It’s been a tumultuous month in the name of nutrition. Doctors who specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology, but have no degree in nutrition, are telling chefs that they have no place to talk to people about nutrition (I think that’s calling the kettle black).
AHPRA, the governing body for health professionals has put a ‘gag order’ on an orthopaedic surgeon from talking about nutrition and food to the public and his patients (AHPRA I think you need to clarify your position with doctors giving nutritional advice. If one can’t, should that also mean all can’t?).
The Dieticians Association are spruiking the best diet advice for polycystic ovary syndrome, and we have a new 4 week study out of Edith Cowan University about the ill effects of the paleo diet – Really, 4 weeks and 39 participants to determine whether a diet based on real foods is beneficial or not?
This is just crazy talk. When did nutrition become so hard that we started employing poorly designed studies, fights, name calling and slanging matches to dictate which foods are right for our body?
Let’s go back in time and look at how we use to eat.
There are many cultures still living in their traditional ways that give us a glimpse into our past. Each of these cultures has adapted to the food that is available to them in their environment. All of their diets are varied in the macro nutrients and micro nutrients they consume. There has been no science to tell them what they should eat, but rather generations of knowledge has been passed down, to ensure the perpetuation of their culture and their race.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Hadza of Tanzania
They eat a diet of fibrous root vegetables, honey, small game meats, berries and minimal fruits, as well as some seeds that are available in their area. No dairy, no legumes and no grains. There are approximately 300 still living this lifestyle with many living into their 80’s.
Himba of Namibia
They are semi-nomadic herders living in a desert environment. Their main staple diet consists of dairy-fresh and fermented, meat (minimal) and roots and seeds found within their regions. They also grow maize to supplement their diet. The Himba live far away from civilisation and without supplemental foods given to them by visitors, have remained a lean race living to an old age.
Kyrgyz of Pamir
These people live in a cold, harsh environment at high altitude. Their diet consists of flat bread made from wheat (that they trade via a five day trek), spring onion, rhubarb, fresh and fermented dairy and meat.
Dani and Lani of PNG
90% of their diet consists of root vegetables, mainly yams. Protein and fat is added as a supplement. They have lived this way for many generations without the degenerative diseases of the modern world.
The Maasai of Kenya
They consume blood, meat, milk and foods that they can gather in their region.
Inuit’s of the Artic Region
These people mainly live on a diet based on blubber and meat. During the spring and summer they eat the carbohydrates that they can gather in their region.
The Incas of South America
They consumed and grew a variety of foods including maize, coca, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, ulluco, oca, mashwa, pepper, tomatoes, peanuts, cashews, squash, cucumber, quinoa, gourd, cotton, talwi, carob, chirimoya, lúcuma, guayabo, and avocado. Livestock was primarily llama and alpaca herds. These animals were vital to many aspects of Andean life as they provided wool, meat, leather and they were often sacrificed in religious ceremonies.
They also had a varied diet including small game meat, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and root vegetables. In the newly released book ‘The Oldest Foods on Earth‘, John Newton notes that variety of native foods available in Australia numbered in the thousands.
This is just a hint of the variety of diets that humans have adapted to and lived on for many generations and thousands of years. And yes, they lived to an old age, they didn’t and don’t just survive to 20 as is the argument when someone talks about ancient diets. Some of these diets are predominantly carbohydrates, others are predominately protein, and then there are some where fat is the mainstay. There are also diets where all the macro nutrients have equal share in the diet.
What has changed?
Now look at the modern diet. With all the science and knowledge that we have to date, we have managed to create a food system that is killing us. Not only are many of the foods in our grocery stores shelf stable, but they are also riddled with additives, preservatives, flavourings and dubious ingredients. These ingredients have never been tested together as to how they affect the health of the human body. If we consume these foods, we are merely participating in one big human experiment.
