The Diet Designed by Nature
30 Nov 2015
Almost everyone is concerned at least on some level with what exactly is going into their body from a dietary standpoint. We see evidence of this in the continuously booming industries of nutritional supplements, meal plans, and fad diets. If there is a marketing angle to be worked on nutrition, you can bet that somebody is out there working it. Even fast food chains are taking steps, at least superficially, to be more health and nutrition conscious.
To cut through the white noise that can be health and nutrition marketing, it’s often best just to simplify things and get back to basics. It can be important to remember that we are all just human beings. Like all living things, we human beings have been designed by nature to sustain ourselves in a certain way. The more we deviate from the foods and dietary habits that have sustained people for countless generations, the more complications are bound to ensue.
The impact of food on civilizations, societies and individuals throughout history is a truly fascinating topic. The vast majority of us living in the modern, developed world take for granted the fact that our access to various foods from around the globe is unmatched in human history and a luxury still foregone by many around the world today.
When we think of straying from the foods and nutrition nature intended, many of us think of microwave dinners and fast food, but we humans have been undergoing drastic dietary changes since long before the age of candy bars and pepperoni pizzas. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessarily modern chemicals and technology that is responsible for the nutritional complications that many people experience.
Most anthropologists agree that agriculture began as a means of consistent food production about 10,000 years ago. Scientists in the same field generally agree that fully modern human beings have been around for at least 100.000 years. Simple arithmetic then suggests that for 90% of human existence, people fed themselves with food that they hunted or gathered. The significance of the agricultural revolution lies not so much in the method of producing the food as the change in the types and amounts of food being consumed.
While the advent of agriculture paved the way for the development of great civilizations and empires, the nutritional implications of this dietary departure from the previous 90,000 years can be observed even today.
One example is the Incan Empire, arguably the greatest civilization of the ancient Americas. They are largely credited with the domestication of corn, which led to an explosion in their population. This is because the number of calories produced by a few acres of corn field dwarfs that which can be obtained by hunter gatherers from a few acres of even the most productive wilderness. While this was a significant benefit to the Incan Empire, it was also the catalyst for a major transformation in the dietary habits of Incan individuals.
Like the Ancient Egyptians, the Incas preserved the bodies of their dead, enabling their examination by modern anthropologists and archaeologists. Scientists observe profound physiological changes in Incan people immediately following the dramatic installation of corn as the nutritional cornerstone for all levels of Incan society. Examples include an increase in mineral deficiencies, a reduction in average adult height and, most astoundingly, the average number of dental cavities in an Incan adult abruptly increased from less than one to more than seven!
Therein lies the rub. When it comes to ideal nutrition, those of us living in modern times are engaged in the same struggle as the Incas were. The culture and population level of our society pushes food direction in a certain direction irrespective of what might be best for the health and wellness of the individual.
Check back with us next week for Part Two of this article, in which we discuss how being mindful of what ancient people ate can help us to establish ideal dietary habits in our modern lives.