Evolution of the Western Diet

We are in need of a whole new way to think about eating. We cannot continue down this same path without causing more harm. In the last 30 years of nutritional advice we have been left fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished. This, in my eyes, is unacceptable in the 21st century. We have known for over a century now that our health is directly related to how and what we are eating; causing ailments including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and a specific set of diet-related cancers. This all almost invariably began to appear soon after people abandoned the traditional diet and way of life. And now it is time for a change, for a healthier you!

In the history of modern nutrition we have seen the war of macro nutrients: protein against carbs; carbs against proteins, and then fats against carbs. Each new decade seems to contradict its previous findings on nutrition and which nutrients are harmful; protein in the nineteenth century, fat in the twentieth, and it stands to reason, carbohydrates will occupy our attention in the twenty-first.

Meanwhile, in the shadow of these enormous implications, smaller battles have raged within the sprawling empires of the big three: refined carbohydrates versus fiber; animal protein versus plant protein; saturated fats versus polyunsaturated fats; and then deep down within the province of the polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6s. Leaving us to now assume that even at lower levels, fat plays the role of a toxin in our dietary zeitgeist.

But it isn’t just the pseudoscience beliefs that have been pushed as fact, we also have big business to blame.The business model of the food industry is organized around “adding value” to cheap raw materials; its genius has been to figure out how to break these two big seeds down into their chemical building blocks and then reassemble them in gobs of packaged food products.

Our food system has long devoted its energies to increasing yields and selling food as cheaply as possible. It would be too much to hope those goals could be achieved without sacrificing at least some of the nutritional quality of our food.

Although an estimated 80 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by a change of diet and exercise, it looks like the smart money is instead on the creation of a vast new diabetes industry. The mainstream media is full of advertisements for gadgets and drugs for diabetics, and the healthcare industry is gearing up to meet the surging demand for heart bypass operations, dialysis, and kidney transplantation.

People eating a Western diet are prone to a myriad of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. Scientist can argue all they want about the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon, but whichever it is, the solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: Stop eating a Western diet.

By looking at what we know of human evolution and disease in relation to the diets that humans enjoy now and prehistorically, we can try to begin to truly understand the link between diet and disease in the Western world and move towards a greater knowledge of what can be defined as the optimal human diet.

In his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin gave a simple and logical explanation for the diversity and adaptability of species. Everything that used to be a mess of riddles and contradictions suddenly became comprehensible and coherent. The results of Darwin’s theory were enormous and have had a dramatic effect on theoretical developments within the field of biology. The theory of evolution has subsequently been applied to an increasing number of disciplines. And now we must begin to apply that theory to how and what we eat.

1 Comment

  1. Chris on December 1, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    I have also written about my disappointment with the food and diet industry on my blog. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any profit in educating people about what to look for in their foods. People are instead sold lies about how great low fat foods are and how evil carbs are, as if we can simplify nutrition in such a way.