“Natural Food” versus “Modern Food”
What will be the top global threats during the next century? I nominate climate change, terrorism, and the diabetes/obesity epidemic caused largely by modern food.
Yes, modern food, the majority of the foods in our grocery stores, and most meals in our restaurants, are the top cause of skyrocketing diabetes and obesity rates, in my view. Reductions in exercise over the past century are also to blame, but the doubling, tripling, and quadrupling of type 2 diabetes rates we’re seeing and anticipating around the world is mostly due to the radical change in what the human population eats. Human food has morphed so severely, due to food processing technology that caters to our love for sweet, starch, and fat, that our species is chronically ill everywhere modern food is found. We’re eating ourselves to death!
Most of what we eat is so far removed from the natural wild food our prehistoric ancestors ate – so much lower in fiber content, so much higher in caloric density, so much higher in sugar and starch content, so much higher in saturated fat content, so much lower in omega 3 fats, and so different in so many other ways – that our bodies become chronically ill after decades of such nutritional abuse.
To put our species’ current nutritional situation into context, consider the following perspective. For the first 99% of human existence, for 2 million years, humans have been eating a combination of lean protein and high-fiber fruits and vegetables derived from wild natural plants and animals. I’ll refer to this as the “Natural Human Diet”. We are genetically designed, through millions of years of evolution, to thrive on these foods. But when our eating became too different from the “natural human diet” KABOOM! Heart disease epidemic! Obesity epidemic! Diabetes epidemic!
For most of human existence, our beloved tastes (or cravings) for fat and sweet were crucial for survival. We’ve been genetically designed to conserve calories, store excess calories as body fat, and rest whenever possible, because we are genetically designed to survive in the wild, natural world. Our genes are the same as they were when we all lived outdoors and ate wild food. Ironically, these genetic traits that once favored our survival are the same traits that favor poor health in today’s modern environment!
Our initial departure away from the “natural human diet” started about 10,000 years (500 generations) ago, with the advent of primitive farming. This period of time may seem long to some folks, but in terms of human genetic evolution, this is a very short time. Not long enough to produce major genetic changes in the human population, meaning we are the same, genetically speaking, as people who lived hundreds of thousands of years before farming was invented.
Interestingly, our gradually increasing departure away from the natural human diet (and toward a grain-based society afforded by the agricultural revolution) did not lead us to the nutritional breaking point until recent decades. This raises the question: “If we’re genetically designed to eat like hunter-gatherers, why have hundreds of generations of humans been able to get away with eating a grain-based diet without the diabetes, obesity, and heart disease epidemics we’ve seen in the most recent generations?”.
Until recent times, the absence of modernization has made a grain-based diet viable. The relative scarcity of food and calories, the less sophisticated grain processing methods, the hard physical work of daily life, and the relatively short human lifespan, all served to mask the cumulative effect of eating starch-based foods throughout life. In my view, modern technology is the culprit that has turned our grain-based diet into the fuel that propels the diabetes, obesity, and heart-disease epidemics. For example, I suspect the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes in China, affecting all age groups, is due to the difference between a rice-based diet in modern versus pre-modern times.
In contrast, human groups who eat primarily wild, natural food t o this day, members of hunter-gatherer societies, do not develop the high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity seen in modern societies. When these people switch to a modern, grain-based diet, modern diseases come fast and furious, and these same diseases reverse in individuals who go back to their traditional hunter-gather routine.
So how should we eat in today’s modern world? Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Eating for Diabetes Reversal”.
- Michael Dansinger, MD
Read the entire series:
- “Natural Food” versus “Modern Food”
- A Spectrum Of Options
- The Tufts Popular Diet Trial
- Dating the Diets
- Caloric Density, Glycemic Load, and Saturated Fat: Key Players In Diabetes Reversal
- Dr. Dansinger’s Eating Strategy for Diabetes Reversal
- Sample Meals