We live in a paradox. Our lives are easier, more convenient and abundant, but yet we suffer from serious and growing degenerative diseases. Our abundant lifestyles do not support the physical bodies we have inherited from our Paleolithic ancestors. In Part 1 I discussed the role fitness plays in combating modern illnesses. Here I will discuss the role proper nutrition plays in regaining our ancestral health.
What Is The Current State Of Our Health?
The situation is not good.
According to the CDC:
- About half of American adults (47%) have at least one of the following major risk factors for heart disease or stroke: uncontrolled high blood pressure, uncontrolled high LDL cholesterol, or are current smokers.
- Seven of the top 10 causes of death were chronic diseases. Two of these chronic diseases—heart disease and cancer—together accounted for nearly 48% of all deaths.(1)
According to the American Autoimmune and Related Disease Association some 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases like Hasimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.(2) About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. (3)
The International Diabetes Federation has declared “the battle to protect people from diabetes and its disabling, life-threatening complications is being lost.”(3)
Seduced By Our Instincts?
Rather than looking for some new scientific solution to our predicament, it may help to look back at our Paleolithic history. Evolution has provided us with all that we need to thrive. Oliver Selway in his Instinctive Fitness – A Re-evolutionary Approach to Diet and Exercise (4) puts it this way way:
“We shouldn’t be vainly searching for something ‘new’ to fight heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Instead we should simply look back to where we came from and re-discover what made our ancient ancestors supremely fit, healthy and disease free.” (p.276)
Unfortunately, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, while giving us so much, have thwarted essential human instincts. These instincts include craving sweet, salty and fatty foods. Humans evolved to seek out these rare foods and store them as energy. Most foods eaten by our ancestors were fibrous and bitter. In contrast, sweet, salty and fatty foods are now super abundant.
We are eating the foods evolution intended but in amounts beyond the body’s ability to cope. Food manufacturers discovered this inherited tendency and exploited it fully. Obesity rates, as a consequence, are soaring in the United States and throughout the world.
The result of this overabundance is a vast increase in lifestyle diseases. Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard, in his seminal book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease (5) gets at the root causes:
“Chief among these is that what matters is not only how much we eat but also what we eat and that our bodies are inadequately adapted to cope with relentless supplies of excess energy…” (loc. 4231)
Fat, Salt, Sugar & Abundance
What food manufacturers discovered is that people desire foods high in sugar, fat and salt. We are stimulated by these foods and want more. This creates a vicious cycle of craving valueless foods that displace the natural foods needed to supply the macro and micro nutrients essential for health.
David A. Kessler, the Harvard-trained doctor, lawyer, medical school dean and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, in his book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (6) holds that “…when the mix is right, food becomes more stimulating. Eating foods high in sugar, fat and salt makes us eat more foods high in sugar, fat, and salt.” (loc. 238)
A serious consequence is that we overeat. Junk food activates the brains reward system (the hypothalamus), initiating an addiction like process. Processed foods are designed to awaken our need to seek gratification through food. What this has this led to, according to Dr. Stephen Guyenet, (7) a neurobiologist and obesity researcher, is Americans eating 363 more calories each day than in 1960 with a dramatic increase in obesity and chronic disease.
Simply put, we have two problems: eating too much food and eating the wrong kinds of food. This is not related to a lack of individual will power, it’s based on our seduction and manipulation by industrial food manufacturers.
What Can We Do To Alleviate The Situation?
One possible solution is to take Oliver Selway’s (4) advice and look at our Paleolithic ancestors’ diet. But how can we know what people ate so long ago?
Archeological research has demonstrated the content of ancient diets through bone analysis. A review of archaeological evidence by M P Richards of the Department of Archeological Sciences at the University of Bradford in the UK has demonstrated that “bone chemistry, especially isotope evidence provides direct evidence of diets…” and “…studies of Upper Paleolithic modern humans in Europe have…indicated the significant importance of animal products in the diets…” (8)
Where Does This Leave Us?