Modern day agriculture has also completely changed our foods. Today genetic modification, chemical hybridisation, artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides are used widely. They have all been shown to be detrimental to not only our own health but to the health of the soil. This results in a new generation of chemicals that eventually, through exposure to them, are proving to be disastrous for our health. When did we ever think it was OK to spray our foods with dangerous chemicals. Here are some of the chemicals that are used: arsenic, lead, DDT, organochlorides and glyphosate (roundup) to name a few. Animal husbandry and fisheries has also changed the very essence of the meat, poultry and seafood that we consume.
Our old traditional ways of cooking, preserving, fermenting and preparing have been thrown out. The home maker has been seduced out of the kitchen by food manufacturers, making takeaway and microwaved packaged foods more the norm now. Our bodies are remarkable and along with our microbiome, we are able to adapt to many foods and environments. However, not the chemical non-food substances that now adorn our supermarket shelves.
What about dairy?
Dairy has been the talking point for the past few days, it is said to be good to eat to prevent osteoporosis. I think someone should have told all the cultures around the world that have survived for thousands of generations without milk (and osteoporosis), this very point.
Modern dairy, is not, in my opinion a food to eat whether it’s for preventing osteoporosis or some other reason. In my book ‘Changing Habits Changing Lives’ (first published in 1998) I talk about the modern processes and additives that are now a part of most dairy foods in many Western countries and how they affect the health of the body.
Is dairy the problem? No, it’s what we’ve done to dairy that is the problem. Do I disagree with eating dairy? No. Some people can’t eat it, while others can. It’s the quality of the dairy that we must consider if we choose to consume it.
What about wheat?
Why are more and more people becoming intolerant to wheat? Watch my documentary ‘What’s With Wheat?’ and find out the cascade of events that has made a grain, that was once a valuable source of food, into an absolute toxic inflammatory compound. Wheat’s not the problem, it’s what we’ve done to wheat that is creating the issues with this food.
The story of wheat and dairy is the story of food.
So what’s the answer?
We are fortunate that we live in a time of plenty. Foods in our local area can be picked up at our local farmers’ market, and we can ask our farmer how he or she produces it. We have choices. We can grow our own food in our own back yard. We can source most traditional meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, dairy, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, herbs and spices. These are the foods our body knows what to do with; the foods that we should have in our pantry and fridge.
From these beautiful individual ingredients, we can prepare thousands of wonderful dishes to feed our family in order to heal a nation. Going back to the kitchen and using basic, real food ingredients that have not been sprayed with harmful chemicals, and have not been genetically modified, is a simple gesture toward health.
Remember, we are all individuals.
Listen to your body and become educated as to how food affects you. Does the food that you are consuming make you feel good or bad? Do you have lots of energy? Are you performing at a level that enables you to live a happy, energetic life? Food not only nourishes the body but nourishes the brain as well, they are not separate.
Nutritionists and dietitians are new professions. Traditionally women and men have passed good nutritional advice down from generation to generation. However, recently this seems to have broken down, and people are confused with what to eat. My role as a nutritionist is to remind you what your body already knows. Eat foods that your evolutionary body has survived on for generations. To eat a variety of real foods that will give you the macro and micro nutrients you need in order to be healthy.
The state of our health is not good. Some people will need to do therapeutic nutritional protocols in order to get well again. But for many, a simple change away from fast, packaged foods and returning to real foods and home cooking can make a tremendous difference to your health outcomes.
So how do you begin?
First of all, start by educating yourself about the modern foods you may be consuming, then food by food replace a modern refined food with a traditional food. If you are overwhelmed and unsure where to start, I’d begin with my book ‘Changing Habits Changing Lives’. Once you’ve achieved all the steps in the book, we can take you further in your education.
At Changing Habits we’re here to take the confusion out and put some common sense back into our food and eating. My message has not changed in the 32 years I’ve been a nutritionist and I doubt it will ever change, it’s all about eating real foods and keeping it simple.
Happy Changing Habits