ARE YOU AN OMNIVORE?
Of course you are. An omnivore is a creature that eats ‘all’ (or ‘omni’) of the foods available. Carnivores eat meat, which means they have to live near prey animals to survive. Herbivores eat vegetable matter, which means they usually wander and migrate to take advantage of rainfall and its ability to grow plants. Simply put, herbivores use symbiotic bacteria for digestion of food, while carnivores use enzymes (from internal production and from eaten meat) for digestion. You use both enzymes and bacteria, and thereby have a wider choice of foods to eat because you can digest them. A lion is a carnivore. A steer is an herbivore. Pigs and chickens are omnivores like you. Just look into basic biology to find all the “-vores” on earth, but more important remember you are an omnivore. Your digestive system is designed for that. There is no science that is credible that denies this. The growing human population on earth is proof enough of the strength of this evolutionary fact. An omnivore is part of who you are.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
You have evolved to your present omnivore state as a species over at least 7 MILLION years. You started farming about 10 THOUSAND years ago, which is a blink of an eye in comparison. So, you are an omnivorous hunter and gatherer, not really a farmer. The industrial era is even shorter than the agrarian era. Technology as you know it is very new to you. Virtually all our DNA was in place BEFORE the agrarian age. Farming and food processing with technology are therefore only a very recent set of experiments. You probably are wondering how these experiments are doing.
IS MODERN FOOD OUR BEST BET FOR THE FUTURE?
Michael Pollan is a Professor at Berkeley and a famous author on modern food production. He has pointed out a lot about how these experiments are coming along. His conclusion (in books like ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and ‘The Botany of Desire’, etc.) is that we are not doing very well in producing food lately. Some of his findings are positively horrifying in fact. We have been doing these intensive food modifications over the last 100 years, and there are very ominous growth rates of chronic diseases that seem to accompany these modifications. We do very well reducing the cost of food, while disease care costs are climbing exponentially. Certainly diabetes Type 2 and obesity can be related to food, at least. Perhaps heart disease and cancer as well.
The latest World Health Organization forecast for chronic diseases in 2030 indicates no slowdown of chronic disease. Infectious diseases are forecast to be reduced, but WHO expects no progress on the chronic diseases. Killers such as heart and vascular deterioration, stroke, diabetes, cancer and arthritis and other such chronic problems are projected to grow. All the billions of dollars spent in research so far seems to be yielding nothing on which we can depend in the way of progress.
The longest ever recorded life span for human beings approaches 140 years among the Hunza people in the Himalayas. The modern world does not enjoy this kind of life span. Why? Food supply between the two locations is very different, but the medical care in the modern world is thought to be far superior! It would appear that medical care has little to do with a long healthy life for our species. Food is much more potent in extending healthy life span if you consider these facts. Beyond that, the life expectancy (predicted life span) for citizens of the US was reduced by one month for the first time ever in October of 2010. Is our food supply actually getting less healthy for us? Organ replacement is becoming more common and this may help, but eradication of chronic deadly disease is forecast to continue to elude us. Even if the lifespan numbers are approximate, this is a remarkable state of affairs. Something seems gravely wrong, doesn’t it? Could your food be wrong for you? It appears it may be.
Unfortunately all we know about these chronic diseases is that they are occurring, and seem to be reaching epidemic proportions. We do not know enough about their root causes to have cures or preventive methods for them. We do know, for small pox, tuberculosis, malaria and polio for example, enough to deal with their bacterial causes and remedies. But no one knows the real causes of chronic heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. We may know proximate causes, the last things that preceded their onset, but not the whole chain of causation back to where we can count on prevention advice. Worse yet, we seem to be looking for drugs that will cure them, based on statistical observations of groups of people. This gives you statistical chances, or ‘odds’ as they say at the race track. You can only bet on this work, not count on it. Statistical analysis is a useful shortcut to the unshakeable truth, but the margin of error is very wide. Laboratory demonstrations helped us find real cures for most infectious diseases because the microbes involved became visible as microscopes, laboratory techniques and equipment improved. We have not improved our methods for biochemical demonstrations enough to conquer human chronic diseases as they develop within the human body however. It also takes a lot of time and resource to do this work.
If you knew the whole story of a disease, rather than just the nearest cause and its chances of happening to you, better decisions as to what action to take would be obvious to you. The whole story is what Louis Pasteur uncovered for rabies vaccinations, and what Dr. Fleming did for penicillin. You can deal with infectious diseases because science was applied. This is the success part of modern science. It was the ‘miracle drug’ era that had hard evidence that looked just like miraculous cures for infectious disease, and in fact was.
