Eating for health and balance

Originally published in 2010. 

A growing number of Americans have resolved to eat local, organically-grown food, whether for health benefits or weight loss. We’ve been told to exercise more, breathe deeper, and simplify our lives. In recent years we have been looking to other, healthier cultures for answers to our alarming growth of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Holistic health and nutrition counselor Tricia McCauley prunes a lavender bush in my garden, November 2016.

Holistic health counselor Tricia McCauley, owner of Nutricia Consulting  in Washington, D.C., helps people figure out the best approach for their own personal goals and well-being. As a health counselor, she trains people to “be a detective: to find the foods and lifestyle choices that nurture and energize your unique physical self.”

Tricia, like many other experts, agree that food and lifestyle are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each person has their own special needs. Tricia’s battle with food allergies led to her become a self-taught expert on dietary transitions and approaches. She is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and is currently pursuing a masters of science in herbal medicine at the Tai Sophia Institute.

Do you have any advice for everyone out there who made a New Year’s resolution to be healthier?

Start small!  Make goals that you can achieve, rather than impossible obstacles that will leave you feeling frustrated within weeks.  If you’ve got a large goal to achieve, break it down into manageable chunks.

American diets are often dictated by marketing and huge corporations, whereas in other areas of the world the emphasis is still, as it always has been, on eating locally, and fresh. One such approach is Ayurveda, which is still a very new concept to most Americans. Care to enlighten us?

Let me be clear that I am not an Ayurvedic practitioner.  But I do love the Ayurvedic system (the ancient science of health from India) and I introduce many of my clients to it.

This system has three doshas, or constitutional types — meaning three stereotypical types of people  (Most are a mixture of doshas; find your dosha through Deepak Chopra’s dosha quiz).  Each dosha corresponds with a season of the year: spring, summer, or winter.  This gets my clients thinking about seasonal eating, and the different ways the seasons affect their bodies.  Also, the Ayurvedic view can help us see the gifts we posess that our culture doesn’t always value.  We live in a linear, achievement-driven society, where the pitta dosha is very much at home.  Ayurveda offers examples of different internal rhythms, that are a necessary part of the whole.  I personally had a huge “aha” moment when I was introduced to this system — “I’m not crazy!  I’m just a vata!”

In terms of food, each dosha has different needs for heating, cooling, or moisturizing foods and spices to stay in balance.  This is, as you said, different from the common “one size fits all approach.”  When we begin to look at our individual constitution as unique, we can begin to address our health needs without competing with others (like, for instance, Cousin Amy who can eat cookies all day and never gain weight!).

How can Americans bring the principles of Ayurvedic cooking into the American kitchen?

Even without getting into the details of doshas, Indian cooking has a lot to offer to the Western kitchen.  First of all, spices!!  Curries contain a mixture of spices, most of which aid digestion, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. Secondly, Indian cuisine is full of tasty vegetarian recipes.  (For the record, I am not a vegetarian — but I do believe that vegetables are the one key ingredient to healthy eating.)  And thirdly, lentils and beans are much more common in Indian food than in the Standard American Diet (SAD).  Legumes are high in fiber (lacking in the SAD) and are nutrient-dense.  And finally, Indian dishes are so easy to eat as leftovers — a curry over rice makes a great lunch the next day.  This means you can cook once and eat two or three times!

Do you feel that the locavore and organic movement in America is enough to counteract the rampant obesity and health problems in our culture?

I hope so.  I pray so.  I love the local and organic movements, and I do think it’s going to take time — perhaps several generations — of sustained action and activism to see a real shift.  Our collective health didn’t get this bad overnight, and won’t be fixed overnight.  I’m thinking specifically of impoverished inner city neighborhoods, where there may  not even be grocery stores, just convenience stores; and where pizza for school lunch may be the best meal a child gets all day.

But we have taken the first steps, and I do have a sense of hope.  My local farmers market accepts food stamps, and I am really excited about the urban farming movement.

Since vegetarian dishes are gaining some popularity among meat-eaters, do you have any insight about plant versus animal proteins, and how even the most meat-centric eaters can find a peace with veggies?

Plant versus animal proteins — well, animal proteins are more complicated, both biologically and ethically.  Beans, lentils, and nuts are really versatile, and a fraction of the price of animal proteins.  Animal proteins have a larger environmental impact.  And if one is going to eat animal proteins in a healthy way, then the quality is deeply important.  Chicken and eggs should be cage-free and grain-fed.  Beef should be free-range and grass-fed.  Different kinds of fish are sustainable and healthy from different locations.   Some types of farmed fish are healthier than wild-caught, for example, while others are not. It can get overwhelming — so as always, I recommend taking it in small, manageable steps!

As for the meat-centric eaters, I suggest really paying attention to what you’re eating.  Chew. Eat slowly.  If you’re eating mindfully, you may discover that you don’t need as much animal protein to feel satisfied as you thought you did.  If you’ve got pre-conceived notions about vegetables (like, you’ve hated them since childhood), experiment with things you’ve never tried before.  This could mean new cuisines and preparations (like curries), or completely unfamiliar vegetables (like watercress, bok choi, burdock root, parsnips, kohlrabi, or mustard greens).  I also recommend putting something vegetable into every meal, even if it’s just a handful of arugula on your burger.

For those outside of the Washington, D.C. area, you offer teleclasses. Are there any other things you offer people who can’t meet with you locally?

I frequently meet with individual clients by telephone (or Skype).  My goals for 2010 are to finally publish my e-book and to offer some pre-recorded teleclasses!  And, of course, everyone is welcome to subscribe to my newsletter (you can do that on my website).  🙂

Anything else you’d like to add?

Ethnic foods are all based on traditional diets.  They reflect the climate and the geography of the land where they emerged.  These diets evolved over centuries, based on foods that were available locally and seasonally. Two cookbooks that I recommend are The Ayurvedic Cookbookby Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai, and  The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amrita Sondhi

Tragically, Tricia died in December 2016, but her additional writings on healthy eating and holistic nutrition are still archived at her site,

[ This article was originally published on ]

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