Reactions to my recent Feeding Calculus blog post were uniformly sympathetic. Everyone said they, too, customize their feeding program for each individual pony. I was surprised but pleased; ponies in their care are very fortunate indeed.
I was surprised because my casual observations of the horse world have suggested that a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding equines is not uncommon. Given the advice most of us humans have been given for most of our lives, this isn’t surprising. Growing up (and this dates me for sure) I remember the four food groups – meat, dairy, starch, and fruits/vegetables – from which we were all supposed to eat. Later I remember the food pyramid, with starches/grains making up the largest, bottom level. The food pyramid came out about the time that my food allergies were diagnosed; I have allergies to all grains to varying degrees, as well as dairy. It was then that I became skeptical about one-size-fits-all nutritional advice, yet that has been the norm, at least here in America, for as long as I can remember.
I was pleased, then, to read “Food Confusion” recently about researcher Christopher Gardner. “About five years ago, Gardner had a midlife crisis: he began to wonder if he was doing any good or just spreading confusion. It’s pretty depressing to consider that chronic diet-related diseases are only prevalent in cultures advanced enough to have an understanding of food science. Something about the modern way we eat is making us sicker and fatter each year, and nothing researchers do seems to help.” (1)
Gardner, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, says, “For decades we’ve been asking the wrong question. It’s not ‘What’s the best diet?’ It’s ‘What’s the best diet for each unique person?’” (2) Eureka! Here finally is nutrition advice for every body: it has to be unique. Really this shouldn’t be any surprise, as it’s pretty clear each of us has different bodies. It’s just taken nutrition science awhile to catch up with that fact. “The notion that different people require different diets could render the great battle between low-carb and low-fat (not to mention the Paleo diet, and all the rest) totally irrelevant.” (3)
Of course, this nutritional advice for every body puts incredible responsibility on each one of us to learn to feed ourselves appropriately. It seems like we’ve been able to delegate that to government policy or feed manufacturing companies for a long time. For those of us responsible for feeding others in our lives, human or pony, the pressure is really on, since we not only have to feed ourselves appropriately but also understand and feed the others in our care. For a lot of parents, though, this won’t be big news, as they already deal with individual preferences on a regular basis.
Back on the equine front, I am grateful that I happened on a nutritional program when I first brought ponies into my life that understands that each equine has unique needs. And while I fill multiple buckets a day with a different combination of vitamins and supplements, unique to each pony, the thing I like most about this program is that the ponies get to pick and choose the minerals they need themselves. With four free-choice minerals to choose from (formulated based on observations of wild mustang herds), I consider this to be the foundation of the health of my pony herd.
In contrast, I know people who force-feed salt on top of their pony’s feed, on veterinarian’s advice, to get their pony to drink more. Such an approach doesn’t make any sense to me; I believe the pony knows better than a human what they most need for their body. And fortunately for ponies, they often are more tuned into their needs (at least in the mineral department) than we humans are tuned into our own. They just need to be given the opportunity to take in what they need. Again, I feel fortunate to have happened on a program that works well (for more information, click here.)
Shortly after my food allergies were diagnosed, I met someone who had cleared up their own allergies by taking an algae-based food supplement. Encouraged, I immediately ordered the product. The product didn’t work for me at all, but the information that I gathered because of it helped immensely. I learned that it’s not uncommon for the algae to really help about 25% of the people, have no effect for about 50% of people, and be detrimental for 25% (I fell into the last category). Since then I’ve found that every ‘miracle’ supplement has a similar distribution of possible effects. I’m now much more thoughtful rather than proactive when I hear about someone clearing up their allergies with a particular approach. I’ve learned that I have to find something that works for my body; what works for someone else might be detrimental for me. And researcher Gardner has found it’s more than just our bodies that have to be taken into account. “Health and weight are determined by diet, but also by lifestyle, psychology, and relationships. These categories don’t have firm borders; they bleed into one another. And all these confounding factors make it tricky to separate the signal from the noise when looking for correlations between food and health.” (4)
Because nutritional needs are so individual and so tied in to the lives we lead, taking a humble approach seems best. I no longer advocate a particular diet as best, since I’ve proven with my own body that there is no such thing. Regarding the ponies, a humble approach means letting the ponies participate in the decision-making process about their diet. Bringing more minds to the problem nearly always creates a better result.
- Johnson, Nathaniel. “Food Confusion,” Stanford Magazine, Stanford Alumni Association, Palo Alto, California, July/August 2013, p. 41.
- Johnson, p. 40.
- Same as #1.
- Same as #1.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013