What we seem to do now with chronic diseases is rush to market with drugs that have a chance of working. No one sells sure cures to you. Most drugs come with a piece of paper called the ‘package insert’. One of its main purposes is to explain what the chances of the drug working are, and what the side effects might be. This seems to be a kind of apology to you for not having finished the full scientific research necessary to prevention or cure.
The reason for this shortcut process lies in the trail of money of course. That is what steers us to do what we do. The cost of doing the full science in research is too expensive for the drug makers, and not enough independent pure research money is available to solve this problem. In free economies, the first step in becoming a true scientist seems to be to take a vow of poverty.
So you are left with really big questions about the role of food in our chronic disease increases. Is our food supply experimentation actually helping you or hurting you? Michael Pollan calls this the ‘omnivore’s dilemma’. Is your food cheaper at the expense of life span and disease care costs later in life? Since you have to live now, and will not get definitive sure cure information from anywhere, you might as well take on the problem directly yourself. Make your own decisions about what to eat. Your body will probably give you better information than anyone else can supply you. If it is a bet and not a sure thing, why not make the best bet you can by yourself by learning as much as you can and taking charge? At least it will be your best intelligent bet.
ARE YOU STILL EATING AS AN OMNIVORE?
A close look at our food today would say we are not eating like omnivores now, even though we have always done so for millions of years previously. We do not hunt as we used to. We gather, but only what is presented to us in stores. We don’t know where our food actually comes from any more.
In the last 70 years or so, three examples of massive change in our diet in the modern world have been so great they are hard to ignore. First, our meat animals have been switched over to a largely grain based diet instead of grass. As a result steers mature in 17 months, about half what they used to, but the meat contains a different mix of nutrients. Pigs don’t dig up food from the ground any more, they are fed corn and other waste mixtures. Chickens don’t peck the ground now, we actually cut off their beaks so they can’t fight each other in the cages we keep them in. We feed them grain and other products. They, like pigs, are another omnivore no longer eating as an omnivore. They grow fast but the meat has changed for the worse. Are we eating the animal protein we always have? Not now.
Second, fat consumption has gone up in the modern world, and almost all of it is polyunsaturated fat from grain and vegetable sources, not saturated fats from animals. These fats are consumed today at a rate four times the rate of 70 years ago, when vegetable oils were used in paint and varnish primarily. They are cheaper, but certainly not traditional.
Third, we get our sugar from grain now in the form of mostly maltose. This sugar has replaced fruit sugar, or sucrose, because it is cheaper. But the new sugar has twice the glycemic index, or impact on our blood sugar balance, as the old. It is cheap, but not what we are used to eating to fuel our bodies with energy.
Changing these foods back to where they were would make a difference no doubt. But what would your best strategy be overall? You need to think changes through to avoid increasing your risk. You need a thought out strategy.
WHAT STRATEGIC TOOLS DO YOU HAVE?
1. You are free. The good side of this is that you have the right to take full responsibility for your own health without interference. No government, doctor or richer person can force you to eat what you choose to avoid.
2. You have the internet. Look for some answers there. Watch out because some of the answers on the internet are grossly misleading. Don’t think for a minute that it is just Wikipedia that is the problem because anyone can modify the information in it. Most available medical research can be misleading also. Just ask Dr. Ioannidis (he works in Greece at the moment). He was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association several years ago. He studies all the research done in medicine worldwide to estimate its accuracy. He found an error rate of 80% in the medical studies that were published for us all to read which were done without statistical care. This is the largest group of studies. Of the next largest group, those done with certain statistical improvements, 25-40% still contained grossly wrong conclusions. Even the very large ‘golden’ studies (rare) had wrong conclusions 10% of the time. Doctors in general agree with this, and realize it in the daily frustration of dealing with individual patients. (See The Atlantic magazine for November, 2010.) You haven’t heard much about this because our institutions are very concerned about maintaining medical credibility in the public. They want to protect medical procedure acceptance for those procedures which do in fact work. Dr. Ioannidis disagrees. He thinks you are smart enough to handle the truth. He is never embarrassed by truth. So what good is the internet? It is an excellent tool with which you can learn to recognize good science from bad or unfinished science. Don’t forget to search for helpers like Dr. Ioannidis, too.
3. Your own body will tell you when it is happy if you listen. After our decades of consultation with thousands of people on two continents, we are astounded at how rarely people will believe the signals their own unique bodies send them every day. They defer in a very docile way to doctors, magazine articles and the advertising on our public media. Please realize that you do not really have a choice for better information than from your own body. Good doctors will look first at your body for clues. They do not prejudge diagnosis before you arrive. You can do the same thing. You live with your body much more than the Doctor does. There is no better source of information about your health than your body. Listen to it, its information is available nowhere else.
