Everyone eats so everyone has an opinion about food. But if health is the objective, mere opinion doesn't count nor does fad or majority rule.
Most people think the average cooked diet based upon official food pyramids is just fine. Some eat predominantly fast food. Others advocate veganism (eating only plant foods), or lacto-ova vegetarianism (plants plus milk and eggs). There are also proponents of special foods such as fresh juices, soybean products and macrobiotic cooked grains and rice.
Everyone can make arguments on behalf of their beliefs. They can cite examples of people who have escaped disease and lived long. Some argue morality and ethics, such as those who say sentient animal life should not be sacrificed for food. Others set their eating practices by the standards of holy writ that eschew certain forms of foods and sanctify others. Others just eat what tastes good and that's logic enough for them.
Eating beliefs seem to take on an almost religious character. People feel guarded and pretty zealous about food and don't like others meddling. But since health is intimately linked to what we take into our mouths, thinking, honest reflection and willingness to change are in order.
It is easy to be deceived because wrong food choices may not manifest their full impact until late in life. Nutrition can even pass through genetically to affect later generations. In this regard, food ideas are also like religion in that hundreds of different sects can each claim to have the truth. But none of them needs to fear disproof since adjudication will not occur until everyone is dead and gone to the afterlife.
The body is extremely adaptable and will attempt to survive on whatever it is given. If the food is incorrect there is usually no immediate harm. But the body will eventually be stressed beyond its ability to adapt, resulting in disease, degeneration and loss of vitality. Unfortunately, such consequences are so far removed in time from the eating regimen that caused them that few understand the relationship.
So be careful before subscribing to bold claims about what is or is not good to eat. The true test of any health idea lies too far out into the future. Our best hope then is to be well grounded philosophically before we slide our legs under the dinner table.
How do we develop a healthy eating philosophy and sort through all of the competing eating ideas? I am going to explain here a very simple principle that is so reasonable you need not even look for proofs. Follow along with me and see if you don't agree.
Consider the following three premises:
1. Just like a tree is genetically adapted to absorb certain nutrients from soil, and a lion is genetically adapted to thrive on prey, and a deer is genetically adapted to browse on vegetation, so too, are humans genetically adapted to certain kinds of food.
2. The majority of foods we are presently exposed to are a product of the Agricultural/Industrial Revolution and occupy a small part of the genetic history of humans. (Refer back to the 276-mile time-line in which only a few inches represent industrial-type eating practices.)
3. The natural, genetically adapted to food for humans must predate them. In other words, how could humans exist before the food they needed to survive existed? We were completely developed biologically prior to agriculture and any method of food processing. That means whatever diet archetypal humans ate was the perfect diet because that was the diet responsible for the existence and development of the incredibly complex human organism. That diet was the milieu, the environmental nutritional womb, if you will, from which we sprung.
If you consider these three premises, the logical conclusion derived from them is that the best food for humans is that food which they would be able to eat as is, as it is found in nature.
Our tissues were designed to be bathed in food nutrients derived from natural living foods, not with dyes, preservatives, synthetics, nutritiously barren starches and refined sugars and oils. Make no mistake; if we are not eating according to this principle, our bodies are in constant deficiency, imbalance and toxin exposure. The result of generations ignoring this principle is an epidemic of obesity, chronic degenerative diseases and the exhaustion of our digestive processes.
A feature of all natural food is that it is raw - alive if you will. This is consistent with the Law of Biogenesis that says life can only come from preexisting life. Life begets life. In spite of scientists' dreams to the contrary, we have never observed life springing from non-life, nor have we ever even been able to create life from non-life in a laboratory. If we eat living foods, we enhance our own life. If we eat dead, devitalized foods we become devitalized and dead. Granted, this will not happen all at once, but as the adaptive reserves are exhausted we become just like the dead food we eat.
So a fundamental feature of our natural diet was that it was raw. Yes, even the meats, organs, eggs and insects - raw. Remember, we're far back in time, even before the use of fire (much less the microwave, stove, oven, grill, deep fryer or extruder). Studies of the diets of past cultures and today's still-primitive societies reveals that they ate exactly as their genes and the environment dictated.
We were not suddenly dropped from outer space onto Earth with fry pans, matches and rotisseries. We began on the forest floor, not in a line to a fast food counter. We had only our natural bodies in a natural world, exactly like every other creature. Every other organism on Earth eats raw foods exactly like they are found in nature. Do you think nature doesn't notice our decision to change all that?
Would tofu qualify? No, because tofu is found nowhere in nature. Would oatmeal porridge qualify? No, because oatmeal porridge is found nowhere in nature. Would hamburgers, French fries, pop, breakfast cereals, granola, canned foods, candy, sports drinks, muscle building powders, vitamins and minerals, mashed potatoes, carrot cake, croissants, bagels, Jolly Ranchers, Ding Dongs, Cocoa Krispies, Good 'n Plentys or Fig Newtons qualify? No. None of these are found as such in nature.
