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In Search of the Perfect Human Diet
Image by Earthworm
My library system has 17 copies of Forks Over Knives, the vegan answer to chronic disease. This is the only documentary I could find that gives any credence to a meat eater’s diet. It has just been released and there are no copies at the library so I had to buy it. The science offered in it makes the China Studies look like pure conjecture. The style of the film is also much less inflammatory in that there are no oversimplified graphics or giant numbers flashing across the screen and not a whiff of corporate conspiracy taking over our diet.
It is narrated by CJ Hunt, a journalist. He narrates the film as his own personal journey to finding health after a heart attack at a young age. What follows is a series of interviews with historians such as the Price Pottenger Nutrition Foundation which showcases the work of Weston Price and his studies of tribal dietary habits over generations, and continues with current research by doctors and anthropologists.
The perspective of the film is that if you really want to understand the effect of diet on humans look at a traditional population whose diet has been unchanged for generations. A scientific study done with a handful of people over ten years, at most, is not going to give a true picture of the effects of diet over the long haul. Weston Price wrote a book about the amazing health of indigenous people and their later decline as they adopted the diet of modern settlers. His legacy kept alive by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
One professor, studying Australian Aborigines had a group of city dwelling volunteers of Aborigine heritage do a seven week return to the land where they hunted for food much in the same way as their ancestors had done resulting in a diet that was 64% animal based. In that time they lost weight, their insulin resistance disappeared and so were no longer subject to diabetes. Yet they were even less active than they had been living in the city.
Another doctor studying first nation people in Canada found that their diet of origin was a very low carb diet with traditional foods full of fat. He reintroduced these foods to the descendants along with the idea that their health problems were caused largely by their eating a Standard American Diet (SAD). The tribal people had a very strong resonance to this message and began rediscovering their old family recipes.
The film warns us that everything we are hearing in this film is not what we will hear in the general discourse. Some clips shown of speakers at a vegan conference denouncing meat, then Hunt interviews a woman selling soy jerky who claims that humans are herbivores. Thus is introduced the only graphic in the movie, showing how herbivores have four stomachs to wring every last nutrient out of the grass that they eat, sometimes even eating their own feces just to make sure no nutrient is overlooked plus they must eat all their waking hours. Meanwhile a lion, with the same carnivorous one-stomach digestive system as humans, can eat at one sitting and go for a long time without eating. The telling fact of a vegetarian diet is that it cannot provide the vitamin B12 which is essential for human health.
My nutritional savior, Gary Taubes author of The Big Fat Lie makes the point that obesity was, until the ’50s, treated with a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. In the ’50′s concerns that eating fat caused heart disease (by then an epidemic), persuaded the medical community to change strategy even though there was no evidence to support that this was true. Ancel Keyes is not mentioned, but his picture is shown on the cover of Time magazine.
Meanwhile the most extensive study done on the issue is the Framingham Study which did indeed disprove the fat-makes-cholesterol theory, but it was ignored because by then government standards had been set. Speaking of the Food Pyramid, a story is told about asking a feedlot farmer what he feeds his cattle. The diet described was then nutritionally analysed. The results showed the same distribution of carbohydrates, protein and fat as the Food Pyramid created by the government. We can now call it the Feedlot Pyramid to make the point that our national diet is a fattening diet. Little was changed when it was revamped as the Food Plate graphic.
The film then follows the research of physiological anthropologists, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who talk about humans evolving a bigger brain as a direct result of eating more protein from an animal based diet, including animal brains and bone marrow. Our early ancestors also ate a much more diverse diet than we do. A research team that has analyzed the bones of pre modern man show that all were carnivores.
When grains were introduced we got shorter, our skulls got narrower, our jaws became too small for all our teeth (thus we must remove our wisdom teeth) and our brains shrunk. It was also pointed out that whole grains contain minerals that block the absorption of nutrients into the body. The only reason given for turning to an agriculture based diet was that the hunter lifestyle was quite dangerous, so presumably humans wanted to settle down and live a quiet life.
(I have also heard it suggested that grains, especially wheat, are so unlike any other plant on the planet, that it may have been introduced by an alien intelligence. Perhaps the same ones that keep making those crop circles in the wheat fields. The introduction of grain certainly allowed humans to take up art and architecture in a big way so perhaps that was their agenda. After all, man does not live by bread alone. ha. And our spiritual growth was much enhanced by not being constantly threatened by mammoths.)
The final interview of the film is with a doctor, Lane Sebring of Wimberley Texas, who is applying these findings with actual patients, prescribing a diet of large cuts of meat and lots of vegetables with no cereals, bread or anything with high fructose corn syrup and trans fat or man made sweeteners. He talks about how a slice of white bread is the equivalent of half a cup of sugar and produces a higher reaction in some people than sugar, while the whole grain breads which are supposed to be so good for us, introduce a slew of other problems because of their mineral content. The walk around the local grocery store is a helpful segment to demonstrate what is the ideal human diet. What we were designed to eat. Finally Hunt, who has tried all sorts of diets, attests that, after following this diet for some time now, his blood work is outstanding.
The film’s revelations make a great deal of sense and in so doing is not nearly as exciting as Fork Over Knives which creates excitement with stories that we’ve never heard before based on the China Study and on little publicized ideas. Both Catherine and I wanted to be vegans after watching Fork Over Knives, but the complexity of this Perfect Human Diet film just makes us have to think more about what we will find to eat. And it’s not a very snappy title on top of a death like cover.
It’s way easier to eliminate meat, cheaper too, but it is also inevitably a nutrient reducing diet and over time it takes it’s toll. You can eat vegetarian, but you have to carefully watch that it is supplemented with the missing vitamins. This is never really addressed in Fork Over Knives. And when the evils of eating meat is tied with heart disease, no one ever mentions that every time an American eats a steak they are going to eat a potato, corn and bread right along with it, just as a hamburger is not a hamburger without the bun (and fries). It is much harder to eliminate grain products from a SAD diet. And there is no restaurant touting a carnivore menu so it is taken for granted, but now that the low carb diet has been reintroduced (first made the cover of Time in 1999) restaurants are adapting by offering to substitute carbs with more veggies. And grass fed beef has redeemed us from planetary destruction which we can blame equally on agriculture destroying natural habitat.
Experimenting with a Paleo diet to try to combat afternoon knackeredness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_diet) Need to work on my presentation skills.
Image by J Deamer