Current nutritional research is supporting the idea that eating a diet that is lower in carbohydrates and has ample amounts of animal protein and fat is healthy and can stem the development of obesity, cardiovascular disease and potentially other degenerative diseases. Many media outlets, including Medpage Today (9) and the New York Times reported recently on a randomized trial by Dr. Bazzano of Tulane University that showed cutting down on carbs was more effective in reducing cardiovascular risk and promoting weight loss than eating a low fat diet. This was a ground breaking study. The low carb group had a reduction in nearly every marker for cardiovascular disease. Those eating low carbs:
- Lost more weight
- Had higher HDLs
- Lower triglycerides
- Greater decrease in C-reactive protein
What Might A Healthy Diet Look Like?
Given the current state of scientific nutritional research and the archaeological record, it seems safe to say that a relatively low carbohydrate diet with high protein and fat levels is healthy for us. Although we can’t mimic exactly what our ancestors ate, the low carb diet comes close enough.
Let’s look at what we need to eat.
Low glycemic vegetables, fish, meat (not processed meats), eggs, nuts and seeds, dairy products (full-fat), non-gluten grains and some tubers (sweet potatoes, etc.), some fruits such as berries and apples. Legumes can be eaten in moderation. Use olive oil for salads and light sautéing with avocado oil for frying. Sesame oil is also a good choice.
Make every attempt to purchase grass fed meat and organic vegetables and fruits. The nutritional quality of organic foods is far superior to those conventionally grown. Be mindful of mercury and other toxicities found in available fish supplies (Salmon and sardines are perfect).
What To Consider Avoiding
Eliminate processed foods to the extent possible. If it was made in a factory, don’t eat it.
Cut down or stop eating high glycemic foods, such as low quality fruit juices, sodas, etc., gluten based grains (wheat, barley and rye), Omega-6 vegetable and seed oils, trans fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (read the labels). I would eliminate artificial sweeteners and low fat products (skim and low fat milk).
Keep in mind that you need to experiment with foods to find out which are good for you and which are not. Each of us is an individual. One size does not fit all. Not everyone can flourish on a low carbohydrate diet.
No need to diet!
By eating low carb you will decrease the number of calories you take in and decrease the processed and high glycemic carbs that induce weight gain. You will not have to count calories while using this approach. There will be no need to diet. Coupled with the fitness plans discussed in Part 1, you will have begun the process of regaining robust and dynamic health naturally.
For a complete discussion of this issue access Chris Kresser’s blog: http://chriskresser.com/7-things-everyone-should-know-about-low-carb-diets.
Here are some good nutritional resources for low carb lifestyles and losing weight:
Please consult your health provider before making changes in your diet or activity levels.
In Part 3, I will discuss how modern stress compromises our health and the steps that can be taken to secure our genetic well being.
- Selway, O., Parker, C. Instinctive Fitness – A Re-evolutionary Approach to Diet and Exercise. (2013). Columbus Publishing Ltd.
- Lieberman, D. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease. (2013). Pantheon Books.
- Kessler, D. A. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. (2009). Rodale Books.
- Guyenet, S. [Ted,HarvardLaw – Stephan Guyenet – The American Diet.(2012, February 4). The American Diet. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HC20OoIgG_Y
- Richards, M.P. (2002) Meat Consumption: Evolution and Progress. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 56 (12). 1270-1278. Retrieved from: http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v56/n12/index.html
- Walsh, Nancy. “Low Carb Beats Low Fat for Weight Loss, CV Risk.” Medpage Today. 2 September 2014. Retrieved from http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Prevention/47447
Boy or Girl – Baby Gender Selection Issues
Some parents have the possibility to opt for gender selection; however, being able to decide whether to have a baby boy or girl is a controversial issue.
Many couples expecting a baby do not think it’s a big issue whether they have a boy or a girl; however there are several medical, social, and personal reasons that could influence parents to recur to some form of gender selection.
Like many other controversial practices, the legality of gender selection, also known as sex selection, varies from country to country.
The Legality of Baby Gender Selection
The United States has perhaps some of the most relaxed laws regarding baby gender selection in the world. Most European countries and Australia, on the other hand, have bans on sex selection and only allow it for medical reasons. For example, if a parent is a carrier of a mutation or gene with more chances of manifesting itself in a certain gender, baby gender selection is valid. However, if parents simply wish to balance the ratio of boys and girls in their family, they are not allowed to recur to sex selection.
This has generated a form of medical tourism in which couples from countries where gender selection is illegal, like the UK, travel to the US in order to be able to choose whether to have a baby boy or girl.
