Stuck in a holding pattern, due to inclement weather flying back from Washington D.C. to New York LGA, I have an opportunity to reflect on this weekend’s conference. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” In our modern world, we have strayed – we have gotten lost, so removed from our food chain that we have no idea where our food comes from and how it ended up on our plates. Some of us have forgotten what whole foods are, as we make our way through the day eating prepared, processed foods that look nothing like the plants they were once derived from (if at all). Our drinks are spiked with artificial flavorings and excessive sweeteners. Chips and fast food are carefully designed with the right proportions of salt, fat and sweetness to make your brain crave more and more. In our highly technological world, we have lost our connection with the Earth, and in so doing, we have lost our connection with ourselves.
Food as Medicine was about reconnecting with the most basic, essential truth about living, whole foods = they can heal us! We had the benefit of experiencing a daily, thoughtfully and exquisitely prepared lunch by Executive Chef Rebecca Katz, author of One Bite at a Time and co-author of The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen. Each lunch included a delicious soup made with a base of her cancer-fighting “Magic Mineral Broth.” Study after study was presented that showed the power of a whole foods diet in healing disease, and reducing a person’s risk of developing heart disease or diabetes – among the top disease killers in this country.
We took a trip back to the origins of the human diet with Dr. John Bagnulo, who described the historical, or Paleolithic diet. Some of the take-home points from his presentation show how far we have strayed from our original diet:
- 800 yrs ago: grain refinement came into practice to increase shelf life (since then, the food industry has manipulated chemicals and oils to find the perfect recipe for extended shelf life, including the very harmful hydrogenated oils). Can you imagine life without bread? Or pizza? Or pasta? In human history, this is a relatively new addition, while 40% of us have the gene that can make us intolerant of gluten, a component in wheat.
- 500-600 yrs ago: refined cane sugar became available (mostly to the upper classes of the time); the rise in sugar intake continues to be a major culprit in many Western diseases, including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and heart disease to name a few. In fact, during WWII, when sugar imports dropped in England, the health of the population actually improved, due to the decreased intake of refined sugar.
- 60 yrs ago: Hydrogenated oils, highly concentrated sweeteners, and artificial ingredients became available (humans had survived without these prior to this, but when presented with the opportunity to experience these flavor enhancers, they just ask for more and more). Now, it has become apparent that these additives likely contribute to hyperactivity in children, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
- < 100 yrs ago: the End of Sustainable agriculture, as the principles of mass production from the Industrial Age infiltrate the food industry. America is the place where everything should be available all of the time, year-round.
Sure, you say, but we’re living longer now than our ancestors did. Modern technology has done more good than harm. Living longer has mostly been due to modern hygiene and improved healthcare. This is soon to change. In the last 10 years, we are seeing the birth of a generation that may have a shortened lifespan in comparison to their parents. 1 in 3 children born after 2000 will develop diabetes at some point during their lives, and lose 10-15 years from their lifespan.1 Their lives will be riddled with health issues, as we are now seeing heart disease and heart attacks in teenagers!
As you can see, your “health span” – the number of years you spend in “good” health – will not necessarily equal your lifespan. We’re living longer, but not healthier. In terms of food, our ancestors had it right. They ate a cancer-fighting, more alkaline, pH-balanced diet and tended to move around all day. The following figures are astonishing:
- Our ancestors ate a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the types of fatty acids that are beneficial to the human body, help build fluid cellular membranes (which enhances cellular communication), and reduce the creation of inflammatory cytokines in the body. Instead, our diets have shifted in the last 50 years to an omega-6, pro-inflammatory diet.
- Our mass-produced food is becoming depleted in such micronutrients as Magnesium, Iron, and Selenium. Micronutrients are essential for the efficient operation of our enzymes – molecules that catalyze all of the body’s reactions.
- We’re eating a diet that causes a chronic acid load on our bodies (which is cancer promoting)
- Our ancestor’s diets were high in Potassium, and low in Sodium (i.e. salt). Average Paleolithic diet = 1,000 mg Sodium daily; Average person now = 7,000 – 12,000 mg Sodium per day. Our ancestor’s Potassium intake was 10 times greater than ours, because their diets were rich in vegetables, seeds and nuts, and low in animal protein. Think about this the next time you pick up a bag of chips, or have French fries at a fast food restaurant.
- We eat much less fiber, on average less than 20 gm per day, than our digestive tracts are designed to handle. The lack of fiber in the diet is implicated in many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and high cholesterol.
So how do we take all this information and start working to transform our diets and ourselves? It starts with an intention. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to live longer? Do you want to be more clear-headed? Do you want to have more stamina and energy? Do you want to be able to bend your knees and sit on the floor to play with your kids or grandkids? What is it that motivates you? Write it down. Commit to embarking on the path of discovering how Food can be your Medicine, then follow the simple rules below:
Top 10 Ways to Return to a More Natural Health-Promoting Diet:2,*
- Eat large amounts of fresh, locally and organically grown produce
- Eat at least one handful of unsalted nuts and seeds each day
- If you do eat animal protein, reduce and restrict animal protein sources to grass-fed and/or wild (incl. chickens)
- Get outside and move. Daily sunlight exposure or take Vitamin D.
- Reduce and limit dairy consumption to raw
- Limit grains. Use only whole and/or sprouted grains.
- Use raw honey or Maple syrup as primary sweetener (beware of Agave syrup, which may be very high in fructose, as much as High fructose corn syrup)
- Avoid all chemical additives.
- Avoid cooking foods at T > 360 degree F (because cooking food above this temperature promotes the release of cancer-causing chemicals)
- Search for wild edibles and heirloom varieties of all plants as often as possible
*Of course, these are general recommendations, and some aspects, such as the intake of grains, should be discussed with a nutritionist, a functional medicine physician or naturopathic physician to tailor a diet that is right for you. In a future post, I will discuss the growing rates of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, and what that means for your health or the health of a loved one.
Aah! We have finally (after 90 minutes of circling) been cleared for our final approach into Laguardia.
Well, I hope this post inspires you to get back into the kitchen! And perhaps, even to get in touch with the Earth. Grow your own vegetable garden, and start eating the whole foods we are meant to eat. Good luck!
- Diabetes. Successes and Opportunities for Population-Based Prevention and Control: At A Glance 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 13, 2010, at http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/ddt.htm
- Bagnulo, J. MPH, PhD. Sustainable Nutrition: Origins, Evolution, and Implications of the Human Diet. Food as Medicine Conference 2010. June 10, 2010.
Other Suggested Reading:
- Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
- Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals