Saturday, February 09, 2008

Evolutionary Perspective on Diet

I've been trying to learn a bit about nutrition, and while I don't yet have the knowledge to assess all the claims made in the low carb vs. high carb debate, I very much appreciated the straightforward and logical presentation in this paper outlining some of the evolutionary arguments favoring a paleolithic diet. HT Art De Vany.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Rob said...

I have been investigating this topic recently as well. Dr Barry Sears has commercialized this type of Paleo diet into his “Zone” diet program. I have read two of his books and found them very enlightening. http://www.zonediet.com/

Also, one of the best fitness communities I know of, CrossFit, has done extensive work with Paleo / Zone nutritional programs and has found this to be the optimal diet for overall health & fitness. They are in no way affiliated with any of the diet programs…they simply use the diets and find them effective in practice (and when you see the intensity of CrossFit workout routines, you will know how important diet is to these people). They have message boards on their site that discuss the topic in detail. http://www.crossfit.com

Please continue to post any interesting information or resources you find on the topic.

Cheers,
Rob

10:42 AM  
Blogger madmax said...

If you're really interested in the low-carb debate then I suggest reading Gary Taubes "Good Calories, Bad Calories." Taubes is an advocate of the low carb hypothesis but his book is an awesome science filled exploration of the last 150 years of nutritional science and theory. He shows just how the modern low-fat, high carb craze came about. He also shows that there were low-carb advocates over 150 years ago. So the low-carb diet is not a fad diet. It was at one point the norm. Taubes book is not a diet book but a science and history book. It is truly excellent if you are interested in this subject.

Also, in addition to Barry Sears and the Zone, another good source of "Paleo Diet" information is Dr. Michael Eades author of "Protein Power." He has a blog:

http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/

11:46 AM  
Blogger Burgess Laughlin said...

I have two points.

1. Does one diet fit everyone perfectly? I would say no, based on my personal experience. A diet that might be the best, over a lifetime, for people in general may not be the right diet for every individual, because of individual conditions.

My diet, which is a subset of the McDougall Program diet, consists only of plant foods, but even in that category I exclude all "seeds" (grains, nuts, beans, and conventional seeds such as sunflower). I eat only fruit, vegetables, and roots (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and so forth).

I developed my diet to counteract a specific medical problem, and I have gained other great benefits, but I would not wish it on anyone.

I describe the diet in detail here: http://www.anti-itisdiet.blogspot.com/

It is very low fat (less than 10% of calories), low protein (about 50 grams/day), high-fiber, and high in complex carbohydrates (mainly from roots and gourds).

2. The best test of a diet is over a long period, say, at least 40 years. I say that because, from my layman's viewpoint, it seems that the human body, in general, can survive on any of a wide range of foods. The key question is what is the optimum diet for each individual.

Best wishes for you in your own diet search!

5:32 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Burgess,

You are right that there is an individual focus to proper nutrition. There is in fact new sciences developing which will be able to analyze a person's genetics and then help address all sorts of health and lifestyle related concerns for that person.

But from what I have read by authorities I deem credible, there is an evolutionary perspective to this that must be considered. All of the low carbohydrate authors are under the same umbrella in a sense. From Atkins to Sears to Eades to Cordain to DeVanny, etc; they are all trying to get people to lower their blood sugar levels in an attempt to lower their insulin levels. And this is best done by lowering dietary carbohydrate levels.

This is where the scientific debate comes in. The major medical establishments and the government (and of course the government should not be involved in this but it is) have all backed the lipid theory of disease (primarily diabetes and coronary and cancer) and obsess over cholesterol levels. The low carbohydrate advocates reject this and offer an alternative hypothesis; the sugar hypothesis which says the higher insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) is what underlies the "diseases of civilization". In my opinion, and after reading Taubes book as well as others, the low carb people are right.

The evolutionary perspective comes in here. The low carb advocates offer compelling evidence that study of our Paleolithic ancestors has shown that the hunter-gatherer diet was rich in fats (and sometimes highly saturated fats), proteins, berries, nuts and roots. This is what humanity evolved on for 2 million years. They did not eat grains. Agriculture has only been around for 10 to 15 thousand years which is a blip on the evolutionary scale. Add to that the *massive* increase in refined sugar consumption of the last 100 or so years and evolution has simply not had enough time to develop in humans the ability to properly metabolize the modern Western diet. This is thus the backdrop for the low carb movement.

