This week's book club post is the third installment of the In Defense of Food discussion posts.
Chapter 1. The Aborigine in All of Us - In 1982, Kerin O'Dea ran an experiment on ten Aborigine volunteers in Western Australia. She wanted to see if temporarily returning these individuals to their traditional lifestyles would reverse the health problems they had incurred since they moved out of the bush and started partaking in a more Western lifestyle.
Since leaving the bush, all ten members of the cohort had developed type 2 diabetes and elevated levels of triglycerides in their blood (a risk factor for heart disease). The Aborigines returned to their homeland and went back to their increased activity levels and traditional foods acquired via hunting and gathering. These methods resulted in a very large variety of foods consisting of foodstuffs such as fish, shellfish, birds, turtles, crocodile, yams, figs and honey among other things. These individuals had gone from a Western diet consisting of flour, sugar, rice, carbonated drinks, alcohol, powdered milk, cheap fatty meats, potatoes, onions and other fruits and vegetables.
The end result was that, after seven weeks, all had lost weight (an average of 18 pounds), lowered their blood pressure and their triglyceride levels had returned to normal. Additionally, all the metabolic abnormalities of type II diabetes were either greatly improved or completely normalized.
The thing that is amazing is that it only took seven weeks to reverse the damage done. What does this mean for the rest of us? Can you extrapolate the results of individuals adapted to a specific environment and dietary habits and apply it to Westerners? Did reading this chapter give you a sense of hope that the issues with the Western diet can be reversed if we adhere to a diet consisting of non-processed whole foods?
Chapter 2. The Elephant in the Room - In this chapter, Pollan is referring to the pattern of eating what we call the Western diet as the elephant in the room. The effect of this diet is that people suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. So, when individuals adopt the Western diet, these problems creep up all too quickly. In other words, immigrants from nations with low rates of chronic disease acquire these health issues quickly.
In 1939, Weston Price published the results of his research in working with isolated populations. As a dentist, he noted that people who ate a traditional diet needed no dentists whatsoever. He found little or no evidence of chronic disease, tooth decay or malformed dental arches. One thing that he found was that these groups were eating substantially more amounts of vitamins A and D.
Price's conclusion after years of research was that modern civilization had sacrificed much of the quality of food in the interest of quantity and shelf life. Interestingly, he found that groups that ate diets of wild animal flesh (or milk, meat and blood of pastured cattle) were generally healthier than agriculturalists who relied on cereals and other plant foods.
In general, it would appear that humans can thrive on a variety of different diets, but the Western diet isn't one of them. What does this mean for you? Are you willing to stay on the standard Western diet and continue risking heart disease, diabetes, cancer and who knows what else? Has reading this made you decide to eat better or confirmed your actions if you already are eating a healthy diet? If you want to get off the Western diet bandwagon, do you know where to start?