“Let food be thy medicine,” said some old Roman guy, I think. Whoever he was, he was right. Food is the foundation for preventive medicine. It’s the first thing we examine when figuring out a health issue, and successful changes to what we eat usually have the most profound effect on our health. If we don’t eat well, we won’t be healthy – simple as that.
But what if food literally was medicine? What if certain foods had specific, established pharmacological effects that rivaled certain pharmaceuticals?
As a rule, people tend to eat whatever food they can physically access. Transcontinental shipping now allows us to access all sorts of foods – we can eat durian in California, jasmine rice in Alaska, Spam in Hawaii, and Russian caviar in Cape Town – but for most of (pre)history, humans ate only locally available foods. So it’s no surprise to hear that hunter-gatherers, past and present, ate and eat wildly varied diets depending on their environment. The East African Hadza diet is different from the Arctic Inuit diet is different from the Paraguayan Ache diet.
This is usually highlighted by critics as a counterpoint to the tenets of ancestral health. Because apparently we’re all convinced that a single, rigid dietary prescription is the One True Diet. That’s silly, of course.
A few years back, I briefly covered a throwaway Yahoo! article about how “carbs will make you lose weight” because so many readers had emailed about it. It turned out that the “carbs” in the article were resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that our digestive enzymes cannot break down. I’ll admit now, with regret, that I didn’t look as deeply into the matter as I might have. I didn’t dismiss resistant starch, but I did downplay its importance, characterizing it as “just another type of prebiotic” – important but not necessary so long as you were eating other fermentable fibers. While technically true, we’re fast learning that resistant starch may be a special type of prebiotic with a special place in the human diet.
A few weeks ago, I made the point that even though we may not have access to our paleolithic ancestors’ (yes, all of them) food journals, and even though there were many different paleolithic diets depending on climate, latitude, topography and other environmental contexts, the ancestral eating paradigm remains viable, helpful, and relevant to contemporary interests. That almost goes without saying, right? It’s kind of why we’re all here, reading this and other blogs, and asking the butcher for lamb tongues and goat spleens with straight faces. This stuff works.
But make no mistake: we may not know the day-to-day eating habits of our ancestors, but we know some things. And we can use what we know, drawing on several lines of evidence, to make some educated estimates.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m discussing the seemingly evil qualities of palmitic acid, the preferred storage form of body fat in humans and many other mammals. Studies seem to indicate that pure palmitic acid has negative health effects, so should we be avoiding palmitic acid-containing foods like butter, meat, or palm oil? Then, I explain the health effects of eating really fast. As you’ll see, there are quite a few reasons to eat more slowly than quickly. I also include a few tips for fast eaters who want to slow down.
© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple