Healthy Living

My health club trainer is giving a multi-week nutrition class, and I popped in the other day to give my 20-minute “two-bits” on how to improve nutrition. My perspective comes from common sense biology, the psychopharmacology class I took, and my personal experience; let’s take a look at the biological section today.

When looking at what the body needs, it does not matter if you believe humans have been around a few hundred thousand years or God made us 6000 years ago. Interestingly, for all practical purposes, humans have only really been “civilized” for 6000 years so that is the number we will use. So what does “civilized” mean; it is the demarcation from being only hunter-gatherers to building permanent structures to live in and cultivating food to augment what we found.

For 5,800 for those 6K years, our diet did not vary much, and everyone was pretty much a vegetarian, not by choice, but by necessity. Some proteins if you were decent enough at trapping, hunting, or fishing! For all those years, their diet was mainly wheat and barley with some other grains like millet and sorghum, some roots and tubers, and to a lesser degree, berries and fruit when in season. Bottom line, many humans starved to death in winter and, most of the time, lived mainly hand to mouth.

Drying food for storage has been around forever. “Canning” has been around for about 3000 years. Food storage in actual cans started just two hundred years ago. If purchased, food mainly came from specialized vendors, but a general store in the 1800s would mostly have flour, sugar, dried foods, beans, jerky, and some seasonal items.

Sugar production has been around since the beginning of civilization; Egyptians began domesticating honeybees and Indonesians have been cultivating sugar cane for over 6000 years! Until recent history, sugar was not readily available, the main issues being the expertise at beekeeping and the quantity of sugar source plants, and then the refining needed to produce a pound of sugar. Folks that went to all that effort were not keen on sending it around the world until the price of sugar went up sufficiently in the early 1800s!

For most of the world, that meant to have some sweets risked getting stung raiding a beehive or waiting until local fruits ripened. Biologically, we still have bodies that are used to meager portions of a mainly plant-based diet. Our bodies are programmed to gorge ourselves when food is plentiful since we might be on the edge of starvation a few months later!

Therefore, the quantity of sugar the body had to deal with for 5,800 years did not exceed the body’s ability to regulate the adverse affects of sugar with insulin production. However, even back then in wealthy societies, we can see old pictures or paintings of obese people and read stories of their poor health. Our bodies need us to limit the amount of sugar our distant ancestors ingested!

Studies show that sugar has been linked to the obvious, cavities, weight gain, and obesity, but also inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, depression, certain cancers, liver disease, and arthritis. I used to hear people say they stay away from sweets because they are “empty” calories.

If only they were empty, sugar is extremely harmful, but it acts over time. If we eat a poisonous mushroom, we will know immediately that our body is rejecting toxic food. Sugar sneaks up on the body, and we tend not to realize the sugar caused our health problems. No need to entirely deprive yourself of sweets (although that is the most healthy solution), limit it to a couple of sweet items a week.

We take for granted how plentiful our grocery shopping experience is now. I feel there is a quality issue with picking fruits and vegetables when green to sell in stores, but the quantity is fabulous. In 1999, I had a foreign student daughter from the Slovak Republic that was amazed at what she could find in a grocery store compared to back home.

So these issues, plus another, are what our bodies must cope with now; generically positioned to engorge ourselves in a time with too much food and too much sugar. And now add in non-foods! Generalized poor health and obesity took off in the late 1960s with the introduction of corn syrup, what I call a non-food.

First, I had a naturopath tell me back in the ’90 to limit the amount of corn I ate, as it is just pure sugar, but corn syrup has a double whammy for the body. One is adding to the massive quantity of sugar we now ingest, and the other is that corn syrup is not a natural food. Biologically, our bodies are not meant to eat this much sugar or man-made products!

Always look at the list of ingredients on everything you purchase to see what you are eating; you will be amazed at the amount of sugar and corn syrup in almost every can, jar, or package in the grocery store. Forget the known sweets like cookies, soda, and candy; I have even found added sugar in organic peanut better! Worse, sugar is almost always near the top, meaning it is one of the primary ingredients.

And now for unnatural food; everything seems to be labeled “all natural” these days. What I mean by natural is food found in nature; corn syrup is not found in nature, it is produced in a factory. Even if we are eating something “natural” and found in nature, don’t be deceived into thinking it is food; arsenic is natural, poisonous mushrooms are natural, and so are cockroaches. Are you going to eat them? Once I saw a sign at a pet groomer, “All natural pet grooming!” Whoa, I cringe thinking about what unnatural pet grooming entails!

If the ingredient list on a can, jar, or package contains an “ingredient” that has 15 letters, but only three vowels, it is man-made. If it has corn syrup on the label, it is man-made. Do your body a huge favor and do not eat it, you will feel better, be healthier, and live well.

You might want to check out the books, documentaries, and videos of Michael Pollan, whose website states, “Writes about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment.” In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan says not to eat anything your grandmother [or, depending on your age, great-grandmother] did not eat. That means, if there are more than five ingredients listed on the package, it is too man-made.

Biologically, the body has an amazing ability to repair itself; a lung surgeon once told my dad (trying to get him to stop smoking) that if he cut into a former smoker that had quit seven years earlier, he would not be able to tell the patient had ever been a smoker. But whether smoking, overeating in general, and especially sugar, or ingesting man-made ingredients, the body can only keep up trying to protect itself when not overwhelmed with poison!

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