For those of you who are by now panicking (if not gagging) at the thought of eating raw foods, yes, there is danger of food-borne pathogens. But if you are careful and clean, the danger is far less than the danger of a lifetime eating devitalized processed foods. Raw natural foods must be safe or our ancestors would have not survived and we would not exist!
It is a choice. When faced with a choice, why not opt for the wisdom of nature? Is it not strange we are the only creatures on the planet to cook our foods? Is it a wonder, given this, that we succumb with every imaginable chronic degenerative disease virtually unknown in creatures eating the raw natural diet?
Simply think of yourself placed in nature in the total absence of modern technology. Ask yourself the question, what would I eat... and what could I eat? You could eat and digest fruits, nuts, insects, a few plants, honey, worms, grubs, eggs, milk and animal flesh. These are about the only food substances in nature humans are capable of digesting without technological (including fire) intervention. These are, in fact, the very foods that are the mainstay of nomadic primitive societies. Only when these foods become scarce do unpalatable, inedible foods such as most grains and vegetables become cooked and processed to change their palatability, neutralize toxins and increase digestibility.
So that is where we have been. But does this have anything to do with us here today in the 21st century microwave age? It has everything to do with us because it is this expansive historical context that served as the womb that shaped and defined us. It is this natural wild setting that occupies the vast majority of our history and predominates our genetics. It is the incubator within which life on planet Earth has developed.
What would have been the predominant food in the wild? Likely prey. Envision yourself placed back in time in that setting with a family to feed. You would be looking for the most calorie- and nutrient-dense foods you could find. That would not be a few wheat seeds, some grass or a root. You would let the herbivores do all the grazing and digestion with their specialized stomachs that are capable of converting essentially any plant material into edible protein and fat. Then you would eat them. I don't like that either, but that is the way it is.
Pretty simple isn't it? We should eat what nature provides that we can digest. Yet this is not explained in nutrition textbooks, and PhD nutritionists graduate without even grasping it. It cuts through all the theory, belief, and guesswork. It matches our natural bodies with our natural food.
Our immersion in modern cookery and food processing has misled us. Foods such as granola, tofu, cauliflower and lettuce, which are marketed as the ultimate health foods, are in fact not natural human foods at all. These products either do not exist in nature, are so scarce as to never possibly be a sustaining food, or in their raw precooked form are unpalatable and even toxic.
For example, raw soybeans contain a variety of chemicals that can stunt growth and interfere with the body's digestive enzymes. Eat enough of them and you'll die. Modern grain products are a result of agriculture and in their raw form are unpalatable, indigestible and also toxic. In nature one would never find enough kernels of rice, wheat or barley to even make up a meal, even if they were edible in their raw form. (Sprouted seeds and grains are an exception to this since they are digestible, raw and nutritious.)
Who, if they were really, really hungry - and options were available - would eat raw broccoli, cauliflower or lettuce? These foods are only now made palatable by cooking or doctoring with manufactured dressings.
Now this creates somewhat of a dilemma. Knowing what our natural diet is and consuming it are two different things. We are so acclimated to the modern diet that the notion of eating raw meat, for example, is nauseating to most. Nevertheless, as evidenced by primitive (but nutritionally advanced) peoples, raw meat and organs can be eaten with great nutritional benefit to humans, and they are totally digestible and nontoxic. Some cultures even bury raw meats and let them rot (ferment) and then consume them with gusto. These societies are robustly healthy until modern foods encroach. Then, like a dirty bathtub ring, modern degenerative diseases decimate those people at the periphery in contact with modern foods.
It would be very difficult today to achieve the ideal raw, natural diet. But if the basic principle is kept in mind it helps remind us of our origins and points us to the appropriate, genetically adapted-to foods.
This does not mean no processed or cooked foods should be eaten. It simply means that consistently doing so will stress the body's genetic capabilities and will ultimately result in less than optimal health.
Look around the grocery store (usually the outside aisles) and consider what it is that could be eaten in its natural state. Increase the proportion of those foods. Processed foods should be chosen that compromise natural principles the least and are as close to nature as possible. They should be whole foods, packaged carefully to protect nutrient value and be free of synthetics, refined oils and sugars.
For example, whole milk yogurt that has not been homogenized or pasteurized is ideal. The same thing pasteurized would be next best. The same thing pasteurized and homogenized next. Worst would be non-fat, pasteurized, homogenized, artificially flavored and sugared yogurt (which is, of course, what the majority eat because it tastes most like what they are used to - candy).