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?).
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 😀