4. Natural food experiments are hardly ever fatal. Students eat goldfish, aborigines eat meal worms, and a human baby will try to eat anything. They all survive. Try natural foods courageously. Try natural foods to see what your body does with them. Learn by doing, and believe what your body says about what you are doing. You are an omnivore, test the limits of it, remembering not to do this with foods made or modified by man.
5. There is a bit of true science around to count on. Most of it is hard to find, but it is useful.
6. You have never had more food available in the western world than now. I think you will agree you have too much. Getting food is not our problem, but choosing the right food is, along with getting it to everybody on the planet.
WHAT IS THE OMNIVORE’S SOLUTION?
So you do have some strategic tools. If you have courage to act on your own, you can implement a strategy for yourself. What makes sense?
First, let’s not expect answers to everything. You are in a world of uncertain truth about nutrition so you need humility and courage to succeed. There will never be an end to your discovery, or your need for more truth. Just ask any true scientist. Let’s get over that and push on regardless, on your own. Be skeptical, but forge ahead and learn true from false as best you can.
Your courage will not be tested very hard in the beginning. That will happen when and if you ever get seriously ill. You might lose confidence in our own ability to deal with disease. With courage, you will have prepared to recognize true answers from false ones without faith in somebody else’s proclamations. Stick to them in what you do now, and in what help you may ask for in the future.
Next is to accept that our evolved bodies are well equipped to survive. The best source of health and healing for the human body is the body itself. Respect your body as the best servant to your health, happiness and longevity. Your body uses your DNA as a resource for survival, just as it uses food that is available if it can. You are not doomed by your DNA at birth, you are enabled by it. Become an ally of your own body in what you eat. Eat to release your body’s full potential.
What follows then is that you should eat to arm your body to serve your health, happiness and longevity. How do you do this?
Choosing food is the problem element of your strategy, and you need to know which nutrients are in which foods, and as you experiment with foods, let your body tell you which foods in which combination seem best. You can adjust as body signals change and as time goes on. A daily food diary helps.
Choosing food is actually pretty simple. You need protein, fats and carbohydrates. Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen are the chemical bases for your food, and fall neatly into those three categories. The only major exception is nitrogen, which is the sign of protein in food. You can add minerals, vitamins, and enhancing substances later if you first get protein, fats and carbohydrates right. They are the main event, and longer term you can address trace elements you need. Let’s worry about calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, etc. later.
THE KEY TO THE OMNIVORE’S SUCCESS
The hard questions are which proteins, which fats, and which carbohydrates are best for you? Foods vary widely in their content of types of nutrients. You have to find the right ones. Fortunately, you have some pretty big clues for that. If you start with the 7 million years of our evolution that scientific study of our evolution (paleoanthropology) has made so clear, especially over the last 30 years, some good answers start to emerge. Test them in your own body to see what fits you uniquely. All this is from the true sciences of biology and paleoanthropology, not from statistical studies of various groups of human beings.
You are an omnivore hunter, so what do you hunt? The answer is furry, herbivorous, warm blooded animals. They are prey for humans. They live in our environment, and at about our body temperature too. Carnivores prey on them with you, but you do it differently. You do not have fur, claws, fangs, or blinding running speed over the ground as carnivores do. You are a naked ape, who can trot or run for long distances instead, and you kill from afar, not ‘up close and personal’. You have a big toe on the front of your foot for running; our predecessor primates have one on the side for climbing. Your teeth include grinding molars for eating more than meat, while your fangs and incisors are very small. Naked as you are you can chase wounded game over long distances and they succumb to heat first because they have fur and you don’t. You can wound them, run after them, and collect them for food. Your shoulders contain modified rotator cuff structure so you can throw things; many more things than baseballs. You can pick up a rock and throw it accurately to kill or wound a rabbit, and best of all you have a huge brain that allows you to figure out how to shorten the distance between you and prey and how to enhance your killing tools. There is no conceptual difference between early man throwing a rock at a rabbit, and a farmer hunting with a rifle. The same human brain is the key to both. Weapons have always been improved by humans since the spear. Your style is still to kill from afar. You clearly evolved around furry herbivorous animals, be they rabbits in the desert, or mammoths in the polar regions, or steers slaughtered and dressed by people today delivering food to your door.