On the other hand, sex selection is illegal in the two most populated countries on Earth, China and India. In these countries, baby gender selection has been performed clandestinely for many years and for reasons other than family balancing or avoiding genetic diseases. In these societies, having a baby boy is preferred mainly for cultural and economic reasons. Parents believe that boys have better chances of earning income and eventually support them when they reach an old age.
Methods of Baby Gender Selection
There are two major types of gender selection methods: the first one is called sperm sorting, and involves separating X-chromosome sperm from Y-chromosome sperm by flow cytometry, a purification technique in which chromosomes are suspended in a stream of sperm and identified by an electronic detector before being separated. Intra-uterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization can then be performed with the enriched sperm. The success rates for this method vary from 80% to 93%.
The other method, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, consists in generating several embryos through in-vitro fertilization, which are then genetically tested to determine a baby’s gender. The chosen embryos can then be implanted. This method has a success rate of almost 100%; however, it can be quite expensive, costing up to $15,000.
Issues Regarding Baby Gender Selection
While there are few objections against baby gender selection when it is performed for medical reasons, it has become a highly controversial issue when it is used for balancing the number of boys or girls in families. Some people raise the obvious ethical question of whether people who opt for gender selection are “playing God” by manipulating whether to have a baby boy or girl. Others believe that new parents will raise a baby more appropriately if he or she belongs to their preferred gender.
Gender Imbalance Caused by Baby Gender Selection
Gender selection has caused demographic concern in China and India since it has contributed to generate a gender imbalance in the populations of those countries. In some regions of China, for example, the sex ratio for newborns is 118:100, boys to girls. This phenomenon has in turn been associated with social problems such as an increase in violence and prostitution.
It seems like a logical solution for governments around the globe to legalize baby gender selection but to analyze the personal reasons why each couple intends to select a baby boy or girl. Gender selection for medical reasons should even be encouraged, since it could prevent serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and Haemophilia A. Balancing the gender ratio of a family should be accepted if by doing this, a healthy family environment is created. On the other hand, China and India have shown that baby gender selection as a result of a bias towards a particular gender can not only create a gender imbalance in the population, but contribute to social problems as well.
Organic Certification: What the USDA Organic Label Means
- The Facts:
Organic and natural labels mean different things, and various types of labels tells you what percentage of ingredients are actually organic. We'll explore what to look for.
- Reflect On:
Do you sometimes buy products thinking they are organic or fully natural based on their wording? Have you later found out that those products aren't natural or organic at all? Read labels more closely at grocery stores to be aware.
Don’t get conned by fraudulent claims of “natural” or “organic.” Learn what to look for, and why it’s important, to ensure you’re getting the quality you are paying for.
The industrial age of the 20th century brought about changing agricultural practices that have generated increasing alarm about the effects of these practices on the environment and health. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, irradiated and genetically altered food and fiber products has created a groundswell of rightful concern. It has led to the growing demand for non-toxic, organic products that many are willing to pay a higher price for to ensure the healthful purity of food and clothing provided for their families.
With such profit opportunities, it’s little wonder that the lucrative organic product market has suffered abuse with so-called “organic” labels being fraudulently placed on products that have not earned the right. As a result of pressure from farming and consumer groups, legislation for the standardization of organic certification was introduced in the 1980s. It has been updated to include more vigorous enforcement and control methods since, with the current standards established in 2002 by the USDA.
The Standards of USDA Organic Certification
Specific standards must be met in order to legally claim a product as USDA certified organic. Organic producers must utilize methods that conserve water, maximize soil health, and reduce air pollution. The specific standards to earn USDA organic certification include:
• Free of synthetic chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and additives
• Free from irradiation and genetically modified organisms
• Agricultural products grown on land that has been free of prohibited substances for a period of three years
• Animals used for meat, eggs, milk or other animal products must be exclusively fed foods that are organically grown, may not be given antibiotics or hormones, and must have access to outdoors.
• Clean and sanitized harvesting and processing equipment throughout the process from harvest to finished, packaged product
• Detailed chain-of-handling records from the field through final sales
• Physical separation of certified organic products from non-organic products throughout the process of production
• Regular on-site inspections from USDA-approved inspectors to ensure compliance
Understanding the Certified Organic Label
Once the rigorous process of certification has been completed, organic producers may place the USDA certified organic seal on their products. Currently, there are four levels of certified organic products, with a specific definition of the percentage of organic ingredients the final products contains. They are as follows:
• 100% organic: all production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic.
