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Thursday, March 21, 2013

More from Pollan

I'm back with a bit more from In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  In previous posts, I've written a kind of book report about this book.  I highly recommend reading it--I'm just touching on the highlights.  It really makes you change the way you look at the things you're eating.

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, Pollan goes into great detail of how the Western diet is the main cause of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, etc that are running rampant in this country. 

He tells of an study in Australia in 1982 where a group of 10 middle-aged, overweight and diabetic Aborigines that were living in Western Australia agreed to be a part of an experiment.  They moved from their "civilized" homes to the homes of their ancestors--back to the bush.  In a nutshell, after 7 weeks, all had lost weight, had lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides and increased omega-3 fatty acids.  In short, they became much healthier in an amazingly short amount of time.

Pollan writes:
What we know is that people who eat the way we do in the West today suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets.  We also know that when people come to the West and adopt our way of eating, these diseases soon follow, and often, as in the case of the Aborigines and other native populations, in a particularly virulent form....[W]hen one Western disease arrived on the scene, so did most of the others, and often in the same order: obesity followed by type 2 diabetes followed by hypertension and stroke followed by heart disease.
Welcome to our world. 

So why does this happen?  Basically, it's the processing of most of our foods.  During processing, food is made to last longer so it can be shipped and sit on store shelves.  But to do this, nutrients--the things that bugs and other pests are seeking out--are removed. 

The interesting thing is that studies show that there is not one ideal diet to follow.  There are cultures that eat virtually all meats and dairy.  There are those that eat a majority of seafood and little dairy.  Some have lived on a mostly vegetarian diet while others eat very little green vegetation.   Yet all these cultures and traditions result in people much healthier than we are.  The common thread that runs through all of these diets--the consumption of fresh foods, whether animal or plants, that are high in nutritional value. 

Again, Pollan:
The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them.
Next time, thinking differently about our food.

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