Now I would never ask anyone to take this on someone's word. I have spent over 10 years reading information on this and countless books. Also, I look out into the world and see what people eat and their lack of health. So for me, I see the low carb advocates as at the least being on the right track.

But of course this is ultimately a question for science to answer. But as Taubes book has shown, the intervention of government into science and research has created an established orthodoxy which has backed the lipid/fats-are-evil hypothesis and demonized the low carb advocates such that there is a parallel with the Global Warming phenomenon in that if you challenge the orthodoxy you could lose your credibility or worse. This and terrible epistemology in the science field has granted legitimacy to hypotheses that have little or no evidence backing them. Taubes shows this for the lipid/cholesterol arguments.

So to summarize, yes there is individualization to be considered when dealing with diet. But there are universal scientific principles that point to an ideal nutritional profile that is best suited for man; and that is a species appropriate diet that takes into account man's evolutionary history. Individual tolerances are built on top of that.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the comments guys, they’re much appreciated. To take them in order:

Rob, I have read Barry Sears’ book and enjoyed it very much. I think the general idea makes a lot of sense, but I do question whether from an evolutionary perspective it is reasonable to so closely ‘dose’ your food intake. Art De Vany has a few posts on his blog where he suggests that we’ve evolved from a feast or famine background and that some variation (randomness) to our eating patterns is good as it allows certain valuable gene expressions to occur which could potentially be down-regulated by the very precise eating schedule that Dr. Sears advocates. This makes sense to me, but as I said in the original post, I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this, so don’t yet have any conclusions.

Also, I’ve been doing crossfit for almost two years now and believe very strongly in its methods and approach. See for instance: http://amitghate.blogspot.com/2006/07/crossfit.html I read (or at least skim through) the comments semi-regularly but haven’t spent much time on the message boards (I find them a bit hard to navigate). My interest in the paleo diet certainly comes in part from the crossfit input as well as Art De Vany’s blog. If you have in mind any particular discussion threads, please feel free to post them here.

Madmax, a few days ago the crossfit site had a link to a Taubes article, which in turn had comments linking to an article criticizing him for suppressing and ignoring contravening data, a criticism which made me less interested in reading him (I think the criticism was in a Reason magazine article?). But based on your recommendation, I will revise that evaluation and check his book out. I will also check out the blog you posted.

BTW, are you and Rob regular readers (that is when I post regularly!) or did you find my post through some type of search?

Burgess, I think that just as is the case with all broad abstractions, the actual application to individual cases is not necessarily simple and must take into account the specific nature of the concretes subsumed under the principle. But of course this difficulty is not a reason to discount or dispense with broad principles or abstractions. In this case, at least as I understand it, evolutionary theory is so fundamental that it should be used to inform all of the life sciences as applicable. Certainly individual genetics and disease states impact the choice of proper diet, but this doesn’t mean that one should throw out all general principles and simply approach the subject on an ad hoc, individual basis. Moreover, on top of the very long time scale adaptations considered in the Paleolithic arguments, there seem also to be relevant adaptations which can occur over shorter time frames and thereby differentiate certain human subpopulations from others. For example I’ve read that northern European populations show less lactose intolerance than other groups and that Orientals are better suited to digesting rice without the severe insulin spikes that other groups may experience, both of which presumably are evolutionary adaptations which have occurred over the past 5,000 years or so. This of course is further information which must be considered when trying to determine the best diet for a particular individual.

As to your second point, if possible I don’t want to wait 40 years to figure out if my diet was correct or not, so for me the question becomes: are there markers (e.g. cholesterol or insulin sensitivity) which can predict future health? And obviously a causal connection would be more convincing in this regard than just statistical correlation. I also would weigh day to day experience in the mix – e.g. how is my energy level, my athletic performance, my lean body mass, etc. In any case I agree that the subject is quite complicated and involved, and there is no experimenting in the way of physics, so progress may be more difficult or slower than we’d all like.

