During most of the evolution of our species, our problem was one of too few food sources, and too few calories. We countered this by devoting most of our energy and time toward obtaining food – hunting, gathering, and later farming. Very recently in our evolutionary history, the challenges have shifted – now we face too many food sources, and an over abundance of calories. We do not need to expend much time or energy to obtain food, so most of us simply fill our free time with popular television, facebook, or other pursuits. This is a mistake – it now makes sense to devote a significant amount of time and energy to researching, experimenting, and preparing food that will promote our health.
As in other areas of my life, I apply filters to simplify my food choices. The main filters I apply are: eliminate foods with added sugar or excessive processing. (The horror!) This means breakfast cereal, cheesecake, candy, pizza, and fast food are out. Ah, well a slice or two of pizza has been known to make its way through the filter – I’m only human! But here is where I really feel for Americans – it is actually really easy to do this in Japan. Traveling back to the states, damn near impossible (though living full-time there it would be easier). Americans are surrounded by more unhealthy food choices than anyone else in the world. While Trader Joe’s was a 30 minute drive away, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner. Really? People are buying enough donuts to justify them having 234 stores in New Jersey alone?
Why these two filters? For one, like alcohol, they are unnecessary for survival (there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate)1, so the question becomes do they add positively to our life. One way we can gauge this is by judging the way they affect us physically and psychologically. Sugar in particular has all the qualities of a drug – it results in a high followed by a crash, and provokes further consumption via cravings. The revealing work, The Fix by Damian Thompson, points out sugar as one of the five main addictions affecting the modern world (the others are alcohol, prescription drugs, gaming, and porn). Longer-term, research indicates a link between sugar consumption – especially refined fructose – and obesity, as well as a host of other problems. That we should limit sugar intake makes intuitive sense on an evolutionary basis. During our evolution, we simply never would have encountered the abundance of sugar we are now faced with, even in fruit form.2 Even in the last 200 years, the twitch of an evolutionary eye, average sugar consumption per person in the United states has increased from 2-20 pounds per year to over 150 pounds per year.3 This massive change on such a short time horizon is a big contributor to the physiological shock our country is currently facing. Clearly McDonald’s, Cheerios, and other such processed products are also recent additions to our evolutionary experience. So we are now bombarding our bodies with bountiful supplies of foreign food-like substances. These may trigger dopamine responses but do little for our well being.
One theory I like about how life works is that our bodies are like filters. Throughout our lives, we put crap through them, until they finally clog up entirely and die. Sugar and processed foods tax our body and increase the pace of clogging – the process is slow but difficult to reverse, which is why so much of our country is stuck in the clutches of obesity. But the negative consequences of these foods occurs long before morbid obesity or chronic illness sets in. Poor skin, colds, allergies, and joint problems are just some of the “first-world” problems tied to the consumption of these foods.4
We face a difficult challenge trying to raise healthy, productive children in today’s age of fast food and fast entertainment. My advice to parents out there is to filter these “foods” out of your life first – be the example you wish your children to follow. Then, filter them out of your household entirely. Teach them that these things are rare treats, to be appreciated as such. In a later post I will go into what to replace these items with.
So join me – cut the crap out of your diet today – before you appear to need to, and even if your genetic makeup seems to be immune to the dietary challenges of today. Feel the difference as disease leaves your body and your energy levels improve. It is a gesture to all of our loved ones and fellow humans who do not possess the power to do so.
2 Though even fruits have been altered through artificial selection and bioengineering to be near-candies.
3 http://www.shareguide.com/sugar.html, http://static8.businessinsider.com/image/4f411764eab8ea2d1b00001a-620-444/american-sugar-consumption.jpg
4 http://www.prevention.com/beauty/beauty/how-sugar-ages-your-skin, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.abstract, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/94/2/479.short
- The Blue Belt Diet
- Why Ashtanga Part 1: the Practice in my Life