deeply. Her constipation and dryness of her skin would improve.
Paul, on the other hand, would get clogged up. The heavy and moist qualities in his body would be perpetuated by the heavy and moist qualities of the oatmeal. Doesn’t sound advantageous, does it?
For myself, I have scratched the “It’s supposed to be good for ya” statement from my dictionary. Instead, I ask myself: Is it good for ME? I analyze what qualities are in excess or deficient in my body and mind, what season is it, what climate do I live in and what is my exercise level today. And if I really crave something that really isn’t that great for me I ask myself, how can I prepare it so it doesn’t throw me off.