How Important Is Your Primary Food?


Thanksgiving is almost here! Are you looking forward to it, or does thinking of it make you nervous? It is a festive Holiday, so it should be fun, but if anxiety is involved, you might need to dig in deep to understand what is going on. Otherwise no matter how hard you try to be happy at the party, your health may be affected by your emotions…

If you’ve been through my website, you’ve read about “Primary Foods” and “Secondary Foods”. At IIN (the School for Integrative Nutrition), this is one of the first concepts that is taught. Primary foods are all those things that nourish us beyond the plate – our relationships, careers, education, physical activity, and spirituality – the areas of life that feed us on other levels, but are just as critical to our health. Secondary foods are the vegetables, proteins, oils, and other foods that we eat to create energy in our bodies. Secondary foods provide nutrients to our bodies, but don’t give us the joy, meaning or fulfillment that primary food provides.

As IIN teaches, “When primary food is balanced and satiated, your life feeds you, making what you actually eat secondary.” This is where the distinction between primary and secondary foods arises. Essentially you need both to feel great!

So, my new friend Yoshi forwarded me an interesting article about the “Roseto Effect”. Some of you know about this study. I was really fascinated with what the researchers discovered in Roseto, Pennsylvania because their finding is exactly about this primary food concept.

The study was about the general health of people living in the small town of Roseto, PA. They are Italians (from Roseto Valfortore, Italy) and “smoked old-style Italian stogie cigars. Both sexes drank wine with seeming abandon. Rosetan men worked in such toxic environs as the nearby slate quarries …inhaling gases, dusts and other niceties. Rosetans fried their sausages and meatballs in lard. They ate salami, hard and soft cheeses all brimming with cholesterol.” So, you think “are they researching on unhealthy people?” Actually, it is totally opposite. Rosetans were the healthiest people in the United States at that time.

They found out “Virtually no one under 55 died of a heart attack; for men over 65, the death rate from heart attack was half that of the United States as a whole; and the death rate from all causes was 35% lower than it should have been. There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and little crime to speak of. No one was on welfare and no one even suffered from peptic ulcers. These people died of old age. That’s it! “

Do you know why they are healthy? Obviously, it is not the diet. So the researchers decided to look into their family genes and studied other immigrants from the same region, Roseto Valfortore, Italy who were living in different parts of the United States. However, they didn’t find any gene related connections because the health of those Italians was not any different from average Americans. Then the researchers investigated the “water supply” and “quality of medical care” if they were superior to others. However, “Roseto’s water source was the same as the neighboring towns of Nazareth and Bangor. As well, all three communities shared the same hospital.”

So, what was the key element for the Rosetan to be healthy? The answer is their primary food, their relationships and spirituality. “Rosetans, regardless of income and education, expressed themselves in a family-centered social life. There was a total absence of ostentation among the wealthy, meaning that those who had more money didn’t flaunt it. There was nearly exclusive patronage of local businesses, even with nearby bigger shops and stores in other towns. The Italians intermarried in Roseto, from regional cities in Italy. Families were close knit, self-supportive and independent, but also relied…in bad times…on the greater community for well-defined assistance and friendly help.”

“Rosetans visited each other on a daily basis stopping to chat or cooking for each other in the backyard. Extended family clans were the norm, with three generations commonly living under the same roof. There was an enormous respect commanded by the grandparents who were part of the clan. They went to Mass and saw the calming and unifying effect of the church. There were 22 civic associations in a town of less than 2000 people. The Rosetans had created a social structure which insulated them from the pressures of the modern world. They were healthy because of where they were from and the world they had created for themselves.” Pretty amazing isn’t it?

Do you know how sure these are the reason why they were healthy? It is actually a sad truth but Rosetans health has deteriorated as they have become more Americanized (meaning less close, less modest and less interdependent). In 1992, the American Journal of Public Health published that the Rosetans now suffer equally from the ravages of heart disease as every other town does, in the vicinity or not.

The researchers who covered the town from 1935-1984, Stewart Wolf and John Bruhn published a book called “The Power of Clan”, and say in the book “The magic of Roseto was the total avoidance of isolated individuals crushed by problems of everyday life. Rosetans didn’t feel isolated or crushed, rather they avoided the internalization of stress. Stability and predictability…hardly Americanized virtues…even in the early years, was life soothing, hence life lengthening.

We live a more stressful life than ever, more social pressure, more demands from work, yet your paycheck hasn’t increased more than 10%, etc… Yet you don’t have any places to connect or belong to at a deeper level. Many people see psychologists, psychiatrists, or other therapists to get help. I am sure they are helpful but not many people I know are… You can get a massage, go to the beach, be in a nature, meditate, or other activities that make you feel less stressful. However, now I am not sure how those deeper these activities can protect you like how Rosetan’s way of life did for them. After all we cannot live alone and are longing for love, aren’t we?



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