Friday, June 17, 2011

Challenging the Idea of a Balanced Diet

The other day my grandmother told my family that they were eating only asparagus for supper because they had so much of it. My immediate reaction was, "That's not a balanced diet!" But, then I remembered Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" and how eating seasonally meant for them, eating a lot of the same things at every meal while it was available. It started me on a questioning spree about society's seemingly unconditional acceptance of the notion that in order for each meal to be balanced, it should be comprised of something from each of Health Canada's four main food groups.


I know we are supposed to "eat the rainbow" when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but if you look at what's available in spring, the color is predominantly green. Right now in my garden, my options are arugula, spinach, green onions and radishes. Other seasonal foods would be rhubarb, asparagus, kale and chard. Wild dandelion greens can be had a plenty and we just finished morel season. If we had livestock, I could add fresh eggs to the list. If I were truly eating seasonally, I could make some lovely scrambled eggs with greens or maybe a quiche and I would munch on rhubarb for desert. So, just how important is it to be eating a balanced diet every meal, every day?

As I ask this question of myself, I recall a book I read a long, long time ago on animal nutrition called, "Give Your Dog A Bone," by Dr Ian Billinghurst. What he wrote stuck with me:

"When a wild dog or modern dog fed in a primitive way, receives it's nutrition, each meal is likely to be different in size, timing, and content. It will certainly not be complete or balanced. One meal may be totally vegetarian, e.g. the guts of some herbivore. That meal will have very little protein and no minerals whatsoever. Another meal may be all protein, e.g. some muscle meat. Another meal may be mostly liver and kidneys and other internal organs. Another meal may be mostly fat. Another meal may be mostly minerals as that dog chomps on and consumes some bones that have been stripped of meat.
"Over a period of weeks to possibly months, that dog's diet is balanced. This approach to eating is in stark contrast to the way modern dogs are fed using the so called "complete and balanced diets" produced by dog companies. The need for each meal to be complete and balanced is the notion we get from a quarter century of feeding dogs artificially on prepared dog foods." (106)

Surely, this idea doesn't apply to humans - or does it? All other species (save livestock and pets) consume seasonally in this manner, so why don't we? I won't deny that while having watermelon or bananas all year round is convenient, it isn't sustainable. If you follow what Jeff Rubin has to say in his book, "Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller," we really should be preparing for a world of peak oil and that means, eating locally and seasonally and quite possibly more of the same things at every meal.

This might strike you as undesirable, but I beg to differ. Not only is meal planning the bane of my existence, but I feel we have lost the appreciation and anticipation of seasonal food, of gorging ourselves on watermelon because we won't see it again until next August. As Camille writes in her mother's book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, the "two things that are impossible to get tired of are asparagus and morels because neither one stays around long enough." So, perhaps I will lighten up on the daily meal planning and start planning around what's available seasonally instead, confident in knowing that this is the way nature intends us to eat and that a balanced diet will be accomplished over time. 

Linked to Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Monday Mania, Barn Hop, Mangia Mondays, Weekend Gourmet Carnival, Traditional Tuesdays, Hearth & Soul, Real Food Wednesday,  Foodie Wednesday, Pennywise Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday.

12 comments:

Dawn Farias said...

I think this is a good idea. I read somewhere that when worrying about your children's diet (since they can be picky eaters) it is helpful to look at how they eat over a two week period, instead of how they eat at each meal. The chances are good that they eat in a more balanced fashion over time. Sounds similar to what you're saying, I think.

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Dawn, I think that what you've read sounds like good advice. We're entering into the two year old stubborn picky eater stage at our house, so I'm trying to take things a little more in stride. The idea of a balanced idea over time time makes sense in theory, but it can be hard to overcome years of habit and thinking a certain way!

Lori said...

I was just thinking the other day about how we should try and eat more seasonally. It seems ridiculous to be eating grapes from Chili in the middle of winter! It would definitely make things more interesting...well maybe you'd have to be more creative with cooking! Thanks for the post.

www.lorisfoodandotherstuff.com

Debbie said...

This is a wonderful thought. We have been tring not to buy produce grown out of the states and as close to home as possible. By that goal alone we have to eat more seasonally, which as you stated makes us look forward to RIPE watermelon and tomatoes. It's one step at a time, but last year's goal was to buy no tomatoes. So we have not had a fresh sliced tomatoe all winter and the baby tom plants are being watched daily for the first fruits. We are waiting with baited breath.

Shanon Hilton said...

Wow, Debbie! Good for you on the tomato front. We've been eating them from the farmer's market since early spring, but I'm hoping we can switch to our own soon too! You're right though, baby steps!

groundcherry said...

There was a nutritionist around the beginning of the twentieth century who studied orphan toddlers given free access to a wide range of healthy foods at every meal and she found exactly the same thing. Some meals the toddlers ate liver and peas, some meals they ate applesauce, carrots, and rice.

While months is a little long to go without any major food, most nutrients are stored in the body for at least a few days, so having a fruit day instead of vegetable days is just fine! As long you then hav ea veg day instead of fruit to help balance it out... I like to think of diet on a weekly basis.

But variety can be achieved if you plant thinking about it. Strawberries? How about early turnips or red mustard greens? Overwintered red cabbage... the list of ideas can go on and on.

Shanon Hilton said...

Hi Groundcherry,

I'm definitely not advocating month to month for people, but day to day or week to week, depending on seasonal availability.

Sounds like an interesting study! Thanks for commenting.

Shu Han said...

I think this is a great approach to eating! I think that many of us, while on the journey towards a healthier lifestyle and diet, end up overanalysing and trying to fit too much "right" things and cut out "wrong" things, when there really isn't anything to health but eating real food, especially what is available to us.

http://mummyicancook.blogspot.com/2011/06/when-in-rome-eat-as-romans-eat.html

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