Madmax, I just saw your second comment and agree with it. It also makes me even more interested in reading the Taubes book.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Amit,

I have four points to put forth. First, about my particular diet situation. I have found various foods cause me to experience "brain-fog" to such a painful degree that it is difficult to drive or see well. The cause is not an immune (allergic) response. It is quite different from my reaction to a number of foods to which I am allergic - such as to soy, hops, fruits (especially the Apple Family, Rosaceae) and other agricultural plants, all of which are from two Taxonomic Orders(!). I would suffer enormously on Burgess's diet.

1) On the matter of individualized diets: One of the sources that helped me considerably with intolerances and brain fog was Eat Right 4 Your Type: The individualized diet solution to staying healthy, living longer & achieving your ideal weight Note the "Individualized" in the sub-title.

I was highly skeptical of the author's laboratory methods, but his anthropological arguments are interesting. Blood types tend to match major cultural groupings of past humanity.

Areas with an ancient agricultural history are clearly dominated by people of the A blood type. They do better on grains and pulses. Areas where hunting lasted until much more recently tend to have O blood types. They do better with more (red) meat. As an A-type I have been surprised at the results I obtained by following the A-type diet. And those results become apparent in weeks, not decades.

Because of my aforementioned allergies , and some odd intolerances (e.g. wheat) I focus on eating more pulses, such as lentils and beans, and barley, oats, rye, wild or whole grain rice etc. Lentils and beans can be cooked in a variety of interesting ways, are extremely high in protein and are cheap!. As an A-type I avoid, but have not eliminated, red meats (which make me lethargic and disrupt my sleep), sticking to white.

The brain fog never occurs now, unless I cheat. It was also easier for me to lose weight than ever before...

2) I also pursue low Glycemic Index (GI) foods because the high GI foods definitely make me want to eat more (insulin spike, then crash).

3) I did experiment with Atkins, and found it to be quite legitimate IF one is careful to understand ALL its stages, and operate accordingly. Detractors of Atkins always focus on the exceptional Stage One of the diet (dominated by meat and fat). They do this in spite of the fact that the latter stages of the diet are the one's he recommends for living on, and they are quite reasonable.

Atkins is not individualized. Now I find I am following those last stages by eating as I described above, in a way that suits ME.

4. It is also useful to rotate through certain foods. Cranberries and ginger start to bother me after a few weeks, so I only eat them occasionally. Too much wheat in one day can really give me brain fog but one sandwich won't. No doubt there are web-sites extolling specific rotating diets, but I have not become that obsessive :-) and they may not be sufficiently individualized.

One should also be alert to the fact that over periods of years one's allergies and intolerances can shift. Some reports suggest, and it seems to fit me, that the body has a seven year pattern. If I look back at such dietary and allergy changes I have experienced, they tend to have occurred over, approximately, seven year intervals.

Cheers,
Richard

8:15 AM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the comment Richard. I found your description of the Eat Right book very interesting and will definitely get myself a copy. I also intend to read the Atkins books.

BTW, is the brain fog you describe relatively common, and if so is it mentioned in the Eat Right book or others you've found? I've heard of mild glycemic effects with similar symptoms, but nothing as severe as you're describing...

5:26 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hi Amit,

Brain fog is common enough that some people know immediately what I mean by it. I have no technically useful, general, knowledge about it. Except, I am confident it is diet related... but then again, I feel myself heading in that direction when shopping in large grocery stores (it seems to start with my eyes).

Websites list so many causes that their descriptions are similar to MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity), which I see as so vague as to be useless.

Brain Fog is not mentioned in Eat Right For Your Blood Type, and the book did not solve the problem for me. I worked it out myself, in part because someone I lived with had Celiac disease. I found that when I followed her diet I did better (though I definitely am not a celiac). From that diet I started adding various foods back into what I ate.

As for glycemic effects, it seems that insulin spikes do influence me towards brain fog. A binge on red licorice does not cause it, but a binge on Ju Jubes will. What's the difference? I cannot say as yet. Interestingly, to me, the licorice is made with some wheat, yet the Ju Jubes are not. So the latter is probably the glycemic effect to which you refer.

Nonetheless, if I eat a bunch of wheat flour buns, or the like, ...brain fog again!

If you get brain fog periodically, I can only say I am sorry. Work with the various ideas 'out there', but start with a diet that might be fairly safe. That might be the blood-type diet.

