To have a place to talk about food, food follies, recipes, garden lore, historical garden & food lore, climate & weather, natural selection, food selection, building health and so on. To skewer the silly, serve up the savory and garnish with gleanings from the news. To flame, to flesh out the facts, to farm the fun, to portion out the passion and perfect the presentation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Choices from the past inform us today

Don't dis what your ancestors knew...

Where were you 4000 years ago? I mean, where were your ancestors and their friends? Mine were in Northern Europe, possibly in the British Isles. Of course we've all had a lot of ancestors, hundreds of them in the past 4000 years, so ‘we’ could have been in many different places.

Of all our ancestors living back then, it is likely that most struggled to get enough food to survive. Some grew their food, others went out looking for it. And as they grew or found what they could, they adapted to it. Or else they didn’t. We sitting today at our computers are the survivors of a long journey of adaptation. Other family lines died out along the way as they failed to grow, find, and adapt.

They balanced their diets by taste and the messages their bodies sent out: "I'm just dying for some salt" probably had a literal meaning back then. They were lucky when they had enough of anything! A plump salmon or young reindeer were probably life-saving in the bounty they provided.
Anyone who grew his own food chose which squash or green to save the seeds from, so crops changed over time. If you tasted a squash from just 200 years ago, it would have been far different from anything available today. Tastes change: we grow what we like, and we’d better like what we grow! What satisfies today’s palate is no doubt far different from what was even acceptable in a different era. (Have you had a hankering for beetles recently?)

What hasn’t changed are the body’s nutritional requirements. How we get them - the food we eat today - has changed, but what we need - the list of nutrients - hasn’t. We still must have the 3 (or 4) macronutrients: carbs, fats, and protein, (and possibly fiber goes here). And we must have a large number of micronutrients, 80 of them or more, some in the most minute amounts. What we need is what we grew or found long ago that allowed our lines to survive when other lines didn’t.

Since the 1980s, for politics and profits, one of these macronutrients has taken a bad rap. You can read about it here. One of these essential sources of normal body function has been and continues to be villified as bad. (How can a fundamental building block of the human body be deemed bad?)

That macronutrient is fat.

You know how bad fat is! You hear it all the time. You are probably drawn to low-fat alternatives, to margarine (a manufactured product) over butter (a natural product). To lean meat over fatty. To egg whites over yolks. To low-fat cookies. And of all absurdities, to non-fat sour ‘cream’. (How can there even be such a product? Cream is the fat of the milk!)

No doubt you recognize these choices, and you have probably made them. I certainly have.

Twenty or so years ago, we took our family to a remote spot every summer to camp in our travel trailer. We’d carry all our food, including snacks. I had read a lot about the importance of low fat, so I chose that option whenever possible.

For cookies, this meant choosing ones similar to fig newtons, with gooey fruit-based filling inside and a cakey outside. The fat content was less than 30%, the well-publicized new recommendation for a healthy diet. Yay, cookies that were good for us! Perfect!

HOWEVER, that gooey filling was based on the new healthy wonder sweetener high fructose corn syrup, now well known as the basis of our overweight epidemic.

When the percentage of fat is lowered, the percentage of carbs has to go up. (You have to make cookies out of something!). And this trade-off happened not just in the cookies I bought. For 20-plus years we all have been buying low-fat foods, and that of necessity means high-carb foods. High-carb foods mess with our blood sugar and lead to obesity and diabetes, which leads to heart disease and so on and so on.

I want to leave politics and profits out of it for now. The bottom line is that we have all come to feel that FAT IS BAD!

How can a major nutrient be bad?

The fact is, fat isn’t bad. Fat is essential. Our brains are made of fat! Fat keeps us happy. It satisfies our hunger and leaves us satisfied for hours. (Carbs stimulate our appetite.) And it doesn’t make us fat! Here is a post that links to several articles to read for more information about what’s good about fat, and why you should be very wary of low-fat foods. Everyone should be wary of low-fat foods, including those who want to lose weight.
Losing weight was just what our ancestors feared. They did all they could to eat when they could. Times change in terms of the food supply. It's odd that today we are in danger of starvation just as they were, but for different reasons: ours ignorance is in not trusting our bodies to know. Don't you just love butter, real butter? That's because it's good for you. More on this important topic soon.

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