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Posts Tagged ‘grain based diets’

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get started with this blog.  There are so many topics and ideas relating to good and healthy nutrition that the subject itself can (and does) feel very overwhelming at times.  One of the “Big Ideas” I keep coming back to, over and over, in terms of a “big-picture” look at the complexities of food, health, nutrition and the human condition, is the relationship between what we eat and our basic, genetic, anatomical and physiological make-up.  We actually are “designed” to run most effectively and efficiently on a very specific subset of nutrients that are in tune with the four million year old genetic template of our ancestors; nutrients that for most people in most cultures today are not fully present (and often-times almost non-existent) in the typical daily diet. 

 

There have been three major periods or “epochs” of human diet over the millennia, with as many combinations and permutations and cross-fertilizations as there are human cultures and groupings.  The first (and by far the longest and most influential in terms of our genetic connections with nutrition) is the time of the hunter-gatherer, roughly from about 4 million years ago to about 10 – 12,000 years ago.  This time period set the foundation for who we are as a nutritional species; what the needs are at the system, tissue and cellular level.  Nora Gedgaudas, in her recently published book, Primal Body—Primal Mind goes into great detail describing the nutritional-physiological relationship of our paleo ancestors.  Some 95+% of our genetic patterns are still based on this time period, and for the most part, they are extremely different from what most modern humans eat today.  By far and away the majority of foods and nutrient types that most people take in today were not available to our paleo ancestors, which means they were not available for the largest part of our genetic history.  This includes all dairy products, all cereal grains, all processed foods, most fruits and vegetables, most vegetable oils and almost all sugars and other sweeteners.  Essentially, what we’re eating today is alien to our systems.

 

The second dietary epoch started about 10,000 years ago with the agriculture revolution.  By domesticating animals and plants (especially dairy animals and cereal grains) our dietary input shifted markedly — and our physiology is still trying to catch up.  This was the first step in a long road to chronic disease and dysfunction.  Paleontologists and anthropologists have discovered that there was a significant decline in stature and bone structure of humans during the first part of the agricultural revolution, that parallels an increase in grain-based diets (see Cordain and others: Origin and Evolution of the Western Diet. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 2005).  Many people today suffer from conditions that result from allergies and reactions to various proteins and other substances in grains and dairy products that our paleo ancestors never experienced.  Ten thousand years seems like a long time, but in evolutionary terms, based on our four-plus million year old ancestry, it isn’t long enough for significant genetic change at the dietary level (Cordain et. al., 2005). Our digestive systems, our sugar-handling relationships, our immune responses, our hormones and our circulatory and nervous systems are all still trying to make sense (and not too successfully) of the major changes in diet experienced over the past 10 millenia. 

 

The last major dietary change (and by far, probably the most drastic) is extremely recent (mostly during the past 200 or fewer years) and has had the most telling and most deleterious impact on our physiology and our health.  This is the age of industrialized, processed, manipulated, adulterated ingredients that most people in the westernized world consume today.  Many, perhaps most, of these “food” items probably should not even be technically called foods – and the relative proportion of these altered nutrients is increasing in our diets at an exponential rate.  Dr. Weston Price, a dentist who witnessed first-hand the effects of modernizing diets on the tooth and jaw structure of his patients, ventured throughout the world in the 1930s comparing indigenous people eating their native and “primitive diets” with their neighbors, cousins, brothers and offspring who were assimilating western diets of processed and canned foods.  His studies and observations are some of the most powerful examples of the effects of diet and nutrition on the human body, mind and spirit.  See Dr. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration for a clear, enlightening (and yes, sad and sometimes frightening)  description of a major transition in our dietary history. 

 

I will go into much detail about this last dietary milestone, describing how what we eat (and sometimes how we eat) has led to the health and nutritional disasters of our time – and also, more importantly, how we can move back into balance with ancestral diets that are more in-tune with our genetics and biology.

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Imagine a time and a place when what we ate supported our natural and intrinsic health and vitality.  A place and a time where we (as a human population) were in balance with the nurturing products of nature in such a way that our physiological needs were essentially met; all of our biological systems (digestion, cardiovascular health, hormonal balances, fatty acid needs, etc.) were supplied with the correct nutrients for vital and long-lasting health.

For most of us, that time and place is hard to imagine; especially hard to imagine in a really personal and tangible way.  Our families, our peers, our cohorts and friends all seem to be touched (directly or indirectly) by one or more of the major maladies of modern culture – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, stress, etc., etc.  – to such a great extent that it seems to be part and parcel of our everyday lives.  It’s as if this were the “natural” condition.  And all of this, despite the fact that we “supposedly” have the most technologically advanced medical and health system the world has ever seen.  Most of us know that while we are told that “we are the greatest country in the world” over and over, and part of us actually believes it (or wants to), that there is something drastically wrong with the big picture; something askew between our supposed “abundance” and our ability to remain in balance with the sources of vital nutrition that are supposed to support us.

Now, imagine being blessed with all of the tools and techniques available that could quickly and easily determine the kinds of nutritional and physiological support that our bodies (and minds) need and want.  Tools such as the knowledge and connection with what our ancestors ate to remain in vital health and well being; methods of “asking” the body to give feedback as to what, specifically, is out of balance, and what kinds of nutritional support is required to re-balance it; tools that help us to tune into our behaviors, moods and emotional states in such as way as to determine, again, how to bring forth balance and vitality.  It’s my belief that we have all the tools (and then some) to move all of us into a better state of health and well being.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to explore the gap between the above first two paragraphs.  Was there a time when our ancestors were really in balance, nutritionally, with their environments in a long-term and sustainable way?  And if so, what has brought us to such a divergent outcome and what can we do to move back into balance?  Another purpose of this blog is to explore the resources we all have available to us to “turn things around” in our own lives and (hopefully) in the lives of those we are close to.

I would like to explore, partly, what brought us to where we are, and more importantly, to look at what we are able to change to “right the sinking ship” of poor health and dysfunctional physiological processes.  We’ll look at some of the major “myths”, stories and down-right lies about health and nutrition that have been created and perpetrated over time, at some of the specific tools that can help many to “rebalance” the ship, and at specific foods, herbs, supplements and “ways of eating” that can move us from dysfunction to wellness.

Please comment freely, ask questions and make specific requests for future topics.

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