Conventional medicine and alternative medicine need to work together, so to speak. There is still a profound amount of knowledge both need to learn, and should learn jointly.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the info Richard.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Monica said...

HI! I just found this blog through some Objectivist blog link.

The best evidence I've come up with so far for a low carb diet is a book written by nutritional pioneer Weston A Price, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration." He traveled around the world for over a decade studying native peoples. His research is truly astounding, and still mostly unknown to the medical and dental community. As with Ayn Rand, the simple truth sometimes takes time to catch on.

What WP found that was all tribal cultures with optimum health were eating meat, milk, butter, fish, or cheese (or just 1-2 of those things), and sometimes, unrefined grain products, but generally grains were uncommon. Fruits and vegetables were part of these diets, but NOT always. The tribes he studied were in Europe, Australia, Africa, the Americas, and Polynesia. So, basically, all over the world. Their diets were quite different in the specific foods, but all the diets had nutritional similarities: very high in animal fat (yes, saturated!) and fat soluble vitamins. The natural incidence of cavities was never over 4% in any of the groups he studied. This wasn't just a quick look at their teeth, he looked at thousands of individuals for over a decade. Usually, it was between 0-2%. Remember, these were people that did not have access to toothbrushes. He has hundreds of pictures in the book showing how beautiful and straight their teeth are,and while they did have tartar at times, they did NOT have cavities. Despite the fact that their diets were very high in saturated fat, heart disease and cancer were rare. When these exact same racial groups went off their native foods and onto sugars, white flours, and canned products, the incidence of cavities increased to 25-50%. Not only that, in the second generation of children borne from those parents eating "white" foods, the dental arches became deformed and smaller, the faces narrower, with not enough room for the teeth. I can certainly identify with this. I have a 25% incidence of cavities – all filled before I was 12 years of age in my permanent teeth -- and had 8 teeth removed to make room for the rest. When my orthodontist first saw in my mouth, he said he'd never seen anything like it, that my palate was so tiny. Cavities and small dental arches do not appear to be a genetic problem. It is diet induced. Neither of my parents suffer from this problem. THey have straight teeth, without braces, and dental arches big enough for all their teeth, including the wisdom teeth. I don’t know what my mother’s pregancy nutrition scheme was like, but as a baby I was eating some terrible things, so I suspect her pregnancy nutrition was not good. As a baby I was eating carrots, corn, squash – all yellow vegetables with considerable sugar added because my mother couldn’t handle the thought of a baby eating bland foods. When she took me to the doctor at 4 months, he said, ‘What on earth are you feeding her?? She’s ORANGE!!” I know that my grandparents ate liver and cod liver oil. My mother would refuse these things as a child. I paid the price.

Weston Price also noticed other problems. Most tribes had a belief that special nutrition was required of BOTH parents for several months before trying to conceive. When people went off their native foods and onto "white" foods, reproductive problems went up. That makes sense to me, since 25% of American couples reportedly have troubles trying to conceive.

Weston Price also found that native diets were 10 times as high in fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) as the current USDA Recommended Daily Allowances. There IS probably a good reason our grandparents were forced to take down a teaspoon of cod liver oil as a kid. It contains fat soluble vitamins in high amounts. How many Americans eat liver now? It is very, very uncommon. Organ meats were prized in traditional cultures. Eating liver now is far more uncommon than it was just two generations ago. It’s considered “gross” yet we are probably paying for it. Most of us probably have vitamin A, D, and B deficiencies. (You will survive with vitamin deficiencies. You simply won't be functioning as well as you could.)

So many kids now need braces and have mouths filled with cavity ridden teeth. When tribal cultures did not have access to "white man's foods," degenerative diseases, cavities, and dental arch deformities of the type requiring orthodontics were rare. It is difficult to believe that cavities and crooked teeth are not normal until you see the pictures. We all have images in our minds of people sitting around tribal campfires with half their teeth missing. After reading this book, I no longer believe it. One has to remember that this dental degeneration happens very quickly, within two years of moving onto processed foods. I don’t believe an objective effort was made to study or observe many native people before a serious introduction to western life or foods. Weston Price had to travel to very isolated areas (this was done in the 30s) to get to people that were totally isolated.

