Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Are we being myopic?

I'm going to forward the premise that for all of human history until the last ~ 100 years, the presence of some visible body fat was a widely accepted indication of both health and wealth.  And now we elevate for acclaim body shapes that would have (historically) been signifiers of malnourishment.

Don't get me wrong - I understand that there are many robust studies linking high percentages of body fat to increased rates of heart disease and stroke - but there also seems to be ongoing controversy and debate as what the optimal diet is for folks (or even if there is one optimal diet for all folks).

The last three decades of "low fat" diets seems now to have only pushed people to eating other foods with high energy density, such as high sugar and high carbohydrate options.

I know that several of my regular readers will have immediate and strong reactions to this suggestion, but I keep returning to the idea of a diet based on a pre-industrialization supply of foods.  Let me explain:

My theory runs that there is an ideal mix of those three macro-nutrient categories (fats, proteins, and carbs) that in their most "naturally" occurring forms will gives us the best basis for a healthy diet.

Industrialization and science have allowed us efficiently to separate those macro-nutrients into "convenient" and concentrated forms mostly divorced from their original source.  Think of orange juice versus oranges: the amount of fruit sugars a person can consume in a single glass of OJ at breakfast may be equivalent to the juice content of 3 - 4 oranges; had that same person sat down to eat those oranges, the experience of peeling and eating, along with the consumption of the fibrous bits, would likely have limited the overall take of those fruit sugars (also, the fiber consumed would affect the processing of those sugars.)

The same effects appear on the fats side; butter and olive oil and frying oils separate naturally occurring fats from their context, allowing for incredible concentrations at the election of the food prep person.

Proteins seem a little more difficult to separate in this way unless you are willing to drink muscle builder shakes or eat "protein bars", but the idea holds in general that we have attempted to carve out the protein components to dial in to a much more targeted consumption.

It's at this point in the discussion that the "whole foods" folks chime in that their philosophy proceeds from these ideas, that consuming whole and / or minimally processed foods (mostly fruits and veggies) addresses the need for macro-nutrients in context.  And I agree.

But I also wonder sometimes about our modern ability to source any food we want in huge quantities and with relatively little effort.  I think about the current craze for fish proteins and fish oils, and I compare our access at the grocery store to some intense fish diet culture who historically devoted considerable energy resources to finding, catching, cleaning, and cooking those fish.  I think about the pile of avocados at my local grocery, definitely grown and harvested and transported from a great distance, and yet I can take in that concentrated load of healthy fat and fiber in 10 minutes and for an all-in investment of $2-$3.

I'm realizing now that this is going long and rambly...I'll cut it off with a final comment that I want to eat more foods with healthy chunks of naturally occurring fats, proteins, and carbs.

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