May 15, 2011

Caveman diaries, Part 2

Accustomed as I am to writing about the General Theory of Everything, I probably need some sort of transition to the self-indulgence (or -denial) of writing about a diet. So I'll fall back on Voltaire's useful admonition: "Cultivate your own garden." Covered that.

He was using "garden" more generically, I presume, although who knows. The French have always delighted in gourmandish habits. Anyway, the idea behind the paleolithic diet is pretty simple once you think about it. Building on an idea first popularized by Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape, paleo-nutrition is premised on evolutionary theory, and I apologize immediately to any Red State readers who must now resume watching prosperity-televangelism, starring Joel Osteen as the toothy Charlatan of Christ. Anyway, the hominid known as homo sapiens has been in its present upright, too-smart-for-its-own-good form for about two million years; however, agriculture has only existed for about 12,000 years. The Paleo-advocates reason that insufficient time has elapsed during the age of agriculture for any serious genetic adaptation to the new farm diet to have evolved, much as Morris a generation ago mused about the difficulties of the inner primordial man trying to make his way in the age of television and nuclear families.

Here then is the controversial part: what did humans eat in the prior 1,988,000 years? Since I'm sitting before this iMac, I can logically deduce that they must have eaten something, and it wasn't Oscar Mayer baloney on Wonder Bread with a dab of Best Foods mayo. Also, if you subscribe to the ideas of natural selection, one would also conclude that homo sapiens thrived or died based on adaptations to the available sources of nutrition. Thus, the hunter-gatherers who preceded in world history Con-Agra and Archer Daniels Midland killed animals and gathered plant material as they could find in nature. The animals included big game, small game, fish, shell fish, but also insects, worms, and other things not ordinarily found in the aisles of Safeway. The plant material included fruit, leaves, berries and other edible stuff. Dietary anthropologists have also determined that pre-history Man ate the whole animal which he killed, including all of the organ meats and the bone marrow; thus, our ancestors were not grading meat based on its fat content. Indeed, the more the merrier (and greasier).

The healthiness and naturalness of such a diet have been considered many times in the confrontation between "advanced" Western culture and aboriginal tribes, such as Dr. Albert Schweitzer's and Sir Albert Cook's experiences with West African tribes, which spanned decades from the pre-World War I era to the 1950's. While the African natives suffered routinely from infectious diseases such as dysentary, malaria, leprosy and skin ulcers, the "Western diseases" of diabetes, obesity, cancers of the alimentary tract, Alzheimer's, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease were virtually unknown. Schweitzer was almost retired in Gabon before he saw his first case of diabetes or colon cancer in an African. The distinction between the diseases of Western man and aboriginal immunity to such ailments has been repeated many times when West meets the native, such as the natives of South Africa, Native Americans (including the Eskimo, who naturally did not acquire heart disease even on a diet of 90+% blubber, the high-fat diet non pareil), the South Sea islanders and the Australian and New Zealand aborigine.

Agriculture of wheat and other cereal grains, rice, corn, and cane & beet sugar, when coupled with modern means of milling away the bran made possible by the Industrial Revolution, gave rise to the Age of the Refined Carbohydrate of the Western diet. Refined flour and sugar had enormous advantages, since they were easily stored and shipped dry and would keep until ready to poison the innards of those eating them.

The question presented is whether the refined carbohydrate has given rise to the full range of Western diseases noted above. This, and other questions, are explored by Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories. As I said before, the so-called Carbohydrate Hypothesis (which is further broken down into schools of thought which emphasize the role of fructose versus glucose) has a lot of research and good science behind it. The Saturated Fat chorus has a lot of Big Money, including Merck, General Mills, Big Ag, the AMA and American Heart Association, and the United States Congress behind it. The victory of Money over Science can be determined by the stark reality that the United States is now the fattest country on the face of the Earth.

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John10:42 AM

    Could it be that Schweitzer, et al. didn't observe "the 'Western diseases' of diabetes, obesity, cancers of the alimentary tract, Alzheimer's, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease" among the aborigines because they didn't live long enough to contract these disorders, which are typically age-related?