In just one to two generations, all this was undone by modern foods and an abandonment of traditional tribal foods. Life may have been difficult in other ways, but many native cultures (perhaps not all of them) knew what to eat to keep themselves healthy.

I have had a complete turnaround from my former views on nutrition. I used to believe that vegetarianism was totally healthy and I always ate very little meat. It is true, you can get all the amino acids and vitamins from plant foods, and there are many individuals who seem to do just fine on plant products alone. You could never get by without brushing your teeth, though :) However, the second generation of these individuals will probably pay in bone deformities. What is missing from these diets is the fat soluble vitamins in HUGH amounts.

In the past couple of months, I've switched to full fat unpasteurized milk, cut down my carbs, I eat meat (not pastured yet, but I supplement with Omega 3), dark green fresh veggies, organic butter, cod liver oil, coconut oil for cooking, etc.

The cookbook Nourishing Traditions, which supports the views of the Weston A Price Foundation (westonaprice.org), has a lot of peer reviewed journal articles cited that support your thesis: that the lipid hypothesis of heart disease is not correct. I am not sure exactly what I think yet, but the evolutionary argument is certainly a strong one. Since you have done so much research on this issue, I would be interested to hear what you have to say about their nutritional advice.

For a real shocker of how our government may be so wrong on unpasteurized milk, see this site. (And apparently, some people with lactose intolerance can drink raw milk just fine... I am currently trying it out on my boyfriend with very bad lactose intolerance. So far no problems.)

www.realmilk.com

You're right, government should not be involved in food research. Back in the 20s, the advice was 5 lbs. sugar per person per week. Can you imagine!! What a disaster the past 100 years have been.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

In support of Monica, I have started eating bread made with sprouted wheat. The difference to me has been significant. The calories are the same but I do not feel as lethargic, and brain fog is reduced to zero.

Monica's experiences may be anecdotal (therefore not conclusive) but many aspects of what she advocates seem accurate.

You may recall I suggested the "Eat Right For Your Blood Type" book. She may be of the 'O' blood type, which is more meat oriented, and which finds grain based carbohydrates to be debilitating in varying degrees.

There seems to be something to all this. However, Price's research does not take the lengthy historical background of the tribes he has studied. Quite possibly, the tribes he examined lean towards a particular dietary background that may not apply as well to those who are descendants from a more grain-based dietary background.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Monica said...

Yup, those are both very good points.

I haven't heard of that book - I'll have to take a look at it. In fact, I'm Type A. What should I be eating? :)

WEston Price's book is fairly anti-capitalist. However, I take the good nutritional information he gleaned and throw out the rest. Actually, he did study one tribe with more grain based diets -- I believe in Ethiopia. They still suffered from poorer dental health even though they'd been on these diets a long time.

Where can you find sprouted bread? I'd like to start buying that. I was under the impression it was only available homemade.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Hi Monica,

Thanks very much for the comments, I'll add Price's book to my reading "wish" list. I still have a lot of research to do before I have a considered opinion on the matter, but given the interest here, I'll post on any new items that come up and seem relevant.

I've slowly been shifting my own diet towards more green vegetables and lean meats, but haven't yet given up starches and sweets to the extent that I think would be heathiest. My exercise program has also been evolving during the same period, so it's hard to say if the slight improvement in overall leanness that I've achieved is due to diet, exercise or both (I'm guessing both). I'm generally pretty healthy (maybe have had the flu 2 or 3 times over the past 12 years), but that seems to be a function of vitamin supplementation, not any diet or exercise program in specific.

Going forward the two improvements I'd like to see are an overall gain in energy and an increase in insulin sensitivity.

Thanks again for the input,

Amit

8:22 AM  
Blogger Monica said...