• Organic: at least 95% of the production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.
• Made With Organic Ingredients: at least 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.
• No organic wording or seal: less than 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic and no claims may be made on the front or back of the product.
Manufacturers or producers who knowingly label a product “organic” when it does not meet the USDA standards are subject to fines up to $11,000 per violation.
Why Organic Certification is Important
When you see the official USDA organic certification seal on food, clothing, and bedding products, you can be assured that these products have met the meticulous standards required and are free of chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, and hormones. When you see the USDA certified organic label, you will understand the value of the higher priced organic products as compared to non-organically produced products.
With the current stringent organic certification requirements enforced by regular inspections from USDA accredited agents, the USDA certified organic label has great meaning and importance to the consumer. Look for the label to know that you are getting the quality you are paying for.
WHO Finds Global Lack Of Inactivity Rising Especially In Wealthier Countries — What You Can Do
- The Facts:
Inactivity is on the rise and it's the cause of a wide range of health concerns. Our population is only becoming more inactive, not less, and it's time to change that.
- Reflect On:
There are many factors of our modern world that make us less active. Our jobs, driving rather than walking/biking, too much screen time. What can you do differently to bring more activity into your life? What story stops you from starting?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than a quarter of the entire population on this planet are not getting enough physical exercise, this number has barely improved since 2001. There are many factors that contribute to this, but just how much damage are we doing by failing to be active?
The lack of physical exercise raises the risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and various types of cancers.
Interestingly, according to their study published in The Lancet Global Health, higher income countries, such as the UK, were among the least active population. Women were also found to be more sedentary throughout the world, excluding two regions in Asia.
The study looked at self-reported data on activity levels from 358 population based surveys covering 168 countries and included 1.9 million people.
The populations of higher income countries, which include the UK and USA showed an increase in the proportion of inactive people and had actually risen from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016, in the lower income countries it remained at 16%.
Those who were classified as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise and around 75 minutes of intense activity per week.
It was found that women were less active than men overall, except for in South and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and higher-income Western countries. The authors believe that this was caused by a few different factors including extra childcare duties and cultural perspectives that may have made it more difficult for them to exercise.
Why More Inactivity In Wealthier Countries?
According to the researchers, in the wealthier countries, many of the jobs have transitioned to more office or desk jobs, meaning a more sedentary type of lifestyle. On top of that much of the population of these countries drive automobiles or take public transit to and from work which in many cases accounts for a lot of their time.
In the lower income countries, many of the jobs require the people to be more active, are physically demanding and people often have to walk to and from their jobs.
The WHO has had a goal to reduce the global levels of inactivity by 10% by 2025, the authors of the study feel that at the rate we are currently going, this target will be missed.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Regina Guthold said, “Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health.”
Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.”
Co-author, Dr. Fiona Bull added, “Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable.”
According to the WHO,
Exercise guidelines for 19- to 64-year-olds
- at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week
- strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
- break up long periods of sitting with light activity
What is moderate aerobic activity?
- Walking fast, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground or with a few hills, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, volleyball, basketball
What counts as vigorous activity?
- Jogging or running, swimming fast, riding a bike fast or on hills, singles tennis, football, rugby, skipping rope, hockey, aerobics, gymnastics, martial arts
What activities strengthen muscles?
- lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, yoga
What activities are both aerobic and muscle-strengthening?
- circuit training, aerobics, running, football, rugby, netball, hockey
I was surprised to see that the WHO didn’t touch on inactivity due to too much screen time — watching television, Netflix, Facebook scrolling, messaging, texting, browsing etc. Certainly, the increase in screen time plays a roll with the amount of inactivity, especially in the higher income countries. If you are someone who spends too much time staring at a screen, then it is important to consider the above information. Can you limit your screen time and replace it with something active? Or would you consider jumping rope, or rebounding while watching the television? Our health is our greatest wealth and having awareness about an issue is the first way to create change and take responsibility for our lives.
Could you walk or bike to work instead of drive? What about trying a new sport? Could you commit to adding a few hours each week of physical activity? These small decisions could have a profound impact on your health, longevity and overall well-being.
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