You are what you eat
Science and technology has provided society with some ingenious inventions over the years. We have lifts, we have cars, we have sofas, we have comfortable shoes, air conditioning, central heating. The list is endless. All these things, mostly invented since the Industrial Revolution, have made our lives much more comfortable.
Back in the day (about 40,000 years ago) homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers: we walked tens of kilometres to find food, shelter, and general fought to survive every day. We were constantly using our bodies to get about, and our brains to keep us in check and alert.
Now, we only have to walk to the kitchen and open a box of cereal and pour some milk on it, and tadaah! Breakfast is served. We also do a lot of sitting down: at our desks, at the table, whilst watching TV, whilst writing and reading blogs…
But has this done us any good? Are we happier and healthier than we have ever been?
I don’t think so. I’m under the impression that we’ve have become a lazy society, and have reduced the amount we use our bodies, and we are not looking after them properly either.
Yesterday I read a very interesting piece called Brains plus brawn, in which Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, puts forward his ideas about how we can learn from looking back at our evolutionary paths. One thing I picked up on was his comment about food
“I would argue that many of the ways in which we get sick today have a corporate, almost capitalist origin. If you think about the obesity crisis, so much of the way in which people are getting sick today is because we’ve now created industrial food that makes sugar unbelievably cheap, which makes low-quality fats unbelievably cheap.”
The food that we eat is a major problem. Advances in science and technology have allowed farmers to mass-produce sugars and other complex carbohydrates so that we can feed the growing global population. But these foods easily turn into fats, especially if we don’t burn them off quickly by exercising. And these are not the good fats that keep us warm and provide us with energy when needed. They become the bad fats that sit around our organs and clog up our arteries.
Since last summer I have been a major believer of “you are what you eat”. This phrase is thrown at you as a child by parents, teachers, and others as a way of tempting you to eat your greens. But there is a lot of truth in it too.
For three weeks last summer I only ate meat, fish and veg (and the occasional piece of fruit when I really couldn’t resist). During those three weeks I felt better than I had done in years. I slept entire nights through, I had more energy, my skin looked better and my stomach problems went away. I also lost 5 kilograms.
This was pretty spectacular, and I didn’t expect it at all. Looking back at it though, it definitely does make sense. This high protein and vegetable content diet with minimal sugars is how our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived. They were lean and muscular, and didn’t carry any more weight on them than they needed. Diseases such as cancers, obesity, heart disease etc didn’t exist back then.
Unfortunately this high protein and vegetable/low sugar diet is difficult to sustain. Good quality meat, fish and veg are expensive these days. And I think this is one of the reasons why there is such a problem with obesity in the western world. On top of that, doing exercise has become expensive. Gym memberships, club memberships and sporting teams all require some form of financial backing, and there are many who cannot afford this.
Going to the gym used to be a luxury for those that could afford to go, now having the latest technology that run your life whilst you sit on the sofa is considered a luxury commodity. Yet it isn’t doing you much good. It’s making you lazy.
So those that can’t afford it eat the sugary foods, don’t do any exercise, and there we have it, an obesity epidemic. And those that can afford it sit on their bums all day at work, sit on their sofa’s in the evening, and hey presto! An obesity epidemic.
The problem is routed deep within our culture. Children are taught a food pyramid or plate of healthy eating at school that looks vaguely like this:
When instead they should be teaching something like this:
I think that the wholegrains section should be higher up the pyramid, but that is just personal choice and not backed up by evidence, only by my own experience.
The sugars are a major problem here. They are addictive. According to Prof Lieberman, “We evolved profound, deep and serious cravings for fat and sugar because those used to be limited and important resources in our evolutionary history.” And now we can’t seem to stop. It will be a never ending cycle that will be difficult to break.
Exercise and a healthy diet should be a part of every person’s daily life. Without it, we will become lazier, less healthy, and as a result, less happy. So, my plan is to cut down as many of the sugars as I can, run plenty, and hopefully sleep more!