Mm, just a note of clarification to what I said about anti-capitalism. WAP repeatedly mentions in his book that the natives often resisted or resented white attempts to settle because they knew from previous attempts that this would bring reduced dental and physical health. In fact, he documents a few cases where the whites were out and out attacked en masse in the South Pacific for reasons that may not have been obvious to them -- he describes one situation where the whites settled and produced a sugar plantation along the coastline, which prevented the natives access to the seafoods they knew to be beneficial for health and necessary for proper reproduction. At that time, this was certainly a tragedy for all involved. It seems to me that the whites certainly could have learned more from the natives about foods. And certainly the natives could have benefited from cultures that had a greater understanding of individual rights. I think it's unreasonable to assume, as WAP seems to, that we should all remain in ignorance of modern life forever simply to protect our health. I do wish I hadn't had to go through getting so many teeth pulled and getting braces as a kid, but on the other hand there are so many other values in this life besides total health. There's more to life than not dying, so to speak :) Therefore, I don't think most people would want to be stuck in a tribal lifestyle for the rest of their lives simply so they could have a beautifully built body, a full set of teeth and no cavities -- that is, unless they are extremely adventurous explorer types. What this has underscored for me is the importance of reason -- not the blind defense of a specific lifestyle or culture (native or western) but a full understanding about what is good and bad about one lifestyle vs. another, and a blending of the reasonable approaches that both present.

WAP repeatedly talks about "modern physical degeneration." I think the situation actually has gotten a bit better in recent decades, compared to the early 1900s when people apparently thought they could eat any junk and survive just fine, There were some terrible nutritional deficiencies at that time, which is the whole reason he went on his decade long search for the optimum diet.

Richard -- apparently you are familiar with WAP's teachings, but I'll mention this for anyone else following the conversation -- especially you Burgess, because I know about this acid production in foods causes problems for you. Apparently, there are things in grains called phytic acids. Soaking the grains eliminates these acids, making the grain more digestible. If grains are simply ground and cooked without soaking, the phytic acid remains and the phytase enzyme is destroyed. Thus, the bread is less digestible. So, apart from the simple carb issue, there are other reasons that modern processing techniques for grains may cause problems for people. (As well as modern processing techniques for so many other foods, too.)

Richard, I went back to your original post on blood type -- sorry, I wasn't reading carefully. So apparently I should be eating more grains. That's interesting. According to WAP, the people of the Outer Hebrides ate quite a bit of oatmeal with fish. The primitives of Switzerland had a heavy reliance on rye bread and cheese. After reading WAP, it seems to me that the European diet WAS a bit heavier in grains than those of other natives. I am of northern European descent. I wonder -- is the blood type argument based on specific metabolic capabilities identified within those blood types, or simply an identification of what certain peoples with a blood type were generally eating historically?

Most of the weight loss programs I've used in the past have been fairly low carb and low fat. Unlike you, Richard, I don't have any problem with brain fog on carbs, though it does produce highs and lows in blood sugar that I don't like -- I simply can't seem to lose weight on a diet higher in carbs.

Amit - according to WAPF, one must have fat with protein or else protein will not be adequately metabolized. What WAP calls the "fat soluble activators" i.e. what we know today as fat soluble vitamins, are necessary for metabolism of the protein, he claims. I don't know absolutely if this is true, but you might want to check the idea out. For me, it would explain some things. This might explain why I used to lose weight on these relatively high protein diets, but only to a certain extent. After your body depletes the fat soluble vitamins, it's no longer as efficient at metabolism. Also, I had terrible cravings for fatty food, specifically cheese. Now that my diet is higher in fat, I no longer have these cravings nor do I ever feel a desire to binge on anything. Thus, I no longer eat a whole cup of a low fat food (such as lowfat yogurt - yuck!) that doesn't satisfy a craving I have for fat. I just eat the fatty food, and less of it. I eat an ounce of full fat cheese, or a tablespoon or two of full fat, creamy yogurt. A small glass of full fat milk in the morning, and I'm good until noon. If that was skim milk, I would be starving by 10 AM. I could never have imagined I'd be eating such small volumes of food and feeling satisfied from it.

Someone mentioned above that the government should not be involved in food advice or food research. Most Objectivists would wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, of course. WAPF contends that the advice of all of the government entities such as FDA, USDA, etc., and of most of the medical associations (which, of course, have strong links to these government entities!) such as the ACS, the AHA, the ADA, etc. are flat wrong. For an example of a rebuttal to the FDA, you can visit realmilk.com, scroll down to the link to "Rebuttal to the FDA on Raw Milk" and read through 71 pages of why the FDA is way off on raw milk. (Of course, millions of people died from unpasteurized milk in the late 1800s, but the situation then was totally different from now. Cows weren't pastured and spaced, they weren't getting appropriate food, hygiene was generally terrible, there were no antibiotics, and there was no modern milking technology or peroxide. A change in all these things has made raw milk quite safe.) The fact that I'm now confident the FDA is way wrong on THIS topic has led me to question SO many of my previous assumptions about food safety and nutrition where the government has been heavily involved, particularly this lipid hypothesis. In short, it's made me a major conspiracy theorist about what we are routinely told about food. :)