What did you do with hunted animals? You ate them. You ate all parts of them. Organ meat, muscle meat, milk, boiled bones for gelatin and marrow, and the saturated fat that is part of them. No oils, just saturated fats. Your brain allowed you to figure out how to eat animals with the help of knives, cooking, boiling water and so forth to make up for our tooth structure, freeing that anatomy to enable chewing of fruits, tubers and vegetables. You discovered that saturated animal fat is a preservative since it doesn’t rot as fast as above ground plants which don’t contain saturated fat. Prey animals convert those plants into saturated fats for you. You used it to mix with other foods for storage. Native Americans call that mixture of fat with meat, berries, nuts, etc. pemmican, the original fast food for humans. You could carry it in your belt pouch and munch on it while traveling for days and never stop at McDonalds. Without the saturated fat, it would rot. Eating the saturated fat also gives you an alternate source of energy since our bodies can do that conversion.
What about gathering? You clearly gathered lots of food. Fruits and berries had to be first on the list, they are favored by you and the other primates on earth even today, and you brought those with you out of the trees as you evolved. Eskimos know all about berries, and, they can freeze them to store them. Further south you evolved on honey too. It stores well for the bees and for you even at higher temperatures. Fruit and honey is where you got the glucose intake to support your huge brain, which runs on glucose. You got glucose from fruit/honey sugar or sucrose. (Sucrose is glucose plus fructose.)
Some vegetables are fruits and some are leaves. Above ground versions of those are easy to gather but seasonal and dependent on rainfall. They had to be eaten seasonally since they rotted very fast after picking. You eventually figured out how to use ice in the summer and canning for storage of foods, but not until very late in your evolutionary history.
Below ground vegetables and tubers, on the other hand, were stored by nature not you, and you could gather them during dry seasons if you remembered where they were growing in the wet seasons. Potato, taro root (poi), turnips, jicama, carrots, beets, rutabagas, and the like had to be very important to you. When the seasonal fruits were not in season, you could dig up underground vegetables and survive. There are some true science experiments in hand today that indicate that you use the same armaments in your digestive systems that below ground vegetables use in defense against fungi, microbes and wrong bacteria in the soil. These storable vegetables had to be important to you, and supplemented your hunting. Archeology shows that early tribes of humans buried stocks of corn below ground as a storage strategy that preceded ice and was an alternate to drying. The root cellar was our first impulse, borrowing from nature. The naturalist Colin Turnbull studied rain forest native tribes and desert native tribes. These storage strategies became obvious to him. He also discovered that above ground, bad tasting leaves and the soil itself, eaten with water, were last resort emergency foods for the desert tribes when droughts went on too long. Rain forests didn’t induce this kind of extreme but food storage was needed everywhere.
A big brain is a metabolically expensive organ to have, but it enables the kind of reliable food storage technology necessary to sustain it, no matter what the climate. You can figure out how to gather and store foods that work for you.
Gathering also had to lead to eating shellfish, and eventually to the other tricky brain teaser, fishing, and you were back to hunting again, even under water.
Furry herbivorous animals, shellfish, underground vegetables and fruits in season have to be the best foods for you. Grains, nuts, seeds and leafy aboveground vegetables are back up foods, or supply condiments for your meals. Note that even today, in places famous for vegetable diets, meat is present in the food supply. This is the universal history of man. India, for example, is importing dramatically more meat as food, adding it to the very many vegetable diets traditional there. This is a matter of choice as the economy grows in India, and the affordability of foods allows access to more animal protein. The sacred cows are not being slaughtered, as far as we know, but India is acting like a nation of omnivores, not some other species. Hindu and Muslim traditional specific food prohibitions will remain, but meat will be eaten when people have the capability to gather it, if not hunt it.
What nutrients comprise this factual truth about human history and evolution? Knowing a little of the chemistry of the body helps validate the diet advice we have so far.
Here is the gist of it what we need:
Proteins: We use protein amino acids as the basic building and repair material of our tissues. 22 protein amino acids from herbivorous animals if you include muscle meat, organs and bones/tissues. Only 14 or so dominate the muscle meat, so that is not enough for you.
Fats: A ‘cocktail’ of fats, primarily animal fats, primarily saturated fat, smaller amounts of unsaturated fats such as those in modern vegetable oils. You can make the polyunsaturated fats you need from food, notably Omega 9. We use all fats as part of our tissue repair work, and as a reserve fuel that can be stored for longer stamina. Some trace nutrients also require fat to dissolve easily in the body.
Carbohydrate: First fruit sugar/honey (sucrose), followed by complex carbs from underground vegetables including other glucose compounds, and topped off by seasonal availability of above ground vegetables. (perhaps 1 to 3 servings per day?) Sucrose is the prime source of our energy for all purposes the body has for it. Glucose is what actually is used, and without it, you die quickly. Sucrose is the best form of it, since the fructose in it controls the reaction of our body to glucose, keeping the effect of it positive, not negative. Just plain glucose, as in many other sugars, can imbalance your body.
