Implications of the Western Diet

As many as 22 hominid species may have existed since the evolutionary split between hominins (modern humans and extinct human species) and pongids (sometimes called the great apes). No universal diet existed but rather varied by ecologic niche, season, geographic locale and availability of edible foods. Ethnographic data, isotopic studies and marrow extractions along with other studies indicate that in general, the diet was OMNIVOROUS consisting of minimally processed wild plants and animals. This diet was primarily frugivorous (fruit eater) with 3-5% animal foods but this increased to 65grams of animal protein daily in adults in the dry season.Additional studies show that gathered plant foods accounted for 26-35% of sustenance and that fished and hunted animal foods accounted for 56-65%. What is definitely known about this minimally processed omnivorous diet is the foods that could not have been eaten. Highly processed refined foods had not been present in those eras nor did these societies have the means to affect this. These societies were hunter gatherers. Yet fast forward to 10,000 years ago, and processed and refined foods begin to make their way into the western diet. These foods now comprise greater than 70% of the energy in typical western diets but were virtually unknown in ancestral human diets.

The processed and refined foods we speak of include breads, cereals, rice and pasta, dairy products, added salt, refined vegetable oils, refined sugars, processed meats and alcohol. And many of these account for the majority of food allergies seen in today’s population. What are the health implications of the introduction of these foodstuffs to Western Civilization? By default, the inclusion of these highly refined and processed foods DISPLACES minimally processed, wild plant and animal foods. To give background on this, remember that sheep, goats and cows were domesticated about 10,000 years ago. At the same time, wheat and barley was domesticated. Dairy came into use about 9,000 years ago and alcohol made its appearance about 7,000 years ago. The first salt mines were opened 6,000 years ago and sucrose came on the scene about 2,000 year ago. But it gets better. feedlot produced meats were introduced in 1858, refined grains in 1900, refined vegetable oils in 1918 and then came hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Oh and did I mention chronic disease?

As Neolithic and Industrial era foods displace the minimally processed wild plant and animal foods, they adversely affect the following nutritional factors: (1) the glycemic load of a food, (2) the fast acid balance, (3) the macronutrient balance, (4) the trace nutrient density, (5) the acid base balance, (6) the sodium/potassium balance and (7) the fiber content. This will and does cause metabolic anarchy in the body resulting in Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, dementia, stroke and cancer.

Cereal is a food that could not have been eaten by our ancestors. Yet the contribution of cereals to the total energy in the US diet is 24%! And 85% of all grains consumed are REFINED grains! And almost all refined grains have high glycemic indices. Rice Chex, corn flakes, rice Krispies, rice cakes pretzels, etc have glycemic indices above 75! High glycemic load carbohydrates like these promote diseases of insulin resistance. The Metabolic Syndrome, which is very prevalent in western society consists of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, dyslipidemia, obesity and sometimes gout. Refined and processed foods promote the chronic diseases of aging. Next time, we will discuss the other implications of highly refined and processed foods. In the meantime, please consider the evidence and try to eat responsibly. The health benefits are astounding!

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