WAPF contends that the lipid hypothesis is based on only a few studies from the 50s, and researchers simply jumped on the bandwagon studying this stuff ever since. They call it "Politically Correct Nutrition." They explain that Americans have been eating less and less saturated fat, and more and more vegetable oils and grains, over many decades since the early 1900s. Yet the incidence of heart disease and cancer are increasing. Meanwhile, butter, meat, and eggs have been vilified. They explain that the vegetable oil industry is high profit margin, while the meat and dairy industries (though these products are more expensive than veg oil) are not as high profit margin. So they contend that they vegetable oil industry has more money for research to "prove" that its products are healthy. Considering how regulated our food is, there are also strong links between many food industries and the government. I am still untangling the historical picture about exactly how the government has been involved, but I agree that the whole thing seems fishy. Of course, environmentalism and vegetarianism are tied up in all of this, with both claiming that meat is bad for peoples' health and the planet. (I myself used to believe these things!) I think if these two things were debunked (and there is a strong scientific case against both of these views) we'd see a big change in agriculture in the US if people changed their eating habits considerably away from grains. There simply would be no more grainfields, or at least fewer of them!, but there would be more ranches and smaller farms. Instead of re-fertilizing fields with nitrogen fixing soy (which some contend is terrible for our health -- soy in the American diet is far different from traditional Asian uses of soy), green veg would be fertilized with animal manure. Obviously, any large grain farmer (or milk farmer) is going to want to preserve the status quo -- they have a vested interest in preserving the government's position on these food issues where the regulations are in their favor (not to mention this bogus biofuels corn stuff). With deregulation, small farmers producing meat, dairy, and eggs have only to gain. The system as it currently stands is not stacked in their favor. Raw milk is still illegal in many states, or only legal to drink if you own the cow. The amount of regulation of our food supply is incredible, to an extent most people simply don't realize.

One thing I like about the WAP Foundation's views is that, other than wanting a ban on soy formulas for infants, they don't contend that special new regulations are needed to change the way people eat. I don't think they have the picture of unfettered capitalism, but they don't seem to be in favor of more regulation of our food supply. They believe in more independent research, more education, and the right of small farmers to simply sell their products directly to consumers without having to go through a government inspection agency to sell retail.

I also think there's another factor here. Those in the meat and dairy industries do not yet have the moral confidence to support their own products. They, too, have probably bought into the government's view on this issue, predominant over so many decades now, that their own products of butter, meat, and milk are bad and the vegetable oils and grains are healthy. That is changing, but slowly.

Amit, I too have been shifting my diet more toward dark green veg and meat -- but I do eat quite a bit of full fat dairy as well, around 2 cups per day of milk. If someone had told me a few months ago I'd be eating full fat unpasteurized milk I would have looked at them like they'd grown two heads. Also, like you, I have not cut out sweets and simple carbs to an extent I'm happy with, though I am shifting my use to whole grains and sourdoughs. And of course, I need to exercise more :)

I don't think the nutritional truth is really to be found in one source. All of these authors have their talking points, including WAP. And some of WAPF's ideas are downright quacky, I admit. However, this thread has been great at providing me with some other books to read (some I had heard of, others I hadn't) on the topic. I'm sure I'll be studying the topic for years. It's fascinating!

The good thing is, we do have choices. Though they are so often restricted and made more difficult by government, we CAN take control over what we eat even if it means a lot of hard work. And that feels good :)

Here's to good health!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Hi Monica,

If you haven't already read it, I suspect MadMax's recommendation of Gary Taubes' book (comment #2) may help you follow your line of thinking. I haven't yet read it, but after listening to this lecture I think it will provide a wealth of historical data (similar to that which you cite from WAP ): http://amitghate.blogspot.com/2008/02/taubes-lecture.html

9:59 AM  
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12:19 AM  

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