There were no drugs for most of your evolutionary life, except for ones found in nature and tested on enough individuals to become part of oral folklore over generations. Shamans and medicine men did experiments, not statistical studies of groups of people. You learned to prevent disease through food and experience. If it worked on your body, you used it. Survival meant not relying on statistics or betting on odds. Lately you have forgotten this major part of our evolutionary history.
You will notice that today’s public fear of animal protein is not supported by this evolutionary reality. Neither is fear of saturated fat. Nor is fear of sucrose (fruit sugar) as our primary source of glucose. These fears have been stimulated in the efforts to cheapen our food supply by artificially extracting nutrients from grain and hydrocarbon commodities like petroleum. Producers of the new less expensive substances would have you believe that they are better than those from natural food, or at least more profitable, and also ignore the complex interaction of all the nutrients in the food as they interact in our bodies. Study of these interactions is hard to do, and expensive, and rarely done at all.
Natural salt and fructose (the other constituent of sucrose that regulates the human impact of the glucose in sucrose) are next on the list for demonization, if you pay attention to current publicity. Both are current targets for artificial replacements. You will see ‘nutra-salt’ products replacing natural salt as did nutra-sweets for sugar, and you will see drugs for controlling blood sugar levels rather than just eating appropriate fruits for the fructose in them. These new products will probably be petroleum derivatives just like the long line of drugs and food additives before them or they will come from grain sources. Fears will be stimulated in the public about salt and fructose to drive the market to high volumes for these new products, with very shaky scientific information, but very effective marketing methods.
You will also realize that your strategy for good human food to arm your body is to eat in ways opposite to current ambient opinion. This serves further to focus the obvious. We all need more true science on food selection and its impact on human biochemistry. We cannot
continue to spend billions of dollars on studies of groups of people yielding only statistical information that leads to usually false conclusions and new drugs and food additives.
You need science to focus on foods you evolved on, to make them affordable without convenient replacement from cheap commodities and unfinished science.
How about growing your own food using your own knowledge to do so? Can’t that be part of your personal strategy? Michael Pollan did it, why not you? You might even try to feed your own chickens as the omnivores they are, instead of the vegetarians the food industry has declared them to be. You can find out how they do, what a good egg is, and how chicken really tastes. Your body will tell you
that, so let it.
If you don’t live in the country, perhaps seeking out friends who do would help you. Go to the local Farmers Market and for fun follow some of them home to see how they grow the food you get from them.
Let’s summarize the simple strategy:
• Take personal control of your own nutrition, really. Don’t abdicate that responsibility.
• Teach yourself to discern true science from unfinished science. If you need help for that, find it.
• Study food and its impact on your own body actively using your body as the laboratory.
• Realize that your diet will be like no one else’s, so don’t assume someone out there has the answer.
• Start separating your food supply from all those modern sources based on unfinished science.
• Gather what works for you and eat it.
• Your scorecard will be filled out by your own body’s reaction to that food, and no other approval is needed.
• Don’t be daunted by unanswered questions. That they continue to arrive is proof of progress.
• Don’t be afraid to act in directions that seem the reverse of current popular thinking. You are a predator, not a conforming herd animal.
If you feel that vegetables are ‘clean food’ and the only food to eat, it may be difficult to embrace the idea that we evolved hunting and eating prey animals. Not many of us kill animals any more. Some of us think that killing other animals is somehow immoral and unnatural.
Perhaps it will help to recognize that the natural cycles of the earth value every part of the cycle. Vegetables are dependent on animals in many ways, and vice versa. One does not exist without the other. Plants deplete the soil, and manure restores it. To choose one part of the natural life cycle of our planet over the others is a violent denial of the order of things. It is immoral for us to be so arrogant. Killing animals is part of the natural order of things and should be respected. As the Sioux hunter said, ‘This honored buffalo died for us today. Give thanks for his blessed gift to us, and honor him as he honored us.’ Of course native Americans didn’t own land either, they regarded it as on loan from their descendants. Nothing is more immoral than to defile the earth’s processes by owning them for our own selfish purposes and not preserving them for our children and grandchildren in the ways they were designed to work.
There is much for the modern world to learn from the ‘third world’. We can be corrupted by the power of the brain that we developed for natural use as we survive and flourish.
Strategy is simple to write down, but hard to do, right? You will need to summon all your courage to do this. Start slowly. How can you really harm yourself by trying natural good foods in combinations? Start now.